Saturday, November 27, 2010

It's a tough job . . .

Two of the hardest things in writing horror are 1) coming up with really memorable scenes (not gore for gore's sake, but one-liners and scenes so cool they stick with you after you're done reading); and 2) figuring out how the hero is going to defeat the monster (in almost every movie, they blow up the monster or set it on fire).

It's such a problem that it's a topic I'm sure I'll be revisiting often. I even have an old work-in-progress novel that is ready for editing/revision except for one thing: how to dispatch the monster. Someday I'll get it figured out someday and that novel will be brought back to working status instead of collecting dust in a drawer.

One of my favorite one-liner/memorable scenes of all time is near the end of From Dusk Till Dawn, when Seth's contact shows up and saves the day by opening the doors, causing light to hit the vampires, and all the vampires blow up. Carlos, the contact, says, "So, what were they, psychos, or something?"
Seth says, "Did they look like psychos? Is that what they looked like? They were vampires. Psychos do not explode when sunlight hits them, I don't give a !bleep! how crazy they are!"

That's the kind of thing you want in your book (or your movie).

(WARNING: Deep Blue Sea spoilers ahead)

Deep Blue Sea does a terrible job of dispatching the "monster." Yep. They blow two of them up and electrocute the third. But the movie does a good job of creating some really memorable scenes.

There's a scene where the shark grabs the basket dangling from beneath a rescue helicopter, and yanks the helicopter out of control so that it crashes into the command tower in a fiery explosion. Plausible? No. But who cares! It's really, really cool.

Said shark then swims down with the basket (which contains an injured man) and tosses the man at the giant glass underwater observation window, where all the man's colleagues are waiting. So they get to see their injured friend go "splat" on the glass like a giant bug. Again, not plausible. But really, really cool.

And who could forget the scene where Samuel L. Jackson stops the action by trying to give a motivational speech about how they all have to stick together and keep their heads about them (LOVE Samuel L. Jackson, by the way). Just as his speech is coming to the motivational climax, the shark jumps out of the water and yanks him away. Best . . . scene . . . EVER! Who hasn't seen that old motivational speech trope in a movie and just wished the monster would show up and kill the blowhard, just so they wouldn't have to listen to another speech? Most excellent, indeed!

And there are many others; great scenes, wry one-liners. The science in the movie is very, very bad. The acting is frequently cheesy. The plot itself is thin. There's not much in the way of B and C plots, and the character growth is thin. I could go on . . . let's just say that I understand why the movie was held up as an example of a "bad" movie in the screenwriting book I was reading (while watching the movie, ironically--it airs pretty regularly for a "bad" movie). But it's a lot of fun to watch. Sometimes that's enough.

Of course, it's not enough for a BOOK. So writers have to do the hard work of coming up with a sturdy plot, character growth, and B and C plots as well as trying to come up with those memorable scenes, wry one-liners, and really cool monster destruction.

It's not easy, but it's an awful lot of fun trying.

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