New horror project: day eighteen writing

Another day online through Zhura. Got a kinda late start… Sean’s Aunt needed a cast. Long story. Ends with a broken fibula. Another time.

Pounded through 5 pages… saved our heroes from the mountain lion, took them up the mountain trail, and trapped them as the beasties advance. Gave them a harrowing adventure crossing a gorge to get to safety… lost the gun… and ended with a joke.

Interesting note: The “adventure crossing a gorge” was one of the three trials we arranged for our heroes on their journey to safety. We’d promised ourselves no “deus ex machina” moments… that these dramatic road blocks should ring organic and true. (Yeah, I know, deus ex machina is usually reserved for unlikely convenient salvation. I’m using it to mean any unlikely convenient event, good or bad, that clearly simply exists as a plot device).

Anyways, we ended up creating this “gorge crossing” via an old rusted cable/pully/two man bucket type thing. We don’t know exactly what it does, but we borrowed the general idea from The River Wild (who has any idea what that old cable doohickey is that David Strathairn uses to flip the raft?) and it does exactly what we need it to do. So is it deus ex machina?

We think not… our heroes have just passed through an old abandoned mill. We’ve established that the area is BLM forestry land, had been logged (and probably mined) in the first half of the 1900’s, that the old woman was familiar with the mill and knew the mechanism was there. So there’s an organic precedent for the device. We don’t believe it “feels” contrived, because it seems to grow out of the elements already in place in the story… even if we don’t know exactly what the device is.

Nevertheless, we’ve lovingly come to refer to the mechanism as the “rusty plot device”. And it’ll probably always remain so.

At this point my biggest concern is that the pacing is reading as it should. We’re doing our best to keep the left-margin to short declarative sentences, one sentence per line to establish a ‘shot shot shot’ quality, and the dialogue is sparse and without subtext.

We’ve always got future revs in which to edit, of course. But I’d like this first version to be readable enough to send it to the prodco discussed earlier. I know it’s close. But I’m never satisfied.

Added 5 pages today.

Total Pages: 76

Hours (chip): 78

New horror project: day seventeen writing

Now we’re cookin’ with gas… 7 pages down today!

We’ve had the truck break down on the road, had to take off into the woods on foot, gotten lost, been chased through a wide open meadow by beasties, come across an abandoned mill, and been trapped by a mountain lion!

Serious shit.

Writing this action sequence has been really interesting… we can fly along, since our outline is pretty solid. We know the sequence of events, and the left-margin, to keep the pacing flowing, is by necessity very Hemingway-esque… no Literary flourish.

The lion advances.

She takes aim.

The cat sniffs the air, growls.

Her trigger finger tenses.

Like that. Very short and sweet.

Similarly, our dialogue through these passages goes quickly, since at this point there is no subtext — when people shout “Look out! Run!” that’s pretty much what they mean. We don’t have to struggle with finding their hidden meanings, with finding subtle ways to communicate unspoken intentions. So the pages are flying by.

Pages: 71

Hours (chip): 75

New horror project: day sixteen writing

Good day! 3 more pages!

We got our heroes into the crazy old lady’s house, learned her radio isn’t working, got her Daddy’s old 1940’s pickup running, and have escaped just as the creatures attack.

Now we’re on the road down off the mountain.

Interestingly, a point of contention has been whether or not one could even get an old 1940’s truck that’s been in storage for 60 years to start. I’m of the camp that says “weirder things have happened” — both in this script and in other stories. Seriously, the woods are full of strange semi-mythical beasties and we’re concerned over whether it’s realistic for an old truck to start up? Sean has long since become less critical of the idea. But in deference to Sean (and other similarly critical readers) we’ve long ago agreed that we’d infer the COL (Crazy Old Lady) has been keeping the truck running in hopes her Daddy might come home. We gave her a line (“I’m not allowed to drive, but Daddy lets me start his truck every morning.”) and we’ll dress out the garage with some oil cans and a gas can.

We keep thinking we’re past any real subtext, then finding ourselves in a scene where someone has a secret or a secret is revealed… takes lots longer to suss out those scenes, to keep that dialogue ringing true, and still keep the pacing up where it needs to be at this point. It’s essentially an action sequence, but every line still comes from a character whose backstory and emotional profile has been pretty well defined, so we can’t get away with any lazy writing.

