Anything worth doing in life takes some work. To do something with excellence requires even more work. Screenwriting is no different. So, why not avail yourself of the knowledge that can be yours from someone who has gone before you? You'd be an idiot not to. I mean, you could hit a home run after years of banging your head against the wall, screaming, "How do I keep writing myself into these corners ?!"
What Devin Watson has done in "Horror Screenwriting: The Nature of Fear" is voluntarily offer up everything that he has learned in the business of screenwriting and has laid it out for you in an easy to read and understand format. I'm assuming that if you're reading this, you are serious about writing. And, as such, are willing and eager to read...anything and everything. If you don't like to read, then you're screwed...I honestly don't believe that you can be an effective (or mediocre writer for that matter) without being something of an avid reader. If you're serious about writing (whether it be screenplays, novels, or music lyrics), start reading. Devin's book is a good place to start.
Without any further ado, let's dive into what Devin has to say in his book.
In an industry filled with its own language of sorts, it's nice to have someone break things down in a way that the novice can grasp the concepts.
As I cracked the book to start reading it, I was worried. Writers, when writing about writing, can sometimes be too wordy. This makes a book tedious to read and even more difficult to understand. Devin has avoided that trap. (Thanks, Devin!) No overblown prose here...Devin is straight to the point. (Isn't that the idea anyway?) Yes. When we're wanting to learn more about something, we want it...BAM...on the nose, right there for us to see and understand. Of course, when writing your screenplay, you want to avoid being "on the nose." Devin talks about that too.
Horror Screenwriting: The Nature of Fear is an easy read. You will have no problems understanding what Devin is talking about and, more importantly, you will have no trouble applying what he's talking about.
One of my favorite things about this book, aside from it's straight forward approach, is that Devin begins with a brief history on the genre of horror. Anytime you undertake something, it is vital to know the history behind what you are trying to do. What came before? Why was it successful? In order to successfully write a screenplay you must understand the history. In order to write a horror screenplay you must not only understand how to write a screenplay and what works for a story, but you must understand the history of the genre. Could you write a horror screenplay without that knowledge? Sure, but it probably wouldn't be very good.
Devin takes the reader on a "Guided Tour of Hell: A Brief History of Horror Films." He takes the reader from characters like Nergal, Lord of Death through more current horror staples like, Jigsaw, from the Saw movies. He talks about what made these characters and the movies frightening.
By exploring successful movies and successful characters we begin to see into the human psyche and what makes us afraid. Why is this important? Because without an understanding of what makes us feel suspense and fear, you'll never capture it in writing or on film.
This is all part of doing your homework, or "research" as Devin calls it. Again, as the author points out, the research doesn't stop with understanding your genre. It carries over into your story. What are you writing about? You have to know about your characters, their occupations, their pasts, etc. You have to know everything...you can't write a horror screenplay (or any type of screenplay, for that matter) that's set in an emergency room and know nothing about the inner workings of that place. To try to do so would be screenwriting suicide.
Kudos to Devin for his straightforwardness on all the work that it takes to write a good screenplay...one that will capture the interest of producers, directors, and investors.
From writing the logline to completing your script, with several things to do and avoid in between, Devin has masterfully covered all the important things.
Of course, you have to understand that no book could cover everything. (You'd never finish reading the book if it even came close!) So always be adding to your knowledge with your experiences and with other books filled with the experiences of others.
I'll admit that I'm a rather ADD kind of guy, so if something drags or is just plain old dry, I lose interest. I didn't have that problem with Horror Screenwriting: The Nature of Fear.
Devin has broken each chapter up in such a way that you don't need a long attention span for each section. While there are a couple of chapters where Devin is giving advice or establishing something (i.e. The Guided Tour of Hell), most of the chapters break up the how-to's and how-to-not's with his screenplay. That's right...he begins and writes most of a story for you to read and see how what he talks about in the book can be applied and be effective. What a great concept, right? Show you how to begin to apply what you're learning...pretty cool.
Like I eluded to earlier, everything more or less hinges on the level of your initial interest and commitment to learning your craft and fine tuning it into true art. So, there is no doubt in my mind that if you are truly serious about screenwriting in general, and horror specifically, you will be engaged from the start and will not lose interest throughout.
Of course, if you have no interest in horror or cannot see through the genre to the deeper matter of screenwriting, then your interest level may not be as high as someone else's.
Let's be honest. There are some books that you read once and their usefulness is exhausted. You pulled what you needed from them and, chances are, you'll never revisit them. They just collect dust on your shelf or you sell them and have little to show for it.
Screenwriting books, I believe, are not the same as other books when it comes to reusability. You will never stop learning and every screenwriting book that you have becomes a reference. I'm back in school (even at my ripe-ish old age!) and like to sell books back to the bookstore for a little extra cash, but I have hung onto every one of my books that relates to screenwriting, Why? Because I know that I'll never achieve a place in life where I've learned it all or never need to relearn anything. These books are resources that I can go back to again and again as I write new screenplays.
Horror Screenwriting: The Nature of Fear is one such book. Once you've read it and begun to apply it, you'll want to go back to it. During your writing process you'll probably want to have it open right there next to you.
There's no doubt in my mind that you'll want to hang onto this book for years to come. It is now in permanent residence in my personal library and, I know, that I will refer back to it again. In fact, after reading the book I am newly motivated to continue work on a horror script I started writing and I can't wait to apply the things I've learned from Devin's book. There you go...no extra charge for my personal testimonial.
Money is always an issue for those of us on a budget, either in life or filmmaking or both. The retail price on this book is $24.95, but it can be pre-ordered at amazon.com for $16.47. With all that this book has to offer you, the aspiring screenwriter, it is well worth the money. Again, not all books are worth spending $20 on, but with all that Devin offers in Horror Screenwriting: The Nature of Fear, it is well worth the investment. Like I said, you'll come back to this book as a reference over and over again as you continue to write your screenplay. It is well worth the money spent.
Let me sum up before I make a few comments. Good book. Good value. Helpful and reusable resource. Buy it.
With that said, I will make some general comments. I know this is a genre specific book and you may be saying to yourself, "I don't write horror." Fair enough. However, although horror has some elements and devices that are specific to it, the art of writing a good story (the heart of every good film) is the same from genre to genre. Good story telling is good story telling, period.
While horror looks specifically at the fear side of the human psyche, other genres look at others. Exploring fear is a good exercise in understanding how we, as human beings, tick. If you can understand what makes you afraid, then you can also understand and communicate what makes you feel sentimental, or loved, or angry, or embarrassed, or betrayed, etc.
Aside from being a genre specific book, Devin gives story telling tips that are universal and work in any genre. Pick up any good book on screen writing and you'll find the overlap. That's because there is a way to tell a good story, regardless of what type of story it is.
I would recommend trying your hand at writing genres that you may not think are your forte. Even if you don't write a feature length for every genre, at least try writing a short. Shorts, by the way, can sometimes be more challenging than writing a full feature. (In fact, some of the most amazing feature filmmakers on the planet consider short film creation to be the ultimate film art form, much as poker players consider Texas Hold 'em to be the ultimate poker art form.) Try it. You may surprise yourself.
Like I said, you need to check this book out, you won't regret it!