© 2012 by Robert J Ray and Jack Remick
For five years, Jack and I taught the first three weeks of the screenwriting course at the University of Washington. At the end of the three weeks, the writers emerged with a story, a sense of structure, a better knowledge of pacing, a cast of characters, and at least one dramatic scene: two characters plus an intruder. They wrote sharper dialogue; they performed each other’s scenes; they brought great ideas into the room. The course ran for three Saturdays, two Tuesdays, and two Thursdays. The work of writing in the room ousted the internal editor, allowing the writer to tap the unconscious, and late on Saturday afternoon, when the writers were all written out, we kept them writing because we could feel depth in the room. We could feel power and heat, emotion and understanding, and when at last they stood up to read, everyone listened, and it was as if we all inhabited, for a small bit of time, a glowing cathedral of words.
We rewrote our course when exercises didn’t work. We rebuilt the startlines when they took writers off into oblivion. Then we took the course to Haystack in Cannon Beach for a couple of years. We’re posting a cut-down version of the syllabus here. The folks in the front office called it The Elements of Dramatic Writing. Jack and I called it the EDW.
Elements of Dramatic Writing UWX
Instructors: Robert J. Ray and Jack Remick
Welcome to the Elements of Dramatic Writing. Here’s what to expect:
Expect to write tons. Expect to feel hot, edgy, blown away, dramatic, excited, extended, breathless, rushed, no time to think, no time to process, and a loss of control when you’re writing hot, one sure sign of a breakthrough to creativity. Expect a steep learning curve that prepares you for the steeper learning curve of screenwriting. Expect to make friends, to have fun, to network with other writers, to change your writing, to change your life. Expect to write under the clock. Expect to glean insight from myth, symbol, and archetype. Expect the paradox and magic of a Zen Experience.
There are six exit requirements for this course:
1. Choosing a Core Story. See Appendix A.
2. Dramatic Scene, Plot Point One or Opening Sequence, 4-5 pages, screenplay format.
3. Treatment. A plot synopsis, your story told scene-by-scene in three acts.
4. Writer’s Notebook. Image-Action, Silent Movie, My Mother Wants, writings that explore Core Story, Resource Base, and your reasons for writing this script, 15-20 pages, double-spaced.
5. Attend 80% of the class sessions. Saturday meetings count as two sessions. Please be on time. If you have questions, please write them on slips of paper so they can be answered at the best time.
6. Meet all hand-in deadlines. See grid, below.
The text for the course is The Weekend Novelist (Robert Ray). Writers wanting to freshen up their minds on symbol/myth/ritual should consult Crowds and Power, by Nobel Prize winner Elias Canetti (see the core essay, “The Entrails of Power”), and Barbara Walker’s two reference tomes: The Woman’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets and The Woman’s Dictionary of Symbols and Sacred Objects. All writers should view Searching for Bobby Fischer at least twice. Identify plot points and plot tracks.
Story — a fictionalized dramatization of the struggle for a visible resource base.
Film — a story told with action and image.
|Sept 25 Tues||Intro; Mythic Journey Treatment|
|Sept 27 Thurs||C-Grid; A’s Incline 3-Act Treatment||Treatment: MJ|
|Sept 29 Sat AM||Storywork; 2-C Power Scene||Treatment: A’s 3act|
|Sept 29 Sat PM||3-C Scene; Profile; C-Grid||Power Scene|
|Oct 2 Tues||exposition-narration-Grid-treatment||3-C scene|
|Oct 4 Thurs||image+action-silent movie-profile-script||Tuesday 10-2 Writings|
|Oct 6 Sat AM||Back Story; Rehearsal One||Silent Movie|
|Oct 6 Sat PM||Profile; Scene Rewrite|
|Oct 9 Tues||Treatment Rewrite; Rehearsal Two||Scene in Script Format|
|Oct 11 Thurs||My Mother Wants…||Treatment; scene|
|Oct 13 Saturday||Hand in written scene to Geof|
|Oct 23||Showcase: Actors Read Your Scenes|
Advice: Skim this syllabus for structure. Then read it a second time, absorbing.
What is Dramatic Writing?
Drama means entertainment, action on the stage. Dramatic writing means writing to entertain. While the King and Queen stuff their faces in the drafty Mead Hall, the singer of old sings sweetly for his supper.
The writer today is that singer of old. The writer who entertains earns the bread to fill the belly. To entertain with writing, you tell a dramatic story, one that reaches deep into myth and the human psyche. The first dramas paid homage to the harvest, to corn that would last the winter. Before you harvest corn in the fall, you must plant corn in the spring. If the garden is fertile, the corn grows. If the corn grows, the king takes the credit. If the corn does not grow, the king takes the blame. If the corn does not grow for several seasons, the king gets replaced.
There is drama in king replacement. There is story. The king dies. His blood drains into the garden. The killing of the king, called ritual regicide, is a scapegoat sacrifice. When the corn does not grow, someone must pay. How does the writer capture the tale? How does the writer build this story into entertainment?
The key unit in dramatic writing is the dramatic scene. A scene is a single action or a series of connected actions that take place in a single setting in a finite period of time. King Lear howling on the stormy heath is a scene. The action is howling. The howling will lead to king replacement, a core story.
If you keep the howling king but change the heath into a quarterdeck on a whaling vessel, you have a King Lear-esque protagonist called Captain Ahab and a story called Moby Dick. The core story of Moby Dick is Scapegoat-Revenge. If you change the heath into the Twin Oaks Tavern located in backroads California in the Thirties, you have a king named Nick Papadakis in a story called The Postman Always Rings Twice. Postman, a novella written from the First Person point of view of the stranger, has spawned two feature-length films starring major stars both times. If you change the heath to a chessboard, and if you keep the king offstage in newsreels and mythic voiceovers, and if you tell the story of the young stranger who replaces the Newsreel King, you have a complex Sydney Pollack film called Searching For Bobby Fischer.
Before you can write a story, you need to know the back story — specific events in the past that drive characters in the present. If you were writing Moby-Dick, one scene you’d need to write early on is “The Quarter-Deck,” where Ahab forges his motley crew into a fighting unit to help him kill the white whale. In Moby-Dick, “The Quarter-Deck” is plot point one, the scene that ends Act One and begins Act Two. Ahab’s action in the present — his obsessive lust for the white whale — comes from an event in the past that changed his life: the whale bit off his leg; he made a new leg out of a whale’s jaw. “Aye,” said the Gay-Head Indian, “he was dismasted off Japan…but like his dismasted craft, he shipped another mast without coming home for it. He has a quiver of ’em.”
If you were writing Bobby Fischer, you would probe the past of the protagonist (Josh Waitzkin) first. Since the protagonist in this story has no past, you would move on to probe the past of the antagonist, the character who opposes Josh. In Bobby Fischer, the antagonist is a Boy Warrior with no past. When you create two warriors without pasts, your search intensifies as you scroll your cast roster for a character with a past.
The character with the past in Bobby Fischer is the Teacher, a chessmaster named Bruce Pandolfini. In the past, Bruce knew Bobby. When Bobby Fischer disappeared, fading away into the Newsreels, Bruce lost his king. When his king faded (dying god symbolism), Bruce went to hell. Hell for Bruce the Teacher is speed chess, a game played against time itself, using a slam chess timer. Because Bruce was fast, speed chess was the perfect hell. He drowns his loss in the forgetful death of speed chess. To locate the scene to write first, you name scenes containing the character with the past:
— A scene called “The Guide.” Josh needs a teacher. Dad finds Bruce. Bruce says no deal.
— A scene called “Barter.” Dad offers money. Bruce is broke. The plot thickens.
— A scene called “Chesspit.” Testing the character of Josh, Bruce guides Father and Son to a chesspit hell where mad chess players zonk out on speed chess.
— A scene called “Games.” Bruce says yes. He visits Josh in his room, where they play games. Bruce shifts mask from teacher to sidekick. Mom doesn’t trust Bruce. Good conflict.
Knowing the core story early helps you define the resource base which helps you generate more scenes. The core story of Bobby Fischer — like the core stories of King Lear and Hamlet and Oedipus and The Great Gatsby and Postman — is King Replacement. The kingdom ruled over by Fischer the Newsreel King is the world of chess. The visible resource base, a winning game of chess, is played in the mind. The resource base, a toughie to film, is Josh’s mind. Knowing the resource base helps you generate hot scenes. When Bruce visits Josh in his room (Act Two), the room is messy, filled with toys and baseball stuff. When Josh chooses to be a chess warrior, he cleans his room, a ritual scene of knightly purification. Clean room = purified mind.
When you develop a story for the EDW, don’t try to reinvent the wheel. Choose a core story. Lock down the characters. Dig into the past. Where did the characters come from? What do they want from each other? Who controls the resource base?
Because time in the EDW is compressed, use these early writings to explore drama connected to the family structure. Make Dad the king. Make Mom the queen. Make X the stranger. Two characters in a scene give you a standoff. If A’s agenda clashes with B’s, you have a chance to create drama. When X comes onstage, you have a chance for two against one. With uneven sides, you have another chance to create drama.
