Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Unexpected Incidents, Another Feature of Horror Fiction

Finder’s Keeper’s may belong to the mystery or thriller genre, but it is still the work of Stephen King, a king of the horror genre. So Finder's Keepers naturally shares some of the characteristics of horror fiction. One of those is the use of unexpected incidents.

Two characters take a bullet, one early in the novel and one much later. Both inspired a sense of dread, a feeling that their lives could end at any moment and painfully, but both were still, for me at least, unexpected, shocking me into remembering that evil resides in the human heart. Sometimes that evil surfaces and claims the person standing in an evil-doer’s line of sight.

John Rothstein’s death is the first unexpected event. He is an acclaimed author who has retired from public view after bringing a beloved character to a vainglorious end, at least in the opinion of one of Rothstein’s biggest fans, Morris Bellamy. And that character note for Bellamy should remind us of Annie Wilkes, another devoted fan who didn’t like the way novelist Paul Sheldon ended a beloved character in King’s Misery.

But Sheldon survives. Hobbled and suffering PTSD, Sheldon lives so I suspected Rothstein would as well. He didn’t. Defiant while facing armed, masked intruders who’ve interrupted his sleep and peaceful isolation, he dares Morris Bellamy to shoot him or shut up and get out. Bellamy shoots without hesitation.

The second unexpected incident is another shooting. Young Pete knows his family could be in danger, and he warns them to lock up--not admit any strangers. Pete’s mother doesn’t heed the warning. She continues playing Solitaire on the computer and lets her daughter continue to swing on the swing set in the family’s backyard. Bellamy simply walks right in the door, determines where Pete’s sister, Tina, is, and shoots Pete’s mother in the head.

Even more unexpected is the mother’s survival. Bellamy is a poor shot; the bullet never enters the woman’s brain so King deftly moves us from dread to horror to relief--the proverbial emotional roller coaster so satisfying in mystery, thriller, and horror fiction.

Poem by Connye Griffin. Photo by Al Griffin.
Will you heed the advice found in Finder's Keepers?
Will you be the secretary for your characters and not their creator?

Reading Challenge:

Read Finder’s Keeper’s. As you do, make note of unexpected incidents that illustrate the genres of both mystery and horror fiction.

Writing Challenge:

In Finder’s Keeper’s, you will read these words:

A good novelist does not lead his characters, he follows them. A good novelist does not create events, he watches them happen and then writes down what he sees. A good novelist realizes he is a secretary, not God.

Can you accept King’s challenge? Will you accept your role as a secretary rather than a creator?

Connye Griffin is My Writing and Editing Coach.