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Five Tips for Building the Nightmare in Your Horror Screenplay According to Owen Egerton

19/08/2022

By Stephanie Ornelas

Award-winning filmmaker and novelist Owen Egerton carries a notebook around with him quite often. As a horror screenwriter, he believes that it's his job to hunt down what terrifies him.

I write stuff down all the time. What we do as writers in the horror genre is the opposite of what other people do. It's the opposite of what we're told to do. If something scares a child, you're going to tell them to just put it out of their heads and not think about it. Instead, we're like, put it down on paper, write it out, expand on it,' says Egerton during Sundance Collab's recent Master Class: Creating the Nightmare in Your Horror Screenplay.

Throughout the three-hour interactive online class, Egerton explores the history of horror and discusses the various types of horror storytelling. He also talks about using horror to address social issues and how to elevate the genre through character. In between sessions, students had the opportunity to ask questions about the craft of writing horror and how to bring a fresh take to a tried-and-true genre.

We move towards storms so that we might be struck by lightning. We don't wait for inspiration to find us, we tackle it. And when we have a scary thought, when we have a nightmare - even if we don't know why it scares us - we write it down.

Having written and directed several horror films including Mercy Black (2019) and Blood Fest (2018), Egerton explains how each writer has a bouncer in their brain - and that bouncer is in charge of all the ideas that want to come in. But it's the horror writer's job to give the bouncer a night off.

The bouncer is sort of slowing ideas down. Nope, that's a bad idea. People are going to judge you if you say that. They're going to laugh at you.' But our job is to pick up that notebook and let in all the ideas - the bad ideas, the ideas we would never show anybody, the ones that frighten us, the ones that feel kind of dangerous, the ones that are offensive - even to us. Write down all these ideas. Don't let the bouncer turn them away.

It's one thing to have the ideas, but where do you go once you've let them all in? Using a simple four-point system, Egerton shows how he finds his way into a narrative from a single idea. He does it in one of four ways: character, monster, world, and idea. And writers can start with whichever one.

Character

My story is going to have all of these [character, monster, world, idea], but which one do I start with? What is the grain of sand around which the pearl gathers?

Using the main character in Mike Flanagan's Hush to elaborate, Egerton notes how the protagonist (Maddie) is independent, lives alone, and is hearing impaired.

That's his character. And [Flanagan] might be thinking, I know I want a story about this person. Now, how can I put her in a situation that tests her weaknesses and her strengths? I'm going to put her in a home invasion. She's alone in the woods and this guy is trying to get in. That's when I'm going to build my monster, my world, and my ideas around my character.
LINK: https://www.sundance.org/blogs/five-tips-for-building-the-nightmare-in...
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