To keep it simple as you explore story, draw heavily on shards from your unwritten autobiography. If you were born in Detroit, use Detroit as the birthplace of one of your characters. If you had a life-changing experience in a swimming pool or a schoolroom or behind the wheel of a speeding automobile, recreate that experience in one or more scenes. If you had a parent who wants to be remembered, use the emotion connected to that parent as your gateway to character.
Sept 25 — Tuesday
Introduction, Warmup, Firsts
The first time I made love…
The first time I bled…
The first time my mother told me…
My first day of school…
Make a List of Lasts. Last times are important Threshold Crossings if they bring you or your character to a change of states. The first time initiates, the last time builds pain or memory or nostalgia… Use Last Times to instill your own sense of loss, pain, joy, happiness into your antag/dragon.
At my last birthday party…
The last time I wore…
The last time I saw my mother…
The last time I kissed…
The last time I made love to…
The last time you told me…
The Mythic Journey
The mythic journey is a combination trip around an archetypal curve. It provides a psychological story structure — cage, escape, quest, dragon, home. The mythic journey, by allowing room for differences in style, mood, personality, and technical skill, gives the writer flexibility.
The mythic journey combines elements from the Grail Legend, from the Hero Cycle of Joseph Campbell, from the dream-trips of Carl Jung (interpreted by Marie Louise von-Franz and Clarissa Pinkola Estes), and from Carol Pearson’s Hero’s Journey as it emerges in two books: The Female Hero (co-authored by Katherine Pope) and The Hero Within. “Heroes,” writes Pearson, “take journeys, confront dragons, and discover the treasure of their true selves. Although they may feel very alone during the quest, at its end their reward is a sense of community: with themselves, with other people, and with the earth. Every time we confront death-in-life we confront a dragon….”
From the Grail Legend, the mythic journey takes the Quest, the outer journey through the physical landscape that sometimes mirrors the descent into the hero’s interior (pit, cave, cavern, maze, dungeon, labyrinth of the self). From Campbell’s Hero Cycle, the mythic journey takes the cyclic round (departure, initiation, and return) and then reverses it. Campbell’s Hero goes counter-clockwise, against time, against the current, against the grain of the universe. The mythic journey we’ve chosen flows clockwise: the Hero travels with time and with the universe around the narrative curve.
The mythic journey has five stations.
The Cage is a house, a room, a cubicle, a tight mind, a bad job, a suffocating marriage. The Cage is an airless family circle packed with role expectations: Dutiful Daughter, Martyred Mom, Warrior Dad, Obedient Son, etc. The Cage is rule, restriction, convention, societal taboo. The Cage restricts movement and inhibits the wild play of the imagination. The Cage provides motivation for Escape. The Cage is the Waste Land, where no birds sing and no corn grows. The Cage is the castle of the wounded Fisher King. The Cage is waiting for Mr. Right. The Cage is the maiden-in-a-coffin sleep of the fairy tale.
In Escape, the hero leaves the Cage (house, garden, dark castle, enclosure) in search of help. Help for Cinderella comes in the form of a Fairy Godmother, a mythic traveler who has some magic. Help for the fairytale Princess Rana comes from the Frog, who dives to retrieve the jewels from Prince Aliyander’s spellbinding necklace. Fairy tale escapes are quick. In the blink of an eye, Princess Rana leaves the castle and arrives at the frog pond.
Physical quests are quick. Inner quests take longer. The Quest, whether long or short, takes the hero on a descent into an underworld (pit, dungeon, labyrinth, unconscious) to confront the Dragon who guards the mythical treasure.
As Barbara Walker points out in her Woman’s Dictionary, this link between dragon and treasure percolates up from an battle between mythic male twins over who would rule the universe: “Christians usually equated the subterranean dragon with the devil. In fact, the devil’s nicknmame “Old Harry” was taken from the Persian dragon-god Ahriman, (Arhimanius), the dark twin brother of the supreme god of light. Like angelic Lucifer, Ahriman had fought his brother god and had been sent down to the underworld to rule over the demons. Thus dragons became traditional guardians of buried treasure.”
Carl Jung’s linkage of hero and dragon (“Man and dragon might be a pair of brothers….”) echoes the battle for control of the universe between the Dark and Light Twins. Since the Dragon’s already in the Cage, having your protagonist meet a Dark Twin or Dark Side is one easy answer to Dragon confrontation. In The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Joseph Campbell pictures the Dragon as the status quo: “…the mythological hero is the champion not of things become but of things becoming; the dragon to be slain by him is precisely the monster of the status quo: Holdfast, the keeper of the past….the enemy is great and conspicuous in the seat of power; he is enemy, dragon, tyrant, because he turns to his own advantage the authority of his position. He is Holdfast not because he keeps the past but because he keeps.”
“At the end of her quest,” writes Carol Pearson in The Female Hero, “the female hero returns to enjoy a new community with herself, with the natural and spiritual worlds, and frequently with other people. To some degree, she also embodies the power necessary to revitalize the entire kingdom….”
Home is resurrection and return, the triumph of rebirth. Home rejoins the wanderer, now changed by Quest and Confrontation, with the loved ones. After confronting her Dragon, Cinderella grabs the Prince. A wedding feels certain. If you can’t get your protagonist back home, give her the tools to build a new society.
Sketch a Mythic Journey Diagram.
Write the Mythic Journey:
My story takes place in a time when….
The cage that imprisons my protagonist feels like….
My protagonist escapes the cage when….
On the Quest, my protagonist encounters….
To defeat the Dragon, my protagonist must….
My protagonist reaches home when….
Lunch: Profile a character from the street who has a past connection to one of your characters. Connections: Parent-Child, Teacher-Student, Lovers A and B, Officer-Soldier, Cop-Criminal, Master-Slave, Acolyte-Priest, King-Queen, Queen-Stranger, etc.
Fill these slots on the character profile: sex, age, height, weight, build, hands, fingers, fingernails, hair and hairdo, jewelry, clothes, footwear, stance, gesture, face, eyes, chin, nose, facial hair, flesh, ears, teeth; contents of glove box, dresser drawer, car trunk, wallet.
Sept 27 — Thursday
Syntactic discipline — short sentence, chaining, long sentence release — distracts the internal editor, allowing the creator to create.
— Short sentences compress information to See Spot Run single syntactic units: “See Spot run. Spot is a mutt. Spot sees a murder. The killer wears a raincoat. The raincoat is slick with blood. Spot smells Master.” Short sentences compress beyond the comfort level for Normal American Prose in our time.
— Chaining uses end-words like links of a chain. To chain on paper, you use the last word as the first word: “See Spot run. Run Doggie run away from the killer in the black raincoat. Raincoat smells like Master when she sleeps. Sleeps in her bed with the face of a blonde angel. Angelic Master who feeds….” By forcing you to repeat, chaining leads to poetry, rhythm, and song.
— The Long Sentence Release (LSR) trains the writer to write with the long breath and so Spot runs at the killer in the raincoat wearing a surgical mask barking AND the killer pivots like a dancer AND SO Spot dodges like a bull avoiding the sword AND THEN the killer swipes the knife AND Spot launched in the air teeth bared against the round moon WHEN…. “ The LSR is a place for speed, losing contol, images in flight.
Warming up: We’ll warm up with three exercises: short sentence, chaining, and long sentence release.
1. Short sentence: The movie that changed my life was called…. (Writer’s Notebook)
2. Chaining: I was X….years old. (Writer’s Notebook)
3. Long Sentence Release: The movie I want to write is called [title] and… (Writer’s Notebook)
Character Building; The 3 act Treatment
Aristotle laid down the rules for drama: a three-act structure (beginning, middle and end) that rises to a climax where the audience experiences a purging called catharsis. To reach that climax near the end of Act III, writers build a structure with lesser climaxes at key points along the way. Think of curtains falling, commercial breaks, bathroom breaks.
The three act structure is a handy way to allocate story material.
Act I is where you bring on your main characters.
Act II is where you dig up the past to create complication.
Act III is a suspenseful race to the climax.
Before you start writing, it helps to sketch out Aristotle’s idea with a simple diagram divided into three acts. On the diagram you name your key scenes: Opening, PPI, MP, PPII, Climax. And then you add other information like character entrances and exits, landmarks, sacred objects, actions.
Create the diagram of A’s Incline now.
Writing the Three-Act Treatment
I am writing a story about….
Act One opens when….
Act One ends when….
Act Two opens in a scene called….
At the middle of my story, my protagonist….
Act Two ends when….
Act Three opens when….
My story climaxes in a scene called….
My story ends with this final image….
Character Roster, everyone. Character Grid, top six characters.
Go deep into Act One with the LSR, dancing from scene to scene with AND THEN as you probe for scene names.
Startline: As Act One opens my protagonist [choose one verb: arrives, leaves, opens, closes]….AND THEN….
Main Plot vs. Subplot
Novels get texture with style: metaphor lovingly intertwined with metaphor. Films get texture with subplots. Texture is the perception of artistic thickness. Depth. Complexity. Bobby Fischer’s main plot is Coming of Age. It climaxes with ritual combat, Josh vs. Poe, in act three.
Subplot One is King Replacement — Josh replaces Bobby as the boy-King of Chess. The key character in KR is Bruce Pandolfini (Ben Kingsley), who knew Fischer when.
