Friday, January 8, 2010

QUESTION: What Do You See That Works in Horror?

A regular reader asked me what I'm seeing in horror & what does/doesn't work.

The one genre I generally do not like is horror.

I avoid horror movies at all costs. I do not want to read, touch, or analyze horror.

That being said, I've had to read, touch, & analyze more horror scripts than I'd like.

Horror writers might worry that I'm the worst reader for the genre, but actually I think I'm the best audience. If you can get my attention, you know it's got legs.

1. What kind of horror scripts am I seeing?

For awhile, there was a run of gore, which turned me off with the incessant boring how-far-can-I-gross-you-out.

But the writers got smarter and moved to more sophisticated fare:
- psychological horror
- contained horror (in a single location), and
- cross genre horror (usually with a thriller or action).

Horror is probably far more about technique than you'd think. The trick is to deliver the old fashioned story, build the fear, & keep the suspense all at once.

2. What does or doesn't work in a script?

Things that don't work:
- Surprise. Surprise. Surprise. Surprise. Surprise. Surprise should be an accent, not the main course.
- Lack of character development. We must want these characters to succeed. We must like them.
- Predictability
- Anything that numbs the reader.

Things that do work:
- Clever puzzles
- Something familiar that is scary. Ex. Mail slot bangs downstairs while you’re upstairs
- Antagonist makes protagonist uneasy, but protagonist is romantically drawn to her
- Protagonist torn in two unpleasant directions.

WHAT I KNOW: If there's one thing I'd recommend, it's studying tension building AND release.

It can be a familiar story, but if you fiddle with when and where tension skyrockets or disappears, you'll automatically be unpredictable.

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