Misery
Remember a couple of years ago when every other spec was a contained thriller? Well, believe it or not, the sub-genre got its start a lot earlier than that. In fact, author Stephen King loved writing contained thrillers, with Misery being his most famous. The movie is the result of three artists at the top of their game. Rob Reiner (who directed the film) had just kicked ass with another King adaptation, Stand By Me. King’s books were being adapted every other day in Hollywood, including the recent hit, The Running Man. And Goldman had just come off The Princess Bride. Misery is built on an old writing adage – Place your hero in the worst situation possible, then watch them try to get out of it. It also operates on the notion that you want to torture your main character as much as possible. Some would argue that King went a little too far in that capacity, but it’s hard to argue with the end result. Misery is also a study in how to write a great character, as Annie Wilkes (played by Kathy Bates – who won an Oscar for the role) is one of the most unforgettable villains of all time. It should also be noted that I could TOTALLY see one of these middle-aged Twilight moms doing this to Stephanie Meyer today. So we may get a Misery re-imagining soon!

1) When you write a movie that takes place in a contained area, the most important tools at your disposal are suspense and conflict. – In a contained thriller, you must continuously imply that something bad is going to happen (which is typically done in the first act), and almost every scene after the first act should be steeped in some sort of conflict. Annie being angry at Paul for writing a bad chapter (conflict), Annie telling Paul he needs to burn his manuscript when he doesn’t want to (conflict), Paul telling Annie his new writing setup isn’t good enough (conflict). Conflict and suspense. Suspense and conflict. They are your saviors in contained thrillers.

2) The most interesting battle is often the battle within a character – We were talking about this yesterday with Gatsby and I think it’s important to note here as well, as we see it with Annie. Conflict WITHIN a character often leads to most entertaining type of character. Annie is both loving and kind, but also manipulative and hateful. She wants to be good, thinks of herself as good, but is in fact a monster. Watching her battle this is both fascinating and horrifying. We’ve seen this with Darth Vader, Michael Corleone, Bruce Banner. It’s why Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde still survive as one of the most memorable characters in literary history. The more intense the conflict is within one’s self, the more interesting the character tends to be.

3) Try to write career-making roles – When you read Misery, you just KNOW that whoever plays Annie – it’s going to change her life forever (as it did for Kathy Bates!). That’s how complicated and interesting and unexpected and crazy and scary and challenging the character is. You would’ve seen the same thing for Hans while reading Inglorious Basterds, or Ferris while reading Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Look at your script. Are there any career-making roles in there for actors? If not, maybe reevaluate your script and see if you can do something more compelling with at least one of those key characters.

4) The more you set up a scene, the more powerful that scene will be – For a scene to really pack a punch, it needs high stakes. And high stakes only come through repeated set-ups. One of the best scenes in Misery is when Paul plans to poison Annie with the powder from all the pain pills he’s saved. We watch him meticulously hide and hoard these pills over time. This way, when he invites Annie to dinner and secretly poisons her wine – there’s SO MUCH riding on the moment because we know how much effort Paul’s put into this. It’s also why, of course, when she accidentally spills the wine, we’re devastated. There was SO much on the line since it took him SO long to save those pills. This scene does not work if there’s no setup, if we don’t’ see Paul hiding those pills over time. Continuous set-up results in higher stakes results in bigger more intense scenes.

5) When you’re stuck in a room with a lot of dialogue, you have to look for ways to change things up so the dialogue remains interesting. – Too many writers don’t put enough energy into thinking how they can change the feel or tone or undercurrent of a scene. Note the scene near the 30 minute mark where Paul has to pee in a bedpan while talking with Annie. It’s embarrassing and weird, but most importantly, it gives the dialogue a different twist. There’s a different undercurrent to their conversation because of the awkwardness. This is SO important when you have a bunch of talky scenes in a single location. Keep changing up the feel in the room!

