So for the past week and a half at work, I’ve been listening to a lot of various podcasts and Youtube channel series about creepypasta, horror, and general supernatural/occult stuff. A lot of my friends are pretty strongly into a handful of things, both for this current anime season and things that have been ongoing for a while. I’ve been working steadily on my novel (which stands at 95k words total and ~40k for this month in general), and while the novel itself isn’t horror by a long shot, all the general media intake I’ve had or been exposed to secondhand have made me consider (again; this is kind of a reoccurring thing for me) about the impact of a story — whether it’s the characters that matter the most, or the story that really matters.
For me in general, it’s always the characters that have the longest impact; if I cannot appreciate at least one character, I might still enjoy a story, but it won’t be the sort of thing I will return to, and sometimes I won’t even finish it. I really genuinely have to like a character (preferably two or more, though!) in a story in order to want to follow their adventures and recommend their story. At the same time, one of my favorite things on the internet is creepypasta, and those as a general rule are not great shining examples of characters or personality. (I would hazard that this is in part why video game creepypasta has become so popular, because it taps into the same fannish desire and recognition that fanfic has, and allows the adaption of known and beloved characters as a springboard into whatever terrible story the writer is trying to create.) And to be fair, that’s part of the pitfalls of the genre; you don’t really have much of a creepy story with X haunted object or Y terrible ritual if your character is going to be sensible and back off before they even get involved. (On the other hand, these all tend to be ones that I just find sort of bland, excepting a few that have touched close to my own personal experiences or memories of childhood.)
In a general short creepypasta-style horror story, it really is the story that carries the whole thing — the events themselves become a sort of character, because those are the actions that move the plot and have impact at the very end. The characters themselves are generic, because they’re meant to be the stand-in, the ordinary people where “this could happen to you and maybe it will” in order to impact more strongly with the reader. I have never recommended a creepypasta (even ones like BEN — and I was one of the people avidly following it at the time it came out) for their scintillating and compelling characters. I recommend based on the mystery, or the impact of the writing itself, or because the story itself had an impact on me, which is pretty much the exact opposite of how I recommend anything else. The other day I was talking to a friend who was frustrated with the characters of her story, and I mentioned that essentially, I have to really enjoy and appreciate my characters (even the really awful ones, the ones I would never want anywhere near me in real life) or else I feel like the story really suffers in the writing, no matter how much I was excited for the story itself.
It’s a fairly common repeated piece of advice as far as I’ve seen — love what you write, and it will show in the writing itself. It won’t make up for the grammar mistakes or the continuity errors or make it suddenly palatable to someone who wasn’t interested in the first place, but it’s something I’ve really tried to take to heart. Writing itself is a terrible hobby in some ways — it will take you and it will destroy you and you’re unlikely to receive any real outside recognition or appreciation for it. I’ve seen fanfic writers and pro writers alike mourn the dearth of attention; “just one review, that’s all I want!” or “why hasn’t anyone reviewed my story?” and the recognition that implies. I have been that person. So at this point, I want writing to be a rewarding thing in and of itself; I want to write something that pleases me to get through, and something that I won’t completely hate on rereading.*
And maybe that’s the thing with general creepypasta, too; it’s less about telling a good story (and loving the story you write) than it is about the Effect! and the Drama! and the Scary! — I think that a story done with care will have all of those elements and linger better in the heart and the head than anything else. I know it’s kind of the most ridiculous thing, though I would hazard that’s also why love is such a common theme throughout so many things — not just romance, but in general, love is a force that fiction loves to touch on, and I personally think that’s important to your creations and creative process as well. Not numbers by route (though I am proud of my wordcounts!), not flashy lights or jumpscares, not chasing after the last big trend.** You’ve got to actually care and actually put thought in it, and that’s where success as a writer lies.
(She says, being a single tiny voice without much power behind her name. But still having fun with this, at the very least.)
* Which is not to say I’m immune to the whole “you’re your own worst critic” chestnut either. But I usually find that with some distance and a few deep breaths, I can usually find something in everything I’ve written that I can be satisfied with. Certainly I have lots of places where I can improve, and should improve, but I think I do all right with what I have to work with, right here and right now.
** I have a lot of feelings on the recent FAIRY TALES trend. A lot of them. Mostly of the jealous and “why couldn’t I have been part of it?” teeth-gnashing kind. Oops.