Wednesday, May 23, 2012

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

The cement swirled in the large white bucket like thick vanilla cake dough in a blender as I stirred it with my shovel until the texture was perfect. I drew a shovel full of the grey-white mixture and turned to my side where a wooden form had been laid out. Metal wire-like cables ran from the form to bind the arms, legs, and head of a man whose eyes have been sewn open and whose lips have been stitched closed. Carefully, I position the shovel to pour the cement mix onto the naked body.

I look up from the man, whose eyes seemed to reflect a plea to be released from his fate, to see you look again at me in horror. With a hard thrust, I bury the shovel blade into the ground, lean upon it and give you my most winning smile.

"Welcome back to my dark corner of The Writers' Lens. Pardon the mess. I am working on a small sculpture for an art project," I said as I motioned for you to take a seat on a concrete bench. "I thought I would immortalize that element in me that represents Writers' Block--like the ancient Gorgon Medusa did to those Greek heroes who sought her head for their glory."

I stop leaning on the shovel. "I suppose you are not here to discuss how to make a cement sculpture, so shall we return to discussing the three worlds of Hitchcock?"

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).

If you were to imagine the stories of Alfred Hitchcock to be held up like a steeple roof supported by three beams. The two parallel beams that crossed from side to side would be the worlds of reality and desire. The support beam that would connect them, allowing the viewer . . . the reader to communicate with them is the world of the mind. This is the beam on which our intellectual emotions (curiosity, suspicion, etc) run along like mice scurrying back and forth.

The world of reality allows us to see the protagonist's world as they see it and realize that the world is a reflection of their own thoughts, opinions and believes. The world of desire allows us to explore the protagonist's desires. It is this world that lets slip the façade the protagonist has adopted for himself and see what the character is really like--to peer into their true inner-self. The darkness is in this world. It is from within this world that any horrible acts (like murder) will occur by one of the characters.

Now, let's scurry along the support beam like the mice mentioned above. The dark act has happened and this challenges the protagonist's sense of reality. Something is off kilter and they must bring it back into the balance that they expect to exist.  They never will succeed. As they struggle to bring order back to their lives, their mind comes into play. Remember, they are not mere chess pieces on some game board, but living thinking people.

The protagonist may have been asleep, intellectually speaking, in his world as he went about his day to day living, but the horrible act has slapped him wide awake. He now begins some kind of investigative process, which will glue the clues together through inductive and deductive logic. They may be on a hero's quest, but they are not set on a path of some "noble selfless act" to bring light to the darkness. Instead they are on the path of a self-serving desire to pierce the darkness that all but shrouds the antagonist. This allows him to study the goal of his investigation, the antagonist, in a twisted objective curiosity--taking in the observations subjectively.

This is a critical stage. When the protagonist intellectually pierces the darkness seeking to understand it, the reader (or viewer) mentally discards their most important armor--that off lucid understanding. The audience is stripped of their sense of their world and lives wholly in the universe of the story. They have slipped into the "skin" of the protagonist like a glove and bring with them their most primal fears. With this now as their mental-self in the story, they voluntarily loose themselves into the story without any defenses (like the poor character of Janet Leigh who only wanted to take a shower and was brutally murdered in Psycho).

When the writer has achieved this--laid the support beam of the world of the mind to properly connect the worlds of reality and desire, the audience will fill in the gaps of what they are not seeing or hearing with their own imagination. If you, my reader, are in doubt of this, please do me a favor:
1. Toss Psycho into your DVD player (or stream it if it is available);
2. Watch the movie through to the famous shower scene (NO it from the beginning of the movie to the end of that scene);
3. Count the number of times the knife stabs Janet Leigh;
4. Got the count? Now rewind and just watch the scene. Watch it in slow motion. Take your time and watch the magic of Hitchcock's world of the mind at play. Count again how many times the knife actually pierced the body.

Did you get the result of zero times? Yep, you're right. Through the constant interplay of the worlds of reality and desire, demonstrated by the cut back and forth between knife, victim, shower curtain, water, etc, our mind creates the illusion of the actually stabbing of Janet Leigh. This sense of deceptive illusion caused by the emotions you felt watching the scene is what you, the writer, are aiming for--regardless if it is a horrible act like this or the cuddly romance or whatever it is you are writing. It is the ability to play the emotions the audience feels like a finely tuned violin that Hitchcock developed in his career. Dare you be that good?

In my next edition of Writing Hitchcockian, I will begin to explore the three "emotional states" that draw the audience into the worlds that we have explored and how the scripts are written carefully to produce these emotions.  Believe it or not, the emotion is not terror or fear. Until next time . . ..

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.


  1. Nice article, David. Did you know that Hitchcock used the stabbing of a casaba melon for the sound effects during this scene?

    1. I didn't. But, did you know the blood was Hershey's chocolate syrup? Seemed to be more "blood like" than something red on a black and white film.