Archive for the ‘Horror’ Category

This morning, the weather channel listed Bangor, Maine as along the destructive path of Hurricane Irene.

 

It’s probably Flagg’s fault.

 

You see, most of Stephen King’s stories take place in and around Maine, with Bangor being a hotbed of demons, psychos and curses. By next year, we’ll be seeing his next bestseller about a family that loses power in the storm, and a drifter asks to stay with them and they can’t turn him away, but he’s secretive and creepy, and the hurricane winds bring in some kind of winged creatures, and the father must overcome his alcoholism.

 

Writers can be inspired by anything. And to see the awesome power of a storm of this magnitude – it will certainly get the creative juices flowing. However, right now, the real horror show is just outside. I’m too terrified to even open my curtain to see the 60-foot trees swaying like a “wacky inflatable flailing arm tube man.”

 

Maybe after this all blows over, and it calms down a bit, I’ll find some inspiration.

 

 

 

 

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I’ve read that Kevin Williamson wants to do Scream 5 and 6. He already has them outlined. Just waiting for the greenlight.

I’m hesitant. As much as I loved Scream 4, (my review: https://whatilearnedbywriting.wordpress.com/2011/04/24/scream-4-a-spoiler-free-writers-review/) it would kill 4 to make 5 and 6. Part of what made 4 so exciting was: “What I thought was the end wasn’t really the end! This is really the end!” If you go out to 6 movies, it’ll just be rote, boring movies.

That was the problem with pumping out 2 and 3 so soon after 1. They were OK movies, but by then we were wise to the tricks. It wasn’t as scary because we’d seen it all before, in the first one, and in second-rate garbage like “I Know What You Did Last Summer.”

In order to do 5 and 6, you actually might have to extend the time again. Not 11 years, but maybe 3 or 4.

What I Learned: There’s such a thing as Too Much Of A Good Thing. Know when to bow out. If you’re ever blessed to be in a position where people are wanting a sequel to your work, err on the side of caution.

It’s easy, sometimes, to come up with a new story, a new twist, especially with something with such a simple premise as Scream. But maybe you just need to skim the cream from the top and swallow the fact that the rest of the ideas just won’t come to fruition.

Randy did it.

That’s what I thought about Scream 3. Randy had somehow faked his death in Scream 2, and he was the killer in 3.

The characters in 3 found a video made of him, so he still appeared in that movie, but he was long gone.

But I was still holding out hope for him to appear again in 4. Maybe he was severely scarred, and wheelchair bound, and ordering Ghostface around remotely.

Then Neve Campbell’s Sidney would round a corner in a creepy old house and find him during the parlor scene.

I had it all in my head.

And that’s what made the movies successful. Any one of the red herrings could be a decent movie. The fact that you’ll never really guess the killer is inconsequential. You’re building a movie in your head.

Part 4 made me feel the same way part 1 did: Not fear, but that sustained tension for 90 minutes because you don’t know what is going to happen.

It also threw more red herrings at you than Lew Zealand.

Movie makers want to crank out sequels as quickly as possible, but Scream 4 benefited from the distance of 11 years.

It made use of technology that has made it that much easier to reach out and touch someone. Everyone has cell phones. An App that makes your voice sound like Ghostface. A GPS in a phone.

It’s a much better movie than if they had just made another one a year after part 3.

My only complaint – the only whole in the plot – was that after all that’s happened to Sidney Prescott, why isn’t she carrying a gun?

The first time she sees a killing, she charges into the house to save the person or catch the killer. Imagine if she’s got a gun at the time. She fires into Ghostface’s chest.

“Don’t bring a knife to a gun fight!”

It doesn’t matter if Ghostface disappears. Maybe he was wearing a bulletproof vest. Maybe the bullet just grazed him. The point is, she does the smart thing and shoots him.

Even better, what if she kills him. The mask comes off, and it’s some teenager no one knows. Then, a few minutes later, the killings continue. It would have been a total switch.

As a writer, I wondered what they could have done to make it bigger and better than all the previous efforts.

What I learned was that you shouldn’t rely on one thing. If it had been a huge change, you could have lost some viewers. There’s a contract with your audience that they expect certain things. You can’t change them. You’re trapped in that aspect.

Instead, they changed many little things. The killer using a webcam, for instance. Not the first time a killer’s done this in a movie, but it was an evolution that made sense. There are other little changes, but I don’t want to do spoilers.

So, if you’re lucky enough to be writing a sequel to something, control yourself. Don’t make it too big of a jump for viewers, or they might fall.

Did anyone think that Emma Roberts was filmed in soft focus all the time? Or maybe she just exists in soft focus.

Why we root for monsters

Posted: October 28, 2010 in All, Horror
Tags: , , ,

A giant bug-like slimeball drops from the ceiling. Two people manage to flee, listening to the screams of their friend and a horrible crunching sound.

Why do we like monsters more than the people they chew on?

Monsters are usually the same in every movie: mindless eating machines. Soulless killers. In fact, that’s become such a cliche that we expect nothing but that.

So much work is done by the creative team to make sure that the monster is original looking. That the special effects are believable. That its origin and intentions make (some kind of) sense.

