New horror project: the story outline

I had a terrible head cold — pounding cranium, bulging eyes, and all — and there was no adult medication in the house.

I took one of my son’s kiddie meds (a Triaminic I think) and tried to go to bed. It would appear that children’s medication has a very different affect on the adult metabolism, and I found myself utterly wired and oddly hallucinogenic, tossing in bed till 3am. I occupied my mind with some strange and twisted “what if” scenarios (what if someone was in the house, what if they walked by the bedroom door just now, what if they looked like that scary kid that rolls down the stairs in The Grudge) and long story short, ended up outlining most of a movie in my head — including the AWESOME TITLE which would be a spoiler in itself if I gave it up now.  I thought to myself “I wonder if this will still seem like a cool idea when I wake up” and was surprised to find that by and large, it did.

So I wrote down a rough outline, tucked it away, and didn’t think about it.

A few months later my writing partner Sean and I needed a new project. The plan was to pick a genre 180 degrees from what we’ve already done (a drama and a family comedy) — something even more utterly commercial, with franchise opportunities and a juicy role or two to attract talent.

We wanted a horror film… not a slasher gorno (neither of us finds those appealing, though I have to admit to kind of enjoying SAW III) but something a little less dependent on buckets o’ blood, and more dependent on strong characters in an insane situation that still leveraged the familiar set pieces of the genre.

I dragged out this fever-induced outline, and we talked it through.

We developed it more thoroughly: built some strong characters (two couples, a crazy old lady, a forest ranger, some bit players), crafted a creepy, hitherto unused creature based on popular mythology, put them all in an old cabin for a week, and we’ve got ourselves an outline.

Well, it wasn’t that simple… it took about a week, meeting a half-dozen times. Maybe 13 hours or so all together. The outline is a 10 page word doc, broken up into 3 acts. Each act contains all the plot points, character arcs, reveals and any other critical story elements in the order in which they need to happen. We further outlined “DAY ONE”, “NIGHT ONE” and so on, so we could keep track of where we were in the week, and whether the sun was up or down.

We chose not to actually define “scenes” with sluglines and locations (like we did in the Grampa outline), so that we’re free during the writing process to organically see whether points want to live in a single scene, be broken into several small scenes, happen indoors/outdoors/in the car/underground, etc. This makes Sean nervous – scared, I think he said (pussy). “Organic” makes him uncomfortable. But I insisted, and he caved, so I win (until it doesn’t work, and then he gets to say “I told you so”).

So what we have looks like this:

ACT 1
DAY 1
Introduce 4 characters. In the car. Video taping going on (Nick)… silliness, lighthearted, but an undercurrent of meanness or inappropriateness. Bethany has two dogs.

Storekeep, map, history, geography. We see the 1948 fire line and the fact that the fire road they will be following empties on to the highway. We can see that Nick plans take the most arduous route to the cabin. Simon calls this route into question but Nick insists that Simon should want to see more of the country side. Infer the “alternate” couples… Simon and Bethany seem well suited, etc.

Final drive to cabin, passing Sarah’s place. They stop briefly and introduce themselves to Sarah. Upon hearing that they are headed up to Jake’s old place Sarah becomes disturbed and slightly incoherent (perhaps carrying on a conversation with an unseen interlocutor).

Arrive cabin. Cat door is boarded up. Perhaps windows are boarded as well. Bethany thinks this a little extreme. Nick thinks nothing of this moth-balling and begins tearing it down.

Unloading, organizing, getting acclimated. Actual couples established. (who’s with whom). We are treated to the marital dynamics. Sheila gently directs Simon. Nick is more intense with Bethany. He does most of the unloading over her diminishing objections. Over time it becomes clear that Nick’s chivalrous acts are designed to remind Bethany of her shortcomings.

Nick Un-blocks cat door. Establish Bethany’s love for the dogs (therapy). Bethany upset that dogs will get lost. Nick doesn’t seem to care. “Dogs find their way home. It’s what they do.”

So that’s it. We gave ourselves 12 weeks to be done (with a strong second or third draft). We start writing Monday. I’ll be tracking the process (without giving up the AWESOME TITLE that would be a spoiler in itself, or any of the actual plot).

Stay tuned.