Wes Craven (1939–2015) was a celebrated director of such classic horror films including The Hills Have Eyes, A Nightmare on Elm Street, and Scream. His screenplay for Wes Craven’s New Nightmare is also considered to be super innovative and ahead of its time.
Here are three of his fantastic quotes to inspire your writing!
1. It’s not an easy place to be — to write a horror film. You go down the stairs to the dark to find these characters. It’s not a place anyone can go, and sometimes it’s not a place that you want to go.
Wes Craven is of course known as one of the legendary masters of the horror genre, and it’s not hard to see why. Throughout four decades he directed some of the most influential horror movies ever made, from the 1970s all the way to the 2000s. He was not a man who necessarily had the desire to make horror films.
I’ve studied his life and career, and from the beginning he wanted to make films in a variety of genres, and he never even considered making a horror movie. It was only when the opportunity arose for Craven to write and direct his first movie that he was asked by the financiers to do something scary… and because he was so successful at it the first time, that’s what he ended up doing the rest of his career!
The further along he went, thankfully, the more passion he developed for the genre, which I also adore myself. Most of what I write are suspense books for the MG and YA markets, and a lot of my enthusiasm for the genre comes from artists like Craven.
For those of you who write horror like me, it’s fun and games a lot of the times but sometimes it’s not an easy place to be, like Craven says. You have to dig deep within yourself to explore the darkest side of the human condition imaginable and then splash it all over the page. Two summers ago I wrote a suspense novel that became so dark and disturbing that I actually started to deal with negative physical symptoms, and therefore I was so happy when I finally finished the first draft so I could emerge into the sunlight and to my happier life again.
Horror is an incredible genre that allows for so many different kinds of stories, but it’s a place you should only explore if you’re serious about taking the leap into the terrifying unknown!
2. Stories and narratives are one of the most powerful things in humanity. They’re devices for dealing with the chaotic danger of existence.
Wes Craven wasn’t only a horror film director; he also was a college professor for many years before he got into film. He taught English and humanities in his twenties, and almost pursued his PhD. He was always a unique presence in the film world because he thought deeply and philosophically about the stories he was telling. Although his films are scary and sometimes gruesome, there’s usually something a lot more interesting brewing underneath the surface.
This quote clearly shows how thoughtful he was. It’s one thing to write stories that entertain the reader. That can often be enough sometimes. But it’s worth remembering also how much effect your stories can have on readers beyond entertainment value. Stories and narratives are super powerful. They can change minds, they can heal people, they can make them laugh and cry.
And yes, they can be devices for dealing with the chaotic danger of existence. It’s for this reason that I love writing books for children and teenagers. Life is always a bit chaotic in a sense, but it’s especially chaotic when you’re younger. Books can absolutely help younger people deal with the chaos of daily life, remember that if ever you’re writing a book or story for children.
This is not to say that you need to write a nice, happy story to make kids feel better. Sometimes it’s the most intense stories imaginable that help them deal. Think of The Hunger Games. Think of The Hate U Give. Stories that show younger people dealing with great chaos, both internal and external, often help you deal with the chaos of your own life.
3. I think I wrote the first draft of ‘Nightmare on Elm Street’ in ’79. No one wanted to buy it. Nobody. I felt very strongly about it, so I stayed with it and kept paying my assistant and everything. At a certain point, I was literally flat broke.
A Nightmare on Elm Street is one of the most iconic horror films of the last forty years, certainly of the 1980s, and it was such a breakout hit that it spawned more than a decade’s worth of sequels. Craven obviously touched a nerve with audiences with that terrifying film, so it’s hard to believe that it took five years for it to finally reach the screen. Every studio turned it down. Nobody thought a movie about nightmares could possibly be scary. But Craven believed in it, and he took other jobs to pay his bills as he continued pitching Nightmare to anyone who would listen.
This story about A Nightmare on Elm Street is worth considering as you go along in your writing life. Just because you query your novel to ten agents and then get ten rejections doesn’t mean you should give up. Just because you send your novel into a contest and you don’t place in the top three doesn’t mean your novel isn’t good enough.
If you believe in your novel, and revise it a few times, and have a few beta readers give you feedback, and keep at it for months or even years, your novel will find a home eventually. The same way Craven stuck with Nightmare for five years until he got it produced and released, you should stick with your novel you care about, while also getting started on other projects as well.
Don’t just write one novel and then spend the next five years revising it and trying to sell it while not also writing other things. I firmly believe that you should always be working on the next project while you also take the time to try to sell the book you believe in the most.
But don’t give up on a novel if you think you’ve truly got something. There’s a book I wrote back in 2013 I’m still trying to find a home for. And a book I wrote in 2015 is currently on submission to publishing houses nearly four years since I started the first draft.
Believe in your work, believe in yourself, and you will get there eventually. Wes Craven never gave up. And neither should you!