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The Before Picture

Banes at 12:00AM, Nov. 4, 2021

Awright, first things f*ckin' last…

I just saw a clip of Robert Englund, iconic in his role as Willie on the old TV show “V”…oh, and also as the
horror legend Freddy Krueger, talking about the Nightmare on Elm Street remake, and why it didn't work out. The remake of course, was the first Nightmare on Elm Street NOT featuring Robert Englund as Freddy.

Anyway, Englund was very effusive and positive about the cast of the remake, including Jackie Earle Haley who played Freddy.

The issue, he said, was that the story jumped right into a group of kids being haunted and hunted by Krueger, and plowing through the “he's killing us in our dreams!” exposition almost right away. They never showed the kids in their normal, pre-Freddy lives. The script wanted to jump right into “the good stuff”.

I haven't seen that movie, but as a concept, it made a lot of sense. Before the extraordinary turn happens, showing the normal condition of the characters/world is essential.

First, we see the characters as their life is normally, before things are turned upside down in what my fellow fans of story structure out there would call “Act 2” (or maybe “the Inciting Incident”).

This can be challenging for writers, especially if they hear the advice that it's a no-no to start a story with your character waking up, showering and brushing their teeth, or in prose, looking in a mirror to describe themselves to the readers. Something interesting has to happen…but now frikkin' Freddy Krueger is telling us that we need to see the normal life?

Well, yeah - Freddy's Dead…on. If things begin in the middle like that, what's supposed to happen when the Act 2 of this story hits us? This is how stories are either unrelatable, or feel like they're dragging.

The challenge is to make the “normal” condition of the character interesting/compelling before their world is turned upside down: The character has something that nags at them or haunts them, or a big problem or three to solve, or they're somehow “incomplete”. This is where relatability and the audience rooting for a character comes into play.

Granted, the “normal life” of a character can sometimes be quite extraordinary or unusual - before Tony Stark becomes Iron Man, he's living a pretty wild life! Forrest Gump is a compelling character to meet, even before he takes off into Act 2…which is, maybe, I don't know…when he goes off to college and begins interacting with famous historical figures?

I think there are exceptions, but that they are, well, the exceptions! One possible exception that comes to mind is “Saw”.

What do you think? Do we need to see a “before” picture for a story to work?

Have a Good One!




PaulEberhardt at 8:11AM, Nov. 4, 2021

The "normal" part is often what leads to the downfall of "bad" movies/books/comics. It's where it shows most if the characters are shallow, one-dimensional or badly written, because there are no pyrotechnics to distract the audience. Yes, you can make the "normal" mundane life interesting in a myriad ways, but to do that you need a talented author who can create relatable characters with some depth. I'm sure you can find those in the splatter genre, too, but unfortunately they seem to be the first target of the financial cuts when the producer realises that even crappy CGIs can put a strain on the budget. "Normal" scenes are much harder to pace than the "good bits", too. Too fast and you might as well not bother at all, too slow and your audience will be fast on the draw with the remote. Inexperienced or, er, "talentwisely challenged" writers are certainly in a fix here - no wonder some of them chicken out, even if it means sacrificing any remnants of plot that there might have been.

MOrgan at 2:49AM, Nov. 4, 2021

I hate it when the "normal life" is boring. Plenty of authors have whole stories set in the "normal world" and find ways to make it interesting, so horror writers have no excuse if they can't make the "normal life" interesting. Additionally some writers hint at the horror to come while the main characters are having their "normal life". Periphery characters disappearing or dying, weird things happening, etc., etc. I remember a movie critic talking about the normal horror trope of the killer chasing the "innocent victim" up the stairs, but Hitchcock would have the "innocent victim" walking up the stairs, while the audience knows that the killer is waiting for them to come up.

bravo1102 at 12:40AM, Nov. 4, 2021

The mundane doesn't even have to be that long. A few panels, five minutes and suddenly a life or death situation and the story is about figuring out what is behind that situation. I think starting in the middle and then using flashbacks is fine. Where the flashback will be the normal routine that was upset.

hushicho at 12:36AM, Nov. 4, 2021

Just to note, I do think that the reveal of Freddy was done far too early in the remake, so I definitely agree there. The original built up the character of Fred Krueger and the mystery of who he was, and why the now-teenaged kids had never heard of him. It was very much a haunting situation, which was built through the bait-and-switch protagonist, and then the actual one trying to find out the answer to that mystery and having to face a very "sins of the fathers" situation. The remake seems to just assume we aren't going to be scared or impacted at all by Freddy, despite his new look, and throws him in the first five minutes. In the original, he doesn't really show up much until around the thirty minute mark, and even then it's sparing. A lot of the remake's script also doesn't make sense, like one of the characters being very obviously murdered and someone after the fact claiming they died in their sleep! Of all the remakes, this one was one of the worse ones.

hushicho at 12:30AM, Nov. 4, 2021

Sometimes it helps, but I don't think that was really the biggest problem with the remake. There were many, many problems, and probably the chiefest among them was the attitude the scriptwriters of the remake had. They approached it as if there were something wrong with the original that they were extremely confident they were superior to. Various changes were made, without any real justification for them. They only came off as tryhard or pointless. Even in the original, it started with a very frightening and exciting scenario, and while we did get to see a few signs of everyday life, the characters were already involved in the problem from the start. I respect that the people doing the remake wanted to give it their own spin, but a remake was completely needless. I think normal operating has to be relevant to a story, if you're going to be showing a lot of it. Otherwise, it tends to just fill time.

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