Subplot Two is Grail Quest. The key characters are Mom and Dad. Mom wants her perfect little boy to grow up innocent and happy. She doesn’t like Bruce, who guides Josh out of childhood into warriorhood. She doesn’t like Vinnie (Lawrence Fishburne), who represents devil trickster dope fiend. Dad wants Josh to be a warrior and grab the Grail — a kid’s chess championship. Dad attends tournaments. Mom stays home until the climax, where Grail Quest joins KR and CofA in the final match with Poe.
To construct a subplot, link character to object (Josh + chess King), and then you plant object or character or index (Josh’s baseball mitt showing Josh was here) in acts one, two, and three. The following example tracks the King Replacement subplot through the script of Bobby Fischer.
Analysis: Tracking the King Replacement Subplot in Bobby Fischer.
shot 2 p 1 NEWSREEL FOOTAGE
–of the young man emerging from an airplane shielding his eyes against the low Icelandic sun with his large hands.
shot 4 p 2 KING
The young man…considers the board…and pushes his King to his King Bishop’s third square
shot 5 p 2
EMPEROR The cover of Time Magazine featuring the young man’s impassive countenance sculpted onto a chess piece like a marble bust of a Roman Emperor.
He could now command the same money as heavyweight prizefighters. He was invited to dinner by statesmen and kings.
shot 9 p 3 GROVE STREET THEATRE
Before our beloved King Uther died, he had a son…
He stands among you now.
This, the son of a king? Impossible. He’s just a
stable boy. He cleans our stalls.
Merlin nods to the young stable boy. He steps away, toward a sword embedded in a stone…Arthur grasps the handle and pulls the sword out easily…
King Arthur! The rightful heir to the throne of England.
Long live Arthur!
shot 10 p 4 WASHINGTON SQUARE
Wind howls through the trees, but Josh hardly notices. He’s intrigued by the figurines on the chessboard, plainer than the one in his hand, but still discernible as horses and castles and kings.
shot 28 p 19 LIVING ROOM, FRED CHIN IN HIS HANDS
He points out to his son how, no matter where it might try to hide, his king can’t escape.
shot 43 p 28 MANHATTAN CHESS CLUB
Suddenly it’s still as Josh’s opponent stares at an intolerable predicament. Finally, without a word, he knocks down his own king. Josh glances at his father, uncertain of the meaning.
He’s resigning the game to you. Let’s go.
shot 44 pp 28-29 WASHINGTON SQUARE
Pandolfini appears at the edge of the crowd, worn leather satchel in hand…Israel Zilber notices him, knows him…gestures with a slight tip of his head toward Josh.
Pandolfini shrugs. If they hadn’t, in fact, been waiting for the last twenty years for the “young Fischer” to appear, the New Messiah, they could perhaps shrug it off convincingly.
shot 64 p 40-41 MANHATTAN CHESS CLUB
Tight on Josh’s eyes riveted to a point straight ahead. Moving slowly down, the crowns of kings and queens and turrets of castles jut up from below…
Yes, you can. Clear the lines of men in your head
one at a time and the king’ll be left standing alone
like a guy on a street corner.
shot 99 p 60 MANHATTAN CHESS CLUB
Pandolfini hesitates at the comment…Josh endures it, but then finally stands up and from memory plays both sides of the board, moving and capturing the pieces at great speed from the photographic reference in his head, replaying the entire game in a matter of seconds, ending it by toppling his opponent’s king.
There. Let’s go out.
shot 134 p 78 SOUNDS OF THE CROWD
Tight on the original photograph of Bobby Fischer brooding over the pieces, his head supported by his large hand.
I think he’s laying low and getting stronger, waiting
for just the right moment to come back and reclaim his crown.
shot 142 p 83 MANHATTAN CHESS CLUB
The club appears empty. But then, in a corner, two figures can be discerned.
He woke up every morning thinking about chess and he went
to bed thinking about it. He dreamt about it. Why? Isn’t it enough
to be a natural?
Pandolfini waits for some kind of response. All Josh can manage is a shrug. The sixty-four squares on the table between them are empty; the chessmen lined up along the rim.
If you don’t care about winning, it’s enough. But he wanted to win. He
had to win. He had to be champion. And in order to do that he had to
work. Which is what we’re going to do.
His look says, Right? Josh nods.
Okay. Promise you won’t argue moves with me no matter how
much you think you’re right.
Everything I tell you, imagine it’s coming from him because I know
every game he ever played, so in effect he’s going to be teaching and
you’ll become him….
Pandolfini lines up along the border of the board in front of him one of each piece – pawn, rook, knight, bishop, queen, king.
Which one is you?
None of them, they’re just pieces.
This is you.
As he sets the Staunton king on its square in front of Josh.
shot A142 p 85 VILLAGE CHESS SHOP
–an elaborately detailed ivory figure of an Indian raja…Tight on other figures of the ancient set…The opposing army beyond. Josh, beside Pandolfini, peers in through the glass.
This army. Your enemy. Ordered to defeat you. “Defeat the king.”
shot 148 p 86 LIVING ROOM
–a bigger hand comes away from the crown of the Staunton king set on its square in front of Josh. The rest of the board is empty.
What’s the shortest path to the last rank?
Pandolfini grasps the king and slaps it down across the squares on several diagonals, reaching the back row in seven moves every time –
One, two, three, four, five, six seven…
Josh stares at the board as if for the first time, as if he’s never played the game before, as if he knows nothing about the game.
shot 192 p 108 HOTEL BANQUET ROOM
Descending from a great height, two hundred identical chess boards in a deserted room are eventually obscured by the crown of a single king.
shot 216 p 116 BANQUET ROOM
Poe sits at the number-one table like a king, looking out across the sea of lesser human beings below him as he awaits the arrival of that patzer, Waitzkin.
shot 258 p 126 BANQUET ROOM
Josh withdraws his hand and places it in his lap. Nothing happens for several moments before he reaches out again, grasps the king, and puts it on e7.In quick succession then, he sacrifices the pawn, splits his opponent’s, lures the bishop away from the queenside, brings his knight back, topples the bishop and…as Poe stares at his lone cornered king, time seems to stand still…Poe glances up from the board destroyed. He tries to make it to the doors and out but finds himself tangled in the mob rushing in. As Josh watches his opponent’s desperate attempt to flee, he feels none of the elation he thought he would feel beating him, but something else he didn’t, something deeper.
Homework: Read the Scene-Building section in The Weekend Novelist. Type up both treatments. Hand in on Tuesday.
Homework: Read Appendix A, Six Core Stories, and Appendix B, King Replacement.
Instructor Notes on Dialogue
1. One-Two Rhythm. For a dialogue rhythm that simulates speech, use a one-two alternation. One: Character A speaks; Two: Character B answers.
2. Linking to the Stage Setup. “He’s got a gun!”
3. Conflict. To create conflict in your scene, use a power hierarchy. To simulate hierarchy, put one character on the offensive (pushy, aggressive) and the other character on the defensive (passive, evasive).
4. Echo Words. Repeat repeat repeat.
5. Time Hooks. Evoke the past (“Remember that day we caught that big old….”) and the future (“Someday, this red-lipped corpse will be you.”).
Sept 29 – Saturday AM
Story Work: Core Story, Back Story, Big Event, Resource Base.
Writing the 2-character scene.
Hand in typed treatments (MJ and Three Acts) from Saturday.
Two Person Power Scene; Probing for Back Story
“Back story” means the specific events in the past that control the story in the present. Character X walks into a house. White sheets cover the furniture. X runs a finger across wood, making dust tracks. A man in black appears in the doorway to the butler’s pantry. “Milady?” he says. X has been gone from the house a long time. The story opens with her return, a threshold crossing. Before you can tell the story of X, you must know the details of her back story.
If you’re writing a mystery, and if you’re beginning the book with cops milling about a corpse at a crime scene, back story covers the killing that turned a live victim into a dead corpse, how the victim arrived, how the killer arrived, a personality profile of the killer (is this a serial murder or a first-time killing?), and some good stuff about the sleuth who runs the killer to earth.
Gorky Park, by Martin Cruz Smith, opens in April with corpses frozen in the snow since February. In the back story, the reader learns that the killer, an American fur baron, first tasted blood a quarter of a century ago when he killed three German officers for laughing at him in wartime Leningrad. That first taste of blood is part of the back story — events that affect the book that happened before the book opens.
If your plan is to sandwich in slices of back story to bolster the plot of your core story, you’d be smart to write down your back story before you make the sandwiches. Sandwich Structure: ABBA, ABA.
Character Roster – Protagonist, Antagonist
Name Role Secret
Exercise – Probing for Back Story
Monologue A: Do you remember that time when we….
Dialogue One: What I remember is not….
Dialogue Two: Let’s forget the past, okay….
Monologue B: Let me set you straight on a couple things…
Storywork/Core Story+Back Story+Big Event; Back Story Scene
Storywork puts you in touch with the core story. Core story is the wheel that drives the wheel. For our species, the core story is survival. How do we get through an hour? A day? A lifetime?
One metaphor for survival is corn. The polar template for corn, as for other survival crops, is yes and no: either the corn grows (yes) or it doesn’t (no). A template gauges scenes and scene-elements like action, dialogue, and setting.
