Halloween Haunts: Transcending Tropes by Kodie Van Dusen
To say that I never saw myself writing horror is an understatement.
My earliest memory of horror was at my best friend’s birthday when we were children. I don’t remember exactly how old we were, but I doubt we could have been much older than ten. A gaggle of girls huddled in her basement for a sleepover (which was already something that made me uneasy, being the introverted homebody that I was) to watch a special movie picked out by the birthday girl.
The film? Halloween.
You can imagine how well that went over with me, watching Michael Myers running around slashing unsuspecting victims. My mom ended up coming to pick me up halfway through the movie because I couldn’t stomach it, and I had nightmares for the next month. It was at that moment that I was sure I would never watch another horror movie again…an assertion that lasted until my teen years when I learned that scary movies were the running currency for subtle handholding ploys.
Positive reinforcement certainly goes a long way.
I watched a few bad horror movies and started to believe that they weren’t actually that scary. I watched Evil Dead and found it delightful in its campiness and moved onto an assortment of B-list horror films that made me think perhaps I could be a horror buff after all. And then I made the mistake of watching Final Destination, after which I suffered a full-on regression. To this day, I still can’t drive behind a transport lugging anything that could slide through my windshield and impale me.
This aversion lasted until I met my husband, a self-proclaimed horror buff who eventually wore me down. When I claimed that horror didn’t have substance, he pointed me toward movies like Insidious that combine a healthy mix of philosophical conflict with classic horror tropes. Since then, we’ve worked through an arsenal of horror films that completely changed my perception of what ‘horror’ meant: Get Out, Us, The Curse of La Llorona, Midsommar. The writing in these films was absolutely superb for one main reason: the seamless integration of classic horror tropes with a compelling philosophical conflict.
One of my favourite resources as a writer is a video I watched by Michael Arndt (link here) exploring what makes the ending of a story good, bad, or great. I strongly encourage you to check out the video if you’re a writer, but the gist of it is that amazing stories don’t just have one conflict driving the story, they have three―the internal, the external, and the philosophical.
The internal conflict centers around the protagonist’s desires. Why do they want what they do? What change are they hoping for through their actions and why? What need are they trying to meet? The external conflict is the plot that drives the story forward. How is the character trying to fulfill their need and what are the obstacles that stand in their way? And the philosophical…the philosophical is where the above horror movies caught my attention and upended my understanding of what horror could be.
The philosophical takes the central conflict of a story and universalizes it. Instead of the conflict only relating to the protagonist’s situation, it touches on more universal conflicts that are fundamentally human. Each of the above screenplays were written in a way that went beyond external scares and instead explored something fundamentally scary about the human experience: racism, economic disparity, motherhood, the dissolution of a relationship.
It was at this point that my budding interest in horror evolved into a desire to write within the genre. For me, writing has always been a form of therapy. The page is a safe space where I can explore difficult experiences and emotions without judgement. Seeing the way these films took the dark experiences of the protagonist and transformed them into a lesson that others could benefit from made me understand that some of the best horror comes not from ghouls and goblins, but from the struggles we all face as we search for ways to create meaning in life.
TODAY’S GIVEAWAY: Kodie Van Dusen is giving away a free copy of her newly released book, Birds in the Black Water. Winner will have the choice of receiving as either an e-book or paperback.
Kodie Van Dusen began winning awards and publishing in poetry anthologies from a young age. Her narratives are shortlisted in multiple competitions, including the 2022 Braun Book Awards. Kodie has a BA Psychology and spent several years helping clients resolve personal problems through the power of narrative.
Birds in the Black Water by Kodie Van Dusen
“That was the second time in my life death lied to me. I wanted it to lie to me just once more.”
Neviah has seen the Other Side since she was a child, a dark world trapped somewhere between past and present where shadowy creatures ominously keep watch. Though she has turned her connection with the supernatural into a thriving counseling practice, she is racked with guilt over a professional decision that landed a former client, Martha, into protective custody almost ten years ago. When a little boy arrives alone at her clinic with a letter identifying himself as Martha’s son, Neviah has a chance to redeem herself. Having suffered enough loss for one lifetime, Neviah must locate the boy’s mother before time runs out and she loses the chance to right her wrongs once and for all—and before the shadowy creatures that have plagued her since childhood do more damage to her loved ones than they already have.
Birds in the Black Water is atmospheric, message-driven horror in the vein of Get Out, Midsommar, and Insidious. Van Dusen isn’t afraid to cross genre lines as she explores the intersection of mental health, maternal instinct, and grief.
Review Quote: “A stirring work of paranormal fiction, Birds in the Black Water is an intricate and original novel. The world-building is immersive, the premise is singularly inventive, and Van Dusen delivers engaging prose akin to Delia Owens or Colleen Hoover, which envelops the reader from the start.” Self-Publishing Review, ★★★★½
Author Website: www.kodievandusen.com
Amazon Purchase Link: https://amzn.to/3r7UjmO