Holding On To Hope & Horror

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Full disclosure:  This is another post off a note that I don’t remember the meaning behind.  All I know is that it has to do with Chasing Bedlam.

Now, I think I know what I was talking about here.  After looking at various dystopian stories or anything that involves a dark, harsh world, I’ve found that there are two important elements.  There is the HORROR of the reality that the characters call home and the HOPE that they will either survive or improve it.  One always seems to be following a hero or group that will make things right, but they travel through some of the worst scenarios the author can throw at them.  This works to make the reader/viewer empathize with the characters’ need for hope while struggling in situations that we’re thankful are fictional to us.

I don’t know how well I did this with the Bedlam books.  There are some horrific things like the cannibals, gangs, slave traders, and other dangers.  Yet, Lloyd can count for one of these monsters too.  Cassidy and Lloyd not being interested in anything other than survival reduces the ‘hope’ part of the equation.  Is it still there?  To some extent, but I don’t think it’s a conscious one.  The characters can be pretty dark in their mindsets, especially when it comes to death.  They play to the horror and accept it as their world instead of trying to change it.  Makes me wonder if monsters can have hope or will it have to be twisted.  I’ve had to think about what can take the place of that since most dystopian heroes use hope as the thing that drives them.  All I can come up with is surviving from one day to the next.

Another question that comes up under this is: How far can one go with the horror before you lose people?  For example, I’ve seen a lot of people complaining and giving up on the Walking Dead for a very gory scene.  Not into the show myself, but it seems the horror went too far.  Yet, it’s also believable.  Humans are capable of great deeds of good and evil, but we really hate seeing the worst ones get shown in fiction.  This is a challenge for me when I’m working in a world like the Shattered States.  For some reason, fantasy worlds get away with more because the humans aren’t Earth humans or the victims aren’t human at all.  Putting it in a familiar setting brings to mind that one’s self and loved ones could be the victim.  Possibly even the perpetrator.  It counters the hope because a reader/viewer is suddenly horrified by the act.  Technically, it shatters the hope, which could be the intention of the bad guy.  The challenge here is that the author might have a higher threshold for horror than the audience.  One could even have a lower threshold, which starts the issue of being ‘spineless’ when it comes to hurting characters.

So, this is a choppy subject that I’m still trying to wrap my head around.  Stumbling onto it by accident doesn’t help.  What do you think about hope and horror, especially in dystopian stories?

About Charles Yallowitz

Charles E. Yallowitz was born, raised, and educated in New York. Then he spent a few years in Florida, realized his fear of alligators, and moved back to the Empire State. When he isn't working hard on his epic fantasy stories, Charles can be found cooking or going on whatever adventure his son has planned for the day. 'Legends of Windemere' is his first series, but it certainly won't be his last.
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21 Responses to Holding On To Hope & Horror

  1. I’ve never really liked the kind of blood and gore horror and grossness of things like Zombie movies/stories, or even the blood and guts of watching Dr. G. dissect bodies on the autopsy table. I guess I saw too much of blood and guts in real life in my nursing career, so make-believe pales in comparison and often isn’t very realist. And realistic just reminds me of work. I love me a good psycho-thriller though, “Silence of the Lambs” is one of my all-time favorite movies.


  2. Having read “Crossing Bedlam” the hope part was that the two of them would accomplish Cassidy’s promise to herself. The Horror did not seem all that horrible. Those who got it deserved it so I was okay. Of course, I can’t speak for other readers.


  3. Playing hope and horror off each other is a good plan. It doesn’t have to be the only plan. Sometimes an environment is just that, other times it becomes a character in the story. (Dante’s Peak comes to mind.) This doesn’t have to be unique to dystopian settings either. Hope is always part of horror stories, even if it isn’t expressed openly. I’m glad to see a toning down of blood and gore. Some stories require a bit, but it doesn’t have to be graphic, and we’ve become numb to the shock value. In movies it got so bad that story was sacrificed for gross outs.


  4. I don’t know if I’d say horror movies are about hope, though. The great characters, like Ash, Ripley and Connor, are those with a survival drive more than hope.


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