Which is fine — we’d rather be writing a hard story about complex characters than spewing out something cardboard and easy.

Still, we’re looking forward to more action!

Pages: 64

Hours (chip): 71

Inktip lead – a new urgency to finish the script

So we’ve got one or two scripts up on InkTip.com… have had many prodcos read the synopses, one or two read the script. No earth shattering leads from the service so far.

BUT we do subscribe to the InkTip newsletter, in which we get leads on prodcos who are looking for specific kinds of writers or scripts. This week’s newsletter came through, and there’s a surprisingly good fit for this current project we’re working on…

We can’t give away the details of our creature, but I think it’s safe to say this: our story follows two young couples who buy a cabin in the Northern California woods, only to find the woods are teeming with strange mythological beasties.

Today’s InkTip lead is from a prodco looking for a horror film that takes place in Northern California, and features beasties of a mythological type.

So we ask ourselves — how many people are there with scripts that specifically suited to this prodco’s request? We’re hoping, “few”.

Problem is, we can’t respond to the InkTip posting without having the script completed and WGA registered (InkTip rules). So we’ve made a renewed commitment to complete the script in one week. We’ve got 61 pages done, so if we can average 4-5 pages a day, we can be at our 90 goal inside 7 days. Hopefully in time to contact said prodco.

And if we don’t get in with them, we’ll still be done – which is always a good thing.

So afterburners on…

New horror project: day thirteen/fourteen writing

Good progress past two days. Got nearly 7 pages done… The cabin has burned down. Our heroes have survived, made their way to a nearby house, and are hammering on the door looking for help. The door is opened and…

We’re in the middle of what we’re calling the “juggernaut” — the high energy run through the third act while pursued by bloodthirsty creatures. This is just the beginning…

Pages: 61

Hours (chip): 63

New horror project: day twelve writing

Excellent progress today. Knocked out 5.5 pages.

We’ve really turned a corner with our main female lead… she started out as damaged goods with an asshole husband, and is now in charge of that relationship and really seems to see him for what he is.

We’ve stitched up the gaping head wound, gathered supplies in preparation for the next day’s trek through the woods, and….

Had the creatures attack and kill the a-hole, and the cabin is on fire.

Now the creatures are clearly a mortal threat, our shelter is disappearing, and it’s dark out.

In pretty good shape page-count wise…

We’re on page 54. Outline says 55. Right on track.

Hours (chip): 58

New horror project: day eleven writing

Sweet. Another day down. More productive today… Sean was at his desk, so we were both seeing the Zhura interface at the same time.

Added three new pages today. Our heroes, freaked out by the brutal death of the dog, tried to escape the mountain only to wreck their car, one of them badly injured as a result.

They had to walk back to the cabin, while being paced (stalked?) by the creatures.

Along the way, we learned (via the videotape) just how the creatures hunt, and now they seem to be more active during the daylight hours.

So we’re at page 48.3.

Outline says 47.75 — so we used a few more pages for today’s scenes than anticipated. But we’re plenty close enough to our goal.

Hours (chip): 53.5

New horror project: day ten writing

We’ve had the money shot!

Today was a tough day logistically… Sean planned to work remotely via Zhura, but ended up with errands to run and participated largely by phone while picking up prescriptions and other such mundane tasks. He did his valiant best to stay focused, especially considering he wasn’t able to see the screen and keep up with my edits in real time (save for a few minutes he stopped at a Starbucks for the wifi) and I had to read back to him, get his comments, edit a bit and read back, and so on. We did manage to get some work done, but it wasn’t the most creatively satisfying session we’ve had, for either of us.

Nevertheless, we added some good stuff, and got to the “money shot” — the first clear shot of the creature. Killing the cute puppy. Then everybody freaks out, and the group decides to drive down off the mountain.

Wrote 4.5 pages.

Page 44.5. Outline says we should be at about 46.

Still ahead of schedule!

Hours (chip): 50

New horror project: day nine writing

Another story meeting.

