Can Books Be Scary?

scaredAs media develops and starts to cross the traditional boundaries between books, films, art, media, video games and God knows what else, the question rises up time and time again. Can a work of fiction in a readable format really be considered ‘scary’? Many would say so, as they have had the living daylights scared out of them by a work like something by Stephen King. But the question is, in a world where so much of what affects us operates on more of a visual and auditory level than a ‘word-based level, can you really scare people purely with description? I would say you would. Perhaps not in a jump scare kind of way, but more of a psychologically intense level.

There is a lot of fiction out there that makes one scared to read farther, to continue this reading experience, and this is something that movies can achieve but also have some trouble with. Movies can scare the hell out of you with a jump and loud noise, but unless you’re watching it at home and have oms kind of control over the film, then you’re not able to pause it and not want to go ahead – like a book. However, films are ‘unstoppable’ in the sense that you might not want it go on but it does anyway – which is something that they capitalise on, but haven’t really addressed in-film.

Books, however, allow you as much as time you need to read them – and this can sometimes be a blessing and curse. If you’re reading something truly scary, then you’re likely to stop reading and go very stop-and-start – knowing that you must finish this text, but there’s like to be some horrible and frightening stuff coming up. It’s not like you can just write in all caps to scare someone, but it’s still something that’s considerable – whether you’re going for a visceral, intense horror or something more deep and psychological, then you’re looking at an interesting and approachable way to go about writing horror. Many writers like Clive Barker alternate between psychological and ‘gross-out’ horror – what some would call ‘torture porn’. It’s never as visceral as in the films, of course, but still – there are many descriptions of acts and situations where you would really take offence, and words that worm into your brain and give you some serious difficulty continuing. Books can indeed be scary.


Alt Lit

There are plenty of approaches to the world of English literature, which has long seemed to many to be somewhat stuffy, insular and difficult to approach – particularly if you are a young person or outside the traditional scope of what a ‘writer’ is. When faced with this, many writers are turning to the concept of ‘alternative literature’, or a way of publishing and writing that is far removed from what you think of when you first imagine the world of writing and literature.

As the internet becomes more and more prevalent in everybody’s lives, there are a large number of writers who are incorporating much of the language and culture that the internet has spawned (particularly in youth culture) into the world of literature and writing. It’s an interesting meeting between the worlds of Gmail Chat, emojis, Tumblr posts and traditional writing mores. As such, it’s definitely intended for a fairly specific audience – the same kind of people who write alt lit are more than likely to be the ones who read it, as well as English Literature students and any kind of young person involved in or with a liberal arts degree. This isn’t to mean that these are the only kinds of people who can read this kind of literature, but in terms of cultural references and writing style, it’s clearly aimed towards them.

There are many who argue that the style of writing in alt lit is a little too ‘thrown away’ and doesn’t carry the same kind of weight or meaning that other fiction has. Much alt lit is extensively clinical, detached and dry in its writing style and narrative – in extreme cases, it seems like every alt lit story is disaffected mid-twenties white people taking prescription drugs and talking blandly, with plenty of play-by-play description of what people are thinking. This can be see neither as an attempt to convey the thought processes of the modern ‘alternative’ person, or as something that alt lit writers now expect they have to do.

At the very least, alt lit can be seen as a reaction to how prevalent technology, widespread dissemination of culture and absolutely instantaneous gratification have become integral parts of society throughout the world – and particularly for people under the age of 30 who have come to expect these kind of things to be completely natural and a part of life that will never go away.

Tips for adapting a book into a screenplay

Adapting a novel for the screen is an extremely challenging undertaking, but considering the following tips may make it easier for you.

Don’t try to be too faithful to the book – doing this will drive you crazy. Certain things work in a novel format which will simply not translate to screen. A script needs a clear cause-and-effect plot sequence that will keep the pace moving, and you need to keep this in your head throughout the process. You may need to combine or delete whole plotlines, and you will also have to be imaginative in how you show the internal journey of a character.

Know the work; your faithfulness to the real heart of the story will depend on your knowledge of it. The first time you read it, just let it wash over you and try to experience it as a casual reader. This is a good way to get a sense of the tone your film will take. The second time, be more analytical and look at it through a filmmaker’s eyes. This will involve picturing characters, scenes, and settings.

Be willing to let go of characters. If they are not serving the plot and the momentum of the story, or the film’s real message, get rid of them. You’d be surprised how much the creativity of cinema is about economics. You may also want to edit the personality of certain characters to reinforce a central theme or motif.

Ensure that the novel you are working on will give you ample fodder for visual material. Certainly many successful films have been made from books that aren’t obviously visual, but if you decide to do this you really are setting yourself a huge challenge. A novel charting a single character’s internal journey is probably not the wisest choice.

Be prepared to face some pretty harsh criticism, whether it’s from fans, from the producers and the studio, or the author.  The industry is rife with harrowing tales of authors who have absolutely hated what a screenwriter and studio did to their work. Some famous examples include PL Travers (author of Mary Poppins), Steven King (author of The Shining), Roald Dahl, who hated the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory film, Anthony Burgess (author of A Clockwork Orange), and Winston Groom (who wrote Forrest Gump) – just to name a few!

Most importantly, though, be passionate. If you are passionate about the story you are telling, chances are you will do the best job you can.