If the corn grows, we grow fat. Our children thrive and inherit the fat. Our cities grow fat with ripeness and bounty. As fat citizens who enjoy the fat of the land, we love, admire, respect, and honor our fat King.
If the corn does not grow, the scenario changes: from fat to lean; from abundant to sparse; from lush garden to gray twisted waste land. Our children who were so fat last year grow more skeletal with each day. The time clock ticks. The resource base shrinks; no rain falls; famine stalks the land, and pestilence. Edgy with fear, we check out the territory for someone to blame.
The king is old; he is deaf; he cannot hear us; let’s blame the king. The queen is young, sensible, pretty; her hearing is excellent; let’s consult the queen about blaming the king.
The queen agrees. She’s been bored with the king for years. She recruits a handsome stranger. The stranger kills the king, sacrificing him in a ritual of royal regicide to save the land. Knowing the fickleness of fate, the queen puts the stranger on the throne. She rules from between the sheets. If the corn grows, we are happy with our new king. If the corn does not grow, it’s king replacement time in the kingdom of the corn.
The core story of The Great Gatsby is King Replacement. The queen is Daisy Fay Buchanan, of East Egg. The king is Tom Buchanan, Daisy’s racist husband, also of East Egg. The stranger is Jay Gatsby, Man from the West, of West Egg. Locking onto Gatsby from the Louisville back story, Daisy kills the mistress of the king with the yellow car belonging to the stranger. The king rats to the husband of his mistress, a man from the waste land (Fitzgerald’s Valley of Ashes), who murders the stranger in his lakelike swimming pool at West Egg as autumn leaves signal the end of summer.
The core story of Dogs of War (movie made from a Forsyth novel) is King Replacement. The core story of Cain’s Postman is King Replacement. The core story of Hamlet and Oedipus, Rex, and King Lear and A Thousand Acres and Out of Africa is King Replacement.
Changing the focus on King Replacement changes the core story. If the old king replaces his aging queen, the core story is Queen Replacement. If the story tracks backward to the king growing up or the queen growing up or the stranger growing up, the core story is Coming of Age. If the queen is poor and the story tracks her rise out of ashes from the waste land into the castle garden, the core story is Rags-to-Riches. If the stranger murders the king and then the queen replaces the stranger, you have a Double King Replacement and lots of irony. If the stranger kills the king to get at the resource base and the cops track him down, you have a scapegoat quest, the core story for most mystery tales.
The Big Event
Storywork — core story plus back story plus resource base — gives you the Big Event for your tale. If your story is King Replacement, the big event is Replacing the King who probably controls the resource base. If you replace the king too early, you reduce the suspense about when it’s going to happen to zero. If you replace the king too late, you don’t reap the rewards of guilt and making the killers pay.
In Cain’s Postman, Cora and Frank kill Nick at PP1, ending Act One and opening Act Two, the Trial. The resource base is the Twin Oaks Tavern, a cheap roadhouse on a back road in California. In Body Heat, Kathleen and William kill Richard Crenna at midpoint. There are two resource bases in Body Heat: one is the King’s wealth and power; the other is the lush and fertile body of the Queen. At the climax — the boathouse explosion — the Queen nails the Stranger, framing him for her own murder by using a queen substitute. The epilogue shows the Stranger behind bars while the Queen suns her body on a beach beside the brown body of a nameless new Stranger who is quite beefy.
If your story is Cinderella (Core Story is Rags-to-Riches), the Big Event takes place at midnight, when the magic runs down and the protagonist loses her glass slipper. Midnight in Cinderella ends Act Two. In a romance with a happy ending, you might get away with placing the Big Event at PP2.
The wounded character in my story is named….
My character was wounded when….
The wound shows itself in the story whenever….
1. Core Story.
My core story is King Replacement and….
My core story is not King Replacement because….
2. Resource Base.
The visible Resource Base for my story is….
3. Back Story.
The traumatic childhood event that changed my protagonist forever took place when….
4. The Big Event.
The Big Event in my story takes place when….
Assignment: type up your power scene and your story work. Hand in on TUESDAY.
Sept 29 – Saturday PM
Character Grid; 3-Character Scene, Scene Profile
Make a Character Grid using the top six characters from your list: Protag, Antag, Helper, Antag2, Helper2, Helper3. If you’re writing a mystery, use Killer, Victim, Sleuth, Catalyst, Helper, Killer2 or Victim2. Use these categories for the grid: Name, Role, Entry, Object, Wound, Secret, Deeper Wish, Fate.
Profile a scene. Use these categories:
Action & Climax:
Closed Circle + Intruder:
Write the scene you just profiled
“I am writing a story about….”
“This is a scene about….”
Setting: The time was/the place smelled of
AonB: His/her hairdo looked like
A&D: What are you looking at?
Int/Comp: What are you guys up to?
Climax/Rez: Using the LSR, extend the action to a dramatic
Scene names: First Encounter, First Date, First Kiss, Birth, Near-Death, Rebirth, Barter, Incorporation (Eating, Chewing, Digesting, Defecating), Threshold Crossing, Birthday, Wedding, Funeral, Getting a Tattoo, Getting Laid, Bathing with Mama, Killing a Pig, Killing a Victim, The Killing Place, Cooking Bacon, etc.
Homework: Type up the scene. Read thePlotting Section in The Weekend Novelist.
Analysis: Act One in Bobby Fischer — Scene-by-Scene Treatment
Example: Act One Treatment– Searching for Bobby Fischer
Definition: A scene-by-scene treatment is one way to control your story. The example that follows compresses Act One, the scenes between the Hook or Opening and Plot Point One. Write a scene-by-scene treatment as soon as you create half a dozen scenes.
Scene 1: Photo of the King
Montage of photo history of Bobby Fischer, Josh in V.O. Opening visual puts Fischer and Josh together. Establishes Bobby Fischer as the World Chess Champion. Tracks Fischer from championship game in Reykjavik to cover of Time Magazine to his disappearance. Sets the structure: King is Gone, King has to be Replaced. Searching for the new Bobby Fischer. Voice Over.
Scene 2: Washington Square One.
Josh’s birthday party in Washington Square park. Josh meets his first teacher and Helper One – Vinnie – in a rainstorm in Washington Square. Introduce the battlefield theme, girding for ritual combat. Juxtaposes chess and baseball for first time: Josh has the Knight, Vinnie has the baseball. Vinnie offers to trade ball for the knight. Josh refuses. No dialogue in this scene. Mother and father alluded to.
Scene 3: Josh’s Bedroom
Fred, Josh’s father, and Josh. Josh’s room is cluttered. Objects in the scene include games, stuffed toys, kid stuff. Fred, Helper Two, shows Josh how to prepare a baseball mitt with oil. After Josh is in bed, he examines the chess knight he found in the park. The knight symbolizes the theme of battle and sets the language marker of the Black Knight – Poe, the Dragon.
Scene 4: Washington Square Two
Josh and Mom in Washington Square where Josh watches Vinnie demolish walk-on Shirazi in dollar-a-game blitz chess. Vinnie as vampire killer. Mom wants to hustle Josh out of the park, but Josh studies the game, the men, the moves.
Scene 5: Washington Square Three
Josh and Mom in the square where Josh plays his first chess for money game with Israel Zilber. Vinnie observes the match, wants Josh’s name which he writes on a piece of newspaper. Vinnie understands Josh’s grasp of the game is phenomenal. Vinnie juxtaposes Bobby Fischer’s name with Josh Waitzkin. Vinnie tells Bonnie how Josh uses pieces in combination. First confrontation between Mom as Helper and Vinnie the Teacher. Establishess the she-cat protective streak Mom has for Josh. Sets up Mom’s conflict with Bruce Pandolfini in Act Two.
Scene 6: Press Box, Yankee Stadium
Focus on the baseball game. Sportswriters question Josh about his future – are you going to write about baseball. Juxtapose baseball and chess when Mom tells Fred she took Josh to Washington Square where he played and lost. Mom brings back Vinnie, describes him as a horrible man. Sets up Vinnie’s transformation from evil drug addict into enlightened chess mentor.
Scene 7: Beating Dad
A scene of artful intercuts showing Josh beating Fred at chess without sitting at the chessboard. The intercuts show Josh in his room playing Candyland with his sister, Josh on the phone with a pal, Josh in the bathtub — while the light fades with Fred alone at the chessboard losing the game his brow furrowed while he ponders the magical brain-power of his son. The intercut scene ends with Bobby Fischer newsreel footage and a Josh voiceover. Function: Sets up the mental chess theme that Pandolfini forces Josh into in Act Two. Sets up the Clean Room transformation in Act Three.
Scene 8: Manhattan Chess Club
Wise Old Man archetype on stage — Bruce Pandolfini — disguised as a janitor. Fred and Josh are intruders into the sacred closed circle of Pandolfini’s chess club. Fred is in search of a teacher for his gifted son. Josh plays chess with a club member while Fred checks out the scene. Pandolfini ignores the intruders, but can’t ignore Josh’s blitzing of the older chess player. A reluctant Pandolfini refuses to become the teacher. Pandolfini, the enlightened master, goes deep Zen and scrubs out the toilets in the chess club bathroom.
