Monday, May 9, 2011

How to Scare People.

Yes, I realize I've already posted today, but I had a few minutes of free time and a whole bunch of classes to spotlight, so I'm starting today. :) The first class I'm going to spotlight is the one I never thought I'd ever attend! LOL. So, I'm going to take a second to say that I am NOT the biggest fan of horror or scary or anything that goes bump in the night. BUT, I did want to know how to write a chilling scene. So... I went to Dan Wells class "There's a Bomb Under the Table: How to Write Thrills, Chills, and Suspense". He is the author of the I am Not a Serial Killer series. (I haven't read them yet. I'm trying to get the courage to do so. I've heard the books are amazing.)

The first thing I want to say, is that I loved Dan's voice. He could totally be a voice for a cartoon or something. And he was hilarious! The minute he started talking, I knew it was going to be a great class. He broke his presentation down into a few different sections. The first:

Establish normal and then break it.

Dan used a scene from Scream to make his first point. At the beginning of the movie (I think), Drew Barrymore gets a phone call. Some guy starts talking to her, and it's a perfectly normal situation. Then the guy asks what her name is. She asks why. He tells her that he wants to know who he is looking at. Suddenly the normal is broken and she realizes he is watching her from either in the house or through a window. I don't know about you, but that is NOT normal!

Dan also showed a clip of the George C. Scott movie The Changeling. I've actually seen that movie, but forgot how creepy it is! The main character is standing at the bottom of the stairs in a creepy old house, and a ball bounces down the stairs. The main character is fine and picks it up. He drives to a bridge and drops it into the river below. He drives back home, and goes in his house, shutting the door behind him. All of a sudden another ball bounces down the stairs. The main character takes a step forward and is shocked to see that the ball is the exact same one he just threw into the river. He is scared, backs up against the wall, and doesn't go near the ball.

So, establish a normal scene. A ball is normal. A phone call is normal. But when you have it do an unnatural thing, it breaks the normal and scares the crap out of you. :)

The familiar becomes unfamiliar.

Dan made us watch a clip of Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Okay. When I see a child in a scary movie, I get freaked out immediately. Not cool, Dan. Not cool. It showed a clip when aliens are trying to get into this house, and the mom is freaking out. The child and the house are familiar before this starts happening, and all of the sudden the kid goes nuts and is trying desperately to get out of the house. The house goes crazy and starts coming alive. Hence, the unfamiliar. Through the whole scene I was seriously trying not to watch, but I couldn't look away. At the end, the child crawls through the doggy door, and the mom is hanging onto his legs and then lets go of him. Yep. Never watching that.

Dan then put a clip of Jaws on. It showed 2 men on the dock hooking a roast to a rope and dropping it in the water to catch a shark. They then tied the rope to the dock so the shark won't get away. Dan said that the story is so well set up because everything is normal. The familiar dock. The calm water.

And then ... the shark gets the roast. Pulls on the rope and breaks the whole dock in half. One of the men falls into the water, and watches as the piece of floating dock that is now hooked to the shark, turns around and heads back toward him. I'm sure no amount of swear words would be enough, knowing a huge shark is now coming to eat you.

Delay the other shoe.

Next, Dan told us about a movie or something that a guy lived in an apartment, and every night, the person above him would take his shoes off and drop them on the floor, one by one. One night, the guy came home, rolled his eyes when he heard his upstairs neighbor getting ready for bed. He heard one shoe drop, and then waited for the other one to do the same. It didn't happen. The guy downstairs then knew that something was wrong upstairs. With just that little thing. One shoe not dropping, he knew there was trouble.

He then showed the clip from Jaws where the main character is stressing because he knows there's a shark out in the water, but the mayor won't close the beaches and no one else believes him. He shows several scenes of people just playing on the beach and doing normal things, but all the main character sees is dangers everywhere. A kid screaming, but then you realize he's just having fun. Lot's of examples like that as the movie keeps rolling and the main character keeps freaking out. As viewers we're waiting for the other shoe to drop. But it doesn't, and doesn't again, and then finally the shark comes when you least expect it and a life is lost. He keeps us in suspense so long, that we are on the edge of our seat the whole time, and are surprised when it finally does happen.

Pushing fear buttons.

Dan thought it would be brilliant to show Silence of the Lambs for this example. And can I just say, I'll never ever be watching this movie. Just this scene scared the crap out of me!

Anyway, it's the end of the film. The main character, Jodi Foster, has gone into the building where the kidnap victim is trapped in a hole. Dan explained how brilliant is was, that the camera's kept showing things people were scared of. (There was a barking dog, so Jodi Foster couldn't hear well, a screaming girl calling for help, a lot of closed doors, which she had to open and had no idea what would be on the other side, rooms full of creepy stuff, the lights go out, etc.) We have the character's obvious fear. Her breathing, her wide eyes and you can see her shaking almost the whole time. And honestly, if an armed FBI agent is freaked out, why the heck wouldn't I be? Anyway, near the climax of the film, the lights go out and we get to see the murderer looking at her through his night-vision glasses. It was so freaky. Yeah. Never watching that show.
His point was, you can make every day things appear creepier. You can write the book through the villain's eyes, or preferably the victim. What are they thinking? Feeling? What is making them so scared that they can't think straight?

Show the monster when the time is right.

I wish we could have heard more about this one, but the time ran out. Dan was trying to say make the monster believable. Don't make it ridiculous or a waste of the reader's time. Make him/her scary. Make them have nothing to lose. Those kind of "monsters" are the scariest, in my opinion. ;)

So, all in all, this class was fantastic. He had some brilliant ideas, and it really got me thinking about writing horror! He he. Not really, but I do have some great ideas for making my scenes more intense.


Sierra Gardner said...

Great post! I write a lot of thriller, suspense (and occasionally horror) so I really appreciate the tips! I'll have to start looking for those elements in movies and incorporating them more into my own stories.

Lindz Pagel said...

Wow! This post if getting bookmarked. Great advice. I have some spine tingling moments I want to try and conjure in my WIP and this will work wonders. Thanks!

Shallee said...

I went to this one at LTUE in February. It's such an awesome class! Dan really knows how to do scary. :)

Candice said...

Oh wow, I got a little creeped out just reading all this stuff. Sound like a fantastic workshop!

Kasie West said...

Dan did this class for LTUE too. It was my favorite class. And Dan is hilarious, huh? :)

K.D. Kinney said...

Nice to meet you too! I'm so glad to know there are more people out there like me! And if you haven't gotten the Sims Medieval do it NOW! Talk about making fun stories. It's totally different and so so fun. I'm planning on doing some reviews as I get the blog up and running! Thanks for the comment and I'm so glad I found your blog too!

Jolene Perry said...

Man! Now I'm sad I missed that class!!

Kimberly Krey said...

Fantastic summary! I've been to the class and absolutely loved it. Like you said - brilliant! :)

Tamara said...

Oh, thank-you for this. I wanted to go to this class and like two others that session - so I missed it. It was great to meet you on Saturday!

Amber Argyle, author said...

He did the same class at LTUE. I really liked it.

Jenn Johansson said...

Awesome summary. Dan is a stud and his classes are amazing. As a thriller writer, can I just say, he knows his stuff...

and also...

You NEED to read his books. Dude. For reals.

Donna K. Weaver said...

Wonderful summary of the class. I was there and thoroughly enjoyed. And having just finished Dan's "I Don't Want to Kill You", I can say he knows what he's talking about.