In accordance with the goals I laid out last time, I have begun looking over two horror scripts, The Devil’s Tramping Ground and The Calling. Pleasantly, The Calling is in pretty good shape. Virtually every scene is moving the story forward; there is good action and creepy moments throughout the story, and the characters are all continuously involved. That was a problem in Come Ups where the characters tended to step back and wait for a good portion of the first half of the second act. In fact, the only major problem I see with The Calling, at present, is in the formatting. The action sequences are a bit wordy and violate Dave Trottier’s three line maximum. To be fair, this script has already gone through a number of rewrites, so I’ve already resolved most of the structure problems.
Come Ups, on the other hand, was a first draft and has taken a number of rewrites to reach the same level of quality. The Calling should be a fairly easy project to bring up to snuff and have ready for market. In fact, The Calling has previously been optioned, though funding never came through for production and the option has since lapsed. What this tells me is that the story is already decent enough to attract attention, and, with a little polish, it could a great entry script for me.
The other script, The Devil’s Tramping Ground, is one of my earlier scripts. It too has gone through a number of rewrites and has the groundwork for a solid psychological horror film. But it never has received the attention that I felt it should. I did something a little different with this one in that I took the original story and turned it into a non-linear script. It was something that I thought worked well with the psychological aspect of the story and was something that was original to the horror genre. It may have been too original. Horror is a genre that has very specific tropes and beats. Change those up and people have a tendency to go, “That’s not how you do horror. You didn’t follow the rules!”
There is also a potential problem with the non-linear format. Although I think it works well, it may be distracting from the scary moments. It’s hard to scare the audience when they are involved in trying to solve the puzzle. If they are involved in the scary moments, they lose track of the puzzle and are subsequently lost in the story.
There have been numerous changes since that original linear version, so I’m going back and deconstructing the non-linear and reconstructing the linear version. I’ve created an outline of scenes on index cards and what I’m finding is that some scenes are really, really long. It didn’t matter in the non-linear version because they were broken up, but it is an issue with this straightened out version. I also lost, along the way, some early character development of my protagonist, so the audience never truly relates to the guy. If they aren’t invested in him, they won’t really care about what happens to him. As I indicated earlier, this was one of my first scripts and it suffers from a trap many new screenwriters fall into: knowing the character in your head and not on the page.
I understand why the hero does certain things or why particular events happen because I’ve resolved them in my head, but didn’t translate that clearly onto the page. As a result, I pass over problems on the page because the answer is in my head. It can be puzzling for a new writer to grasp an audience’s lack of understanding because you think it’s all there. It should be as clear as day. If a reader has questions about something, it behooves you listen to what they are asking. If you can’t point to an explanation on the page (sometimes they just miss it; it happens), then you haven’t explained it.
The Devil’s Tramping Ground will take a little more work than The Calling to whip into shape, but the underlying story feels pretty solid. I’ll spend a few more days prepping these and then undertake the changes to Come Ups.