Writing Lessons From Stephen King’s It

Oh, you thought I meant the 1000+ page novel? Oh, you’re about to be sorely disappointed.

Though I am sure that the movies leave something to be desired in terms of detail, I only had time to watch the 2017 movie, which was just enough detail for me, thank you very much. Indeed, in honor of the spooky season, I let my beau talk me into renting It from the honest-to-God movie rental store down the street. God bless that place.

I watched the whole movie, and to my surprise, I actually liked it. Mostly because it didn’t give me nightmares.

Let me tell you about It, though. If you haven’t seen the movie (or miniseries), it’s not as disturbingly terrifying as something like, I dunno, Hereditary (*shudders*). Then again, the bar’s been set pretty high for me with that one. Come to find out, I can’t do demon possession type stuff. But It actually feels more like a monster movie than anything, and monster movies I can handle.

But it’s not just a good, creepy horror film. It also left me with some things to think about, which implies that there’s a thing or two to be learned writing-wise. But first, a few disclaimers: I haven’t seen the second one yet, so I’m not privy to how the rest of the story goes. Also, I haven’t seen the 90s miniseries, so I’m only familiar with one interpretation. Lastly, I know that the film is just that: one interpretation, and that although the main plot is basically the same as the book, quite a few of the plot points are different. And that does change how things resonate. But I think I get the gist.

So what can you learn from It? Aside from staying away from creepy, dancing clowns?

1. your fear is the best fear

Even though It is pretty dang supernatural, the plot also plays around with “real” fear, since each of the characters experience specific events tailored to their own individual fears. Even if the fears themselves are irrational, the characters still experience them as real, and there is something particularly creepy about an entity that can get inside your head and make your worst nightmare materialize in front of you… which is what makes the horror elements so effective.

So what can you learn from this? Well, I’m no horror writer, so I’m not looking to terrify my readers. But no matter what you’re writing, if you want your characters to be realistic, you ought to give them some legitimate fears. They don’t have to be scary to you, but they do have to be real to your characters. And it should probably be relevant to the plot, too. Like, don’t just throw a snake on the ground because you want your protagonist to see it and scream–put them in a pit and make him go down into it. Adds tension. And sometimes you get a zippy one-liner out of it, if you’re Indiana Jones.

2. motifs can be implemented to great (and/or creepy) effect

Recurring images or themes that have some deeper meaning are something you expect to come across in Shakespeare and Steinbeck, but even genre fiction writers like King can tap into the power of motif, and if it’s done right, it can really add something to the story. I’m not looking to even attempt a literary analysis on It, but I’ll say this much: images like the red balloon, the Silver bike, even the clown itself are all crucial to the essence of the story, and their repetition is not without intention.

But another feature of motifs are their ability to take otherwise everyday, mundane objects and assign new meaning to them. (If I had the time and energy, I’d launch into a tangent about semiotics, but as much as I enjoyed this story, I really don’t think it needs it!) I know clowns have been creepy for a while, but It really capitalizes on that. And what about red balloons? And other things that you might not have thought of as creepy until they got put in that context?

I know everyone kind of forgets about this movie, but think about what Avengers: Age of Ultron did with Pinnochio. The whole “there are no strings on me” motif? I mean, talk about taking a childhood classic and turning it into something twisted and off-putting. I guess my point here is, motifs can be a really powerful storytelling tool, especially if you take something mundane and assign new meaning to it, whether that meaning is positive or negative.

3. don’t underestimate the power of friendship!

Everybody knows that Stranger Things pays homage to, like, a ton of 80s, sci-fi, and horror movies, but I never realized just how It-inspired it was until I watched this movie, and not because Finn Wolfhard is in it. It’s because it has an ensemble of outcast kids who all bond throughout the events of the story. And yes, I know that in the book things get weird with this particular ensemble (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, just be glad you don’t), but the movie keeps it light, and it’s actually pretty heartwarming at points. You really do care about these characters.

I think the story would be pretty boring if it was just about a killer clown. At its core, it’s really about a group of kids dealing with trauma and the loss of childhood innocence, which makes it more relatable than you may think. And say what you will about the power of friendship trope, but just like with any cliche, it works when it’s done right. And by “done right” I mean, well… the only thing I’ve been told about cliches, and that’s that they can work if the author puts his or her own spin on it or presents it in an unexpected way. I guess in this case, having an ensemble in the midst of a horror movie is a pretty creative twist, as opposed to the usual one-on-one sort of thing you get in a lot of horror movies. Also, who doesn’t love friendship?

So, that’s my take on It (2017). By the way, has anyone ever acknowledged how freaking similar the climax of It (2017) and the climax of Rise of the Guardians are? I don’t know how the miniseries ends, but by golly, Rise of the Guardians came out in 2012, and there’s so many parallels it makes you wonder!

Have you watched (or read) It? What did you think? What other monster movies would you recommend? Hurry, this month goes by in a blink!

Image courtesy of http://www.geeksofdoom.com

3 responses to “Writing Lessons From Stephen King’s It”

  1. There are only a few Stephen King movie adaptations that aren’t embarrassingly bad and the It reboots are one of them! I don’t know if his books are simply too difficult to translate to film or if his agents have the bad habit of granting movie rights to horrible directors but normally I find King films unwatchable. Great analysis of the movie, I didn’t even realize some of these things that it was doing. I never notice motif’s though. Too engrossed in the explosions and shiny lights. 🙂

    1. Explosions and shiny lights are arguably much more interesting anyways! XD

  2. […] know Pet Sematary is a book, another Stephen King novel, in fact, but once again I haven’t read it. I have, however, read Mary Shelley’s […]

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