Interview: The Writing of “Haunting Melissa”

Haunting Melissa Fan Art by Natalia Hidalgo


It’s very rare I get to do an interview on writing technique:  most people just don’t know the right questions to ask. But Sean Hood at the website Genre Hacks grilled me very intelligently on the writing of Haunting Melissa:  how producing a ghost story script for a unique app might be different from other genres that had gone before and so on. I thought the result was a different kind of interview, and one of particular interest to aspiring screenwriters.

Here’s a sample:

You have written novels, screenplays and teleplays. How was writing a serialized story for an app different?
It was very different. For one thing, it used elements from all those forms, but was identical to none of them, which was pretty interesting right there. So, for instance, you had the time for character development you get in television but, because the story was more compact and had a definitive ending, you also had the coherent character arc that’s more common in a novel or a film. Because the episodes were sometimes relatively short, you had the kind of story density you get in movies, but the overall story was again more novel-like in length. Then, of course, you had those fragments and what Neal calls “dynamic story elements,” things that actually changed within the story. That wasn’t like anything else I can think of, but I tried to incorporate them into the plot so they’d have story-integrity, and not just feel like add-ons.

There are elements in your screenplay for Haunting Melissa that one would never find in traditional TV or movies…the recorded phone messages and web-chats in particular. Why did you decide to include these?

The intimacy of the medium mostly. You have someone sitting there with his iPad or iPhone – it’s a very intimate experience. It’s still something you watch, like TV, but it’s just more like the experience of reading, just you and the story one on one. It sometimes made me nervous to do things that weren’t strictly visual or film-like, but under the nervousness, I was pretty sure it would work because of the close relationship between the viewer and his device. Plus it gave us new ways of scaring people, scares no one had ever really used before. You know, a haunted social media feed – that’s pretty cool. You can’t really do that as well anywhere else.

You can read the whole thing here.
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