6) Go the opposite to be scary – The scariest things usually aren’t obvious and in your face. They’re reserved or the opposite of what you’d expect. Instead of someone screaming at you, it might be that they talk very quietly and rationally. Instead of someone beating you up, it might be that they’re overly, almost oddly, kind to you. We see this with Annie in her language. She doesn’t believe in swearing, so that when she’s upset, her rants are almost comical. But it’s that lack of the obvious that actually makes these rants so scary. “I thought you were good, Paul, but you’re not good, you’re just another lying old dirty birdie and I don’t think I better be around you for awhile.” Had Annie yelled instead, “Fuck you you asshole. I fucking hate you!” It just wouldn’t have had the same eerie effect.

7) No choice in your script should be random – Every choice you make in your story, there should be a reason behind it, right down to the smallest detail. Take what Annie does whenever she’s outside of Paul’s room, for instance. She watches her favorite show: “Love Connection.” That’s no coincidence, as this theme of Annie being in love with Paul is established throughout Misery. Had she been a huge fan of, say, the sitcom “Taxi,” it wouldn’t have fit into the story as nicely.

8) If you jump into your story right away, your “first act break” has to work like a mid-point. – Typically, in a regular story, the first act break is when the hero begins his journey (like Luke, in Star Wars). But in Misery, Paul is captured by page 5, and has been kept in this room for 20-25 pages already. If you continue on with this setup without any significant changes, the audience will get bored. So you almost use your first act break as a mid-point, as a way to twist the story, up the stakes, and set us off in a new direction. That occurs here when Annie finds out Paul killed her favorite character, Misery. She freaks out and threatens Paul, letting him know that she’s controlling this show and he’s her fucking slave from this point forward (note: you will still use a REAL mid-point break later as well).

9) Most heroes should come into a story trying to make some sort of change in their lives – Change is what makes characters and stories interesting. If all anybody’s trying to do is live the exact same life and do the exact same things they’ve always done, how interesting is that going to be? Therefore, Paul isn’t working on Misery 11 when we start the story. He’s just written his first non-Misery novel in a decade. It’s a huge risk for him, a big CHANGE in his life. And it’s what makes his character more interesting than if he was just trying to do the same old boring thing.

10) Each scene must push the story forward, not repeat the story. – A big mistake I see in these kinds of scripts is that each successive scene isn’t really different from the previous one. For example, a bad writer would have Annie be mean in one scene, and the next time she comes around, she’s mean again. Maybe mean about something else, but still mean. In other words, you’re not evolving the story. You’re repeating yourself. Instead, every time Annie comes in the room, she should have a new agenda, a new goal. First it’s to meet her favorite writer. Then it’s to ask about his new book. Then it’s to talk about her dislike of the new book. Then it’s to introduce her best friend (a pig). Then it’s to yell at him for killing off Misery. Then it’s to have him burn his manuscript. It is SO EASY to repeat scenes in contained thrillers because of the limited location. Don’t fall into this trap. Do something new with each scene.

Scriptshadow_Cover_Final3These are 10 tips from the movie “Misery.” To get 500 more tips from movies as varied as “Aliens,” “Pulp Fiction,” and “The Hangover,” check out my book, Scriptshadow Secrets, on Amazon!

  • Poe_Serling

    I feel like I’m stealing this Hollywood tale from the secret files of Malibo Jackk.

    It’s been stated that Bill Goldman took on the writing assignment of Misery because of his interest in the book’s most disturbing scene: the foot severing involving Wilkes and Sheldon. Did Carson’s ears just perk up? ;-)

    Then during the film’s production director Rob Reiner nixed the above scene in favor of breaking Sheldon’s legs with the sledgehammer. His reasoning? He ‘believed the audience would cease rooting for the hero if he suffered an injury from which there could be no recovery.”

    After seeing the final product, Goldman agreed it was the right decision in film terms. However, he did recognize “the ironic mirror of the book’s exploration of an author’s sacrifice of integrity for recognition.”

