9/8/03 Plot Structure

Subject: Plot Structure


Daily Screenwriting Tips 

Wes Craven's ( screenplay
of  "A Nightmare On Elm Street"
( ) uses two major elements from Greek drama: the chorus and the idea of the tragic deed.

In Greek plays whose stories end in tragedy for the protagonist,
a group of supporting characters known as the chorus comments
on the protagonist's fate, which is usually determined by a tragic deed.

Aristotle says in "The Poetics"
( , his essay on drama, that this deed can be an action taken by a character that intentionally or unintentionally harms that character's friend or relative.

In "A Nightmare On Elm Street," Nancy Thompson (Heather Langenkamp), a high school student, discovers that her mother, Marge (Ronee Blakley), unintentionally betrayed her by killing Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund), a murderer whose spirit
comes back from the dead to kill Nancy's friends in their dreams.

To stop Freddy from killing children in her neighborhood, Marge
and several other parents set his home on fire, burning him to death.

His spirit comes back from the dead to seek revenge against
the parents by killing their children.

So, by killing Freddy, Marge accidentally immortalized him,
in that way betraying her own daughter, Nancy.

Nancy's friend, Tina Gray (Amanda Wyss), is the first to be killed
by the newly resurrected Freddy Krueger.

He enters her dream and turns it into a nightmare, slicing her up
with a glove whose fingers are razor blades.

Her boyfriend, Rod Lane (Nick Corri), is blamed for her death.
But, Nancy doesn't believe he's guilty.

She visits him at a local police station, where he's being held
in a jail cell.

After this visit, she takes a bath at home.

While in the bathtub, she sings a song that Tina told her about
after dreaming about Freddy Krueger for the first time: "One, two, Freddie's coming for you, three four, better lock your door, five six, grab your crucifix, seven eight gonna stay up late, nine ten,
never sleep again..."

This song is sung by schoolgirls while they jump rope. They act as the chorus, the supporting characters whose song comments on the fate of the protagonist, Nancy. The lyrics show that only by avoiding sleep can a person avoid being killed by Freddy.

Tina's boyfriend, Rod, is killed by Freddy while dreaming,
as is Nancy's boyfriend, Glen Lantz (Johnny Depp).

So, in an act of desperation, Nancy pulls Freddy out of her dream into the real world, where she sets him on fire.

While on fire, Freddy runs up the stairs in her house and enters
a bedroom where he kills Nancy's mother, Marge, with the flames from his body.

Afterwards, Nancy defeats Freddy, sending him back to the dream world by telling him: "I take back every bit of energy I ever gave you. You're nothing. You're shit."

In the final scene, Nancy appears to have gotten her mother
and her friends back from the dead. They seem to be alive and well.

But, we soon find that she is merely dreaming, and Freddy traps her in a car and pulls her mother, Marge, through a window into Nancy's house.

Once again, we see that Marge's tragic deed--the killing of Freddy Krueger--has immortalized Freddy, causing tragedy for Nancy.

The schoolgirls who act as a chorus comment on Freddy's immortality by singing about dreams being the place where
he can kill.

Screenwriters who are interested in the horror genre should study
the ways in which "A Nightmare On Elm Street" uses the chorus
and the tragic deed.

Both story elements can be used to generate a feeling of horror
in audiences, fulfilling the promise of the horror genre itself.

To read the screenplay of "A Nightmare On Elm Street,"
click on the following hyperlink:

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