The Common Psyche:
The Projection of Private Horrors
by Anthony Servante
F. Paul Wilson, if you will forgive the name-dropping, once told me over dinner after a signing at Dark Delicacies that there are some stories that are doomed to be told over and over and that the writers of these stories will in fact believe that their tales are original. The example Paul gave me was the story that ends with the world meeting its demise where the last two survivors are named Adam and Eve. The writer commonly believes that the impact of the ending will shock and awe his readers with its originality, when realistically it will merely trigger a deja vu experience. It is a common reaction because most writers have written a similar story with a similar ending, thinking their story was also original and unique.
Let me review for a second what this is called in psychological terms. Projection. A person attributes negative experiences to others. For example, I do not like apples. I see a man at the market take an apple from his basket and replace it in the produce section. I think: this man does not like apples. The real case, however, may be that the man may have forgotten that he had already purchased apples the previous day or that he'd rather have a pear after dinner tonight. In either case the man likes apples. I projected my dislike of apples unto the man's actions. I can go a bit further and say that I also believe that since the man does not like apples, he must similarly share my other dislikes as well. I can create a negative profile of the man and wholeheartedly believe I am correct. It is this process of projection that I feel writers transfer to the page in the form of these "deja vu" stories.
Please note: regarding "tranference". "In psychoanalytic theory, transference occurs when a client’s feelings about someone else, particularly someone encountered in childhood, are projected onto the therapist. The classic example is falling in love with one’s therapist, but feelings such as rage, anger, distrust, or dependence can also be transferred" (from abouthealth.com). In other words, the patient projects his neuroses onto the therapist or psychiatrist. For our purposes, the writer transfers the process of projection unto his deja vu story.
Thusly, because the writer believes his story is negated by the reader, namely that the reader shares the experience without having had it, he attributes originality to the tale. Think: I will write a story about my having been beaten by a mugger, the reader, I believe, will empathize with my narrative as I know that he was probably beaten at some point in his life as well, and when the story reaches the page I believe I have captured something universal in all people. Let's return to the Adam and Eve deja vu story. I experience awe thinking up this story, imagine the reader will also experience awe, and expect all readers to read my printed story with the same awe. Wow, the last two people on earth are named Adam and Eve, just like in the Bible; I didn't see that coming. Or so the writer thinks. But as Paul would tell them: It's a common story that everyone thinks is unique. The writer is projecting his own feelings and transferring them to the page. Neither the reader or the story empathize with the deja vu tale. Most likely, the reader thinks: I've heard this story before; or I think this was a Twilight Zone story.
So what the hell am I talking about here? Well, many stories that one may feel are original and great are echoes of one story that writers have forgotten but is buried deep in their psyche, thus the feeling of deja vu when the writer reaches that sweet ending and thinks, "Wow, that's deep." Actually it's shallow to the reader. And to the editors who have suffered through many of these stories and rejected them, it's deep crap. There's no character development, no plot structure, no three acts. It's all ending.
I could list the most common deja vu stories that pass editors' and readers' hands, but I won't. Let someone else write that article. I offer you a Rorschach test of sorts. Before you is a story I wrote many years ago. I came across it among my college essays and term papers. I dusted it off and typed it up for you, the readers of the Darkness Blog. It has no title and I don't intend to give it one now. It appears to be a first draft, but more importantly it is projection of a private horror, transferred unto the page for your perusal. If it makes you go "Ewwww...", you've entered my psyche; if you go "I've read this same story 100 times from 100 different writers. Sheesh...", you've seen through the facade. Keep in mind, you don't know anything about the character, nor do you learn anything about the character. However, you will feel something, depending on your experience as a writer or editor. Hopefully what you feel is not projected or transferred creeps, for you must keep in mind, the creeps you feel are strictly my own.
by Anthony Servante
In less than an hour, it would lay its eggs. But first it had to find a suitable place for its hatchlings to emerge safely. Karen watched as it scurried between her DVDs above the player, clutching her rolled up newspaper in her fist. She cursed herself and glanced at the wall clock. It was just after . She had to get up in five hours, but how could she sleep knowing that that damn fat cockroach would bear its young at any minute?
She flung the DVDs to the center of the bedroom till the shelves were cleared. No cockroach. She lifted the DVD player and the vermin darted along the corners of the shelves. Karen hit at the roach but the angle was wrong and couldn’t quite connect. Years of evolution had taught it to use the edges of surfaces to escape enemies. It reached the edge of the shelf and dropped to the floor. Karen stomped at it, but it disappeared under the bureau.
Karen yanked out the drawers full of her underclothes until the floor beneath the bureau was visible. There was the roach, its antennae twitching nervously. Karen reached in with the newspaper and tried to swat the pregnant bug, but it hugged itself into the corner and avoided the swat. Then it raced off as Karen rewound her aim. It went behind the bureau, she thought and tipped the drawer-less bureau over. It crashed to the carpeted floor with a hushed thud.
The plump insect paused a second then scurried along the wall and under the bed.
“No you don’t,” yelled Karen as she pulled off the mattress, the box-spring, and pushed aside the bedframe. “Damn you.”
The cockroach was cornered. It had no choice but to run up the wall. There was safety also in heights. Karen slammed the newspaper just inches from the bug. It shifted direction but continued its upward course. She whacked again but the roach was now out of reach. She grabbed her computer desk chair and stood on it. The bug was within reach, only once again it hugged itself into the corner of the ceiling and wall. Karen tried to slide the edge of the newspaper into the corner but didn’t have enough leverage to kill the damn bug. It merely lost its grip and fell.
Karen lost sight of it. She stepped off the chair, keeping her eyes fixed on all the possible places it could have landed. Nothing. She backed up, scanning the floor and stepping over the drawers. Her heel hit the mattress. She looked down.
It was under the edge of the pillow just behind her. She dropped on her butt, allowing her weight to crush the pillow over the cockroach. She rolled off and lifted the pillow. Smashed. Its white insides were sticking out of its open sides. Its antennae flickered once more then stopped. She took its dead body to the toilet and flushed it. Then she rearranged her room and put fresh sheets and a pillowcase on.
Then she turned off the lights and went to sleep.
Little did she realize that the roach that she had killed was not pregnant. The gorged brown vermin had landed in her hair and lay tangled there as she readied for bed. It slowly untangled itself and felt the first pang of the pulsing egg sac. As the exhausted girl fell into a deep sleep, the overdue creature crawled into Karen’s ear and laid its eggs.