For the Love of Horror & History

Jordan Dane
@JordanDane


On Monday, my lovely TKZ blogmate Clare Langley-Hawthorne had a post called “Losing the Past” where she discussed the state of the historical. I must admit I’ve been intimidated from trying to write an historical. The research seemed daunting, not to mention the world building and dialogue challenges, but I’ve always loved classic literature set in a historical time period made into movies, like Little Women, Pride and Prejudice, Wuthering Heights, David Copperfield, and Jane Eyre. There is something very compelling about taking a peek into the past to see the cultures, classes, location settings, and period clothing. Whether in a book or on screen, it’s a beautiful escape to a different time and place. Historicals aren’t dying out, they’ve become the new black if they’re reimagined into something fresh.


Lately I’ve become enthralled by TV period pieces, especially if the writing and storytelling are solid and the visuals and world building are memorable. Shows that have pulled me in are: Fox’s Sleepy Hollow, BBC’s Ripper Street, and Showtime’s Penny Dreadful. I watch other shows for different elements towards my writing, but these shows have influenced me into crossing the line of my comfort zone. I firmly believe, for me, that I must seek out projects to push my perceived limits. I think I learn more about myself when I do it. The only limit to any writer is the limit of their own imagination.


So when I was recently asked to contribute to a time travel anthology (with an amazing group of authors), I accepted with great enthusiasm (even though it scared me). I accepted the challenge because of my love for these three shows and my desire to push my writer limits. I wanted to share these feature film quality shows with you to see if they stir your imaginings as writers for inventive plots, attention to detail on world building and research, and the fearlessness of the creative mind to combine ideas that may not connect easily.


Icabod with skullSLEEPY HOLLOW – The motto at Sleepy Hollow these days is “Embrace the Ridiculous.” Show creators and the talented writers have thrown together very unlikely elements to create what’s been called WTF TV. On paper, the pitch for the show would’ve sounded absurd – Washington Irving adaptations of Headless Horseman and Rip Van Winkle, mixed with Revelations in the Bible and the Four Horsemen of the apocalypse and historical conspiracies from the Revolutionary War. Icabod Crane is reimagined as a Revolutionary War hero and Revelations “witness” who arises from his secret grave at the same time as the Headless Horseman (aka Death) starts a killing rampage in the quiet town of Sleepy Hollow. The battle of good versus evil has found a home. Crazy, yet it works. The added touch of humor to this “man out of time” story makes Icabod a very endearing character. There’s tongue in cheek humor and the show is notably very ethnically blended. Sleepy Hollow is making history in more ways than its flashbacks.


Ripper SettingRIPPER STREET is set in Victorian London right after Jack the Ripper left his mark. Fear runs high that the monster will return. The shows are tightly written, very emotional, and there is great sensitivity to social issues of the time that reflect on those same issues today. Another thing I love about Ripper Street is the portrayal of early forensics and crime scene analysis. Many scenes are laughable (ie surgical operations done in the open without sterilization or proper care for infection) yet accurate for the time period. Costumes are stunning and the street settings are vivid with great care for detail.


Penny Dreadful BooksPENNY DREADFUL – The show title of Penny Dreadful comes from history, the name given to paper pamphlets filled with terrifying stories. Such stories (also known as Penny Blood, Penny Awful, & Penny Horrible) plus stage performances of the genre were the rage in London during the Victorian time period. They were printed on cheap pulp paper and aimed at working class adolescents. Fear abounded and made fertile ground for when Jack the Ripper wreaked havoc on the streets.


Cast 1Penny Dreadful is an homage to literary horror and classic monsters of the time: Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, and The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde, etc. What I love about Penny Dreadful is the intense world building in every scene. The details of lush sets and gorgeous costuming and the use of practical literary monsters (not animated computer generate imagery). The horror is visceral.

Dr VicHere is Dr Victor Frankenstein slaving over his “creature” in secret. The scene where Victor lays eyes on his living creature (and the creature sees his creator for the first time) is an unforgettable moment where the viewer holds a breath to watch the touching intimacy. Everything about this show speaks to me of good writing, solid storytelling, and memorable characters in classic conflict. Visually stunning. It’s a feast for the eyes, mind, and heart.


For Discussion: What shows stir your writer imaginings? Have they ever influenced you to write a genre you’ve never tried before?

