Here There be Monsters

GodzillaLike a lot of kids, I grew up thinking that monsters lived in my closet. I had no particular reason for believing this, of course, nor did I ever ponder why they could be kept so easily at bay by a Tinkerbelle nightlight, an open bedroom door and a cadre of vigilant stuffed animals.

Perhaps, though, I now credit that childhood angst for the adult rationale of keeping my walk-in closet stuffed with enough apparel that any monster dumb enough to get trapped inside would likely suffocate before he could inflict much harm. The screenwriting exercises in this month’s edition all revolve around scary beasts whether they hail from other planets, mysterious laboratories or the mists of time. For younger students who haven’t yet mastered the basics of script structure, these lesson ideas lend themselves to extemporaneous storytelling and role-playing skits. Older students are encouraged to draft scenes into correctly formatted screenplays as well as film them for peer review.

TABLE TOPICSGodzilla

These discussion questions provide a good foundation prior to choosing which exercises to try first.

1. What is your favorite monster movie of all time? Where did the monster come from? What were its most frightening attributes? How was it vanquished…or was it? (If your memory needs refreshing on just how many monster flicks are out there, click HERE)
2. Which is scarier to you – an animal monster with human intelligence or a human monster that acts like an animal? Why?
3. What type of monster would you least like to encounter? Why
4. What type of monster do you think would make a good friend? Why?
5. Do you think monsters really exist? Why or why not?
6. Think of the most frightening monster you have ever seen in a movie. What were the monster’s motivations for his or her actions? Was it Reward? Revenge? Escape? If you were to rewrite this film, what changes would you make in order for the monster to be a sympathetic character that audiences would root for? 

SPARE PARTS

PicassoDuring the summer of 1816, a young woman named Mary Shelley was staying at Lake Geneva in Switzerland with her future husband. A vision came to her one moonlit evening and she furiously began to compose the supernatural story of scientist Victor Frankenstein’s quest to create artificial life. Unfortunately, Victor’s expectations of fashioning something beautiful that could keep him company backfired, causing him to reject his “child” in horror. Thus exists the conundrum of having to accept the bad along with the good if you dare to go dabbling in the dark realms of reanimation.

Your Assignment: The protagonist of your film is a kindly mortician who believes that some of the dearly departed in his village still have something vital to contribute. Mr. Mullins, for instance, was an exceptional gardener. Mrs. Mitchell never met a stray cat that she didn’t welcome into her home with love. Miss Revere, the librarian, baked the very best pies. Mr. Turner had the strength to bend steel with his bare hands. Each of these individuals, however, also harbored dangerous traits that the mortician wasn’t aware of until he stitched them into one personality and gave it life. Write a one-page description of the result, give the monster a name, and tell us what the monster does on its first day loose in the village.

BUT MOM, HE FOLLOWED ME HOME

AstronautEven the offspring of alien monsters have probably begged their parents at one time or another to allow them to have a pet of their own.

Your assignment: Write a two-page breakfast scene in which Mom and Dad attempt to explain to Junior why he can’t keep the squeaky little man in the silver space suit that he found wandering around in one of the neighborhood craters.

FABRICATED FRIGHT FEST

BigFootThe Pacific Northwest has BigFoot. Scotland boasts Nessie sightings. The Himalayas have their Yeti. Certainly there’s no question that monsters are good for the local tourist trade, but what do you do if your own community has absolutely nothing that goes bump in the night? Perhaps the solution is to just make one up.

Your assignment: Write a three-page treatment of the pilot episode of a new TV show in which members of the city council decide that the only thing that will put their podunk setting on the map and jumpstart its economy is a monster. The genre can be comedy, fantasy, science fiction or horror. Identify the recurring characters, the attributes of the monster, and how the city council intends to initiate and perpetuate the ruse for profit.

HIDEOUS HYBRIDS

Wolf-SpiderIn the 1958 film, The Fly, a scientist playing around with matter transference accidentally swaps his head and one arm with that of a fly. (The film was remade in 1986 starring Jeff Goldblum.)  In light of current controversies about modern stem cell research, the notion of fusing or splicing the DNA of unrelated species isn’t all that far-fetched.

Your assignment: Choose any subject from Column A and any subject from Column B to create a hybrid monster. Give it a catchy name, define its attributes, powers and vulnerabilities, and write a one-page film synopsis in which this mutant creature is the central figure.

Column A Column B
Mosquito Hippo
Boa constrictor Triceratops
Bunny Piranha
Alligator Buffalo
Banana slug Hyena
Giant Panda Anteater
Bat Badger
Salamander Scorpion
Struthiomimus Amoeba
Piglet Stingray
Man Woman


MYTHIC MAYHEM

KrakenIn ancient times, it wasn’t uncommon for people to blame strange and frightening events on creatures that were not of this world. The Kraken, for instance, was a gigantic cephalopod that could crush a ship with its tentacles and drag it to the depths of the sea. The Talos – an enormous bronze robot – guarded the island of Crete by hurling boulders at any vessels that came close. And woe to the unlucky who ever crossed paths with the fire-breathing Chimera, a fearsome creature that was part serpent, goat and lion.

Your assignment: You and your film crew have been hired to do a documentary that will either verify or debunk the existence of an ancient monster. Using Greek, Roman, Norse or Chinese myths as your source material, draft a two-page outline that explains the chronology of your documentary and the tools you will use to develop the story (i.e., reenactments, interviews, maps, cartoons, etc.). The fun twist here is that you and your crew have mastered the art of time-travel and are not limited to a 21st century platform. You could, thus, interview assorted gods about their motivations or create “news” footage of sailors who escaped the clutches of the six-headed Scylla.


ChristinaHamlettAs part of my ongoing commitment to supply great lesson plans for today’s classrooms, I always enjoy getting feedback on how the material is used and what kind of new content you’d like to see in future columns. I’m also happy to answer any questions related to specific problems your students may be struggling with. Just drop me a note at or through my website at http://www.authorhamlett.com.

Former actress/director Christina Hamlett is an award winning author, professional script consultant, and ghostwriter. Her credits to date include 26 books, 141 plays for young actors, and 5 optioned feature films.