    • filmklassik

      “He ‘believed the audience would cease rooting for the hero if he suffered an injury from which there could be no recovery.”

      Yeah, I read this too and wish somebody would explain the thinking behind it because I’m baffled.

      The “logic” seems to be that if the hero sustains a serious enough injury (e.g. having his foot amputated) the audience is going to suddenly just stop rooting for the guy.

      Huh??

      Even though we’ve been right there with him the whole time and cheering him on, we are suddenly going to say, “Ahhh, he’s a gimp now. I don’t like him anymore.”

      Say what??

      Please explain this argument to me. Unlike Paul Sheldon, I am stumped (sorry).

      • Poe_Serling

        I hear you… I thought the same thing when I first read it. Getting both ankles broken with a sledgehammer, it sounds like a pretty horrific injury too.

        Somebody get Rob Reiner on the line… ;-)

        • mopo

          I definitely understand Rob Reiner on this one. I don’t enjoy seeing the hero suffer an injury he cannot recover from. It doesn’t make me not want to root for him but it is less satisfying.

          • carsonreeves1

            yeah, I remember reading about that whole thing in Goldman’s book. It’s an interesting debate. I’m not sure how it would’ve affected the viewing for me if she would’ve cut his feet off. I think I would’ve ultimately reacted the same, but the scenes, as is, is still horrifyingly brutal, so the intended effect was successful.

        • filmklassik

          Wait, didn’t Luke Skywalker lose a hand in one of the STAR WARS movies? Pretty sure he did. And did that make us LESS inclined to root for him? Pretty sure it didn’t. And yeah, I know he wound up with a “bionic” prosthetic at the end of that movie, but we didn’t know he’d be fitted for one at the time he lost the hand.

          Lesson learned: Your hero can lose a hand, a foot, an eye, or what have you (okay, maybe not a dick) and audiences aren’t going to give a damn.

          Unless I’m wrong…

          • Malibo Jackk

            If Luke lost a hand, it was because the filmmakers wanted drama.
            If they gave him a prosthetic, it was the filmmakers’ way of saying — all is well now.

            I don’t think the filmmakers wanted an ending where he was in a wheelchair. They didn’t want to end with us feeling sorry for him.

            However — consider this ending. He’s in a wheelchair. The unseen waitress come with the desert tray. She says she’s his biggest fan. He slowly looks up. The audience is thinking — This is a man who has just lost both feet. Has she come back for more???

            Would that have made a more powerful ending?

            It’s a matter of debate.

          • filmklassik

            Well, not to go splitting hairs here (or body parts), but I think Paul loses ONE of his feet in the novel, not both of them, and that, in ways I can’t even begin to define right now, seems to make all the difference in the world.

            In other words, I think audiences WOULD have accepted this kind of injury for the hero, but at this point there’s no way to ever know.

            …Although I do think it’s significant that READERS had no problem accepting it. In fact one cares for Paul even MORE after Annie “hobbles” him in the book.

            And MISERY is considered one of King’s best.

          • http://twitter.com/KennyNOL Will Vega

            “And yeah, I know he wound up with a “bionic” prosthetic at the end of
            that movie, but we didn’t know he’d be fitted for one at the time he
            lost the hand.”

            In a world full of futuristic technology? I would’ve been surprised if that DIDN’T happen at the end.

      • John Bradley

        I think it’s because if he lost his foot it would be too depressing to imagine his life going forward after the injury.

      • Paul Clarke

        There was an article on that change on the Cockeyed Caravan blog. The explanation is that everything looks worse on screen. I think the brutality of the sledge hammer worked well. It still stops him escaping. But leaves the possibility of healing one day. Although I think it’s safe to say he’d never heal the same.

        As for Luke losing an arm. How to Train your Dragon does the same with the kid losing a foot. I think those examples are very different because they happen right at the end and are immediately repaired/replaced. Where as in Misery it amps up the terror and provides yet another hurdle in his escape.

    • John Bradley

      Good story, I think the sledge hammer was the right decision.