Scene 9: Washington Square Four
Josh and Vinnie play chess. Pandolfini on the fringes watches the wunderkind. Zilber, Josh’s first chess opponent in his first real chess game outside the house, voices the dramatic theme when he mutters: “Young Fischer.” Vinnie’s aggressive play sets up the climax in Act Three when Josh sacrifices his queen to win the game. Vinnie’s Rule: Attack.
Scene 10: House of Backgammon: PLOT POINT ONE (pp 31-36)
Plot Point One ending Act One of Bobby Fischer is a sequence of two-person power scenes showing the struggle between Pandolfini and Fred. Pandolfini, about to accept Josh as a student for his own reasons (replacing BF), lists all the drawbacks of the game for Fred. One requirement: obsessive compulsive self-sacrifice for the game. If you play, you play to win. Return of the Fischer theme — I was Fischer’s fish. Pandolfini’s monologues reveal his reverence for the game — to him, chess is high art. Fischer found art in the game; Josh plays the way Fischer played. Josh is the King Who Creates. The scenes are built around the word “want”. “You want a coke or something?” A chess-game dialogue between Teacher and Parent as Fred reads Bruce’s mind: “You want me to think you want me to say no, but you actually want me to say yes.” Bruce’s power monologue — “I want back what Bobby Fischer took with him when he disappeared.” — climaxes the scene sequence that locks down PPI. In Act Two, Bruce penetrates Josh’s house, room, mind.
Homework: Read the Eight Step Sequence on Silent Movie: Exposition to Script.
The following exercise combines right brain discovery and left brain plotting to create a cauldron for converting narration (the stuff of fiction) and exposition (the stuff of essay) into script. We begin with exposition, explaining the story. We use narration (AND THEN AND THEN AND THEN) to extract scenes by compressing time. The scene names extracted from narration form a scene grid that isolates filmable detail: characters onstage, setting, objects, etc. The detail isolated in the scene grid launches the writing of a treatment in scene-by-scene format. When the treatment is written we squeeze it down to image and action, isolating information in short lines. We add scene headings, characters and shots to line up the story in a Silent Movie, no dialogue yet. We profile a scene from Silent Movie, and then we combine scene elements (scene headings, action, character names, dialogue, shot, parentheticals) with emotion and art and balance and creativity and the Oscar-winning rhythm of white space into an early draft of the SCRIPT.
Silent Movie takes two sessions: Tuesday and Thursday
Exposition to Script
Silent Movie is a process for converting prose in paragraphs (exposition and narration, novel or treatment) to film script. Exposition explains; narration tells by compressing time. A script squeezes the paragraphs or prose, then lines up what’s left to make a movie.
School trains us to write paragraphs. Topic sentence, general statement, three examples. In a world of paragraphs, more is better. James Joyce, that Irish author, got famous by layering metaphor, making more meaty mythic paragraphs in great thick books. In a script, the paragraph compresses. Two lines of business, maybe three. In a script, you leave room for director and actors. If you can’t re-route your compulsive paragraph reflex, your script will bog down, mired in a swamp of exposition and narration.
In a script, you control the rhythms of story with screenwriter codes packed into truncated lines. EXT-INT, for example, is a code that signifies place in a scene heading. The line under the scene heading is business. Action is written in caps and lower case: “Song finished, much bowing and guying, he spins the bottle and it arrives equidistant between Fenelon-Barnes and Katharine — until with a little NUDGE from the husband it settles on his wife. Katharine gets up, awkward.”
A name in caps — KATHARINE — means character talking. The
line below the character’s name, compressed into 3-inch lines, is her
King Candaules was passionately in
love with his wife —
This exercise has eight steps: Exposition, Narration, Scene Grid, Treatment, Image-Action, Silent Movie, Scene Profile, Script. The exercise trains the writer to create layers, like a painter who moves from sketch to white to light green to dark green to make a tree, and then adds burnt sienna for autumn color.
1) Exposition – explanatory probe. Wandering search with occasional discovery and lots of loose ends. Author Voice. Essay tone.
2) Narration– a linear sequence of what happens first and what happens second and what happens third and so on. Narration compresses time.
3) Scene Grid – scene names, settings, characters onstage, objects, deeper wishes, secrets, climaxes. Control from a grid.
4) Treatment – capsule summaries in a scene-by-scene format: character and motive, time and place, temperature and weather, action and ritual, conflict and climax, secret and subtext, dialogue, etc.
5) Image-Action – telling a story with detail. One image or action per line. Short lines.
6) Silent Movie – the writer becomes a Camera Eye, arranging image and action into a linear sequence that tells a story. There are people (characters). There are actions and gestures and objects in the landscape. There is light, darkness, shadow, color. As in the Silent Movies of old, there is no dialogue.
7) Scene Breakdown – an organized analysis of scene elements: placement (Act One, etc); exteriors (setting, lighting, hairdo, wardrobe, body parts, action, dialogue); subtext (archetype, symbol, agenda). Agenda is the action taken by a character who’s driven by motive. Motive comes from back story.
8) Script – scene headings, actions, character names, dialogue, shots, parentheticals — a crafted story made by adding dialogue to silent movie.
Example: Step 1 — Exposition
This is a story about a man who meets a woman in the desert. The man is a monkish fellow, a scholar of wind, sand, and ancient histories. His favorite book is Herodotus. The woman is a temptress. She’s married. She has good bones. She loves water, dew, moistness. The woman tempts the monk. They fall in love. The husband finds out and seeks revenge. The husband is a youthful fellow, a boy with money, family, education. The husband smiles a lot, clowns around. The mask of the jolly good fellow. Under this mask, the husband is a spy. The time is theThirties. A war is brewing. War means war machines. War machines need fuel. Fuel is made from oil. Oil is one resource base in this story. It lies beneath the shifting desert sands where the monkish scholar and the temptress commit their insane adultery. Love is blind. Bound tight in the coils of twisted love, the desert lovers have no vision of the war that hovers in the not-too-distant future. Oil is one resource base; the other resource base is the Cave of Swimmers, a great cavity near the Gilf de Kebir where swimmers swim on ancient walls. An oasis where swimmers in an ancient time swam. The scholar-monk hunts for this cave. His core
story is Grail Quest. His sacred object is a book by Herodotus, The Histories. His quest for the Cave of Swimmers is interrupted by a married woman who tells a story by firelight. The story told by the woman is about King Replacement in ancient Lydia: how Queen Omphale replaced King Candaules with a soldier named Gyges wholooked at the queen naked on orders from her husband who wished verification of her beauty.
This is a story about twisted love in the desert. This is a story about a burned man who lies on a bed in ruined Italian villa telling the story of twisted love. This is a story about the nurse who cares for the burned man. This is a story about the soldier who loves the nurse. This is a story about the thief who lost his thumbs back in the war fought for oil who has come to the villa to seek revenge. This is a story about a woman who married a boy who flew her to the desert in a yellow airplane where she fell in love. This is a story about a boy who was a spy.
The first paragraph is story content: twisted love, illicit desire, desert setting, sacred objects like the yellow airplane, Herodotus, the Cave of Swimmers, a King Replacement tale read by firelight. The content is held together by the classic love triangle: one female, two males.
The last few sentences set up choices for subplots. The main subplot, King Replacement, belongs to Katharine Clifton, the Lady of Twisted Love. The key that unblocks the story of twisted love is her firelight rendition of King Replacement in ancient Lydia: Gyges replaced Candaules and, with Queen Omphale, ruled for years. The firelight read — it’s the centerpiece of narration from the novel — is a movable scene. For the Scene Grid, the firelight read moves to
When you convert your script from the treatment, look first for the movable scene.
Step Two — Narration
*When I met Katharine she was married. A married woman. Clifton climbed out of the plane and then, unexpected, for we had planned the expedition with just him in mind, she emerged. Khaki shorts, bony knees. In those days she was too ardent for the desert. I liked his youth more than the eagerness of his new young wife. He was our pilot, messenger, reconnaissance. Hewas the New Age, flying over and dropping codes of longcoloured ribbon to advise us where we should be. He shared his adoration of her constantly. Here were four men and one woman and her husband in his verbal joy of honeymoon. They went back to Cairo and returned a month later, and it wasalmost the same. She was quieter this time but he was still the youth. She would squat on some petrol cans, her jaw cupped in her hands, her elbows on her knees, staring at some constantly flapping tarpaulin, and Clifton would be singing her praises. We tried to joke him out of it, but to wish him more modest would have been against him and none of us wanted that.
I was a man fifteen years older than she, you understand. I had reached that stage in life where I identified with cynical villains in a book. I don’t believe in permanence, in relationships that span ages. I was fifteen years older. But she was smarter. She was hungrier to change than I expected.
Clifton celebrated the beauty of her arms, the thin lines of her ankles. He described witnessing her swim. He spoke about the new bidets in the hotel suite. Her ravenous hunger at breakfast.
