Horror Tropes in Romance

I might write light-hearted romance, but I read and watch a lot of horror. I love it all, whether it’s monster movies featuring alien octopi which can only be fought when drunk, the 105th sequel to Saw, or the new release A Quiet Place (which is bloody excellent: go and see it!)

I thought I did a good job of keeping Romantic Anna separate from Bloodthirsty Anna, but judging by this recent feedback on my latest manuscript, maybe not:

“… you’re a horror-fan, so maybe it’d be fun for YOU, but for normal people like me? Being that scared is BAD.”

This was my friend’s feedback on the hero and heroine’s first date. At a zombie apocalypse experience. They have to shoot lumbering humans in the face while trying not to be axe-murdered, then they go home and give each other competitive orgasms. I’m not sure what’s un-normal about that.

Then I read a romance that begins with that oh-so-classic horror movie scene: a woman running through the woods from a psychopathic killer. She even trips over a root and lands flat on her face, and then hides ineffectually behind a tree trunk.

It got me thinking – what would romance look like if we inserted common horror tropes?

The Jump Scare

The horror equivalent of being Rick-rolled: the slow-burn sequence teases you into watching the screen intently and then BOO! – something almost as frightening as 80s pop music flashes up on the screen, and you jump.

I’m thinking the romance equivalent could be really violent premature ejaculation.

After chapters of loin-burning sexual tension, our hero and heroine are ready to get it on. There’s an exchange of witty dialogue. There’s the excruciating description of clothes being removed because a) who the fuck cares but b) no romantic hero can wear socks in bed. Finally we arrive at Foreplay Junction, and the heroine’s hand creeps down Rockard Abbs’ stomach and…

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Oh.

Sex = Death

If you manage to get past the jump scares and have sex in a horror movie, especially as a young person, you will DIE. You may first experience the joy of cooking a demon baby in your uterus, a baby which will probably claw its way out of your vagina and suckle from the milk of your jugular, or you may be chased through a woods by a psychopath who really, really disapproves of the shocking lack of foreplay among teens, but the end result will be the same. DEATH.

Some would say this trope is epitomised in the 2014 horror movie It Follows (mediocre, don’t bother watching) where an evil presence is passed on from one person to another via sex. It’s like crabs but less itchy and more fatal. Or The Ring if Samara were horny as well as needy (Naomi Watts doesn’t want to be your mommy, okay? And brush your hair.)

*I* say the trope is epitomised by the 2007 release Teeth, in which Dawn’s vagina grows a healthy set of molars to help keep her purity pledge. Presumably she can fashion it some kind of dentures when she gets married. I’m not sure how she manages to floss.

Thinking about romance, this could really up that sexual tension. Want to screw, characters? Want to rip each other’s clothes off real, real bad? Are you thinking of giving in to that sizzling chemistry an—WELL DON’T, BECAUSE YOU WILL DIE.

This would solve my issue with writing sex scenes.

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Vampires

Nope, can’t think of anything to say. It’s absurd to even imagine soulless, blood-sucking creatures being figures of romance.

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A Psychic is the Answer to All Problems

Whether there’s a ghost in your attic, a demon possessing your daughter, or a wet patch that just won’t go away (Dark Water, 2005), a psychic will sort it out. Bonus points if the psychic is a Wise Ethnic Person, probably taking some time out from mentoring an orphaned Chosen One in a fantasy novel.

The romance equivalent would surely be a relationship counsellor, in which case I can see the average length of a romance manuscript reducing from around 80,000 words to 800.

…unless we bring the therapist in on some kind of ménage deal, which then means a second therapist has to be found, and then it becomes a quartage, and I lose track of who’s putting whose Rick in whose roll and go back to killing everybody who tries to have sex.

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So… 800 words and no sex scenes? Writing romance just got a whole lot easier. Thanks, horror!

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Lord Logenburt Part 7 by Anna Kaling

I wrote a thing.

Chasing My Tale

Thank you for contributing part seven, Anna!

Lord Logenburt Part Seven

By Anna Kaling

The Lord Logenburts past were responsible for the dragon problem, at least in some abstract way, and Lord Logenburt present could put an end to it.

He decided on several courses of action at once, and his body twitched as it tried to move in all directions. Half of him reached for the crumpled leathery creature, with vague ideas of strangling it before it started baying for blood. The other half turned to crush the remaining eggs before he had to learn the collective noun for baby dragons. The third half—the part that was terrible at maths—headed for the door to get help.

He unbalanced, and performed an ungainly pirouette to right himself. He scolded himself to think things through and act logically.

