I was on vacation this week, and along with some other vacation reading material, I borrowed the first three volumes of Locke and Key from my local library. It’s a suspense/mystery/horror comic series. As I’ve done in the past, I’ll be reviewing from the angle of useful writing lessons I took from these books.
The story of the Locke family begins with a murderous attack in their own home. Rendell Locke, the father, is killed, and his three children and wife Nina are left severely traumatized. To get away from it all, they move to the ancestral Locke house, in ominously named Lovecraft, MA.
In the new house, the children soon discover that there is some kind of paranormal creature lurking around who seems to have a vendetta against the Locke family, and the house is filled with strange keys, each with their own magical powers.
1 – Don’t Raise Stakes Too Quickly
The very first scene in the story is a home invasion and murder. There are a couple problems with this. Firstly, we don’t know any of the characters yet, so the situation loses some of its punch. It’s obviously a bad time for everyone, but the characters are still strangers to us, so I didn’t sympathize with them as much as I might later on.
Secondly, the stakes are immediately sky-high. It doesn’t get much worse than being chased by a crazy murderer. Later on, when the kids are worried about classes, making friends, or relationships, it all feels small and unimportant in comparison. How do you ramp up the tension from that beginning?
I think it might have been better for the story if the entire incident had happened “off-screen” and only been revealed in flashbacks.
2 – Make Characters Likable in Some Way
All the living members of the Locke family are traumatized. Nina becomes an alcoholic, while the kids try to take solace in relationships, and later, in the powers of the keys.
However, in these first three volumes the characters’ relationships with one another steadily deteriorate. They are all unhappy and everyone acts selfishly most of the time. Only when there’s an immediate threat of physical harm do they work together.
In recent years, there has been a sharp uptick in TV “anti-hero” dramas like Breaking Bad or Ozark. These are shows where the main characters do bad things, and they escalate by transforming the characters into worse and worse people. I’m not a big fan of these shows. Why would I root for someone who shows no positive qualities?
The Lockes are hardly anti-heroes, but they have the same problem. Why should I root for these characters when I never see them in a positive light?
3 – A Good Mystery Keeps You Reading
What kept me invested in the first three volumes of Locke and Key is the mystery. What is the origin of the keys? How are they tied to the house? Who is this villain, really, and what is their ultimate goal?
Even when I wasn’t that invested in the characters and their troubles, I still kept reading to find out more about these mysteries. Wanting to know more is a powerful way to keep the reader engaged.
Vacations Are Great!
I don’t know if I’ll read the rest of Locke and Key. I borrowed it from the library to try before I buy, and it hasn’t compelled me to keep reading.
On the other hand, I enjoyed all my extra vacation reading time, and I feel rested and energized to get back to my writing projects!