Death isn’t something we like to think about much and rarely do we touch upon the subject unless it has just happened to a loved one or to someone we know. Except when you write you tend to be confronted with our fears, angst and needs more often than you’d like to admit.
When you write you end up addressing at least one uncomfortable subject of the collective unconscious and call it the “universal element” in your screenplay, novel or short story. It sounds more eloquent for sure and producers hear “sales” when they hear it.
So this past week, during one of Phil Parker’s marvelous classes, we discussed genres and then within genres we discussed horror films which inevitably led to talking about the fear of death and the unknown. That’s why the horror genre exists, so we can work through these fears collectively. We all have them.
Now I have always wondered, growing up, why death itself never scared me. I thought I was one of the few who could manage to blurt out a “I’m not scared of dying” defiantly but secretly never understood why I wasn’t like everyone else. I should be afraid of dying shouldn’t I? Then, talking about the horror genre and the fear of death, the words uttered in class hit me for the first time: the fear of death had to do with the fear of leaving unfinished business and not of the act of dying in itself.
It got me thinking and sure enough I wondered what it would be like if I died (hypothetically) say… tomorrow – because who wants to rush a thing like that? – and today I still have to re-write a spec and take Oski to the park for a run- so a hypothetical tomorrow suits the thinking exercise better anyway.
So if I did die like next week… Did I do everything I wanted? Was I happy with life as it was? Would my family be ok? Did I let my human relationships know what they meant to me? Did I finish that piece of writing I was working on? Oh that would be the worst! Unfinished writing. I squealed.
All of a sudden, the fear of death crept up on me and I could no longer say that I wasn’t scared of dying because truth be told, at this point, I still haven’t managed to achieve half of the things I set out to achieve, I’m not sure I spent enough time with my friends and family, and among so many things, who will sew the button that chronically falls off my husband’s coat? Okay if I knew how to sew properly it probably wouldn’t be falling off every few months… but that’s beside the point. The fact is, I can’t die yet I’ve got unfinished business! Maybe that’s why I’m most afraid of ghost stories. Monsters I can deal with. I’m not scared of the unknown, that’s the life you choose when you choose art over normality, but man those ghosts that come to haunt and somehow avenge whatever (or whomever) it is that happened to them, preventing them from ever finishing their business here on earth… chills… now that’s scary.
I quickly jot down my thoughts and realize for the first time why I was fascinated and utterly scared of ghost horror films as a kid. My favorite was the 1992 flick Candyman. No wonder.
I look back up, coffee break.
“Great stuff” I blurt out. Not only did I learn something about genre, but I learned something about myself. Two for the price of one. If I ever want or have the chance to write a horror film, or series, I should definitely focus on ghosts.
And finishing all work in progress.