I love American Horror Story. The good and the bad of it (mental institution good, aliens...eh). There are few programs I can say that about. Doctor Who, BBC's Being Human (sorry folks, the American version sucks), True Blood and Grimm. That's about it, really. A cooking reality show here and there. With a gazillion channels on television, I have to wonder why there's such a small gene pool to pick from.
For the most part, I can watch American Horror Story and it doesn't bother me a bit. But there are times it makes me squirm and I think, "Now there's some good writing." Add to that, superb acting, and it becomes a feast for the senses. In my geeky and writerly brain, I often find myself trying to imagine how to translate that feast to a page.
Have you ever done that? Watched something and imagined what the script must have looked like and how it would read in a book?
*Scary Movie Script*
Act 5, Scene 1
Victim: "What do you plan to do with me?"
Scary Guy: (waves knife around) "I don't know. I'm sure we can come up with something. Given time."
Something like that handed to an actor requires them to squeeze emotion and tension from the lines and translate them to the audience. I know this from experience, I graduated from a high school of performing arts (eons ago) and majored in acting and dance. Gleaning emotions from the script as an actor is much the same as gleaning emotions from the reader as a writer.
Try reading this instead:
"What do you plan to do with me?" She felt the annoying tickle of perspiration run down the side of her brow. Her heart was beating so hard, it made it difficult to breathe.
"I don't know," he replied. The knife caught the dim, yellow light overhead as he waved it back and forth hypnotically. "I'm sure we can come up with something." The dead look in his eyes sucked the last bit of hope from the room. "Given time."
More words are required to squeeze emotion from the reader. And even then, the writer is hoping the reader can see the wan light overhead, the peeling paint on the walls (which I saw in my head right now and would have disclosed in a previous paragraph) and the juxtaposing tension on the characters faces. It's similar to acting--but working the internal/cerebral vs. external/visual.
Which is probably why I can't write with people around. The acting required (in my head) is so internal, any external is a distraction. I do often externalize a scene to see how it sounds--but I wouldn't want to scare people and make them think I talk to myself. Yeah.
So, I'll leave you with a video of one of my favorite moments from American Horror Story.
It captured the unexpected, surreal and 1960's quality of the series--all in one scene. Absolutely brilliant.
Set up: Sister Jude's (played by Jessica Lange) shock-therapy induced hallucination.
"The Name Game" from American Horror Story