**Our expedition was about forty miles from Uweinat, and Madox and I were to leave alone on a reconnaissance. The Cliftons and the others were to remain behind. She had consumed all her reading and asked me for books. I had nothing but maps with me. “That book you look at in the evenings?” “Herodotus. Ahh. You want that?” “I don’t presume. If it is private.” “I have my notes within it. And cuttings. I need it with me.” “It was forward of me, excuse me.” “When I return I shall show it to you, It is unusual for me to travel without it. ”
All this occurred with much grace and courtesy. I explained it was more a commonplace book, and she bowed to that. I was able to leave without feeling in any way selfish. I acknowledged
her graciousness. Clifton was not there. We were alone. I had been packing in my tent when she had approached me. I am a man who has turned my back on much of the social world, but
sometimes I appreciate the delicacy of manner.
***We returned a week later. Much had happened in terms of findings and piecings together. We were in good spirits. There was a small celebration at the camp. Clifton was always one to celebrate others. It was catching.
She approached me with a cup of water. “Congratulations, I heard from Geoffrey already-” “Yes!” “Here, drink this.” I put out my hand and she placed the cup in my palm. The water was very cold after the stuff in the canteens we had been drinking.” Geoffrey has planned a party for you. He’s writing a song and wants me to read a poem, but I want to do something else.” “Here, take the book and look through it.” I pulled it from my knapsack and handed it to her.
****After the meal and herb teas Clifton brought out a bottle of cognac he had hidden from everyone till this moment. The whole bottle was to be drunk that night during Madox’s account of our journey, Clifton’s funny song. Then she began to read from The Histories — the story of Candaules and his queen. I always skim past that story. It is early in the book and has little to do with the places and period I am interested in. But it is of course a famous story. It was also what she had chosen to talk about.
This Candaules had become passionately in love with his own wife; and having become so, he deemed that his wife was fairer by far than all other women. To Gyges, the son of Daskylus (for he of all his spearmen was the most pleasing to him), he used to describe the beauty of his wife, praising it above all measure.
“Are you listening, Geoffrey?”
“Yes, my darling.”
He said to Gyges: “Gyges, I think that you do not believe me when I tell you of the beauty of my wife, for it happens that men’s ears are less apt of belief than their eyes. Contrive therefore means by which you may look upon her naked. “
There are several things one can say. Knowing that eventually I will become her lover, just as Gyges will be the queen’s lover and murderer of Candaules. I would often open Herodotus for a clue to geography. But Katharine had done that as a window to her life. Her voice was
wary as she read. Her eyes only on the page where the story was, as ifshe were sinking within quicksand while she spoke.
I believe indeed that she is of all women the fairest and I entreat you not to ask of me that which it is not lawful for me to do. ” But the King answered him thus: “Be of good courage, Gyges, and have no fear, either of me, that I am saying these words to try you, or of my
wife, lest any harm may happen to you from her. For I will contrive it so from the first that she shall not perceive that she has been seen by you.
This is a story of how I fell in love with a woman, who read me a specific story from Herodotus. I heard the words she spoke across the fire, never looking up, even when she teased her husband. Perhaps she was just reading it to him. Perhaps there was no ulterior motive in the selection except for themselves.
“I will place you in the room where we sleep, behind the open door; and after I have gone in, my wife will also come to lie down. Now there is a seat near the entrance of the room and
on this she lays her garments as she takes them off one by one; and so you will be able to gaze at her at full leisure. “
But Gyges is witnessed by the queen when he leaves the bedchamber. She understands then what has been done by her husband; and though ashamed, she raises no outcry . . . she holds her peace.
The next day the wife calls in Gyges and gives him two choices.
“There are now two ways open to you, and I will give you the choice which of the two you will prefer to take. Either you must slayCandaules and possess both me and the Kingdom of Lydia, or you must yourself here on the spot be slain, so that you mayest not in future, by obeying Candaules in all things, see that which you should not. Either he must die who formed this design, or you who have looked upon me naked.
So the king is killed. A New Age begins. There are poems written about Gyges in iambic trimeters. He was the first of the barbarians to dedicate objects at Delphi. He reigned as King of Lydia for twenty-eight years, but we still remember him as only a cog in an unusual love story.
She stopped reading and looked up. Out of the quicksand. She was evolving. So power changed hands. Meanwhile, with the help of ananecdote, I fell in love.
******When the Cliftons were not with us they were based in Cairo. Clifton doing other work for the English, God knows what, an uncle in some government office. All this was before the war. But at that time the city had every nation swimming in it, meeting at Groppi’s for the soiree concerts, dancing into the night. They were a popular young couple with honour between them, andI was on the periphery of Cairosociety. They lived well. A ceremonial life that I would slip into now and then. Dinners, garden parties. Events I would not normally have been interested in but now went to because she was there. I am a man who fasts until I see what I want.
I was at that time seldom in Cairo, there about one month in three. I worked in the Department of Egyptology on my own book, Recentes Explorations dans le Desert Libyque, as the days progressed, coming closer and closer to the text as if the desert were there somewhere on the page, so I could even smell the ink as it emerged from the fountain pen. And simultaneously struggled with her nearby presence, more obsessed if truth be known with her possible mouth, the tautness behind the knee, the white plain of stomach, as I wrote my brief book, seventy pages long, succinct and to the point, complete with maps of travel. I was unable to remove her body from the page. I wished to dedicate the monograph to her, to her voice, to her body that I imagined rose white out of a bed like a long bow, but it was a book I dedicated to a king. Believing such an obsession would be mocked, patronized by her polite and embarrassed shake of the head.
I began to be doubly formal in her company. A characteristic of my nature. As if awkward about a previously revealed nakedness. It is a European habit. It was natural for me-having translated her strangely into my text of the desert-now to step into metal clothing inher presence.
The wild poem is a substitute
For the woman one loves or ought to love,
One wild rhapsody a fake for another.
On Hassanein Bey’s lawn-the grand old man of the 1923 expedition-she walked over with the government aide Roundell and shook my hand, asked him to get her a drink,turned back to me and said, “I want you to ravish me.” Roundell returned. It was as if she had handed me a knife. Within a month I was her lover. In that room over the souk, north of the street of parrots.
I sank to my knees in the mosaic-tiled hall, my face in the curtain of her gown, the salt taste of these fingers in her mouth. We were a strange statue, the two of us, before we began to unlock our hunger. Her fingers scratching against the sand in my thinning hair. Cairo and all her deserts around us.
Narration compresses time. A narrative sentence of 10 words can encompass a heartbeat – a momentary thump in time – or 10 centuries of heartbeats. Narration is fluid, elastic, expandable to the infinite. There are 7 scenes buried in this narration from the EP. Maybe more if we convert some exposition. The scene names are First Encounter, Sacred Object, Barter, Party, Ancient Lydia, Cairo, and Invitation. Naming scenes helps you pluck scenes from the time-murk of narration. To make use of the temporal plasticity of narration, you build scenes. Scenes are finite in time, fixed in space. When you build a sequence (example: the 7-scene sequence from the Grid just ahead), you increase the odds of locating the Movable Scene: the key that unlocks the transformation from narration to script. The Movable Scene in EP is Katharine’s firelight reading of Herodotus. Anthony Minghella moved that scene from Act Three in the Novel – a narration that zips around in time – to Act One in the sceen-sequence that changed the script that made the movie that became an international cult classic and Oscars rained down.
Step 3: Scene Grid
|First Encounter||Desert||1936||Katharine exits plane||Body Parts||K’s body parts = Index to Sexual Attraction|
|Sacred Object||Desert||1936||Katharine asks for|
HerodotusBookBook = Talisman;
Almasy’s treasureBarterDesert1936Katharine offers Almasy a cup of waterCupShe is water. Gives
herself to Almasy. He is sand.PartyDesert1936K reads from HerodotusFireK signals her deadly
love; KR SubplotAncient LydiaLydiaLong
AgoQueen offers the soldier a choice: either kill the king and marry me; or you dieNaked
BodyView the sacred person naked and your life changesCairoEgypt1936Almasy writes his book : Recent ExplorationsPageK’s body inhabits
his words, sentences, bookInvitationParty1936“I want you to ravish me.”LawnAlmasy falls in love; worship, religion, sanctity, sacred space
Scene Grid helps you pluck scenes from narration. Name the scene. Establish time and place. Summarize the action. Add an object. If no object, create one. Take a stab at writing down subtext.
Step 4: Scene Summary Treatment
Scenes from the grid are: First Encounter, Sacred Object,
Peace Offering, Party, Ancient Lydia, Cairo, and Invitation.
— First Encounter. This scene climaxes with bony knees. Almasy the narrator watches Katharine Clifton emerge from the yellow airplane. Khaki shorts, bony knees. The image of her knees twists through his brain. He is older; she is 15 years younger. He is an explorer who falls in love with an assemblage of body parts. Her husband is a boy. She is a woman ripe for seduction, adultery, twisted love. She is water. She reads about the desert. She wants to be changed. She chooses Almasy as her change agent. The object in this scene is the yellow airplane. At the climax, the plane becomes the murder weapon.
— Sacred Object. This scene climaxes with Almasy’s refusal to lend his book to Katharine. He’s heading out to map the desert. She wants his copy of Herodotus. He’s a holy desert monk and the Herodotus is sacred. It’s like the finger-bone of a dead saint. Katharine busies herself watching, sizing up the company of explorers. She verifies, learns, changes. The dialogue in this scene is forced, clipped, choppy. Arm’s length, keep away. The Herodotus is Almasy’s only book.