Yet not so much care is taken with the victims. I’m not saying that every piece of fodder should be a fully fleshed character. But at the very least, the hero should be held to the same standards as the villain. The protagonist must be original. Believable. His past and intentions should make sense.

Monster movies have become formulaic because the conflict is forced. It’s man versus monster, and it doesn’t matter who the man is.

There are only two plots in super hero comics, and I’ll apply that to this. 1: Villain wants to do something and the hero gets in the way. 2: Hero wants to do something and the villain gets in the way. This second one is always better, but harder to do.

Honestly, I’d be surprised to find a story where the protagonist has the goal and the monster is getting in the way of the goal. But I see that as a challenge to movie makers.

Additionally, I’d like to see a challenge to the idea of all monsters being mindless killing machines. Considering Frankenstein’s monster wasn’t one, and he’s one of the earliest monsters, I think it can be done.

I just finished writing a board book, and I’m not sure how I feel about it. This is the first time I’ve been so actively thinking about publishing trends while writing, and it feels kind of hollow because of that.

For example, I wanted to make the main character, a puppy, female. But I thought about readership levels. Girls will read books about boy characters. But boys won’t read books about girl characters. So I made the puppy a boy. It’s only a board book, so maybe that doesn’t matter.

In one part, the puppy waves a stick, pretending it’s a magic wand. Just this week, my daughter took a stick to the face from a boy waving one around. It wasn’t intentional, he was running toward her, like “Hey, look at this great stick!” She got a scratch and a bruise. And she could’ve got poked in the eye, but she didn’t. So I didn’t make a big deal of it. But I know that lots of parents refuse to let their kids play with sticks. So I changed it so the puppy was playing with a leaf, pretending it was a magic wand.

I felt very shallow making these changes. It wasn’t like my super hero, Epic, who I consciously changed to female because I saw a lack of strong female super heroes. With that change, it just felt right. These, not so right.

I guess you actually have to make a sale before you’re a sell-out.

Origins for psychopaths

Posted: May 16, 2010 in All, Comic Books, Horror, Prose

I used to attend improv workshops at college. A group of acting students formed a club and would run people through acting games. We’d try to establish characters and relationships during the course of a five-minute sketch.

One of the games was a murder mystery. There were two players. The audience gave the murder weapon, location and motive to the murderer. The other player was taken out of the room, so he couldn’t hear the audience’s suggestions. When the skit started, he had to solve the mystery, which was usually ridiculous.

After one mystery sketch, Matt, the actor running the club, said “Why is it whenever someone gets a murder weapon in their hands, they start to talk about their childhood.”

And it was true. Every time there was a murder mystery sketch, inevitably, the murderer would start talking about some bizarre tragedy thrust upon him as an impressionable child.

Apply this to horror books and movies.

Why is it, whenever we learn more about the killer’s origin, there’s always some hidden atrocity committed against him as a child? At one point, he was a victim, and the reader can sort-of kind-of rationalize how he turned out the way he did.

Except this: We never really know why some people turn bad. Just as we don’t always know why some people turn out to be wonderful people.

Two children from the same parents can grow up to be vastly different people. Millions of stories are based on this.

Whenever you read about a serial killer in real life, the authorities piece things together afterward, and it paints a picture. He shared a bed with his widowed mother until he was 14. She rarely let him out of the house. You think, “God, how could he not wind up being a killer?” But this is overly simplistic.

I think most people are just trying to be normal, whatever their perception of normal is.

Granted, few people have a life-altering event in their life. An epiphany or a time when everything fell apart. But when a writer starts dissecting a killer’s childhood, showing where it all went wrong, I start to lose interest.

It rarely translates right. A young boy is forced to eat human flesh to survive, so he becomes a cannibalistic killer. What? No.

Whenever a writer develops an origin for psychopaths, he assumes that there’s logic behind it. A boy watched his father brutally murder his mother, so naturally, he continues the cycle.

There is no logic to why people turn out the way they do, good or bad. And if the reason for his m.o. is faulty, then it calls into doubt everything that he does in the story.

If you’re a writer seeking originality, then you’re going to try to push that envelope further and try to find some kind of horror that your young proto-psychopath witnessed. The possibilities are endless, but sometimes you’re really reaching. And if you reach too far, you strain believability.

Alfred Hitchcock had “The Birds” attack for no reason, because he thought that was scarier. And at first, I didn’t think so. I used to want an explanation. But really, he might be right. He is Alfred Hitchcock, after all.

In “Cell,” Stephen King never explained what caused cell phones to turn people into electro-zombies. I was upset about this. But thinking about it, there was no way for the few characters we followed to ever find out. In a bigger book, like “The Stand,” we saw inside the lab where Captain Trips was created. The force in “Cell” had to have an origin, but we never learned it. King might not even have known it.

But you can also learn it for yourself and never tell the reader. I wrote pages and pages of background on one of my main super heroes. Her family. Her early boyfriends. Friends. I haven’t looked at it in years, but it helped form how I want her to be. So I know that information (although I’ve forgotten most of it), but I don’t need to show the reader any of it.

If it’s a horror, then you only show hints of what this killer’s background really was. Deepen the mystery for the reader.