Horror! It’s a genre that, when it’s great it’s great, but when it’s bad, wow, it can be painfully bad. So how does one write a good horror movie? What are some things to keep an eye out for? How do you know if it’s scary? Here are some tips to help you get your Stephen King on!
- Know the Horror Screenplay Structure
Is your film a slasher movie? A monster movie? A ghost story? Familiarize yourself with other movies like it. The more familiar you become with a specific type of movie, the better you’ll understand an audience’s expectations and be able to work those to your advantage.
Take “Scream,” for example, written by Kevin Williamson, a movie that is very much a slasher film. “Scream” is a self-aware film that acknowledges the genre and type of movie it is. It’s then able to poke fun at things that commonly happen in slasher movies, or turn genre-tropes on their head, doing the unexpected. The film is only able to do these things because the writer is acutely aware of the slashers that came before it.
- What scares you?
It’s always a good idea to work from personal experience, and the odds are very high that whatever gives you the heebie-jeebies gives other people the creeps, too! Plus, people respond to authenticity. If you’re terrified of enclosed spaces and you explore that in your story, audiences are likely to pick up on the real fear you’ve imbued in your script.
- Empathy for the characters
Feeling for and through the characters is one of the most important aspects of a horror movie. The audience can feel and experience something scary and horrible at a safe distance through the characters. Nothing makes for a more satisfying horror movie experience than when the audience feels empathy for the main character and is rooting for them.
It’s essential to a horror movie for the audience to care whether our characters live or die. Be sure to flesh out your characters well enough, so that the audience will identify with and root for them!
- Pay attention to your antagonist
The antagonist in a horror movie is everything! A horror movie can live and die (in the box office) based on the strength of its antagonist. There’s much to consider for your bad guy: Do you reveal details or leave the audience in the dark about them? Are they continually lurking in the shadows, or do we get shots of them in all their gory glory?
Are they based on something that already exists, or is this an original creature?
Put in the work and craft the most memorable bad guy possible.
The atmosphere can do so much work in terms of creating tension for the audience. There aren’t many other genres where the payoff is so high just for having a palpable atmosphere.
You want to use the atmosphere to set the stage for scares! Build a world in which the audience feels nervous, uneasy, and ready for a fright. Take the time to craft the type of environment that will allow for scares to pay off later.
- Test it out on friends and family!
Horror is a great genre to try out on friends and family. While they may not be screenwriting experts, they should be able to feel a level of terror just by reading your script.
May your words be creepy and full of scares!