Are you like me? Do you show off how much you love scary movies like you’re so
badass brave? But then when it comes time to watch them, you’re the one who’s like “Guys, let’s keep the light on. Somebody might need to get up and use the restroom, and I don’t want anyone to stub a toe!”
I admit I do this a lot. And then I spend the next week sleeping with the TV on and maybe a lamp (or two) to convince my overactive imagination the characters in the movie won’t suddenly show up in my bedroom. he he.
Last night I begged my boyfriend to watch the movie Sinister. The movie stars Ethan Hawke (Before Sunrise, Training Day) as a true crime writer who moves his family into the crime scene home of his current work. Finding a box of 8mm home movies, he uncovers a series a murders that may be too close to home – literally.
This. Movie. Freaked. Me. Out.
But – the plot was amazing!
Early in the film we learn what our protagonist’s normal world is like. The Oswalts are moving into their new home when the Sheriff pulls up to the house. Ellison (Hawke) walks out to meet him, as his wife berates him to act nice. With just a few lines of dialogue we learn that Ellison’s previous books have caused quite a stir, and most people are reluctant to help the family. A fact that is even more difficult for their children, who have been getting picked on at school for their father’s subject matter.
Ellison’s wife: “Just promise me we didn’t move in two houses down from a crime scene.”
Ellison: “I promise.”
They moved in to the EXACT house where the crime took place.
Right from the get go, the viewer knows the family is stressed out and uncomfortable with the move. We know Ellison lied to his wife and kids about the history of their new home. And we know the police are not going to help them. They are on their own.
The next day at breakfast the Oswalts establish their house rules. Dad’s office must be kept locked at all times. They don’t want their young children wandering in where he could have photos of the deceased laying out. We now know that the kids cannot get in that room.
What Ellison finds next is the box of home movies that’s been left in the attic. As he watches each film, he witnesses the murder of the families in each video. And in every instance, one of the children is missing. As he rewatches them, he sees a gory looking man in the reflections or background of the film.
We meet our villain.
As the movie unfolds, Ellison gets closer and closer to piecing together what links these gruesome murders. But our villain and the missing children get closer to Ellison as well.
Every night, Ellison is waking up to the sound of the projector running in his office. The office that remains locked. He hears noises in the attic and footsteps around the house, but he never can find what’s there.
Are you creeped out yet?
At this point I was cowering behind my boyfriend’s body and periodically checking behind me.
Our rising action occurs as the paranormal activity heightens. Ellison’s son is having night terrors. They find him screaming from inside a cardboard box, and later outside in the bushes. Ellison’s daughter is painting pictures of one of the missing children. And Ellison thinks he saw the bad guy in his yard.
Every good main character needs a wise friend. A teacher, a best friend, a voice of reason. Frodo had Sam. Sherlock had Watson. Sandy had Frenchie. 🙂
For Ellison, he connects with Jonas, a professor of the occult, who helps him discover the meaning of the symbol that appears in every video. What he learns will only add to his fears.
I don’t want to create spoilers for anyone who wants to watch the movie, but I’m telling you this was a great film for illustrating conflict and high risk in the plot!
And I loved the premise. What could be a better set up than a true crime author moving into a crime scene and thinking it would not affect his family. Of course it will! You’re living, eating, breathing, sleeping in your body of work. There is no escape. And as Ellison dives further into his research, the world around him becomes too real and much too close for comfort.
There is a great little twist in the end as well, but you’ll have to see it to believe it!
Are you putting this movie on your must see list? Do you need to borrow my night light? You can have it sometime next week when I’m sleeping again.
Today my goal was to outline my entire story. From beginning to end. A bold task that required getting up early and focusing by planting my butt in a chair for the time it takes to drink a venti passion tea. Three hours later (I savor my drink, ok?…I got lost in social media, ok?), I had at least figured out the “want, motivation, but” for my protagonist, that wasn’t difficult. But I got stuck on my antagonist! I know what he wants, but I have no motive, and without that motive I can’t outline major turning points! Damn it all to hell! Excuse me, I needed to get that off my chest.
If I lost some of you at “want, motivation, but” it’s a plotting tool I learned at the Writers Institute by the wonderful Lori Devoti. Lori is a paranormal romance author and if you want a great deal on e-books, she’s running one on her blog right now. What Lori showed us at the conference is a chart where you list what your character wants, which needs to be the goal of the story so it has to allow growth in your character. For example, someone’s goal might be to save her marriage. After you’ve named the goal, you have to know the motivation behind it. What is it that drives the goal for the character? What is the best thing that could be if they get their want? And finally, you put the BUT in there. The obstacle that prevents them from achieving their goal. For example, if the goal was for the character to save her marriage, but her husband dies, her motivation and goal become something different, possibly about creating a better life for her child. Lori’s advice was to draw up this chart with the protagonist and the antagonist side by side because as much as you can pit them against each other with conflicting wants, motives, buts, then the easier it will be to plot them against each other.
Today my problem is that I haven’t figured out my antagonist’s motive yet. So I decided to stop staring at a blank piece of paper and definitely STOP getting lost in social media world, and do some research for the book to get my brain spinning again. So, I spent the better part of an hour walking through a graveyard.
No, no, this wasn’t a suicide mission. Not in the slightest. It’s the main setting of my story, and I thought a stroll through my character’s world would help clear up the muddy bits. Despite the fact I had to hide my camera from the protective groundskeeper who kept driving past me while I sauntered around, it was a productive visit. I got several great shots that will help me create scenes in the graveyard. And best of all were the names! Many of the graves in this cemetery are from the 1800’s and the names and variety in the tombstones was something spectacular to see. I also found the FREAKIEST tree that may or may not make its way into the story (I’m almost too creeped out to write about it).
I still haven’t quite nailed down a motive that doesn’t leap beyond the borders of “yaah, right, Witkins!” so I’ll keep working on that. But I still consider this a productive day that will help me when I am scene building. I mean, look where I was!
What do you think? Any advice for this stuck writer? What helps you sculpt your characters and outline better?
Also, don’t miss out on a chance to win a free book! Read my review of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, leave a comment, and you’re automatically entered to be a part of the World Book Night Giveaway!