But then the dragon lurched onto all fours and started crawling rapidly…

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What I Learned Manning a Communist Border Point

This weekend I was minding my own business, browsing Steam for a new game, when I was selected from the October labour lottery to be a border guard between a newly-created Communist state and the capitalist scum on the other side.

The two countries have just finished a six-year war. Terrorists, wanted criminals, and suicide bombers will be trying everything in their power to get past me.

GrumpCat Oh Great

As the makers of my new game, Papers, Please, explain:

Congratulations. 
The October labor lottery is complete. Your name was pulled.
For immediate placement, report to the Ministry of Admission at Grestin Border checkpoint.
An apartment will be provided for you and your family in East Grestin. Expect a Class-8 dwelling.
[Anna’s note: Class-8 roughly translates to ‘shit hole.’]
Glory to Arstotzka

The communist state of Arstotzka has just ended a 6-year war with neighboring Kolechia and reclaimed its rightful half of the border town, Grestin.

Your job as immigration inspector is to control the flow of people entering the Arstotzkan side of Grestin from Kolechia. Among the throngs of immigrants and visitors looking for work are hidden smugglers, spies, and terrorists.

Using only the documents provided by travelers and the Ministry of Admission’s primitive inspect, search, and fingerprint systems you must decide who can enter Arstotzka and who will be turned away or arrested.

Playing turned out to be a surprisingly psychological experience, and I learned a lot.

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Critiquette: Giving and Receiving Writing Feedback with Grace

This is the second blog post in a row I’ve written on etiquette and the irony hasn’t escaped me: yes, I am a potty-mouthed, socially inappropriate reprobate who struggles not to tell parents their babies look like elderly wizards.

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All it needs is a pointy blue hat.

It’s also ironic that I’m advising people how to be graceful. I’m roughly the size and shape of a submarine and I would sulk for three years if I ever lost at Monopoly. Not that it’ll ever happen.

But I do know about critiquery (totally a real word). And, on that note, critiquery artists are called critiquers (also a real word) because critics sounds negative.

I critique on several writers’ sites as well as privately, and I’ve completed around 50 beta reads of novels. I’ve also had close to 50 betas for my novels and short stories. I know what it’s like on both sides.

There’s a right way to do critiquery, and a wrong way to do critiquery. In fact, quite a lot of wrong ways. I know, because I did most of them when I was a n00b.

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Right (via Imagur)                                                          and very very wrong

You never, ever, want to be that poor, abused cake.

Read on to be the beautifully arranged peppers.

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Twitterquette – Or Why I Unfollowed You

Twitter is a glorious melting pot of socially awkward people blurting out thoughts that probably should have been kept private.

In fact, not a melting pot because we stay strictly in our own homes, afraid of human contact, and would never become close enough to coalesce.

Or is that just my Twitter circles?

Anyway.

The point is, I love interacting with people on Twitter in exactly the way I hate interacting with 3D people in that horrible Outside place. My good friend Kim explains why in a much more eloquent and less sweary way than me in this blog.

So it makes me sad when people do things that force me to unfollow them.

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Actual footage of me after I’ve unfollowed somebody

Then why do I do it?

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A Day in the Life of a Ball of Anxiety

It will come as no surprise to regular readers (or Twitter followers) that I have anxiety.

Diagnosed Generalised Anxiety Disorder, I mean, not just normal anxiety about money or exams or whether G.R.R Martin is going to die before he finishes Game of Thrones.

I’m outspoken about it because I spent many years suffering in unmedicated shame, too anxious and embarrassed to seek help. When I finally did, citalopram changed my life. A few days after I started it, when I drove home from work for the first time ever without going over and over every social interaction to analyse just how idiotic I’d come across, I found myself laughing maniacally at how free I felt.

So, you know, I traded anxiety for looking like something that’d escaped from a lunatic asylum in 1923, but swings and roundabouts.

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British Stereotypes – Fact or Fiction?

I realised how British I am recently when I had (minor) surgery and was too polite to tell the doctor the anaesthetic hadn’t worked.

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I didn’t want to worry her, and anyway, the automatic Brit response to any question is, “Fine, thanks.” or “Oh yes, lovely!”

For example:

Crying with pain at a massage, probably while wearing a Victorian-style bathing suit because good old British sexual repression

Masseuse: “Is the pressure okay?”

Brit: “Oh yes, lovely!”

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Two Brits in a restaurant

Brit 1: “There is an actual pube in my meal, under the mould.”

Brit 2: “Oh my god, you should complain!”

Brit 1: “I know. It’s disgusting.”

