I have zombie nightmares. Ongoing, recurring, terrifying, bloody and gruesome, these are real nightmares, not just bad dreams. It's not uncommon for me to wake with a jolt, at the exact moment a zombie breaks through the closet door and begins to eat me, to find myself paralysed in bed, heart thudding, mouth open, horrorstruck and unable to move.
And yet, I continue to seek out zombie films, zombie books, zombie comics, and everything I can get my masochistic little hands on. Despite knowing I will sleep poorly, despite knowing that when I finish said movie, book or comic I will be hyper-aware of every little noise and likely in for a few nights of mental torture, I continue to subject myself to the glorious misery of fear. And I'm not alone. While some are sensibly squeamish enough to stay away, horror films are a huge market . From the release of both Dracula and Frankenstein in 1931, audiences have packed cinema theatres to have their most base and primal terrors tormented.
And books are the same, with readers passing copies from hand to trembling hand, saying "I almost fainted.", "I gasped audibly," and "The scene where he's behind the door? I threw the book across the room," while gleefully scare-sharing with their next victim. I myself remember, while recommending Cormac McCarthy's The Road to others, solemnly admitting that I had slept with the lights on the night I finished it.
What is it about fear, which I'm sure we'd all agree is a negative emotion, that we can't resist? Why do we come back for more?
Different kinds of fear strike different chords with different readers, too. According to famous literary critic Sir Arthur Thomas Quiller-Crouch, there are seven basic conflicts around which a plot can revolve: Man against Man, Man Against Nature, Man Against Himself, Man Against God, Man Against Society, Man Caught in the Middle and Man & Woman. But that was a century ago, and others have tried updating the list, as well as using more inclusive language (ahem), and now there are six basic plot conflicts.
Character v. Character refers to a conflict between two or more people, such as classic Protagonist vs. Antagonist.
Character v. Nature is most often seen in natural disaster stories involving storms, earthquakes, being lost in the wilderness and the like.
Character v. Self is characterised by a conflict in which the main character is battling an internal struggle with his/herself.
Character v. Supernatural involves a conflict between a character and unexplained, supernatural or typically unbelievable phenomena, like vampires, little green men from Mars, ghosts and such.
Character v. Society is much what it sounds like – the protagonist is at odds or at war with the rest of society. People often include Character v. Machine, which is a conflict between a protagonist and a mechanical threat, into this same category.
Character v. Destiny is a theme in which a character struggles to change their destiny and not become a victim of their own predetermined fate.
See our video for more on the Six Basic Plot Conflicts › Play Video
Fast Food Nation
by Eric Schlosser