      • Citizen M

        It could have been worse.

        ANNIE
        I'll drive a sledgehammer into your
        man-gland if you're not nicer--

         

        • John Bradley

          haha that’s hilarious!

  • carsonreeves1

    This is a harsh criticism and maybe said a bit too bluntly, but I agree with the spirit of it. The irony behind comedy writing is that the best comedy writers take their job very seriously and look to do a lot more than simply get laughs. Those are the comedy writers that tend to succeed, in my experience.

    • Citizen M

      Carson, how about pre-qualifying AF submitters by asking them to link to an in-depth analysis of an AF script they’ve made in the past year?

      I’ve seen many SS scripts with names I’ve never seen among the comments before.

      Many other sites require writers to “pay it forward” before being eligible to have their own scripts considered.

      Hopefully it will eliminate writers who haven’t a clue about screenwriting and those who submit scripts as a lark.

      • Somersby

        I agree totally. It seems too many scripts aren’t getting vetted and, as I’ve said before, are clearly first drafts. Many of the regular—and longstanding—contributors to this site have not had scripts reviewed. I’d rather help writers who are obviously intent on learning and growing in the craft than someone who’s submitted a script on a lark and/or are hoping to be discovered on the strength of an undeveloped (or excruciatingly bad) screenplay.

        Perhaps considering scripts that have placed well in competitions – or, as CM suggests, scripts from writers who have demonstrated that they’ve put some effort into understanding and evaluating other scripts.

        Based on the loglines alone, I’m flabbergasted that the last batch of AF contenders were given serious consideration. Carson, you have a staff now if I’m not mistaken—or at least an assistant or two. Perhaps you need to assign one of them to winnowing the writers from the wannabees.

        • TesseGreenview

          Another suggestion would be to list the loglines and have SS readers (us) pick which ones go on to be read on Friday. I mean, how many submissions to you get? I can’t imagine its in the hundreds… and a way to do this is to create a form for them to submit their script that automatically populates the loglines/genre, so no one has to type it. I’m in favor of seeing other AF script submissions that don’t get picked because I think (and I hope) for every “first draft” one that is, there’s possibly one well written one among those that weren’t. And I find it disappointing that if none of the 5 picked sparked my interest, I have to wait a full week to get another 5…

          Here’s a suggestion to make SS different: can’t you create a database of submissions and let readers pick and chose which ones spark their interest? Because if readers read the first 10 pages or so and you can tell its not going to be a good read, they can move on to another script… then let the readers leave comments on whether is was worth the read, impressive, genius, etc.

          It seems in only giving us 5 scripts to choose from at a time, its a long yellow brick road to Oz (and based on the comments on not offering quality scripts for AF, the ride is most morally, physically, positively, absolutely, undeniably, and reliably bumpy…)

  • http://twitter.com/jaexhkim jae kim

    I stopped reading comedy scripts on AF a while ago.

  • http://twitter.com/jaexhkim jae kim

    I laughed out loud when I read #3, writer a career making roles.

    this is how hard writing a good contained thriller is. you have to write a career making role. it’s so hard to write scenes when you’re stuck in one location. you have to constantly think up conflicts and drama while working with the same location and same characters.

    I think that’s why I was so impressed when I saw 127 hours. it was about a guy stuck with a rock by himself and they found a way to make it entertaining.

    • filmklassik

      “I laughed out loud when I read #3, writer a career making roles.”

      Yeah, that’s a very good point. Almost akin to saying, “Tip #3: Write Pulitzer Prize-winning dialogue” or, “Tip #3: Be a fucking genius.”

      Not trying to rag on the website, though, as the majority of tips in this lesson — indeed most of the lessons on here — are invaluable.

