Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Writing Hitchcockian—the Second of the Story Worlds of Alfred Hitchcock

The scraping sound of rope rubbing on stone was barely audible in the howling wind. Each thread of the hemp slowly severing under the weight of a man hanging over a long fatal drop. The man is still alive. He kicks and screams, "I don't want to die! I only said you were a hack! Let me up!"

I stand, staring down the precipice with my arms crossed and foot helping the rope sway back and forth with a less than gentle shove with the toe of my shoe. I hear  the crunch of gravel over sound of the wind. I look up and see you approach.

"Ah, I see I have company again in my darker corner of The Writers' Lens."

I see you look down at the dangling man and I shoo your concerns away.

"Never mind him. It's just my inner naysayer and he'll . . . drop out of our conversation soon enough. Instead, let's continue our discussion on Hitchcock's techniques and how they can be applied to writing."

On April 11, 2012, I began exploring the three story worlds of Alfred Hitchcock. The Master of Suspense developed a three-part story world based on Freudian theory:
  1. The world of reality (the Freudian Ego) [See Writing Hitchcockian—The First of the Story Worlds of Alfred Hitchcock:];
  2. The world of desire (the Freudian Id); and
  3. The world of the mind (the Freudian Super Ego).

While some psychologist will happily argue against Freud's theories, it is important to remember that Hitchcock worked on the movie scripts with the scriptwriters until he had every element of suspense and camera angle down to exactly what he wanted based upon Freud's theory--and leaving the film editors with little choice but to keep the shots he wanted. It was the psychological weaving of the story that helped give rise to the elements of suspense.

While the first Hitchcockian world is the world of reality (Ego), the second one is the world of desire (Id).  We travel around in this world looking though the eyes of our desire. As human beings, we decide our goals by deciding on what we want. When we create our characters, we ask, "What is their goal?   What do they want?"

This desire creates their world which comes into conflict with the story world of reality.  When any two characters in this story world share opposite desires, the writer has character conflict as long as those characters are trying to change the world of reality to match the desire world that they want. From conflict (character vs. character and character's desire vs. the story world's reality) comes the suspense.

Let's stop talking psycho-babble and high level writing technique and get into the weeds. There are a lot of Hitchcock movies to choose from, but I am going to choose one of my top ten favorites: "Dial M for Murder." In the movie (or the original stage play) we have:

Tony Wendice: a retired professional tennis player married to a wealthy woman (Margot), who has discovered that his wife is cheating on him and desires revenge and her money.  But, of course--he needs a way to get away with it. How does he do this? He blackmails a criminal into killing her.

Margot Wendice: Tony's wife is having an affair with Mark Halliday, a crime-fiction writer. Her desire for Mark, if followed to its conclusion, would leave Tony in the "penniless cold harsh world." (Side note: while the world hasn't changed as much as we would like to pretend it has, one thing can easily be seen: professional athletes make a lot more money than they did a few decades ago)

Mark Halliday: Is in love with Margot and wants her for her, not her money.

Captain Lesgate (aka Charles Alexander Swann): a petty thief and an old acquaintance of Tony who is tricked into leaving incriminating evidence that he would police in to thinking he is guilty of Margot's murder even if he doesn't do it. But on the upside, if he does the murder for Tony, the evidence would be "taken care of" and he would be paid £1,000 (if I account for inflation and the exchange rate, that may come to about $25,000 today, but I could be wrong).

I do not want to ruin the story for you, so I will not go any further into the plot and characters. However, from this you can see how the world of reality comes in conflict with the world of desire:

World of reality--he is about to be penniless because he is going to lose his wife.
World of desire--wants his wife's money, so if he can't have it with her alive he is motivated by  his desire to have her money through her death.

World of reality--is in a loveless marriage.
World of desire--She wants to be in love with someone who wants her for her.

You can see where this is going to lead: Murder . . . but what if that murder attempt gets botched? The witches brew of suspense begins to bubble and steam. But, there is one more ingredient to add--the third story world. After that, we will really get spicy with the suspense.

In the next edition of Writing Hitchcockian, I will discuss the third of the story worlds of Alfred Hitchcock.

In the meantime, if you want to see how the world of desire can turn down the dark side, take a moment and read: The Murderer's Ladder: While you do that, I am going to pop some popcorn and watch "Dial M for Murder" again. (Feel free to join me)

Thank you for reading and please visit and You can also follow me on twitter @Owlkenpowriter and the Writer’s Lens @TheWritersLens. Fiction is the world where the philosopher is the most free in our society to explore the human condition as he chooses.

There are a lot of resources on Alfred Hitchcock. The primary one for this part of the series is:
Douchet, Jean. “Hitch and His Public.” Translator Berena Andermatt Conley A Hitchcock Reader, 2nd edition. Eds. Marshall Duentelbaum and Leland A. Poague: Wiley, John & Sons, Incorporated, 2009. 17-24. Print.

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