Horror projects can be inspired by a variety of different sources, whether it be a well-known movie, TV series, book, or character finding new life after its initial debut. While some of these projects look to attach themselves with a well-known brand, the upcoming TV series Two Sentence Horror Stories instead found inspiration in a recent trend of storytellers taking to the internet in hopes of frightening one another as efficiently as possible. As the title implies, the challenge for the writers was to frighten readers with a bare minimum of words, which is what creator Vera Miao found so exciting, while also challenging.
Each episode of the series follows the same format, which opens with the first sentence of a story, followed by an unsettling adventure, concluding with the second sentence. This structure makes for not only an exciting format, but also allows for all manner of mayhem to unfold in each self-contained episode. The stories first became popular on social media, as their digestible nature allowed fans to consume countless stories, ultimately inspiring them to share terrifying tales of their own.
ComicBook.com recently caught up with Miao to discuss how she first learned of the trend, the process of bringing the stories to life, and what fans can expect from the series.
ComicBook.com: Two-sentence horror stories are well-known in various corners of the internet, but do you remember your first exposure to them?
Vera Miao: It was when they went viral. I'm just a horror nerd, so they must've just come across my attention when it probably did for anyone else who knew of them. I just thought they were great. I really, really, really loved them. I thought they were super inventive. I think what I loved about it is that they distilled everything down to a classic sitting around the fire, spooky tale spirit. But being circulated through this digital virtual community that's only possible now. And I just really dug people's creativity.
SYFY previously delivered audiences Channel Zero, the horror series inspired by crowdsourced "creepypasta" stories. What do you think it is about the internet that is changing the way horror stories are told and why they make for such good TV shows?
I hope that we're always able to accomplish great spooky stories in whatever format. What I really liked about these crowdsourced stories, I guess, like both the two-sentence horror stories and the creepypasta stuff that you're talking about is that it's, again, I don't want to make everything sound wholesome, but it's just this great sense of community where you really feel how many folks take delight in these kinds of stories and this collaborative collective process of sharing creativity and what we love.
I think I say it's as if we're sitting around a campfire because that's what it felt like, which absolutely was not what the actual experience was. I'm sitting at my computer by myself. But there was an instant feeling of connection with other folks who just seem to take delight, and a little bit of pleasure, and a lot of joy out of telling each other stories. And I think at the end of the day, I'm a storyteller. And that kind of intrinsic delight [of telling stories], not for any purpose, not to make something or get established, or make your name, or say you're a writer. It's just people sitting around telling stories to each other. And with horror and these supernatural, spooky tales, that's a present. So I think that's probably the draw, at least for me.
The brevity of two-sentence horror stories seems to flex a completely different creative muscle. People writing them aren't looking to cash-in on the stories or use them as a way to launch a larger career in movies, TV shows, or books. Their limited nature means you're only writing them for the sake of creeping out other readers.
And at the end of the day, if your first love is stories, then that's the power of stories, you don't need anything to tell them. You just need yourself and a way to communicate. And stories are the way that humans make meaning. I know it sounds lofty and big, but I'm very passionate, I love, love, love stories and that love preexisted and predated any attempt to be a filmmaker and to tell stories myself. So there was just something about the two-sentence horror stories that I just felt like, "Oh, here's a community of people who I'll probably never meet who also just enjoy the simple pleasure of telling a story." Coming up with a story, sharing a story, hearing stories. And there was something just very pure about that that drew me to it.
And, of course, obviously inspired something that eventually developed into a television show. But the kernel and the core that I always come back to is it's a privilege and a pleasure to be able to tell stories for a living because that's my first love.
It's how we, as people, relate to each other and understand the world around us. So it is simple and beautiful and pure individuality. But I think also they're very meaningful when we look bigger. And two-sentence horror stories going viral on the internet was just the one manifestation of that that's only possible now that I thought it was pretty cool.
Do you remember the first story you read that made you realize the potential of the concept as a TV series?
The idea that it would become a TV anthology series came a little bit later. Mostly because I would read stories and I would immediately start thinking of ideas because of the way that the two-sentence horror stories are set up by virtue of what it is. The first sentence is set up. The second sentence is basically the twist. And so the structure was already in place because it's just two sentences. When it's really good, when they're really effective, they really hit home this twist. But then there's all this space in between. Your mind can just roam free, it can go on any direction. Person, place, context, scare, situation. All of it. So in a lot of respects it's, in hindsight, "Oh, I can see why it's so rich for a writer's room," but in the moment I just loved how evocative it was, but also how open-ended at the same time.