  • JNave

    This is a great batch of lessons. Every one of them got me thinking, and I don’t even write horror.
    As for amateur comedy writers, I think a lot of them see stuff like the Scary Movie franchise being a financial success and decide they don’t have to make any effort on a story. What’s even worse for me are the strictly formulaic Rom Com’s that are indistinguishable from one another.
    I haven’t read Psychic Hotline, so I can’t comment on this in particular. I know we writers tend to be a critical bunch, and not all advice is good advice, but JAW does come across as too flippant in dismissing the comments. It’s as if he doesn’t realize what a great opportunity he has to get exposure on this site. I would take it.

  • http://atticofthefilmaddict.blogspot.com/ Matty

    I’d like to note, on #4, that there’s a fine line in terms of set-up. Too little, and it doesn’t pay off. Too much set-up, and you run the risk of 1) boring people and 2) the pay off not being big enough. Essentially: the pay off should be proportional to the set-up. The more set-up, the bigger the pay off should be.

  • gazrow

    To be fair to JAW, whoever he/she is, the AF submission process clearly states that a person doesn’t have to use their real name. Also, he/she had the good grace to thank everyone who took the time to read Psychic Hotline even though he/she might not have agreed with everything said about it.

    As regards wasting YOUR time. At the time of writing, there have been 87 comments during the AF weekend – none appear to have been made by “Steve.”
    So not really sure how your time was wasted?

    • grendl

      I think the whole good grace argument goes out the window when you read the part following that heartfelt thank you,

      About how this board overthinks story.

      Because a screenwriting blog shouldn’t dissect stories, and shouldn’t point out bad writing. Because that’s not how people get better.

      They get better from unwarranted praise and pats on the back.

      I agree with you gazrow. That’s how writers get better, by unwarranted praise and pats on the back. Or isn’t that what you’re getting at?

      Learn how to read the difference between thank you and “fuck you suckers”.

      • gazrow

        A guy goes on the defensive over the way his script is received. The “board” then go on the defensive over the guy’s defensiveness! Is that ironic or am I being sarcastic?!

    • Steve

      Only “contribution” you made over the weekend, gazrow, was self-serving — asking Graham to send you a document about writing loglines.

      In other words, you weren’t affected by JAW’s selfishness.

      I wasn’t either, but I can put myself in the position of those who did, feel bad for them, AND read beyond the “thank-you” to the big FU that is contained in the rest of JAW’s message.

      Can’t empathize and can’t read “subtext” — fine qualities for a wannabe writer.

      • gazrow

        No, that wasn’t my only contribution. I supplied the name of the author of the document (Christopher Lockhart) and the name of the website where a “new and improved” version could be obtained (two adverbs.com).

        Good of you to put yourself in the position of those who did take the time – even though no one asked you too!

        Admittedly subtext isn’t one of my strongest points – I took your post highlighting JAW’s selfishness as a thinly veiled attempt to destroy any chance his script had of being selected for AF. Silly of me to think that you might be the writer of one of the other entries being considered!!

        • Steve

          Stop splitting hairs — Like me, you supplied ZERO feedback on scripts last weekend.

          Stop making totally unfounded charges — I have never sent a script to Carson.

          I felt bad for those who contributed feedback on the script and wasted their time with this writer. That’s so hard for you to believe because you can’t empathize with others.

          To move beyond your cheap distract-the-rubes strategies, yes, it would be a disgrace if this guy had his script chosen for a Friday read because he obviously doesn’t care.

          Learn to see the larger issue — contributors on this site wasting their time giving thoughtful advice to writers who have no interest in their craft.

  • http://twitter.com/kinnygraham Graham

    Just on the subject of the aforementioned logline article / doc, ‘Gazrow’ & ‘Citizen M’ managed to track down links to a v2.0 ‘new and improved’ version – with added material and author identified.

    Here’s the link in case anyone missed it:

    http://www.twoadverbs.com/logline.pdf

    And link to a companion piece on pitching

    http://www.twoadverbs.com/?page_id=110

    • sweetvita

      Hey thanks, Graham. Got ‘em saved to my desktop ;)

  • sweetvita

    Right now, I fear I have writer’s block. And since I fear confirming this ugly truth, I just won’t write.