We’ve completed the story up to the point where the creatures are to be revealed, and our characters have to take off on a dangerous journey through the mountains while being pursued.

Today, we wanted to review the outline, and add more clear roadblocks to their juggernaut trip (is that redundant?) to create explicit points of conflict escalating toward the final resolution. We had a general escalation outlined, but wanted to make it better defined before starting the writing.

We’re going to create three challenges. We’ve chosen two and will find the third tomorrow. It’s important that the incidents feel organic to the story, driven by, resolved by, or directly affect elements already present in our mythos or in our characters. No lame “oh, I fell, I twisted my ankle!” moments.

More importantly, we had one major plot point to nail down. We’ve got two primary male characters… dude A is a douchebag, dude B is a good guy. The original plan was to have dude douchebag killed early in the juggernaut, and dude good guy die later, near the end. Dude douchebag was intended to be a somewhat shallow character, not quite a red-shirt, but not someone people would be connected to – or more to the point, he would be someone whose death people might cheer.

However, he’s grown, since we let him choose his voice to a certain extent, and has become more defined and complex. That’s great… he’s a multi-layered douchebag.

Our good guy is still complex… a nice guy with a troubled marriage (though he doesn’t know it), who just wanted to have some quiet time to write (a purposeful cliche – or homage) who has been royally screwed by his best friend and business partner (dude douchebag).

Neither of these guys is going to make it out alive… the overall goal is to have our primary woman character develop into a stronger person over the adventure… to become a hero a-la Ripley.

She’s about to be sent on a cross-country forest trek to (hopefully) safety, pursued by beasties, with two other women, and one of these two guys. Both of the other women are rather duplicitous and can’t be trusted either. They’re just more emotionally accessible than dude douchebag.

So here’s the question… do we want to kill off the douchebag character so early now that he’s become more interesting, and have our audience watch the good guy character make the trip through the forest? Or kill off our good guy, and have our audience watch the bad guy character make the trip?

Are we (and our story, and our characters, and our audience) better served by sending our growing hero through the woods with two other women and a douchebag guy? Or with two other women and a good guy?

We’ve made our decision. We’ll begin writing it next week.

What would you do?

No new pages added today.

Scriptwright v Playwright.

People who write plays are playwrights. It has a romantic, artistic, craftsmanlike quality to it because it’s not quite literal… not a play “writer” but a play “wright”.

Wright, of course, meaning “a worker, esp. a constructive worker (used chiefly in combination): a wheelwright; a playwright.” So it’s not simply writing… any literate person can do that. But it’s one who constructs, who builds, who creates, which is so much more interesting than merely writing.

There is, however, no entry at dictionary.com for “scriptwright” (or for “screenwright“). We who write scripts (for film, television and video as opposed to the stage) are merely “screen writers”. We are literate, but somehow less creative. That’s the subtext, anyway. I’m sure it has a lot to do with the long and respected history of play writing… there is as yet no William Shakespeare of screen writing. Screen writing is a comparatively new art form, and has yet to gain the cultural status of the playwright. And plays, too, maintain a cultured status compared to movies or television. Cultured, educated, sophisticated people go to the “Theatah”. The masses, the blue collar worker class, go to the “movies”.*

Were we to choose, would it be “scriptwright” or “screenwright”? Or perhaps it should be “filmwright”? I like the sound of “scriptwright”. I think I’d like to be referred to as a “scriptwright”. It has an old world artisan quality that appeals to me. Not that there’s anything at all wrong with saying “I’m a script writer” or “I’m a screen writer” (it’s oh so much better than “I’m an office supply salesman” — which I did for 17 years so I can say that with some authority. You’ve seen The Office? That was my life.).

I’m certainly not neologizing here… others have used the term, and there are websites (thescriptwright.com) so I claim no first-mover status on this. But I would like to see the term gain a broader acceptance, to see it one day included at dictionary.com, to see it used more in the trades.

And I will, I think, begin referring to myself thusly. And perhaps in the third person as well.

*I am, of course, generalizing, with one half of my forked tongue planted firmly in my left cheek, and have no interest in debating the relative histories and cultural impacts of film vs theatah. So don’t even start.