The (Super)Natural Touch: Make them Feel What You See

I start out with a surrender to pop culture and the meme of the day. It’s been everywhere already, but it’s just too good for someone in my shoes to ignore.

I wanted to, I resisted the urge to click on the link. But people I respect started to share and recommend and rave, so I gave in. Wow. Even though the last seven seconds kind of ruins it, you really need to see the Telekinetic Coffee Shop Prank. So take a look. I’ll wait. {Already have? See it again, you know you want to}

{Quick note: the embed keeps going blank but if you search YouTube look for Telekinetic Coffee Shop Prank and there will be a half-dozen links}

This is the high-tech low-laugh version of the 1960s Candid Camera TV show- old enough to remember that? Of course not, but it was this same idea, focused on lighthearted comedy. The guy in the mailbox pushes your letter back out, or reaches up from the depths and snatches it from your hand- that sort of thing.

But this! I said Wow, right? I thought so many things at once- who could not be affected by this? Was it cruel to do this to people? Um, wait a moment- do grown adults getting coffee have so much Heroes and Once Upon a Time or maybe Agents of Shield in their blood that they never questioned for an instant what their eyes were telling them? Evidently not- you can see their reactions, their instinctive retreat though not threatened, and hear their heartfelt cursing.tcsp1

Those people in the coffee shop, the ones who weren’t acting- they felt a touch of the supernatural right there. Not ghosts, or at least not just ghosts- they backed away like a hair-bristling cat from a world they did not understand. Their skin crawled. They wondered if their lives were over.

Let’s not forget the actress by the way- she was not just displaying her powers in this prank. She was discovering them- it was her first moment, she panicked, and then that banshee wail. She’s feeling this horror as well- trust me, it’s an actor thing, she’s into it. Watch how some of the people, incredibly, give a mundane look as they back away: “sheesh, a real mutant, I’d better scram and get my bagel somewhere else or I’ll be late”. But the lovely African-American woman with long hair- that face says “I am no longer in my world”. She has given over, with all her intelligence to the existence of another reality. Disbelief suspended, check.

tcsp3And that’s the deal right? We have to craft stories that carry people away. With horror- a genre very closely related to epic and heroic fantasy- we need this transportive experience to come across or else it’s just vapid camp. For magic, or monstrous beasts, the undead, psychic powers- we have to punch through the reader’s mundane world and reach from their eyes back into their spines. And yank.

And our competition is video. Whatever your genre, the reader can go SEE something- comedy, chick lit, mystery and suspense, erotic, and even fantasy. It’s not just that the motion picture has come so far- I can reel off the names of movies made before even I was born that still affect me. The visual medium achieves so much- they run music and sounds by your ear, and let’s not forget the nice advantages that come with fake walls, counterweights and fellow actors to create the mood. But even on the other side of the screen, movies and TV have an advantage- the audience is multiple. Look at the reactions of all the customers- what’s beautiful about this prank is that they created an entire world inside a coffee shop. And that world was one where the supernatural became real, for several of the longest seconds of their lives.

The other day my esteemed eldest sister Stephanie posted that she had seen World War Z and was, shall

And four more just as gorgeous, seriously.

And four more just as gorgeous, seriously.

we say nonplussed to discover that the adversary was actually zombies. She hates the undead. I do not recall ever hearing her say this to me. That’s the kind of guy I am, if Steph had ever mentioned repugnance for the walking dead it would stick. {One of my other sisters is so averse to arachnids she refuses to hear their common name pronounced in her presence. See, I never forgot THAT.}.

That which must not be named...

That which must not be named…

But as soon as Steph wrote about her experience, I DID remember something from my own writing.

In Judgement’s Tale there’s a scene where the heroes are menaced by gaunts, what the Lands of Hope call a zombie. As soon as I first started to chronicle that scene, all the time I was doing it, and every time I go back and read it, I always thought about Steph. For some reason, it was her reaction I pictured, her face stricken with- what, revulsion I guess, and a bit of fear. And more than that, Steph could appreciate the scene if it was well done. She was the reader I had in my mind, the one I wanted to affect, whose Disbelief would go poof at my words. Why her, unless I had heard her mention it before and just forgot? But I would never just forget that, not me… a little spooky, I must tell you.

Here’s part of the passage, narrated by a gentle sage named Cedrith who has been dragged along on the biggest adventure the Lands of Hope have seen in five hundred years. Trapped in a corridor of unbreakable glass, the trio has already prepared as best it can for the onslaught of the unliving. Nothing to do but wait:

“They are- the living dead.” Cedrith whispered.

“And we shall defeat them,” Alendic returned. After a moment, he added for explanation, “You see with the undead, it is very simple- either you beat them, or you join them.”

“You make the situation marvelous clear,” Cedrith managed, and Alendic laughed, quite literally in the face of death.

The very slowness of the risen became their greatest horror to the elf. Each step or drag seemed to take an eternity, giving Cedrith ample time to absorb every horrid facet of their appearance. The broken jaw of one, a missing foot of another stumping nervelessly on an ankle; armless, toothless, heedless, they came on. For centuries they had awaited the party, knowing neither patience or its opposite, and now they came on to tear and chop and be destroyed in turn.

As a learned Elf, Cedrith had spent more time than any human contemplating eternity: he knew his body would stop aging at some point, and instinctively he felt that moment had not yet arrived for him. He believed, as all Hopeful Elves, that a truly great Moment, one in which he chose the manner and proper time for his death, was ahead of him. But as he stared into sightless sockets, smelled charnel shreds and heard the scrape and step of the undead, Cedrith faced the horror of a moment removed, stolen, raped from sentient beings who once lived. As it could be stolen from him. Unwitting and unwilling, their bodies kept coming; his mind slid by the thought that their souls still watched and the sage nearly screamed.

I know, the video was better. But I can’t muster any ill-will. Well, not much. After all, those customers in the prank, they were convinced. The touch of the supernatural came to them once. Maybe a few will get hooked. We’re both selling something. And success will be measured in the distance the customer feels drawn away from the Alleged Real World, into another one filled with wonder, awe, yes some fear of course because things of consequence are happening.


When you’re trying to thrill them, is it possible to cheat?

Then they will return to that normal life with a little bit of a tingle in their spines, from where they got tugged. And the feeling will never leave you, not completely. Who’s ever going to feel quite the same way walking back into that coffee shop again? With a tale in a book, you reach one reader at a time; there’s no one else around to help amplify the shock. But then too, even on a crowded bus your audience is alone- there’s no one to comfort them when your words succeed in sending the touch of the supernatural their way.

And after all, it does seem odd that I only now hear my sister hates zombies…


About Will

I'm the chronicler of the Lands of Hope tales, available at all the major online retailers.

Posted on October 9, 2013, in or browse all books. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. What a great video! I haven’t seen that one yet, but if I were in that coffee shop, I would Believe! 🙂
    A nice excerpt too, Will! I love that Elves chose the manner and time of their death.

    • Thanks so much Kirsten. Yes, choosing their final Moment is the plan for Hopeful Elves, anyway. Cedrith of course would never have chosen this, poor fellow. A very decent sort, I came to like him very much as I studied the early days of his protege Solemn Judgement. Maybe someday I’ll publish that tale.

  2. Great post, Will! Love that video 😀

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