What’s Outside The Camera’s Borders

Posted: April 28, 2014 in Living and Life, Reflections, Scary Stuff, Writing
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Lately I’ve been watching a lot of horror films I haven’t previously watched before, such as Insidious and its sequel, Cabin in the Woods, and the new film Oculus (if I were review that one, I’d give it a 4 out of 5. Psychologically disturbing, but the ending leaves something to be desired. Then again, I prefer certain endings, and the one they used wasn’t one of them). Besides finding these movies extremely relaxing (yeah, I wonder what that says about me too), horror movies, particularly the good ones, teach me a lot about terrifying people, and give me ideas of translating those methods to writing.

For example, in all of those horror movies I listed above, there are moments when something is happening or you expect something to happen and the camera is focusing on one of the characters. It’s in those moments you find yourself wondering, “What’s beyond the camera lens? What if there’s something there that’s about to attack and kill?” If there’s music playing in the background, the tension is heightened, and even if there’s no music playing in the background, the tension is still heightened. Because you can’t tell what’s beyond that camera’s borders, lurking with intent to terrify. Even worse, what you can see in front of you may not be all that it seems. For all we know, that umbrella stand next to the character’s foot may have a rotting arm inside that’ll leap out and grab him. Or the woman fixing her earrings on while looking in the mirror and talking to her daughter may not realize that her daughter isn’t actually behind her. It all adds to the tension, to the terror, and when something finally does happen, it is both a relief and scary enough to cause you to jump or cry out or even scream (I’ve done all but the last one in my time).

So how do you translate this whole thing with the camera into writing fiction? Well, I think a character’s point-of-view acts as a camera, especially when the story is being told in first-person point of view. All you have to rely on to understand the story is the character’s (minimum) five senses and their interpretation of what they’re senses tell them. And in some ways the character’s POV is more limited than a camera, because the character can only see what’s right in front of their eyes, leaving the reader to fill in those spaces where a camera would normally show  what was happening.

Behind you!


So if one can figure out how to do this sort of storytelling with a character’s POV as a camera, I think you have the makings of a very scary story.

Do you think writing can in any way be compared to film making? Are there merits to picking up techniques from movies and TV shows, and if so, what are they?

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