    Anyhoo, I’ll go with #2 on Carson’s list, “The most interesting battle is often the battle within a character.”

    I love a story that has a character with a longstanding inner conflict/turmoil, especially when the inner conflict threatens to keep her from achieving her outer goal. She not only has the outer obstacles to battle while trying to reach her goal, but she also has the added pressure of the inner turmoil to contend with. I also love the inner conflict/turmoil because it shades the character’s actions and dialogue, the way she relates to the relationships and circumstances she’s in.

    The reason I prefer the inner conflict to be longstanding is because it’s firmly entrenched, making it harder for the character to reconcile her inner needs with her outer goals/desires.

    While this isn’t the best example, it still shows us what can happen when a character can’t reconcile an inner conflict with an outer goal. In Django, towards the end, when Dr. Schultz and Django were on their way out of Calvin Candie’s house with Broomhilda, after Calvin signed her over to Dr. Schultz, Calvin insisted Dr. Schultz shake his hand, to properly seal the deal.

    Dr. Schultz stubbornly refused. He had a flashback of a black man being beaten by Calvin’s men and this caused him to have inner conflict based on matter of principle for him. This was where Dr. Schultz’s inner conflict collided with his outer goal – to stay alive while successfully rescuing Broomhilda. But since Dr. Schultz couldn’t reconcile his inner conflict and shake Calvin’s hand, it led to the shootout that got him killed.

    I was like, just shake his hand! NOW! Just do it and get the heck out of there – you got what you came for, you’re home free! Just go! Tarantino was masterful – he really jerked my chain with that scene. Just as I thought the three of them would make it out, BAM! We get a great Tarantino Twist.

    Ahhh, I feel my fear subsiding. I think I have the courage to face that garbled scene list now ;)

  • John Bradley

    I have been diligently submitting to AF for months and accept I’ll probably never even crack the newsletter. It does kinda depress me that someone just threw something out there for fun and it was selected…oh, well…maybe I can get a review when I’m a professional=)

    • Paul Clarke

      I feel your pain John.

      Especially when you sit down to read the 5 submissions and 2 or 3 aren’t worth reading past the first page. I know it’s called ‘amateur friday’ but there must be some standards.

      And double agree with the above idea that we are all wasting our time if the writer submitting isn’t doing it for advice on how to improve the script and his writing as a whole.

      • grendl

        When people wonder why the industry won’t read scripts coming from outside the fortress wall ( not for free at least ) JAW’s script and attitude are in large part the answer.

        Because the industry doesn’t need people who aren’t serious about writing. Not to say their standards are that high to begin with, but they don’t need anyone who hasn’t a clue how to tell a joke or set up a funny situation and pay it off correctly in a comedy. They have Friedberg and Seltzer for that. The position has been filled.

        You multiply JAW’s ineptitude by thousands, and its easy to see why they won’t read anyone’s script. Or the Many Suns for Skeletons writer whose name shall not be spoken ( because it wasn’t given )

        These are the clowns that threw their three pronged jester hats into the ring to see if somehow magically they could break into the business and quit their jobs at Target, without having any sense of story or any respect for the craft.

        It’s funny to them. But it’s funny to me to read their work. I have to thank them. It’s like watching “Plan 9 From Outer Space” when you read that level of ineptitude. But at least Ed Wood had the courage of his convictions, and actually believed he was filming something entertaining.

        I get the feeling the writers of some of these don’t. They just find some premise and pound out 90 pages and hope people will see something in their work they didn’t intentionally incorporate into it in the writing. Like some sort of magic.

        They are a contemptuous breed, but not uncommon. But they should be called out on it once exposed. Writing is hard for writers. It’s easy for people who don’t know how to do it. But then what they do doesn’t end up adding to much, so of course its easy. Anyone can suck at writing. If they had fun sucking, there’s another business I suggest they try.

