Alfred Hitchcock was an English film director and producer who worked closely with screenwriters on his films. The master storyteller, born 13 August 1899, died 29 April 1980, pioneered many techniques in the suspense and psychological thriller genres. He is best remembered for films such as Psycho, The Birds, Marnie, North by Northwest, and Rebecca.
6 Things Alfred Hitchcock Can Teach You About Writing
‘Drama is life with the dull parts left out.’ Take chances. Hitchcock knew exactly how to move us out of our comfort zones. He knew that he couldn’t afford to bore his audience. Neither can you. This means you should avoid pages of backstory and endless descriptions. Avoid writing beautiful paragraphs to impress readers. You won’t succeed. Most of us read novels for story and to experience traumatic or extraordinary events vicariously. We want you to entertain us.
‘Always make the audience suffer as much as possible.’ Readers want happy endings but the characters need to earn them. Good writers put their characters through hell. To make this work, they create empathetic characters with whom we can identify. Readers enjoy going through this cathartic experience with them. We feel the relentless horror experienced by a young socialite in The Birds. In Psycho, a young woman ends up on the run where she meets a horrible bloody end at the Bates Motel. In Vertigo, we empathise with a detective who is tormented by tragedy and his fear of heights. We suffer with Hitchcock’s characters.
‘I’m a writer and, therefore, automatically a suspicious character.’ Always look for the dark side of human nature. We all have one. Writers are naturally suspicious because we always consider why people do the things they do. We need to become observers of the human condition. Never take anything at face value. Everything reveals something. Be suspicious of human nature, of possessions, of settings, of body language, of speech patterns – of everything.
‘The more successful the villain, the more successful the picture.’ Many authors have told me that heroes are only as strong as the characters who oppose them. Create complex antagonists who are the heroes of their own stories. They do not have to be villainous or evil. They do have to have a believable story goal that opposes the protagonist’s.
‘I can’t read fiction without visualising every scene. The result is it becomes a series of pictures rather than a book.’ Setting is important. If you use setting skilfully enough, you can create a plot or move a plot forward with it. We all know that changing a setting can change a character. Great setting details create suspense and add layers of mood and mystery to a story. You also don’t need elaborate settings. Rear Window takes place through the eyes of a photographer gazing out of the window of his apartment. Rope is set in one room, where a murder victim in hidden in a chest of books. Many people remember the atmosphere created by the settings in Hitchcock’s films long after they’ve forgotten the plots.
‘I am a typed director. If I made Cinderella, the audience would immediately be looking for a body in the coach.’ Don’t be afraid to stick to a genre that suits your writing style. Most writers enjoy writing what they enjoy reading.
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© Amanda Patterson
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