In the previous post, we saw how the explanation for the evil that is at the root of the bizarre incidents of the typical horror plot is an essential part of such a story line. However, although there are a variety of possible and potential sources of evil from which to choose (ignorance, indifference, inhumanity, sin, madness, and others), these sources are not inexhaustible, and, eventually, vary them as he or she may, the horror writer is going to run out of new (that is, not used previously by him or her in his or her fiction) types fairly soon. Therefore, the horror writer needs a few more tricks up his or her sleeve to assist in the maintenance of suspense and reader interest. Since, by nature, the explanation depends upon knowledge, the writer will not only provide information in dibs and dabs, piecemeal, as it were, on an as-needed basis, but he or she will also enhance the delivery of these bits and pieces of exposition by adopting one or more techniques, some of which we have compiled here:
Introduce a red herring. In other words, suggest a cause for the events that is, although plausible and potentially explanatory, turns out to be false or erroneous. Dean Koontz is a master of this approach. For example, in Phantoms, he suggests (through the thoughts and declarations of one of his characters) that the cause of the disappearances, deaths, and dismemberments of a small town's residents are the effects (perhaps) of a secret biological or chemical warfare agent. In fact, the cause turns out to be an ancient, egocentric creature who periodically feeds upon humans and whose physical structure is based upon petrolatum, enabling the survivors of his attacks to destroy him with oil-eating bacteria (no, we're not making this up). There really are such bacteria, of course. Some were used to clean up oil spills. However, the likelihood of a petrolatum-based organism seems spurious to say the least. Nevertheless, if the story is horrific and suspenseful enough, the readers will overlook the ultimate explanation as long as there is one and it could, however unlikely, be a dim possibility (even if the alternate, red herring theory makes more sense from a scientific point of view). What appears to be a guardian angel in Lightning turns out to be a time traveler from Nazi Germany. Are the bizarre incidents in Midnight the work of aliens? No, politicians and scientists have cooperated in creating a computer system to "convert" citizens to their way of thinking. What appears to be the results of fugue states and amnesia in The Bad Place are actually the effects of genetic mutations that resulted from hermaphroditic self-fertilization. Incest can have negative effects, apparently, even when its practice is limited strictly to oneself. Likewise, murderous fugue states are not responsible for the mayhem in Mr. Murder, as it turns out; the death and d estruction is the result of the actions of a genetically engineered clone. the supposed SWAT team in Dark Rivers of the Heart turns out to be a clandestine paramilitary group. The use of the red herring explanation suggests that nothing is as it appears to be--or shouldn't be, at le
Complicate the search for answers. As the characters seek to make sense of their experiences--that is, of the odd incidents happening to and around them--they happen upon a situation even more bizarre, complicated, and seemingly impossible.
Make the answer man part of the problem. The character from whom the others learn the explanation (herein after called "the answer man," even if he's a she rather than a he) may be part of the problem or, worse yet, he may be the problem.
Use the jigsaw approach. The explanation may depend upon each member of a group of characters contributing some knowledge of the total answer. This jigsaw puzzle approach allows further complications of the plot's conflict. First, somehow, the individual members of the group must rendezvous (and there may be some or many who want to prevent one or more--or all--of them from doing so); one or more may actually be eliminated before he or she or they can add his or her or their missing piece or pieces of the puzzle to complete the big picture (that is, the explanation as to the cause of the strange incidents or bizarre situations); or one or more of the answer men may decide to provide false information or may report erroneous information without any conscious intent to deceive.
Give the answer man an alternative motive. The answer man may have an ulterior motive--a reason not to explain the cause or to explain it falsely (that is, explain it away).
Use the missing-in-action (MIA) appraoch. Someone may know the secret--may even have known it from the get-go--but the answer man may be missing and have to be tracked down or incarcerated and have to be sprung. Alternatively, he might have passed the answer on to someone else, before being killed, so, now, this surrogate answer man must be found.
Let repentance be the key. An answer man, possibly working for the enemy, may refuse to divulge the answer until, repenting (for some believable reason), he repents, confessing everything.
Use the repressed memories approach. The answer man may have repressed his memories of the cause of the extraordinary incidents or astonishing situations and, although the information returns, in bits and pieces, it may nort always be reliable and accurate; he may have a few false memories (red herrings) among the "facts" he recalls, whether on his own or as a result of hypnosis.