If you want to sell a horror screenplay, you need to learn how to write an effective jump scare.
The most basic building block of all horror movies and TV shows is the jump scare. They are part of this rollercoaster of emotions we rely on from stories that send shivers down our spines.
If you’re coming up with horror movie ideas or just trying to add a bit of spice to your TV show, these pop-out horrors can keep audiences on their toes, allowing you to subvert expectations and tailor the story to your will .
Are you a fan of horror movies? Would you like to learn how to write a jumpscare (or jumpscare – they are interchangeable) in your script?
How to Write an Effective Jumpscare
The goal of this article is to teach you how to write jump scares in your scenes. Hopefully you already have a solid screenwriting foundation. Not only will this improve your skills on the site, but it will also be useful for many other genres that you enjoy writing.
But before we get into that, let’s take a look at the exact definition of a jump scare.
Jump scare is a technique used in the horror genre (movies, TV shows, web series, video games, etc.) that involves an abrupt change in image or event, usually coinciding with a sound intended to startle the audience.
Why do we love jumpscares in movies and TV shows?
We love these classic moments in a horror film because they arouse anticipation. When the scene becomes calm and still, you know something might be lurking around the corner.
There is nothing but stillness in the scene to create tension between the characters and the audience. As the fear mounts, the audience longs for that moment when the killer comes around the corner to end the moment of fear. As the tension eases, the audience jolts back in their chairs before laughing away at the shock and relaxing again.
Want to learn how to write the best jump scares? Watch a lot of horror movies and then read horror scripts.
I like to search the Where Is the Jump website, which tells you when they occur so it’s easier to find them in scripts.
We ranked some of the best jump scares in horror movies last year, but it might be time to unpack some of those for some examples.
One of my favorites comes from the poltergeist Screenplay, the first draft of which was written by Steven Spielberg. In it we see the little boy Robbie who is looking for a missing clown. Director Tobe Hooper leads the audience along with Robbie as he searches for the clown under his bed. The audience doesn’t know that the clown is waiting for Robbie when he returns from checking under his bed.
Check out how Spielberg wrote the scene.
Go out (2015)
One of the best things about the Go out The script is that it uses jump scares sparingly, putting you on pause before jumping out and giving you a big scare. In one scene, as the young couple drives into the country at the heart of the story, a deer crosses the road they hit with their car. it seems to come out of nowhere and puts on a show for the audience.
Look how Jordan Peele wrote it on the page:
The incantation (2013)
The incantation was written by Chad Hayes and Corey Hayes and contains some of the most terrifying jumps in any movie I’ve ever seen. There are so many throughout the film that it was hard to choose just one. So I went into the hallway with the monster. It happens about 40 minutes into the movie and has an amazing pop out from an unexpected angle.
Check out how the Hayeses wrote the scene.
The techniques behind writing a jump scare
What did you learn from all those jumpscares? As you can see, there is an economy of language here. Almost like you’re writing a set play, but with horror in mind. They escalate the stakes. Someone dies, something is revealed and something here takes an unexpected path.
First, there are three questions to remember when writing Jumpscare:
- Who is in the scene and what are their expectations?
- What are the ways to defy their expectations so that the audience is distracted?
- What’s a creative way to add something spooky to shock the audience while distracted?
Let these three in-scene tactics guide you.
If you’ve read enough screenplays, you know that storytelling has shifted from the huge blocks of text common in old screenplays to a staccato rhythm. When writing a set piece, you want to break down each line of action into complete ideas.
Don’t explain too much and don’t get lost in metaphors. Just tell us as precisely and concisely as possible what is happening.
Build the story keeping in mind the creaking of doors, the rush of the wind, and other literary devices and terms that can make your scene particularly spooky. Then surprise us with words in CAPITAL LETTERS or ellipses that lead to something scary. Be descriptive and set the mood.
Summary of “How to Write an Effective Jumpscare”
With this guide, you should be able to make the audience shudder and stir. Now you have the ability to manipulate and charge each and every scene to create terrifying jumpscares.
Remember, the horror genre is meant to be both scary and funny, don’t let people peek behind their fingers, let the horrors come and they will love you for it.
Now start writing!