The new weird

Don Jaucian - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - It’s easy to sneer at any ghost story, photograph, or video that we come across online. These things could be easily manipulated to stretch the imagination. But, just like horror films, we still get a kick out of these things. Since that ancient ghost story website, SFOGS, people have been looking for places online to spook themselves out. YouTube can be a trove of scary videos if you know where to look (Marble Hornets is a curious artifact) and reading Reddit’s NoSleep can keep you up all night. These are online artifacts that have evolved from campfire tales and urban legends.

But have these things also changed the way we read horror stories? Have these bite-sized chunks of horror replaced True Philippine Ghost Stories and other horror anthologies? We talk to two horror story writers, Karl De Mesa (News of the Shaman, Radiant Void, Report from the Abyss) and Eliza Victoria (Dwellers, Project 17, A Bottle of Storm Clouds, The Viewless Dark) about horror in the time of Facebook.

The web has definitely changed the way we consume horror stories, from SFOGS to Reddit’s NoSleep. How does this fare for horror story writers?

Karl De Mesa: The net as a tool for emancipation speaks to the punk in me and that the dark side of the net (which am sure, just like the universe’s dark matter, makes up more than half of the net) resonates with the goth in me. Consumption of genre fiction remains the same for fans, I think, though it does challenge writers to exercise their craft in these new, usually abbreviated, forms. I say this because I still think that the novella or short novel is the ideal length for a horror story; not too long as to entail a commitment of attention, but not too short that you’re starved for details and it’s still something you can sink your teeth into. If you’re looking for examples, I think Clive Barker’s Cabal (or Nightbreed) fits the bill for something that was first seen on dead paper, and Joe Hill’s Twittering From the Circus of the Dead as a Kindle Single told just in Tweets are good contrasts.

Eliza Victoria: I welcome new avenues of telling stories, and I absolutely love it that there are great stories out there that you can access online for free. Unfortunately, since everyone is free to post their creepy story, you’ll also have to go through a lot of clunky paragraphs, run-on sentences, and just generally unskilled writing before you get some gems. I read NoSleep. The stories in that forum demand a level of believability, so I appreciate calm, no-fuss storytelling. Sometimes you can tell when the OP (original poster) is trying too hard with the literary calisthenics, or with making you believe. “This really happened, you guys!” Just stop and tell us the story, please. We judge a story in these spaces the way we judge a story transmitted to us orally. It has to be compelling, it has to be paced right, and it has to at least be believable.

How do you think viral content has changed the horror story dynamics? Kind of like an amplified way of telling old urban legends?

Karl De Mesa: So far, the only dynamic that’s changed that’s notable is the brevity of stories, where a whole novel is too much of an obligation to the casual reader and that longform requires more dedication, but inevitably finds its way to those looking for more content to dig beyond the usual, or the mundane creep out.

[As for] amplified urban legends, I guess you could think of it like that. For me though the atmosphere and ritual of telling creepy stories are still crucial, powerful aspects of it: the dark room, the Halloween event, beer, preferably camping outdoors. Just a lot of things you can’t get from sitting in your bedroom in pajamas, no matter what the Paranormal Activity series tells you, or stories with emoticons while we’re on it.

Eliza Victoria: It also provides an additional challenge to writers. I have created interactive fiction using Twine, and I enjoyed how taking mouse clicks, page length, and hyperlinks into consideration added new dimensions to my storytelling.

What do you think are the merits of creepypasta (horror story memes)?

Eliza Victoria: I love reading them, as long as they are well written and if they tell you something new. They’ve given rise to modern folktales, like the aforementioned Slender Man and the Black-Eyed Children.

What are some of the best stories you’ve read online, even on your Facebook timeline?

Karl De Mesa: I remember a bunch of the local horror authors started passing around a #twosentencehorrorstory and tagging each other. I just did a search for it but came up nada, so I guess it ended up in FB limbo.

Eliza Victoria: “The office in the middle of nowhere” from Reddit’s Let’sNotMeet comes to mind. That story freaked me out.

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Tweet the author @donutjaucian












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