Master of Horror

Man or Superman?

Can a man perform feats beyond the normal capabilities of a human being? Can he lift a Sherman tank, leap over a ten-foot high fence or swim from Australia to New Guinea, regardless of the sharks and crocodiles confronting him on the way?

You might say the answer is “No,” and you’d be right – under normal circumstances. So how do you give a man the power to do these things, while at the same time making it believable enough for the reader to accept?

Spiderman, for example, would have remained an everyday person with no more powers than your or I – if he hadn’t been bitten by a spider subjected to nuclear energy that changed its molecular structure in such a way its venom became something else. And Clark Kent would have been plain-and-simple Clark Kent, journalist, if he hadn’t migrated from a distant planet with a much heavier gravitational pull than our own Earth.

And therein lies the secret: you have to permit something to happen to Everyday Fred Nerk before he attempts his astounding feats: something which will explain how he is now able to achieve tasks a normal man can only dream about.

Of course, it is known that a man, driven – possibly – by the sight of his two-year old daughter trapped beneath the wheel of a Ford Escort, and knowing she will die within the next minute if something is not done to free her from the enormous weight pressing down on her tiny body; in such cases, one man has actually performed the impossible, and lifted the vehicle long enough for another to drag her free. But a tank? 

This is where the advantages of being a writer of horror/supernatural novels comes in handy, for at your fingertips lie the unknown secrets of witchcraft, reincarnation, magic, and all those other often-mentioned yet disbelieved sources of miracles which can achieve the effect you want, and give a man, for just the briefest of time, the power to do what he has to.

But you cannot take an average, six-foot tall, 140-pound man, and have him become a performer of deeds beyond belief unless something first intervenes to turn him into the type of being needed to do so. Have this event occur in such a way that the reader is permitted, while he or she reads the story, to accept what the reader knows cannot happen; have a spell cast upon him; have him reincarnated as  Hercules; have him drink that magic potion designed to increase his strength tenfold; then you can have him lift that car or leap that twenty-foot tall obstruction betwixt him and his love. 

But whatever you do, do not take him from behind his desk where he works as an accountant from nine to five each day, walk outside, see the huge, hungry lion about to attack and tear his child apart – and go into action, leaving the lion a shattered wreck on the footpath. It won’t work, and your novel almost certainly won’t be published…or if it is, it won’t sell enough copies to reimburse you for the postage it cost to send the manuscript to your publisher in the first place!   

And this applies to more everyday events, such as twins who have the ability to read each other’s minds, for example. We’ve heard tales of such things happening, more than once. But let’s say one twin is kidnapped by a gang of terrorists and stuck in an underground prison specially designed for her. Then let’s say the other twin goes to the local police, and tells them: “I’ve just read my sister’s mind, and she sent me an image of where she’s being held,” and have the policeman say: “Oh, good! Let’s go get her!” 

Seriously, folks, it ain’t gonna work – no way! Not unless, beforehand, you have examples in your story – with the same policeman as a witness: examples of one twin reading the other’s mind; examples that are good enough to convince him that the only way for Twin B to know what Twin A was looking at or touching or smelling or experiencing would be if Twin B was actually reading Twin A’s mind. And you have to eliminate all other possibilities as well – possibilities such as pre-arranged trickery or the twins giving each other clues or pre-arranged signals. 

Then you can have Twin B walk into the policeman’s home and tell him “I saw my sister kidnapped, and I can take you directly to her.” But it will only work If the policeman has seen undeniable proof beforehand that the twins actually do have this capability.

And that is my tip for the day: how to make the impossible possible. The secret lies in setting the stage.

Adrian Scott


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