So I think there was a bunch when I first started reading them. There were so many there. And I've read so many of them now that I feel like there are subgenres. There's like a whole series of mirror related ones. There's a whole series of folks who realize that they're dead and they're buried alive. Or they're either dead and they wake up, or they're realizing that they're actually buried alive. It's funny, I think the most powerful ones are often the shortest, but there were a couple that were really tricky. And they were long, complex sentences. There was one, this was not the first one that struck me, but it was pretty awful actually. And it involved a baby and the baby's teeth. You think it's a cute little baby and the baby comes for you with all of these crazy teeth. So I can't remember the exact one that might have sparked everything. I was consuming as many as I could, as a fan, whenever I came across them.
The crowdsourced Channel Zero adapted established stories from writers. Did Two Sentence Horror Stories take existing stories from around the internet? What was the process of selecting stories to be adapted?
The two-sentence horror stories in the show are original. They're not from things that went viral. So I just took a lot of inspiration and then used that as the structure.
Then I had to come up with original, two-sentence horror stories for the show. I had the benefit of having a wonderful writers' room. So me and a group of really incredible writers, we just spent a lot of time really thinking about coming at it from a bunch of different perspectives. What are the things that scare us? I think at its core, Two Sentence Horror Stories is a psychological horror anthology series where, and it's the thing that I framed for the show, I'm much less interested in, for instance, jump scares and gore for this show.
I think the intention behind the show, for me when I conceptualized it, was an updated horror spin on the Twilight Zone format. Something that's deeply unsettling that speaks to the very core and our primal fears. And ideally, in a perfect world, the stories that come out of this show are the kind of scares or fears that will linger in your brain for a long time after. Rather than just feel it in the body, in the moment, if that makes sense. So we spent a lot of time talking about the things that really, really scare us. People that we want to see in these stories, context, and situations. A lot of it, I always like to start personal, which is not to say that the stories are autobiographical, but I asked each of the writers to really take advantage of who they are, and where they come from, to really throw in specificity into our creative process.
So, for instance, one of my writers worked for many years with autistic children. And that became one of the characters in one of the stories. And that story is actually not about autism, but she just wanted to really represent an autistic child as someone who is like every other character. And bring in some of the specificity, of the detail around caring for an autistic child. And then, of course, we put it in a home invasion story. And so that kind of specificity is one of the things that I really appreciated about not writing by myself and having a great group of writers. And because we had to come up with so many different stories that didn't overlap with each other and didn't retread things that we've already come up with, we had a group of really great creatives around the table. We just sat around and we talked about what would we love to explore through the lens of this particular show.
You obviously had to come up with lots of two-sentence horror stories to then figure out which would make for the best episodes, but are there any stories that you came up with that you were really proud of that you just couldn't find a way to adapt for the series?
I did the self-destructive thing of pitching a series where every single episode is its own story. There are a lot of ideas left on the floor and there were some scripts that didn't end up moving forward. And I love those stories. I love them. And so there are definitely ideas that, no matter how I tried to tackle it or come at it, I wasn't really able to make it as fully realized as I wanted.
There are whole scripts that, for whatever sets of reasons, have not moved forward. Sometimes it's just not the right moment. Other times it's too ambitious, even for a half-hour. These stories don't lack for twists and layers and levels. It's almost a process to try to cram it in to the time that we have. And I have some beloveds, I'm not going to lie. There are some scripts and stories that I think are just really fun. And there was, not a horror-comedy, but there was one story that had a little bit more of a dry humor to it that I was super excited about because it represented a different world and a different tone to bring into the show. But hopefully some day it'll get made.
Conversely, are there any particular favorite stories that did make the cut and were adapted into an episode? Or would picking a favorite be like picking a favorite child?
I could say something for each of them, for each episode, honestly. And I'm not trying to skirt your question. The analogy there is that they're all my children, and I do really think that each one has its own specific thing. I think that there are a couple of episodes, I don't want to spoil it, supposing it's just my perspective, there are a couple of episodes where I think the big ideas behind it, I'm curious to see how they will play when other people watch them. I'm curious to know what people take away from what we came up with as a new spin on, for instance, a ghost story and took some tweaks, and tried to bring in some new big ideas into the beloved existing tropes and genres that we know.
I think for me it's less about my favorite episode or one I'd lift up. I'm more curious to see what those episodes with the big ideas, in these familiar genres, how do they register with an audience? Do they spark any conversations? Do folks get it? That's curiosity on my part. I am extremely hands-on. It's a series that I created. I'm all over everything. And so I just really hope that people enjoy it and that it makes an impression and that it lingers. And that folks really take in the whole show because the work and the talent behind all of these episodes is so significant. And I'm very proud of it and I hope folks enjoy our contribution into the genre that we love so much.0comments
Two Sentence Horror Stories premieres on The CW on Thursday, August 8th at 9 p.m. ET.
Did you know ComicBook.com has a podcast? That's right folks, ComicBook Nation is available every Wednesday and Friday bringing you the best breakdowns of the week's biggest news from Kofi Outlaw, Matt Aguilar, Janell Wheeler & the rest of the staff at the site. Catch the newest episode right here or subscribe on iTunes today!