Sunday, October 19, 2008

Everything I Need to Know About Writing I Can Learn from The Shining

Time: 9:43 am (Hey I slept in!)
Today's highlight: Watching season 2 of Supernatural on DVD
This week's highlight: Going to Quebec City - packing is at top of to-do list.

As a horror movie buff I enjoy my October long tradition of renting as many horror flicks possible, and catching as many on TV as time allows. I thought I’d blog on one of my particular favourites, Stanley Kubrick’s, The Shining, based on Stephen King’s novel of the same title (which BTW, I haven’t actually read but will rectify shortly).

Everything I Need to Know About Writing I Can Learn from The Shining:

1. Flawed characters resonate with readers. Jack Torrance is a recovering alcholoic, a violent man who wants to set things right with his family. Wendy, his wife, is a skitish woman, living with an abusive husband, giving him yet another chance. Their son, Danny, is unlike other children. Readers can relate to different aspects of each character – they represent parts of ourselves we fear.

2. Characters have to change. But not always for the better. Jack starts off on a higher path of redemption but loses his way and descends into madness. Wendy is forced to shed her sheep clothing and defend her son like a lioness. Danny learns to use his talent. But ultimately, we revel in Jack’s fall.

3. Setting can affect plot in monstrously huge ways. The Overlook Hotel is meant to be overflowing with people – the lack of them makes it grotesque. A sudden snowstorm creates an environment of isolation and fear. Yes, setting. This is one I struggle with. I’m a heavy-dialogue writer, I tend to neglect setting. But perhaps I’m looking at it wrong. Setting is not just a description of what is out the window. It is a description of what a character perceives is out the window.

4. If there’s an obvious way for characters to escape or for the story to end, nix it. As The Shining reaches it’s arc and the characters are desperate to escape - the only means of communication, a radio is destroyed and so is the only vehicle capable of trekking through the snow. Nothing can come easy for characters. Readers are too sophisticated - they want meat with their potatoes. Plot needs to have twists and misdirection. Things can always get worse. In fact, they must.

5. Secondary characters need history and purpose. They just might save the day. Dick Hallorann, the chef at the Outlook Hotel, has a similar talent to Danny, he relates to the boy, offers advice and ultimately comes to the rescue. Minor characters can’t just be quirky portraits, they need motivation, full development, should advance the plot, introduce conflict and present solutions.

6. All work and no play makes Tracy a dull girl. Write, yes. But live, too.

7. Isolation isn’t always a writer’s dream come true. We all want to quit our day jobs, hide in a room and write. But isn’t that living in a vacuum? Some of my best ideas came to me while I was at work or hanging out with friends. Carry a notebook and a pen at all times. Self-imposed hermit-hood ain’t the way to go.


Tami Klockau said...

Great post Tracy. I too love horror films. In fact, we just bought a pack of 100 classic movies on DVD just yesterday. We watched The Head from 1959 which was super awesome. :)

Back to the post, I love your breakdown. As far as setting, I think you have to look at it almost like a character. It has to live and breath just as your characters do.

Have a great time in QC!

Judith Graves said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tracy Belsher said...

Oops I posted a comment as my pen name - my multiple personalities are showing! Thanks, kiddo! We're planning a ghost walk tour thingie which should be freaky and