Tuesday, March 14, 2006

About Time

Time waits for no one, time marches on, and it's about time that we talk about the effect that time has upon a story, in particular of course, horror stories. Time can have a great impact on a horror story. It can affect the pace, naturally. It can affect the level of tension felt both by characters within the story and by its audience. Time can change the entire flavour of a story. Perhaps most importantly where horror is concerned time can remove factors that may make parts of the story obsolete. It can also make a story enduring or timeless.

Tension can be an important part of a horror story as both character and audience wait for the monster to make its appearance, or the killer to jump out knife slashing, or the corpse to rise. Timing will have a great effect upon the tension making it either long, and steadily built upon or startling in its quick abruptness. Some things will be better served by a long time frame such as kidnapped victims that may not survive long or prolonged torture by ominous supernatural forces. Other things are served better by a short time frame such as a sudden shocking death that comes with no warning, or even the disappearance of the kidnapping victim.

Use of time in these circumstance will affect the flavour and feel of the story. A house haunting that takes place over several years and several owners is much different than one that lasts only a short period of time. Scares and thrills that come quickly and finish quickly are a world apart from ones that build and build and then happen when the time is nigh. Neither is necessarily better than the other but the type of story that they build is vastly different and affects the audience in different ways. Short and quick will give the audience a blast that is strong but doesn't stay for long, while long and building will give them a more lasting feeling even after the scene, scare, or even the entire story is over.

The time which a story takes place in will have an incredible impact that can be felt for the entire life of the story as it is read, watched, reread, or re-watched. Some stories are dated by their material. References to dates and places, cultural references, and common place items used, or mentioned in the story can tag that story to a certain time. This can be good if the intent is to place a story in a particular time, but it can also be bad if it negates some part of the story making it implausible, or removing the fear that was integral to these references. A plague that was frightening when it ran rampant and killed indiscriminately can lose a lot of it's power if it is something that is entirely trivial to the modern audience.

This sort of "obsoletion" of the horror is commonplace and perhaps inevitable in stories from long before the time that the audience exists in. The story may still be good but the added dimension of fear from fearing the plague is gone. Such problems can occur within a few decades as well as century old or older stories. These newer stories feeling the effect can sometimes be cured though through the removal of certain items or props if you will in the story. Improper use of computers and their bits and extras can date a story and make the audience feel separated from the horror by feeling vastly superior to the characters or their predicaments just as badly as if the underlying information was incorrect.

Alterations to a story can remove these time stamps and make the story something relatable to people in the short term future and in the best situations a longer term than that. Conversely purposely setting a story back in time can allow for a story that is stronger in its horror. This is done by removing current and recent events that will make the horror in a story pale in comparison. Often earlier times in our history have an innocence about them that allows for a heightening of the horror because for the characters the fear, or shock, or tension is heightened and this conveys itself to the audience. So dating a story can be beneficial or detrimental depending on how it is done.

So, now that time has just about run out it is apparent that time has great effect upon a story in a myriad of fashions. Helpful or hurtful it is responsible for more factors than these but these stand out as the most important. What time really does to a story in a short quick description, in contrast to this larger run of information, is taint the story. Time marches on even now. Huht two three four...

© 2002 Robert G. Male

Mood: down.
Music: In The Car by Barenaked Ladies and Can't Have Your Cake by Vince Neil.

Barenaked Ladies: Stunt
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Vince Neil: Exposed


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