If she opens the book, she opens Almasy. The rest of his library is maps.
— Barter. Katharine offers Almasy a cup of water. He’s just returned from the desert. She still wants his talismanic copy of Herodotus. So she greets him with a symbolic cup of water. Places the cup in his palm, their first touch. The water, her symbol, tastes different from the brackish lukewarm liquid of the desert. The desert has made him thirsty. Peace Offering heralds the firelight party to celebrate his return. The party is her husband’s idea. He wants her to read a
poem. She wants to read from Herodotus. The scene climaxes as Almasy hands over the holy Herodotus.
— Party. In the Party scene, Katharine takes command of the stage with her reading of the story of Gyges and Candaules. To prove that his wife-queen is the fairest of them all, King Candaules orders Gyges the spearman to view her naked. The King’s plan moves forward. Katharine sinks into quicksand. Her voice is wary. She opened the Herodotus and the book opened a window to her life and she used the story to send a signal to Almasy: like Queen Omphale of ancient Lydia, Katharine Clifton wants to replace her husband with a stranger. Captured in the quicksand of history, Katharine enters the past.
— Ancient Lydia. To carry out his plan, King Candaules places Gyges in the royal bedchamber. The queen undresses, a ritual of unmasking. She lies naked on the bed. Gyges verifies her beauty. But when he exits, the queen spots him leaving. The next morning, she gives Gyges a choice: he can slay the king and marry the queen and rule Lydia; or he can die right here. The scene climaxes with ritual regicide. Gyges kills the king who sent him to the royal bedchamber. At the queen’s side, he rules Lydia for 28 years.
— Cairo. Back in civilization, Almasy writes his book, Recent Explorations in the Libyan Desert. At work on his book, Almasy is astounded when the pages are invaded by Katharine’s memory. His words take on her body parts. The desert enters the book as K’s mouth, knee, stomach. Burning with desire, he wants to dedicate the book to her.
— Invitation. The Cliftons, a handsome couple, are swept into Cairo’s high society. When Almasy runs into them, he retreats into formality. At a lawn party, Katharine cuts through the formality with a simple six word request: “I want you to ravish me.” This invitation ignites their affair. The setting for her invitation is a lawn party at the home of an Egyptian dignitary, Hassanein Bei. The husband is around somewhere. Almasy the monk worships the deity of Katharine. As her lover, he gains temporary possession of her bony knees — the image that started this glide path into twisted love. A geographer of the desert, he names the indentation at the base of her throat, the Bosporus. A water passage.
4. Oct 2 – Tuesday — Writing
Warm Up: Startline – What I’ve learned about my story….
1. Exposition: Startline: I am writing a story about….
2. Narration: Use Short Sentences to move from the Opening forward….
Startline: Act One of my script opens when….
Use Short Sentences
Run them down the page.
Get as far as you can.
3. Scene Grid: Make a grid. Eight columns, six rows.
Object at climax
Action at the climax
Step One: List the scene names for the first 6 scenes in Act One DOWN the page.
4. Scene-by-Scene Treatment: Use short sentences to write capsule summaries of each scene in the grid. Aim your brain at Plot Point One.
Questions to guide your hand:
Climax and Setting
Where does the scene climax?
Where does the scene take place?
What time is it?
What is the temperature?
What is the light source?
What is the season?
Characters and Connections
How many characters in the scene?
Are they connected by blood?
By the past?
Are they caged together?
What emotion drives this scene?
Action and Objects
What is the main action?
What’s the action or gesture at the climax?
What objects are in the scene at the climax?
Who does what to whom and why?
Images and Deeper Wish
What’s the opening image in the scene?
What’s the closing image in the scene?
What’s the key image in the scene?
What is the protagonist’s deeper wish?
Repeat for each scene. Use detail. Pray for insight into story.
Four minutes for each scene summary…
Startline: [Scene Name & Number,] climaxes when…
Time permitting: Action and Image on first four scenes.
Oct 4 — Thursday
Step 5: Image and Action
Action: K climbs from plane.
Image: Khaki shorts, bony knees.
Action: K staring at a tarp.
Image: K reading.
Action: K watches Almasy while husband talks.
Image: Her knees, ankles, arms.
Action: K wants to borrow Herodotus.
Action: K offers Almasy a cup of water.
Image: Clifton’s cognac bottle.
Action: K reads from Herodotus.
Action: Candaules describing wife’s beauty to Gyges.
Action: K signals husband (Are you listening, Geoffrey?)
Action: K opens a window to her life.
Action: K sinks into quicksand.
Image: K reading, eyes down, never looking up.
Action: Gyges views the queen naked.
Action: The queen spots Gyges leaving the bedchamber.
Image: Gyges kneeling before the queen.
Action: two choices — kill the king or die.
Action: Gyges kills Candaules.
Image: poems about Gyges, written in trimeter.
Image: Gyges as a cog in a love story.
Action: K stops reading, looks up, exits quicksand.
Action: Almasy falls in love.
Image: K and husband dancing in Cairo.
Image: Nervous grip of an arm on a cliff.
Action: Almasy writing his book.
Image: K invades the page he’s writing.
Image: K’s body parts — mouth, knee, stomach.
Action: Almasy undresses K with writing.
Image: K’s body like a long bow rising from bed.
Image: Hassanein Bey’s lawn.
Action: K asks to be ravished.
Image: K hands knife to Almasy.
Step 6: Silent Movie
EXT. DESERT – DAY
Katharine emerges from the plane. Khaki shorts, bony knees.
EXT. DESERT – DAY
Katharine squats on some petrol cans, her elbows on her knees, staring
at some constantly flapping tarpaulin.
EXT. DESERT – DAY
Katharine closing a book. She looks up. Sees Almasy writing in the
INT. ALMASY’S TENT – BASE CAMP – DAY
Katharine points at the Herodotus. Asks to borrow it. Almasy holds it,
shaking his head. The book is his traveling pal.
EXT. BASE CAMP – ALMASY ENTERING CAMP – DAY
He’s dusty from exploration. Katharine offers him a cup of water.
Almasy drinks, nods. Good.
EXT. BASE CAMP – RING AROUND THE CAMPFIRE – NIGHT
K’s husband passes the cognac bottle. Sings a funny song. Katharine
reads from the Herodotus. The story is about King Candaules and Gyges
EXT. BASE CAMP – KATHARINE READING – NIGHT
She pauses in her reading to ask her husband a question. He answers.
She returns to Herodotus. Her voice is wary. Her eyes stay glued to
the page. She seems to be sinking into quicksand.
EXT. BASE CAMP – K’S HUSBAND – NIGHT
The husband frowns. Face filled with rage.
EXT. BASE CAMP – EDGE OF FIRELIGHT – NIGHT
Almasy watches Katharine reading and falls in love.
EXT. CAIRO STREETS – TEEMING CROWDS – DAY
Almasy follows Katharine.
INT. CAIRO NIGHT CLUB – NIGHT
Katharine dances with her husband. Almasy watches from the edge of the
INT. DEPARTMENT OF EGYPTOLOGY – CUBICLE – DAY
Seated at a desk, Almasy writes his monograph. As his pen moves,
Katharine fills the page. He writes a word. The word is replaced by
her bony knees. He writes another word. The word is replaced by her
EXT. LAWN PARTY – DAY
Almasy is alone as Katharine approaches, holding the arm of ROUNDELL,
from the British Embassy. She sends Roundell away. She looks Almasy in
the face. Tells him she wants to be ravished.
EXT. LAWN PARTY – DAY
Katharine hands Almasy a sharp knife. Steps close, raises her head,
bares her throat for the knife.
INT. CORRIDOR – CAIRO – DAY
Katharine stands. Almasy kneels, hugging her lower body.
Step 7. Scene Breakdown
Example: King Replacement scene from The English Patient (Novel)
Name: King Replacement
Position: Section IX, The Cave of Swimmers, Act Three
Ritual: Storytelling: Reciting Ritual Regicide; King Replacement;
Digging up the Past
Structure: Frame and Flashback
The frame is the narrative present at war’s end where a
burned man tells the story of twisted love.
He flashes back to the desert before the war where a
calculating woman reads the story from Herodotus — a king, a
spearman, a naked queen, King Replacement.
Italy, 1944, a ruined Italian villa where a ruined
man lies on a bed. Objects onstage include Herodotus, a book, an old
phonograph, and morphine needles. Objects in the flashback include
a cognac bottle, desert gear (boots, khakis, etc.), a ring of men
around a campfire where the woman reads from Herodotus. The light
comes from lanterns.
Character A describes Character B:
Blonde hair and bony knees. Her voice is wary as she reads. Reading, she sinks into quicksand. She is a water creature trapped in the desert. She wears khaki shorts and a bush jacket. There is a soft depression at the base of her throat called the Bosporus. The Bosporuslinks the Black Sea to the Sea of Marmara. The woman reading is Katharine Clifton.
Action and Dialogue: The burned man tells the story read by
Katharine in the desert. That’s where he fell in love. In the desert,
Katharine pauses in her reading to ask if her husband understands. Her
reading is about King Replacement. She wants to know if her husband
understands. The big action is King Replacement in ancient Lydia.
