How to write horrific complexity and systems books

by | 2 Jul 2021

A teenage boy stumbles down a narrow, dark hotel corridor. The doors loom over him as he staggers on, close to tears, trembling. Where is the serial killer? Is she here…?

How does the horror screenwriter shape this scene?

Fear: boy in corridor; boy stops to listen for killer; boy opens a door; a giant black crow flies out – cheap scare; boy in doorway, he breathes out, killer attacks from behind!

Anticipation: boy in corridor; killer behind door – we don’t know which; boy tries a door; killer; boy opens next door, room empty, boy turns; killer leaps out from bathroom door!

Dread: boy in corridor; killer behind the last door; boy tries door after door; moonlight glints off the blade of killer’s knife; dutch angle of last door as boy reaches for handle…

Order of the reveal of information

The difference between the scenes is in the order in which the writer lets the audience know things. Fear scene: we know nothing, not even if the killer is in the building. Anticipation scene: we are shown she’s there, but not where. Dread scene: we know exactly where the killer is, and we’re silently screaming, “Not that door!”

Information is attention

Write like a slasher movie screenwriter. Think about the order you reveal information. What does the reader need to know to understand and be compelled to read on?

If you want to explain variety attenuation, you could:

  • Tell a story, then point out where in the story variety was attenuated. Then explain it.
  • Explain the idea of variety, then tell a story asking the reader to be on the lookout for it.

Either could work. But be aware of the reader’s knowledge, attention and interest. And remember variety? Let the reader get ahead sometimes and have to catch up at others.

And the last thing is … what’s that behind you?!!!!!

Photo by runnyrem on Unsplash

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