  • Writer451

    I used to think that MISERY was the scariest movie of all time. But then I saw ABOUT SCHMIDT -_-

  • UrbaneGhoul

    I had just watched Stand By Me Sunday. You can forget how great it is. It did need some Arnold and Jesse Ventura coming to help Gordie.

    I like tip #4, the idea of building and building something till it grows and then tips over and breaks. It gives the main character something to do and when you break their heart, it makes the dig out the hole even better.

  • gazrow

    He/she isn’t the first nor I dare say the last “amateur” to get a little upset when things don’t turn out quite as they had hoped.

    I remember one such writer went into meltdown when their own script failed to make AF – he even went so far as to call Carson an ass**** and Sir in the same sentence!! Can’t remember his name… think it started with a G and ended with an l?!

    • grendl

      Failed to make AF?

      I think he was told by the administrator his work wouldn’t get the same fair shake everyone elses would.

      Not a failure so much as a railroading.

      But you revise history as you like, with the little knowledge you have gazrow. Keep filling in the blanks to suit your narrative.

      Don’t let the truth get in the way of a good story.

    • http://twitter.com/panostsapanidis Panos Tsapanidis

      Ghandi? :)

  • Jake Gott

    Fantastic article, Carson. One of your best. Any future updates to your book should include this one. :)

  • fragglewriter

    #8 & #10 are great points. I’m writing a comedy now, and want to get to the second act by page 15, which is becoming a struggle for me.

  • http://twitter.com/KennyNOL Will Vega

    As someone who wrote and rewrote two comedy specs to their 3rd and 7th drafts and plan on doing another one in the future, I am mildly insulted by that. I take film making in general serious, as I do anything art related. Of course you need to have fun with it (I always do), and it seems this person only wrote it as a hobby.

    Hobbies are fine. But make sure you tell me ahead of time so i’ll avoid reading anything you write ad infinitum so I can focus on the people who are serious. Cause i’m in the business of also finding potential future writing partners and even buying scripts (as I am with one colleague, who is writing one of the best amateur scripts I ever read in awhile…and i’m talking about all three pages he wrote so far).

    So if you write as a hobby, good for you. But stick to creative writing on deviantart or fan fiction. You may or may not receive a following based on the quality of your work, but if you don’t care now then that won’t be much of a bother to you when that happens.

  • Malibo Jackk

    Love MISERY. Maybe because it’s about a writer.
    (I’m just guessing here.)

    OK. So here’s the sequel —
    Annie Wilkes breaks out of jail. (Yeah, I know. Everyone though she was dead.)

    Paul Sheldon lives in LA now. He’s got everything he ever wanted. A big mansion. Fame. A beautiful… ex-wife. Well, almost everything. He lives in the mansion alone now. Success has ruined him. He’s taken to drink. He can’t write anymore. Where’s the motivation… ?

    It’s night. He climbs the long curved stairway to the second floor. Stumbles into bed — drunk. Hours later …

    … Paul wakes up. What’s this??? Ropes strap him to the bed. He looks down. There’s a log between his ankles. He looks up …

    Annie Wilkes is at the foot of the bed. She’s holding a sledge hammer.

    “Hello Paul,” she says.

  • Poe_Serling

    Per Carson…

    “Remember a couple of years ago when every other spec was a contained thriller? Well, believe it or not, the sub-genre got its start a lot earlier than that. In fact, author Stephen King loved writing contained thrillers, with Misery being his most famous.”

    A year or so ago, I watched a contained thriller called Lady in a Cage (1964) on TCM.
    This particular flick had story elements that reminded of both Panic Room and Misery.

    Here a wealthy widow recuperating from a broken hip becomes trapped between floors in her private elevator. When she activates an emergency alarm, she succeeds only in attracting the attention of three young hoods who in turn begin to terrorize her.

    The pic starred Olivia De Havilland and a really young James Caan as one of the hoods. The film was a solid entry in the sub-genre of horror/thriller films featuring older women movie stars at the time.

