Monday, July 18, 2011

Vampires, zombies and romance, oh my!

I think that my *what the monkey writes* sidebar might rub some people the wrong way...

But y'know, I still don't want to change it because:

a) I don't write about any of those things, nor do I see that changing any time soon.
b) I'm a person who would rather disappoint someone by telling the truth than lie/lead them on.
 (For those interested in personality types, this is spot-on accurate for INTJ.)

Please note that those things are specifically listed under the *what I write* section. It's not *what I don't read* or *what I don't like*.

Just because I don't write about zombies, werewolves, aliens, vampires, etc, doesn't mean I hate those things, or stories that have those kinds of characters. 'Dracula', by Bram Stoker, is one of my all time favourite books and I've probably read it more than 50 times since discovering it at age nine.

The reason I love it so much is because Dracula, in Stoker's tale, is a monster. Seeing him through the other character's eyes, he has no humanity, no sense of morality or empathy. He is a manipulative predator. An animal. There's no way you could possibly confuse him as a human.

I empathize with Susan in this El Goonish Shive comic strip. I just can't connect *monster* with *sexy*.

Perhaps it's because I read Dracula at such an early age, but when creatures that logically should be monsters are portrayed as humans, the whole *suspension of disbelief* thing just doesn't happen 'cause my brain keeps screaming, "That's not right!"

The appeal of monsters is their monstrous, in-human qualities clashing with the sensibilities of humans. If that isn't there, then what's the point in having it be a monster in the first place? If the only differentiating factor is the character shape-shifts, sucks blood, has wings, horns or a third eye, but is otherwise entirely human in thoughts/feelings/psychology, that seems like pretty weak characterization... and if I can't believe the character, I can't get into the story... the same as I can't get into a Mary-Sue-type-character. A psycho who kills women in a dark alley and drains them of blood for fun is more realistic than a vampire who is essentially a human trying to get into their victim's pants (and veins). At least the psycho is a monster who is written as a monster, not as a misunderstood bad-boy suppressing his (thinly veiled sexual) desire.

 A true monster is not sexy. A true monster is terrifying.

Now, while I say all that, I'm not averse to reading stores with these kinds of characters. In fact, every other member of my writers group loves zombies, vampires, and all other kinds of beasties that go thump in the night. I read their drafts, I obsessively get into their characters (like a dog with a ball), and our meetings usually end up being a debate about character motivation, the practicalities, limits and weaknesses of the inhuman critters, right down to asking if vampires could drink coffee by adding a few drops of blood so their bodies wouldn't reject it. Yup, that suggestion of mine made it into version 2.0 of one particular story.

(...and that makes me so happy!!! Squeeeeee! Just as happy as when they give me an awesome suggestion that ends up in a newer version of my stories. I like seeing the fingerprints we make on each other's stories)

I don't think it's a bad thing that I don't normally read/write this kind of subject matter. Because I don't know the usual conventions of the genres, I end up asking (sometimes stupid) questions that my group members might not have thought of... of examining all the daily human rituals and seeing them fresh through the eyes of their in-human characters. Just as they ask me questions I have not thought of. Having different interests and liking different genres is what makes our conversations not only more interesting, but more valuable.

Romance is a similar thing. I don't have a romantic cell in my body. The only reason I know my wedding date is because we have a dvd of our wedding with it clearly printed on the front cover. I'm serious. I don't believe in love at first sight, soul mates, or any of that kind of stuff. I married my husband 'cause he was/is my best friend. We get each other, and that's a rare and amazing thing.

Despite that, I have no problem beta-reading stories where romance is the main focus, but I'm always going to read it through the eyes of a sceptic... looking for clear character motivation, a logical sequence/build-up of events, etc.

Beta-readers are all different and we all bring our own personal tastes into our reading/critique along with our strengths and weaknesses. When it comes to grammar, it's better to ask someone else, but when it comes to logic, plot holes and character motivation/development... that's where I shine, especially if you're asking me to *believe* in something incredible. In fact, it's often those situations where I get the most fired up because I want the writer to convince me, I want to fall prey to their characters, their world and their storyline.

So, just because I don't write about those things, doesn't mean I hate 'em.

It's just that there are other subjects and characters that I want to write more.

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