Waitress: “Hello! Is everything okay with your meal?”

Brits in unison: “Fine, thanks!”

In fact, there’s an entire Fawlty Towers episode based on the premise that Brits are unable to complain, in contrast with Americans. It’s 103% accurate.

But what about other stereotypes? Do we deserve them or not? I should probably put some sort of disclaimer that I don’t represent all Brits but this is my blog, and here I am King.

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Drunk Octopussing

drunk octopus (verb)

present participle drunk octopussing, past tense drunk octopussed, past participle drunk octopus

I drunk octopussed this evening along with Kim Watt and A.S. Akkalon. We live in three different time zones, with Akkalon a day in the future, so it was quite a feat to coordinate live drunk octopussing. Plus, she always has spoilers about what the weather’s going to be like tomorrow and if Jesus is going to drop by.

But that was nothing compared to what the residents of Erin Island have to cope with: fighting off alien octopusses while hammered out of their fecking skulls. (Fecking is deliberate because Erin Island is in Ireland, where ‘fecking’ means the same as ‘fucking’ but isn’t rude and therefore my mum can’t tell me off).

The octopusses are allergic to alcohol (why wouldn’t they be?) The only way to not-be-eaten by them is to drink until you have the approximate chemical composition of a pint of absinthe.

For purposes of this blog, the plural of ‘octopus’ is definitely ‘octopusses’ except when it’s ‘octopi’ and I refuse to be told otherwise.

After a slightly delay when some idiot (me) got the time wrong, Houston cleared us for Octo-off at 8:05pm BST which is the official time zone and no other times should exist because they confuse my little brain.

And what I learned was this:

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Things I’m Afraid Of

I’ve been attacked by bulls and oxen weighing up to 2,000kg and survived.

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I’m the one at the back, not the middle-aged man.

I watched my first horror, Nightmare on Elm Street, age 8, and loved it.

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I beat the final boss in Spyro II: Gateway to Glimmer.

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But I’m not totally fearless. In fact, I’m afraid of seven things…

1. Centipedes

Don’t trust ’em. Nobody needs that many legs for legit business.

2. Children

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Two Genres Collide: Romance and Fantasy

I’m not a picky reader. I love books for their little papery selves, mostly irrespective of genre. Romance, horror (my first love <3), thriller, sci-fi, erotica, crime, historical, mystery, general fic… I’ll read ’em all.

Well, I’ll read them all if I live to 983 which is the age at which, according to my calculations, I’ll finish my TBR pile. Assuming it stops growing now. Which it won’t, because after I write this I’m going onto Goodreads to answer a PM and will leave with 233 new books on my list.

The one genre I do avoid, as a rule, is fantasy. There are some fantasy novels I love–mostly ones I read in childhood that left a lingering nostalgic comfort, like Harry Potter, and His Dark Materials–but I don’t seek out new fantasies to read. Especially a certain type of fantasy with sword-waving elves that say things like, “My destiny awaits!… after a tankard of mead, good Barkeep.”

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Why are you closing the book, Anna? I’m dressed appropriately for battle and it’s totally feasible that I can destroy a phalanx of evil orcs with my magical sword before flying off on my dragon to make merry with twelve saucy wenches in a bath of mead… using my other magical sword ifyouknowwhatImean wink wink.

I am, however, friends with many fantasy authors including A.S. Akkalon who I talk about in my blog all the time but I’M NOT OBSESSED, OKAY? That restraining order is a pack of damn lies.

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Back in the heady days of April we agreed on a swap: I would read a fantasy of her choice if she read a horror of my choice.

I chose for her The Rats by James Herbert, in which a mischief of mutated, man-eating rats, well… eat men. Click to read her post, 15 things a fantasy author learned reading horror. I chose THE RATS because:

  • It’s on the short side at 65k words.
  • She refuses to swear on her blog and I wanted to see how she’d review a book in which dozens of people are eaten alive and a woman inserts a bottle someplace no bottle should ever go (she sidestepped it like the evil, clean-mouthed genius she is, dammit).
  • The author is not only a bestseller but also dead, so she can be as honest as she likes about it.

She chose me a book that shall remain nameless because I can’t even pretend I enjoyed it and I’m not gonna be mean about another author’s work. Unless they’re the people who write Will and Grace who, frankly, deserve to be taught a good lesson by Vlad the Impaler.

All I’ll say is that it’s a special book. Special like that kid in school who spent every playtime setting fire to ants and growled if you came near him.

What did I learn from this experience? Romance and fantasy have a lot in common.

1. Semen can be its own character.

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