Archive for Writing horror films

In the previous two posts I’ve shared two of Robert Ringer’s three rules of writing and added my comments on how they apply to screenwriting. Here is the third:

Don’t try to be all things to all people. Go after a specific market, and don’t make apologies to those who aren’t part of that market.

Ringer points out that it’s natural to want to be loved and therefore to try to appeal to everyone and offend no one. Unfortunately that results in bland writing that may not appeal to anyone. If you’re writing an indie film, a strong viewpoint may be exactly the element that gets it noticed.

If you have a strong viewpoint about anything you will annoy or anger some people. That may prevent you from writing a screenplay that has a strong angle on a controversial topic, or it may incline you to try to give the opposing view equal time. That’s fine for a documentary that’s trying to show all sides of an issue, but it doesn’t make for strong drama.

Will taking a strong stand offend some people? Sure.

I wrote on my other writing blog ( not too long ago about how shocked I was at the vehement reaction from one reader to what I thought was a neutral statement. Obviously it pushed some buttons for her, and maybe she felt better after venting her anger. Her statements were mild compared to a lot of what I’ve read in the comments sections of other blogs. But maybe the old saying is true: If you’re not offending anybody, you’re not saying anything.

This is a good thing to keep in mind if you find yourself worrying, as you write, about how readers or reviewers or members of your family will react when they read it. You have to put that out of your mind and keep writing.

I have some experience with this. Not too long ago I finished writing a novel I call Vegas Bible Porn. It’s a comedy and its based, very loosely, on my time in Hollywood. It’s about a producer who tries to cash in on two money-making genres of film, soft porn and Bible pictures, by combining them.

The novel is not pornographic and it doesn’t make fun of the Bible; it’s just descriptive of what this producer is trying to do—the Vegas comes in because that’s where he raises the money to make his film. However, so far the title has scared off publishers.

Even so, I want to hang in there with it because I think it will attract people who have an irreverent attitude, and they’re the ones who will enjoy it.

Is it a risky strategy? Probably. But, as Ringer says, when you have a strong concept you will (eventually) attract an enthusiastic, loyal group of customers–or a producer with some guts and the desire to make a movie that has an impact.

(You can sign up for Robert Ringer’s e-letter, A Voice of Sanity in an Insane World, at If you would like some support in writing what only you can write, join my online Writing Breakthrough Strategy program. It starts in mid-January but now is the time to join and get some great Early Bird bonuses. Find out more at )

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There’s a good interview on with Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, the two guys who wrote the Captain America screenplay, as well as the three Chronicles of Narnia films.

They give eight tips for writing a superhero screenplay. There are two that stand out and that I think apply to some other genres as well:

  • When you’re writing a superhero movie, don’t write a superhero movie. Markus explains: “Write a movie, and in a movie you are beholden to that guy in the first scene and you have to take him through it, and he can’t just turn super and then just lose his personality traits and be awesome for the rest of the movie. It’s got to be, to use the dreaded word, an arc.”
  • Treat the fantastic realistically. Markus, again: “Those obstacles — going from 98 lbs. to 200 — treat those incidents as if they actually have an effect on his head. ‘What would it be like for me to go from 98 lbs. to 200 lbs.? What would it be like to go from no woman in the world looking at me to many women looking at me?’ What does that do? We don’t take the audience for granted. We don’t think because it’s a superhero movie we can give characters short shrift at all.”

I haven’t seen Captain America so I can’t comment on how well they’ve achieved these two points but they’re both worth consideration. I had a recent experience with the second point. In a horror/comedy film I’m writing, my protagonist’s best friend is badly injured and it looks like he may not make it. When I read my first draft I realized that in my haste to get on with the plot I hadn’t paid enough attention to the huge impact this would have emotionally on my main character.

You can read the rest of their tips here.

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John Carpenter

Writer/director John Carpenter (“Halloween”) told the WGAw the key to getting your audience on the edge of their seats:

“The big key is to let the audience in on something. Something’s going to happen, so they get nervous. The question is when is going to happen. This is all Hitchcock. He wrote the primer on it. The audience has to be in on something, whether the main character is or not.

And you have to bond with your main character so you care about him. It’s the old bomb under the table. People are talking, having a conversation, and there’s a bomb under the table. Somebody’s planted a bomb under there, we show the audience, but the characters don’t know, so they’re sitting there pleasantly talking, and the audience is saying, “Stop talking! Get out of there!” That’s the essence of suspense, even though it’s a cheesy example.”

Of course there are many more subtle ways to use it, and not only in thriller or horror films. For instance, your character may think that his girlfriend is totally faithful to him, but we know better. Or we may know that the lottery ticket the character is about to give away to a homeless person is a winner (for instance, thanks to a flash-forward). It works equally well in comedy and drama and it’s a basic way to keep you audience engaged.

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