Having decided that shock value is needed in your comic and you must scare, disgust or generally traumatize your audience in some way in order to get the emotional reaction to serve your theme and your subject matter, how do you decide when and where to draw the line? (note, all of this discussion is about films that don’t use comedic-approach gore but intend to play it straight and serious)
How much is too much, and how much is not enough?
This is the second stage of design: Setting the Limits. And as always in the methods I suggest about these things, you have to ask yourself some questions:
1. Who is going to be reading this?
It might seem mundane but it’s the best starting point to mark down your limits: who is your audience? Shock value works differently (and more or less difficultly) across different audiences. If you want teens to read your comic, you have to abide to teen ratings first. If you want the comic to be available to everyone, then you have to work with those limits.
The reason I bring these two light ratings as examples (rather than Mature or Adult, or R-rated or NC-17) is to illustrate that you can have shock value even within such limiting confines. You can scare or shock by alluding to a situation you aren’t allowed to depict because of the rating, and you can play mind games. Some of the best thrillers use the audience’s imagination rather than show on screen the gore or the shock.
When considering your audience, consider how you have primed them. Shock value is multiplied if your audience isn’t expecting the situation or the method of portraying the situation that is going to bring about the shock. If your audience has been lulled to a sense of security that characters in your story won’t die, then a sudden death, even if relatively sanitized (like a lethal gunshot) will have much greater shock value than if your audience expects blood and gore, but all they get is a gunshot to the head. Which brings me to the second question you have to ask yourself:
2. What is the audience expecting to see?
People choose what to read or what to watch based on a rough estimation of what they’re going in for. If that estimation proves wrong, usually the message or even the entertainment value is lost (except when the audience expects a pretty bad product only to get a rather good one).
So when designing your shock value limits, you must keep in mind that while you have some margins to fool your audience as to what to expect, but that is a narrow margin. Your rating will prepare the audience far more than your comic’s or movie’s cover.
So you must be prepared to keep it within these limits, or the shock value will become too much (and take center stage rather than the reason you have it there for) or too little (and also be discussed far more than the sum of the work itself) and you will have pleased/satisfied/entertained very few.
However, though some of the limits are set by standardized things like the rating, what happens when you are not as restrained? When the subject matter or the rating gives you free reign, what do you do? That brings me to the last question to ask yourself.
3. How do you shock the audience when they expect to be shocked?
Another way to phrase it would be ‘how to bring forth shock when the subject matter is shocking in and of itself’ without crossing the line as I discussed in the previous newspost. Once again, you need to consider what the audience expects to see, and give them something to see they shouldn’t normally expect, or aren’t prepared for.
One way to do it is by tricking the audience into believing one character is main or vital enough to be preserved throughout the movie, and then proceed to eliminate (or otherwise change) fairly early in the narrative. Another way is to have a large cast which you begin to eliminate at (seemingly) random throughout the work, thus keeping your audience always at the edge of their seats. Both methods remove the feeling of safety and predictability from the audience, and get adrenaline going.
Another way is to give shock value that personalized. When, for example, Nazis is your subject matter, there’s nothing you can’t show in terms of gore. They have quite literally done it all. But the audience doesn’t necessarily know that. So there are two ways to go:
Either display the unusual things, or personalize the usual ones:
The audience expects the ‘normal’ things- death camps, intrusive surveillace, kidnappings and murders and the occasional torture scene. So it’s likely that they will be moved far more if all of that is happening to an unlikely, or very undeserving character that the audience likes, identifies with or connects to:
Someone like this.
By doing that, you don’t actually need to show on screen too many things. The audience’s mind fills in the blanks, and that can be more horrific than actually showing what is done to the fullest, to the point that people feel it’s done for the (sick) pleasure of it rather than to get a message across.
HOWEVER. Sometimes, you might need to go all out. Sometimes some elements of a particular subject matter have become trivialized, or have been swept under the rug, or in general are considered without a realization of the true horror behind them. If that is the case, and you decide that you must jolt the audience into experiencing the true levels of horror that for whatever reason have been blunted over time or other reasons, you cannot sanitize a thing.
Pull all the stoppers. But also give it the dimensions of that reality, trivial or not- if was routine, show it as routine. If it was normal, show it to be normal. If it was just the job, show it to be just the job. That might be the most horrific thing you can do.
Tantz_Aerine at 12:00AM, Aug. 12, 2017
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