JustJimAZ

The Drawing Board Part 3 - Scene Design

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So! You've decided on your haunt's setting, characters, and situation. You've developed a story to guide you and provide some depth for your more astute patrons. Presumably, that story has a few key scenes that guests will be travelling through.

A lot goes into designing a scene. For now, I'd like to stick to what scenes there will be, the order to present them in and what the scares will be.

If you have spent a lot of time thinking about all the elements in the other "Drawing Board" entries, you probably already have some idea of the scenes and the order in which they should be presented. It makes sense for the receptionist to be at a desk or at least in a front scene, for example. A prisoner usually needs a cage, always needs restraints.

Consider the flow you want for your haunt - how does it build to a climax? Whether a haunted trail, alien invasion, or zombie clown apocalypse, you can come up with scenes that build on each other and move to ever greater scares.

For today, let's stick to a haunted trail. The scene may start in the line, or even the parking lot, with lots of posted signs warning of dangers ahead. Animal attacks in the area. Personally, I think I'd try to make the signs as official looking as possible. If you look for real, official warnings, I think you'll be surprised at what's out there.Name:  danger.PNG
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The guests/patrons are there because they have volunteered to help the Forest Service locate and put down what they believe to be a bear marauding in the forest. As volunteers, it makes sense that they need to ignore the warning signs to do their job. Of course, you can put these signs all along the trail, perhaps making them more urgent or at least more damaged as folks progress through the story? Maybe you dispense flashlights (or even radios?) to each group. If so, whatever you give them needs to be VERY unreliable.

This is all to say that every scene and every element in the scene needs to serve to move the story along. For my purpose, I will imagine I want the guest's intensity / fear level to look something like this:
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Each scene cranks up the scare, and each "transition" area allows the intensity to drop, but never to let them get comfortable. It's an ideal to strive for, and my compass for designing the flow.

So, you've set the scene at the beginning. People are about to travel down the trail. What will they encounter? I think that in addition to the signs, I'll add ambient sounds. Rustling leaves. A snapping twig in the dark. I think the next scene will be an animal's mutilated corpse, complete with smell, of course. Every scene needs a scare, a payoff. How about the corpse is rigged so either an actor or a prop controller makes the head suddenly rise up and scream? I won't go into all the details about misdirection and such here, just the scenes and the scares. Off they go, on to the next scene.

Since this is a haunted trail, the transitions flow naturally - it is all on a trail. The thing to remember is to make this true of other themes as well.

Anyway... There they are, having just left the mutilated animal behind them as they head deeper into the woods. The smell of death is strong. The sounds of leaves and branches now include crunching, like...footsteps? More warning signs on the trees, smeared in something. Maybe blood.

The trail opens out a bit. There's a man there with a flashlight. He wears coveralls smeared in red and brown.
His face is smeared in brown. His hair is in disarray. He's clearly very paranoid. He accuses you of killing everything in the woods. Demands an explanation. He holds a bloody claw hammer, and threatens you with it. That may be the scare, or he may have an accomplice that jumps out to scare as well. Off to scene 3...


There are broken signs on the trail now, barely legible. There, up ahead, is a body in a ranger uniform, head crushed, with a few signs and a bag of nails dumped at his side. As you get closer, someone shines a light at you from behind. Dirty coveralls. Wild hair. Dirty face. Claw hammer. Screaming. Chasing...

The path is clear of debris but dark. There are sounds of growls and howls on both sides. Spiderwebs (or something) brush against their faces as they go. There is a fork in the road. Which way to go? Both paths lead to scene 4, but they don't know that.
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As the paths merge, there is a woman on the ground. She's screaming and writhing. She is being eaten alive by a werewolf. Is the werewolf wearing coveralls? Your call. There is nothing they can do. Out of the darkness charges another werewolf. Huge. Run!

The trail here feels tighter. The trees and branches lean in. Too narrow (at least at shoulder height) for people to walk side by side. Glowing eyes in the darkness on all sides. Branches (or something) brush against them at every step. The odor of blood is strong. A light shines ahead.

They come out into a small clearing. There is a weird glow coming from what looks like a well in the center. It pulses blue, yellow and red. Hooded figures stand behind it, their faces obscure but their large knives shining in the light. Maybe wolf skulls are worn under the hoods?



A victim is chained by handcuffs to the well, kneeling, bruised and bleeding, weeping. The leader of the robes is wielding a glowing branding iron. Maybe a pentagram, maybe an original symbol. It's as if the victim is about to be branded.

The leader points it at the newcomers. "Volunteers!"

Two of the robes lunge forward with knives as impossibly large (quad-stilt) werewolves spring from the shadows, driving the group out of the circle and down the trail.

For this little example, this was the climax, the "Final scene". Let them walk or run toward the exit. If you are the chainsaw loving type, give them a bit of time to approach the exit, then hit them from the side with your chainsaw character. Otherwise, come up with a final scare to push them out the door. Maybe a were-bear. Maybe a hooded maniac with a knife. Maybe a hidden leaf blower on a motion sensor. Some final gotcha sends them on their way out of the gate.

Of course, there are a lot of details missing in this, and a lot of cool tricks that could be added like putting in a bridge, different monsters, bones along the trail, etc. My point is to illustrate how the scenes work together to build tension and tell more and more of the story. The signs probably warned of animal attacks in the area. The dead deer or whatever seemed to confirm that. Then the maniac with the hammer, who clearly does not believe it's animals. Then the dead ranger, tying back to both the signs and the hammer. Then it shifts again with the werewolves, and finally with the cult who is apparently making werewolves or worshiping some entity in the well that is tied to werewolves.

By reading the scenes, do you get a feel that the patrons are getting more and more information? Are they being escorted through a narrative? You could probably come up with more interesting scares, or a better way to tell the story.

That's it for today. Where did I go wrong? How would you do it better? How do you design the scenes in YOUR haunt?

Happy haunting!

Updated 10-18-2019 at 02:38 PM by JustJimAZ

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