  • Midnight Luck

    THis is awesome. King. Reiner. Goldman. oh and King. Stephen King is a God.

    I loved Misery the book.
    It was quite a bit different from the movie though.
    I did love Kathy Bates, but I thought Caan as Paul was not great casting and a bit off.

    Otherwise though: nothing like a Guy trapped in a house in snow-dead-of-winter with a crazy fan.

    As writers, we all gotta love this.

  • Citizen M

    Next week: 10 Miseries You Can Learn From Screenwriting Tips.

  • K.B. Houston

    Carson, you should do one of these for Groundhog Day. Just saw it recently… feel like it has so many great lessons to learn from.

    • http://twitter.com/jaexhkim jae kim

      maybe I’m mistaking, but I think he did groundhog day already.

  • carsonreeves1

    yes, I agree with this.

  • Citizen M

    Tip #11 from Misery–

    PAUL
    I'm telling you, I can't.

    ANNIE
    You can--you have the "gotta"--

    PAUL
    The what?

    ANNIE
    The "gotta." Remember, you talked
    about it in Playboy magazine. [snip]
    You said you can make it so they
    gotta turn the page. You know, "I
    'gotta' know will she live," "I
    'gotta' know will he catch the
    killer." "I gotta see how this chapter
    ends." You said it.

  • Paul Clarke

    It’s been awhile since I watched it, but at what point does he decide to go along with the plan and write the book?

  • NajlaAnn

    >> Conflict and suspense. Suspense and conflict. They are your saviors in contained thrillers.

    I would think this should be applied to any type of thriller, just more so for the contained.

  • DD

    Love this movie and book! So simple. So much conflict. Really memorable character struggles. Thanks for the breakdown, Carson!

  • http://twitter.com/panostsapanidis Panos Tsapanidis

    Again, I agree with Carson saying that he agrees with the spirit of this discussion. But if this happened only once, then we shouldn’t panic and try to change everything. Of course, there’s always room for improvement but all in good time. It took some time for Carson to turn his blog to a website providing consulting services (and still keeping the blog part). I trust Carson will know when to morph the website into something different and better.

    Now, back to the reason this comment section exist. Loved the tips from Misery. All very important. My favorite is #6. Very subtle yet very important.

  • Writer451

    Actually, I was referring to Kathy Bates getting naked, but your point is equally good.

  • http://www.facebook.com/todd.walker.3597 Todd Walker

    1. I have a question, and maybe everyone can help, but what is the most contained movie ever written? I’m talking about smallest room space.

    2. What do you think is more interesting, the character that is good trying to be free from being evil or a good character that descends into evil?

    3. Well, isn’t that just a matter of Effing up a situation for a character as much as possible, whether they are the primary character or not?

    4. and 5. That’s probably because they write the scene like it’s the first time the character has thought of or experiences something. Almost like this scene was born out of thin air. The writer of John Adams (Kirk Ellis?) said that he had to re-write the scenes between Adams and Jefferson to make it seem like they were thinking about their meeting before the scene began.

    6. Well, just make your villian as nice as possible. The great villians, and I don’t have to tell you this (just thinking out loud) is that they are nice. Hannibal Lecter is nice to Clarice, a creep, but nice. Landa is nice, so is Jeremy Irons in Die Hard With A Vengeance. They aren’t all nice, but the memorable ones seem to be.

    8. What about a teaser on page 1 that’s a Holy Cow moment??

    9. Lawrence of Arabia is a perfect example of this: He’s tired of his desk job and wants “Adventure”.

  • Lucid Walk

    These tips are very helpful to a project I’m working on; a guy with split personality disorder, and his home is invaded and his family taken hostage by thieves. He wants to escape and call the police, but his violent alter ego takes over and proceeds to kill everyone inside, including the family. And yes, it does have a twist ending. I want the entire story to take place inside the mansion, and I wasn’t sure how until I read this article. So thank you, Carson