Lee Library #3 Frankenstein
Not the Frankenstein, but the series of five novels by Dean Koontz.
In these novels, Dr Victor Frankenstein is alive and well in present day New Orleans and hell bent on carrying out his horrific experiments to create the New Race. His plan is to destroy all mankind and replace us with his far superior genetic creations. His original creation is still kicking around after 200 odd years and is determined to stop him, teaming up with two homicide detectives in way over their heads.
What can be learned from these novels, which I thoroughly enjoyed, to help your own writing?
There are two key points to take from it.
- Make your characters suffer
I dreaded turning the pages at certain parts in these novels. The experiments were so horrific, the violence so casual, every time I thought they couldn’t up the pain anymore, they did. When the main characters tangle with Frankenstein, you know how close they are to danger because so many have perished fighting him and in such horrific ways.
It is not uncommon for characters to be strapped in and experimented on, eventually dying in the process. It happens to so many people, you can bet when it was happening to one fairly minor but likable character, I fully expected them to die. There had been so much unrelenting violence up until that point, I couldn’t see any reason why it would relent now.
Because Koontz doesn’t hesitate to put characters in nightmarish situations, you really do feel for them. It makes the threat of Frankenstein more real and serious.
Not every story needs to be Saw or Hostel of course. Psychological suffering or even just stress can be compelling. Some stories don’t need suffering of any kind. If you decided to go down a horror route though, making your characters suffer can really strike a chord with your readers- and I say that as a reader more than a writer.
- Villains don’t need to have redeeming features
Similar to Kill Your Friends, where the main character was an unapologetic monster, you don’t need to give your villains soft edges.
There are times you want a sympathetic villain with aims we can understand and even in a small way support.
However, there are also times you want a real black hearted monster as the antagonist. Frankenstein abuses his wife, who he kills and clones when he gets annoyed with her. He was personal friends with Hitler, Stalin, Mao and others. His cruelty is so casual, like brutally murdering a person simply for standing in the way of his home expansion plans.
I hated Frankenstein, I wanted him to die, at several points the idea he would escape was so unacceptable I was rooting for the heroes to do anything they had to so that he would be brought to justice.
A sympathetic Frankenstein wouldn’t have provoked that sort of reaction and above all else, good writing makes you feel something.
It all depends on the kind of story you want to tell.
For example, you want to write a story about a spy trying to catch a terrorist. You could do a more light hearted escapade, a wristwatch that fires sleeping darts, the villain’s evil lair on the anthrax islands, a suitably sexy opposing agent. It all climaxes with our hero thwarting a missile launch. Nothing wrong with any of that, hell, sounds quite fun actually.
You decide you don’t want to do that. You want something darker, grittier.
Using the first tip there, we make our characters suffer. The spy has heard of the European Liberation Army, an anarchist group that wants to overthrow the governments of Europe. No one sees the group as that much of a threat, including our main character who seems content if a bit bored working on the case. He has a family he loves although you can see the relationship with his son is a bit strained.
There is a terrorist attack at Edinburgh airport, the main spy loses his wife and son. We see the evil terrorist organisation striking at where people are most vulnerable- they blow up an orphanage, torture and murder a lord in his home along with his family, the pain keeps raining down on the UK, you can imagine the despair as we wait to see what happens next. You have used suffering to make the spy character more interesting and sympathetic and also made us feel pity for the besieged populace.
Using the second tip, we make the terrorist leader a real villain. Supreme Commander Cobalt of the ELA is a deranged psychopath. He enjoys seeing the destruction he causes, often enjoying the scenes of carnage on the front lines with his anarchist followers. His cruelty isn’t even restricted to his enemies as we see throughout the story, failure is not tolerated in the ELA. One soldier who fails is brutally tortured to death. One cowardly MP who betrays the nation’s security services for money isn’t paid- with glee, Cobalt strangles him to death. His aim is chaos and death, survival of the fittest. He seems to despise the world, the rich for their privileged lives, the poor for not rising up, he hates democracy for being weak. Above all else he a hypocrite, he goes on about how the wealthy abuse the poor while murdering score of them himself. It becomes clear that his hatred of the rich and powerful is more to do with jealously than anything else.
Suddenly our story is looking a lot better!
Again, don’t misunderstand me, not every story needs to have suffering, pain or black hearted villains. Lots of good stories don’t have those things, but this might help if you decide to go for that.
Likewise, you might think one point here applies and not the other. For example, you decide to keep the suffering in but make Cobalt more sympathetic, representing a genuine underclass who feel there is no hope and violence is the only way forward. Or you keep Cobalt a lunatic but tone down the suffering, keeping it a bit lighter there. The terrorists launch attacks but these are thwarted, his family are kidnapped, not murdered etc. You can throw both examples out the window like in the earlier example. It is all about what you want but these are handy tips.
Hope you are all enjoying 2017 so far- I’m already begging for the weekend haha.