A couple of weeks ago I began work on a new project that I’m quite excited about — a slasher screenplay.
There are two reasons for my excitement: screenplays are a new project type for me (having started, but never finished, one previously), and it gave me a chance to collaborate with my sister a little bit.
I didn’t set out looking for a new project. I have plenty on my plate as it is. But every once in a while a story comes to me that I have to write. This is one of those stories.
It was a pretty typical weekend night when the idea for this story hit me. I wanted to curl up and watch a horror movie — more specifically a slasher. And it occurred to me that there aren’t nearly enough female-driven films in this area, where women are killers rather than victims.
My gut immediately said “don’t bitch about it; write it.” But then I started second-guessing myself (as I often do). It occurred to me that there’s an inherent problem with a female killer in a slasher. It just isn’t believable. Yes, yes, I know horror stories don’t have to be believable; I just happen to find them all the more frightening when they could be.
The female-as-serial killer angle alone is tough enough to work around. It simply isn’t common. On top of that, I felt like there needed to be some psychological drive to make a woman choose a blade as a murder weapon, putting her in such close proximity to what would at least sometimes be much larger, stronger victims. Stab one male victim? Sure. The element of surprise alone could make that work well. But over and over again? It isn’t logical. And I like logic.
Hashing Out the Details
Instead of scrapping the concept altogether, I bounced some ideas around. I don’t recall what made me think of her, but somehow my little sister came to mind. A light bulb switched on. The story I needed to write wasn’t a slasher about a female serial killer. It was about two. Sisters.
I knew the gist of where I wanted to go. There would be a big age gap, like the ten years between my sister and me. The older would be protective and able to influence the younger. The younger sister would look up to and rely on her older sister. There’s a lot of truth there, and it opened all sorts of doors for motivation.
I needed to hash out more details before writing, so I called my sister.
“What would I have to do to convince you to stab a man to death?” I asked her.
My sister responded to that question as if I’d just asked her how her work day went. That’s what I love about my relationship with my sister. We’re equally nuts. This was barely outside of routine conversation for us. We’re also matched very well intellectually, creatively, and logically. So when it comes to hashing out plans for a fictional murder, there’s no partner I’d rather have; if I overlook something she’ll catch it, and vice-versa. Planning a perfect murder would be little more than a puzzle to us. And we love puzzles.
I should note this story is in no way based on either of us directly (lest family reads this and assumes we’re up to no good — which we always might be). But that real relationship is a great starting point in that we have a somewhat unique dynamic between our age difference and current distance, both of which I’m tapping into.
That relationship also makes a female slasher flick feel more plausible to me than it might to others. I’m 6′ tall. Baby sis is 5’10”. And we’re both strong enough to hold our own against most men. Put us together both physically and mentally, give us a common goal, and I doubt there’s a man alive we couldn’t take down if we really needed or wanted to. While the size aspect certainly colors my own opinions of what women are capable of, I don’t think replicating that in my characters is even necessary to make this believable. Two strong women who play on each others’ strengths while being able to compensate for each others’ weaknesses would make formidable enemies in just about any circumstance.
Now, back to my chat with my sis. Somehow the conversation got to the topic of superpowers. I won’t go into the details here, but suffice it to say both my sister and I had some pretty weird shit happen to us when we were younger. It became a running joke that someday our mother would finally admit to us that the females in the family all inherited some weird superpower.
Anyway, she mentioned the only time she’s recently fantasized about having powers was when some man groped her in public; to take her mind off the incident she thought about what she’d do to him if she had powers that allowed her to better protect herself (having done the smart thing at the time, she just focused on getting out of there safely).
Now that didn’t inspire anything in this story. It’s not a superhero flick. But it did something else. I felt my face flush with anger. Even though I knew this happened a while ago, my gut reaction was that I wanted to hunt down this bastard who laid his hands on my baby sister and beat him to a bloody pulp.
There it was — the motivation for a woman to kill. Defense of someone else can be such a strong driving factor for women, sometimes even more than defense of ourselves. Knowing this, going the route of having two sisters as killers was perfect.
Lay a hand on my sister against her will, and I’ll hurt you. Do real damage, and you’re dead. That’s the love of a big sister. There’s almost a mother-child bond there when there’s a big age difference and an older sibling helped raise the younger one. In our case, my sister may be in her twenties now, but to me she’ll always be the little girl I used to sing to sleep.
At that point I knew something had to happen to the younger sister to drive the older sister to kill (though there’s more to her backstory that I won’t go into right now). But I also wanted the story to show the younger sister go from innocent victim to hardened killer in her own right, under big sis’ influence.
I had to come up with an inciting incident to give the younger sister an equal motivation to kill, especially that first time. I don’t want to give away too much of the story here, but the initial motivation of the younger character is very loosely based on an experience of my own and how a woman can feel after losing a pregnancy, especially when someone else is to blame.
What starts as not one, but two revenge killings, morphs into a much more traditional slasher as the two sisters feed off each others’ rage and false morality. The story is one part watching the younger sister devolve from innocence to monster while at the same time slowly humanizing the older sister by showing why she started doing what she does and highlighting her uncontrollable need to protect her sister.
I’m currently a little more than half-way through writing the base story (starting with a scene-by-scene narrative before adapting it into screenplay format). And I think what I love so much about this project is the fact that it makes me uncomfortable.
I’ve had to stop at times because writing this brings me back to places I don’t really want to think about again. And I’ve had to reign in my more rational side and let more visceral reactions lead me along this story’s path (especially when thinking about someone hurting my sister, and what the worst side of me would truly want to do about it). It’s an emotional ride, and I hope that makes it a better story in the end.
That’s what I’m working on at the moment, and I hope to have updates over the next several weeks and months. I expect the rest of the initial narrative draft to run another 3-4k words. I should push through that before the end of this week thanks to another brainstorming session with my sis. She helped me hash out some of my mid-story concerns about the devolution of the younger character (ultimately the heart of the story).
I’ll be up in NYC in my hometown in Brooklyn this weekend (born a Greenpoint girl), which is serving as a very loose inspiration for the story’s setting. So I’m hoping to take some decent shots around town for inspiration while I’m there. Then I get to the fun part of playing with a new writing style.
If any of you are working on something new, I’d love to hear about it. Or if you have general thoughts on the topic of female killers in slashers, I’d love to hear those too. Feel free to leave a comment below, or check back with the blog later to see how this project is progressing.