Guest Post -- Author Caitlin Kittredge --

Friday April 29, 2011

Guest post by author Caitlin Kittredge, author of The Iron Thorn...

5 Horror Movies That Made Me a Better Writer

            I love horror movies.  Love them.  Unreservedly, unconditionally.  They can be brilliant, or terrible.  Slashers, ghosts, demons, hockey-masked killers.  Love 'em.  Can't get enough.

            Movies can teach you to be a pretty good writer, believe it or not.  They're ace for teaching story structure, and there's nothing like a horror movie for well-done tension.  Below, a few that taught me how to be a better novelist:

1.      The Exorcist
Cute little girl Reagan is possessed by the devil, and two priests battle him for her immortal soul.  Features pea soup vomit, creepy backwards walking, and one of the best climaxes between villain and doomed hero (Max Von Sydow) ever put on film. 

            What you can learn: The Exorcist is the master of slow-building tension.  Nothing blows up, but every moment of the film is geared toward the confrontation between the devil and Von Sydow.  Just like this film, a novel should ratchet the narrative tension in every scene, until the climax occurs.  I learned most of what I know about pacing from this movie, and others like it.

2.  Aliens
After surviving the events of Alien, Ellen Ripley returns to LV-426 to confront the xenomorph aliens once again, this time with a crop of plucky marines and a scheming corporate executive who wants to weaponize the alien.  This all works out about as well as you might expect.

            What you can learn: Alien, the first film, is actually the basis of a famous screenwriting book called Save the Cat!, which I recommend even if you're not a screenwriter, as it has valuable advice about storytelling (including why it is necessary to have your heroine, as Ripley does, save the cat.)  Aliens has lessons on a couple of levels—first, it's a masterful building off of the first film, much the same way that modern fantasy writers often expand, change and flesh out traditional folklore.  Second, it teaches that it's okay for the female heroine to give romance a back seat (the romance between Ripley and Corporal Hicks is touched on, but it's far from the focus of the story) and go ahead and kick ass.  Ripley isn't as tough as the Marines, but she's the woman for the job as they're picked off one by one.  Your protagonist doesn't always need to be the smartest, toughest person in the room—they just need to be the right one for the story.

3.  Below
An American submarine during WWII picks up the survivors of a British hospital ship purportedly torpedoed by Germans—and promptly finds that they've brought more on board than wounded soldiers.
            What you can learn: Below is a ghost story, but it's also a historical drama dealing unflinchingly with the very real horrors of war.  Don't be afraid to mash paranormal and real-world elements in your story—often the combination can elevate both elements.

4.  Dawn of the Dead (George Romero's original)
A group of regular folks wake up to find that the zombie apocalypse is happening, and take refuge in a mall.  Their plan slowly unravels as tensions rise and zombies find a way in, infecting one of the group.

            What you can learn: People matter.  Creatures are scary, sure.  Hordes of zombies are terrifying.  They're even more terrifying when used as a metaphor for mindless consumerism, and you're forced to watch the few human beings left slowly succumb.  Your characters are going to be the spine of your paranormal story, and without strong characters, all you've got is a mindless, shambling mess.

5. Let the Right One In (Swedish original)
Lonely middle-schooler Oskar befriends Eli, a girl his age—or is she?  Eli isn't normal, and she may not even be a girl--Eli is a vampire, and while she teaches Oskar to stand up to bullies and find joy in life by living for the moment, she may also be grooming him to become her new assistant—procuring her blood and brutally murdering anyone who gets too close to her secret.

            What you can learn: Based on the equally brilliant book by Swedish novelist John Lindqvist, Let the Right One In is as good an examination of the friendship between human and monster as you're going to find on film.  Monsters can often be more human than their human counterparts—and when their true nature shows, it can be a devastating blow for your characters, and your readers.  Don't be afraid to let the monsters get close.  The emotional punch is well worth it.

Thanks Caitlin for the awesome post! I'm a huge horror movie fan too :)

Caitlin Kittredge is the author of the FANTASTIC new book The Iron Thorn! I loved this read and totally recommend it! Its been described as a fantasy/steampunk/dystopian combo and I totally agree. Great for ages 12 and up, this story is an awesome adventure with a sequel to come!
The Iron Thorn
February 22, 2011
Goodreads summary: In the city of Lovecraft, the Proctors rule and a great Engine turns below the streets, grinding any resistance to their order to dust. The necrovirus is blamed for Lovecraft's epidemic of madness, for the strange and eldritch creatures that roam the streets after dark, and for everything that the city leaders deem Heretical—born of the belief in magic and witchcraft. And for Aoife Grayson, her time is growing shorter by the day.

     Aoife Grayson's family is unique, in the worst way—every one of them, including her mother and her elder brother Conrad, has gone mad on their 16th birthday. And now, a ward of the state, and one of the only female students at the School of Engines, she is trying to pretend that her fate can be different.

Find more info here