After a shamelessly fawning intro from Elliot Grove, a rather jetlagged Bill Martell gave an entertaining and informative lecture on How To Write A Thriller. I shall outline the evening below. Main points in capitals and any little digressions as and when they arise.
!. THRILLERS CAN DEAL WITH MORAL OR SOCIAL ISSUES.
These can be commonplace and current (e.g. illegal immigrants as in DIRTY PRETTY THINGS) or less commonplace and positively transgressive (e.g. disappearance in THE LADY VANISHES).
2. A GOOD THRILLER SHOULD BE CHARACTER-BASED.
3. A THRILLER SHOULD KEEP YOU ON THE EDGE OF YOUR SEAT.
4. IT SHOULD HAVE SUSPENSE.
5. THE PROTAGONIST IN A THRILLER OFTEN ESCAPES FROM HIS/HER DOOM.
An action film on the other hand, has its protagonist confront their fate.
6. THRILLER = SUSPENSE.
Action = surprise.
7. TWIST THE CLICHE.
Bill told us about a scene he is currently writing in which a ticking time-bomb with the big red LED is set to detonate within the protagonist's body. How does the man know how much time he has left? He can see the red letters glowing through his skin!
8. BE CLEVER.
Involve the audience by relating to their fears. These can be simple (taking a message destined for someone else) or maybe relating to recognisable phobias (getting stuck in a lift). Fear of abandonment, fear of responsibility, the list is endless.
Take a small incident and blow it up to drive the plot forward and increase suspense.
10. IT'S NOT ALWAYS WHAT IT SEEMS...
The perfect person is a secret killer.
11. WHAT IF...
...everyone at work hates me?
...someone is plotting to kill me?
12. SECRET DESIRES ARE USUALLY WRONG.
13. THE PROTAGONIST CROSSES THE LINE...
...just a little at first, then gets sucked in deeper.
14. THRILLERS SHOULD BE PERSONAL NOT FULL OF EXPLOSIONS (LIKE AN ACTION FILM).
15.THE ANTAGONIST SHOULD BE EVIL AND GET IN THE WAY OF THE PROTAGONIST.
16. THE PROTAGONIST SHOULD BE INCREASINGLY ISOLATED/PARANOID.
They should be out of their usual comfortable surroundings and have no refuge.
Everything in their environment can be or seem a threat.
The ordinary becomes threatening.
No knowing who or where the attack will come from.
17. AUTHORITY FIGURES ARE SYMBOLIC OF LAW AND ORDER/SOCIETY.
The protagonist must often resolve their dilemma without the help or understanding of authority figures.
18. THE PROTAGONIST'S JOURNEY CAN BECOME TRANSFORMATIVE.
There can be a transference of guilt (STRANGERS ON A TRAIN). The hero/ine is a better person for their experience.
19. FRIENDS OF THE PROTAGONIST ARE OFTEN SHORT-LIVED.
Nothing like the body count ratcheting up to increase tension!
20. UNUSUAL MURDER WEAPONS ARE GOOD.
As in a ballpoint pen wielded by jason Bourne in THE BOURNE IDENTITY. Poison, garden hoses..
21. THE HERO/INE OUTSMARTS THE VILLAIN.
Even if they die at the end. Always turn the tables.
There was then some more in-depth discussion about specific scenes in films and how similar scenarios evoke a different reponse. For example the use of elevator doors closing in respectively, ALIENS and TERMINATOR 2. In the first the doors fail and close all too slowly and the second the doors close qickly but the second Terminator pierces them to attack the occupants. Also how powerless the Jamie Foxx character is as he is forced to observe Tom Cruise stalk Jada Pinkett Smith in the office building opposite in COLLATORAL. His poerlessness heightened by a mobile phone out of battery so no recourse to Authority or even warning Jada.
22. HIDING IS GOOD.
Hiding in a crowd for safety.
Hiding asnd being very quiet.
Finding someone to help in a crowd.
Needle in a haystack.
Creeping around but remaining unseen.
Hero/ine enters villain's territory.
23. HIDING EMOTION EMPOWERS THE HERO/INE.
Poker face is good.
24. THE RACE AGAINST TIME.
A staple of Thrillers. Deadlines are about doing things that you don't want to do. Your script is like a clock.
25. DEADLINES HARD AND SOFT.
The soft deadline is ambiguous but if they miss it, their life starts to go to hell. It becomes an obstacle and creates tension.
26. PLOT TWISTS.
The best were always there but you never see it. Obvious example THE SIXTH SENSE.
27. CHARACTER INFLUENCES ABILITY TO RESOLVE PROBLEMS.
They have their own set of inner resources even if everything turns against them. They examine their lives for qualities that they may bring to bear.
There was some discussion about hybrid genre:
HORROR-- dread, fear of the unknown. THRILLER--suspense, fear of the known. Also the use of dramatic irony (THE MACHINIST, MEMENTO) in which the hero is also the killer.
And that's about it! My handwriting trails offa bit here. Bill spoke entertainingly about the trials and tribulations of the Hollywood scritwriting life and was very generous with his advice and encouragement. He took no end of questions, the answers to which I have incorporated into my notes above.
The class cost £10 and I thought it very good value for novice and emerging writers alike.