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My Addiction to Fox’s Sleepy Hollow–as a Writer

Jordan Dane
@JordanDane

sleepyhollow

I’ve been watching Sleepy Hollow and consider myself a Sleepyhead, one of many fans who follow the show. We tweet during episodes, quoting lines we love, and mostly talk about Tom Mison, the delectable British male lead who will undoubtedly inspire books in me from here on. But what I’ve found most interesting in the show, beyond the eye candy of Mison, is the daring mix of genres and biblical and literary references. It’s got the flavor of National Treasure (by turning history on its ear with an intriguing undercurrent of conspiracy theories or good vs evil battles) woven into the luxurious velvety fabric of fantasy, mystery, humor, romance, historical, paranormal, and horror.

fourhorsemen

On top of everything else—the cherry on the top–is damned good writing. We care about the characters and what happens to them. They have personal stories we can’t get enough of, along with the good vs evil battle against demons. There’s a great mix of suspense thriller pacing, blended with the mounting risks the characters take on with each new episode, and compelling backstories to pepper the emotional landscape. The writers leave us wanting more with each new show, while continuing an overall story arc on each character. Even secondary characters become important because of how they add to the plot. I get swept away with being a viewer, but often go back to really listen to each line because these writers do NOTHING without a purpose. It’s fun to see all the threads pull together as the season continues. You have to pay attention if you want to figure stuff out ahead of time, which I really love as a writer.
 
Other fun things to watch for is the historical research the show’s writers must do into the history of the period. Crane’s dialogue lines are incredible studies into the English language of the time period as compared to how we speak today. Abbie represents our present day while Crane is our past. They’ve even used Middle English in the retelling of the mysterious legend of Roanoke. With Crane remembering the past freshest in his mind, he is a reminder how precious our past is and how much can be forgotten over time.
 
Crane is also portrayed as a renaissance man with an enlightened perspective against slavery, which works well with Abbie being a black female law enforcement officer whose ancestors crossed paths with Crane’s family. Again, good writing. Characters and their backstories are well thought out and serve a function for all that springs from their conflict or purpose. This show also has many references to literature and books. In the last episode, Crane is quoted as saying, “Without books we have no past and no future.” I hope I remembered that correctly. It stuck with me. So many quotables from the show.
 
Crane with shower sponge
 
The “man out of time” bits are hilarious and far too few, but that makes every one precious. Crane is outspoken and has trouble admitting when he doesn’t understand our present time, making each misstep of his funny to watch. His first shower, his take on modern technology and conveniences, his disbelief we pay for water or pay 10% levy on baked goods (his introduction to donut holes), his time spent on the “ninernet” and finding a porn chat room,  and his first baseball game are hilarious. Crane’s take on us is entertaining, but it’s what he teaches Abbie about the past and the way he still lives (standing up to evil or injustice no matter the personal cost), endears him to us. This is another test of good writers – to incorporate such special moments into a suspenseful story line at the right time and place, or surprising the viewer when it comes at a very unexpected moment (like the picture above where he sees his first shower sponge and doesn’t ask why Abbie bought it for him). The writers and Mison make me want the whole show to be about Crane assimilating, but of course there must be more for us to get to know characters who are quickly becoming as familiar as family to the growing legion of Sleepyheads who crave the Sleepy Hollow world.
 
Mison in bootsI know the day is coming that Crane will be forced from his period clothing, but I have to say Tom Mison is dream worthy in his revolutionary breeches, boots, and gabardine jacket. He’s wearing a wig for the long sexy hair, but Mison looks amazing in short hair too. Google the many faces of Tom Mison and you’ll see. Here’s fun video on Mison and Beharie. And here’s another of just Mison and his short hair. The fandom on DeviantArt and twitter and countless other chat rooms and forums have quickly evolved. Fortunately people of all ages have embraced this show.
 

 
Another writer thing – the plot and character story arcs are really good. The ground swell to Ichabod’s and Abbie’s story is building in such a tantalizing way with cliff hanger and reveals that escalates the momentum. Ichabod and Abbie are the two witnesses in Revelations who are fighting the four horsemen of the Apocalypse, malevolent spirits, a dark coven of witches, and a powerful demon behind it all. The chemistry between Abbie and Crane is growing stronger as they work together and put their lives on the line for the sake of humanity, despite the cost to their lives and loves. I want to bottle similar elements into a book. There are so many things I am learning about good writing. Thanks to Fox, the Sleepy Hollow Writers and Phillip Iscove for bringing a quality show like this to TV.
 
For other Sleepy Heads, have you seen the online map on the Fox site? HERE is the link. Bone up for the upcoming 2-hour finale (two back to back eps that will be an event held on Jan 20th). Yes, this means we have to wait, but this show is worth waiting for. I can’t even imagine having Ichabod for two hours. (Well, actually I can, but that’s a whole ‘nother post…with a different rating than PG.)
 

Congratulations to Fox and the cast of Sleepy Hollow for getting picked up for a second season. Fox has a major hit on its hands!!!
 
For the purposes of discussion:
 
1.) Are you a Sleepyhead? Will you be watching the 2-hour finale on Jan 20th?
 
2.) What are your favorite elements of the show – as a writer – as a viewer?
 
3.) What clothes would you like to see Ichabod wear? I’ve heard rumor of a hoodie, but I truly believe Crane’s clothes are his security blanket. Will he part with them? If not, what will his compromise be?

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