Action in the subtext, action buried in a book, action that comes from
the classic love triangle.
Climax/Resolution: Gyges kills the king, marries the queen,
and rules Lydia for more than two decades. Katharine finishes reading
and passes the book to Almasy, a symbolic handoff. It’s his turn. The
ball is in his court.
Intruder and Closed Circle: In the tale from ancient Lydia,
Gyges the spearman intrudes into the royal bedchamber at the behest of
the king, who wishes to verify the beauty of his wife’s body parts. In
the desert tale, Katharine Clifton intrudes into the all-male desert
sanctuary of Ladislaw Almasy, the burned man, while her soon-to-be-
cuckolded husband praises the beauty of her body parts: “Clifton
celebrated the beauty of her arms.”
Secret: Katharine wants to grow. Part of her growth is being seduced by Almasy, the burned man. He has the plot; she has the main subplot. Plot and subplot meet in secret to enact twisted love. The husband doesn’t have a clue. Secret: the burned man made a deal with the Germans: in exchange for airplane fuel, he would guide them across the desert. For helping the Germans, the burned man is branded a German spy. His defense: he needed the fuel to fly the plane that took Katharine away from the Cave of Swimmers.
Symbol and Archetype: The archetypal love triangle (male-
female-male) sets up King Replacement, a core story that seethes with
power. King Replacement in the desert in the Thirties parallels KR in
ancient Lydia. Katharine reads the story, feels the pull from history,
and sinks into quicksand. As she reads, Almasy stands back, away from
the circle. He’s already felt the pull of body parts: bony knees,
lionlike hair. His cataloguing of Katharine’s body parts is a litany
to love. The body parts invade the pages of the book he writes in
Cairo. Katharine becomes the desert. Her body parts become locators in
the desert. She is water. The Bosporus links two disparate bodies of
water: Black Sea, Sea of Marmara. Her body links two lovers: one
boyish husband; one grizzled overly romantic scholarly explorer.
Hook to future scenes: The desert story has only just begun. The year is 1936. Some months after Katharine reads to the
group in firelight, she invites the burned man to ravish her. The scene is called “Invitation.”
Please see other docs. E-Patient Script in Word RTF.
And E-Patient Script in Final Draft.
LATER, and a smart new aeroplane, a STEERMAN, makes a smooth
landing on the flat desert.
The entire expedition team makes its way over to meet the
arrivals. Only Almasy hangs back, apparently not so
A young, kissed and newly-married couple emerge from the
plane. They are GEOFFREY AND KATHARINE CLIFTON.
And it’s immediately apparent that Katharine is the woman in
the planecrash at the beginning of the film.
Madox makes all the introductions. Hands are shaken, hellos
all round, as the couple disembark in their leather flying
gear. Geoffrey removes his helmet and, in what we will come
to know as an ubiquitous gesture, produces a bottle of
CHAMPAGNE and sets off the cork with a flourish.
I hereby christen us the International
(Now we shift forward to Scene 27.)
INT/EXT. THE MONASTERY. DAY
Hana comes through the Cloisters into the garden as the
gurgling increases. She’s in time to catch the TORTOISE
arriving once again at the WATER TROUGH just as it starts to
gush with water. She shouts up to The Patient’s open window.
(bends to the Tortoise)
You hear it, too, don’t you!
INT. THE PATIENT’S ROOM. DAY.
Close on the HERODOTUS. The Patient opens its cover, held
together by leather ties. Loose PAPERS, PHOTOGRAPHS, HAND-
DRAWINGS, MAPS AND SKETCHES are all collected between the
pages. He claws at some water-colours which appear to be
based on CAVE PAINTINGS – figures, dark-skinned warriors of
the stone age, some with bows in their hands, others with
plumes in their hair – arranged in abstract patterns
uncannily like those of Matisse. Some appear to be swimming,
another is diving. Then the Patient loses control of the
papers and the whole parcel SPILLS to the floor with a crack.
INT.BASECAMP AT POTTERY HILL. DUSX.
A SHOT RINGS OUT, disturbing the-evening meal. Almasy and
others go outside. Silhouetted on a ridge, a group of men sit
astride camels. One of them holds his rifle aloft, clearly
pointing towards the sky – means friend. Fouad peers at the
Europeans, I think, with guides.
(can only see shapes)
How do you know?
Yes, and I think I know who this is.
EXT – BASECAMP AT POTTERY HILL. DUSK.
ALMASY AND MADOX WALK OUT TO INTERCEPT THE ARRIVALS as the
first Arab dismounts, the procession of camels splaying out
as if in collapse. Almasy speaks in Arabic, exchanging the
DURING THIS, FENELON-BARNES, sole European in this
expedition, has finally persuaded his camel to sit, and
dismounts irritably, slapping the animal in disgust.
Ugly brute. Shits and roars and complains
all day. (bypassing Almasy and
approaching Madox) 0.1 course, you have
your aeroplane. Two now! Do you still
call yourselves explorers? I assume not.
Yes, I think a sailor can call himself an
explorer, can’t he? Or should Columbus
have swum to America?
INT. BASECAMP AT POTTERY . HILL. DUSK.-
The arrivals come inside. Madox handles the introductions.
I think you know all of us, except for Geoffrey and Katharine
Clifton, who’ve recently come out from England.
This is Clive Fenelon-Barnes.
I know your mother, of course.
I’m also searching for the lost Oasis,
but by more authentic means.
Anyway, my friend here has a new theory
that Zerzura doesn’t exist. So we may all
be chasing windmills. Have some food.
Well it’s certainly not between here and Dakhla. Nine days of
nothing but sand and sandstorms. An egg. I found an ostrich
egg and some fossils.
Isn’t Zerzura supposed to be protected by
spirits who take on the shape of
What kind of fossils?
I’ll invite you to my paper at the Royal
Geographical Society. Are you still a
member? He takes a long drink from a bowl
of frothing camel milk.
I think you know I am.
Quite impossible, Madox, You must know
that. If you attempt to cross the Sand
Sea due east of Kufra by car you’ll leave
your bones in the sand for me to collect.
(leaving the tent)
If you come across my bones – I hope
you’ll do me the honour of leaving them
in peace. (to Katharine) Excuse me.
You have my word as a gentleman.
(watching him leave) I’ve discovered a
unique type of sand dune. I’ve applied to
the King for permission to call it The
EXT. BASECAMP AT POTTERY HILL. NIGHT.
LATER, supper over, the company is entertaining itself.
Almasy, standing outside his tent, watches the merriment from
D’Ag is nearing the end of a passionate rendition of
Puccini’s E Lucevan Le Stelle. He sits down to much applause
from the others and SPINS AN EMPTY CHAMPAGNE BOTTLE on the
sand. It comes to a rest pointing at Clifton who gets up,
grinning, and plunges into Yes! we have no bananas with great
gusto. His version involves CHANGING LANGUAGE during each
line of the chorus – prompted by a Oui! or Ja! or Si! from
the others. Song finished, much bowing and guying, he spins
the bottle and it arrives equidistant between Fenelon-Barnes
and Katharine – until with a little NUDGE from the husband it
settles at his wife. Katharine gets up, awkward.
I can’t sing. (the audience groans) but I
can tell a story. (to Almasy, who has
arrived) 1 might need a prompt. Do you
have your Herodotus? I’ve noticed you
carry it …
I’m sorry – what have you noticed?
Your book. Your Herodotus!
Almasy looks uncomfortable.
It doesn’t matter. Really. I think I can
Okay – The Story of Candaules and Gyges.
King Candaules was passionately in love
with his wife (Geoffrey whistles proudly)
one day he said to Gyges, the son of
somebody, anyway – his favourite warrior
(quietly prompting her)
Yes, thank you, Gyges, son of Daskylus –
Candaules said to him I don’t think you
believe me when I tell you how beautiful
my wife is. And although Gyges replied he
did find the Queen magnificent, the King
insisted he would find some way to prove
beyond dispute that she was fairest of
all women. Do you all know this story?
The men all encourage her to continue. She shrugs.
INT. THE PATIENT’S ROOM. NIGHT.
– and Hana’s voice CONTINUES THE STORY as she reads to The
Patient who listens, eyes closed, still in the desert.
(reading from the Herodotus)
– I will hide you in the room where we
sleep. When my wife comes to lie down she
always lays her garments one by one on a
seat near the entrance of the room, a-nd
from where you stand you will be able to
gaze on her at your leisure…
EXT. BASECAMP AT POTTERY HILL. NIGHT.
(her story continuing)
And that evening, it’s exactly as the
King had told him, she goes to the chair
and removes her clothes, one by one,
until she stands naked in full view of
Gyges. And indeed she was more lovely
than he could have imagined.
Almasy stares at her, framed by the velvet black sky.
Katharine turns to look at him.
But then the Queen looked up and saw
Gyges concealed in the shadows. And
though she said nothing, she shuddered.
The next day she sent for Gyges and
challenged him. And hearing his story,
she said this —
Off with his head!
– she said Either you must submit to
death for gazing on that which you should
not, or else kill my husband who shamed
me and become King in his place.
Clifton makes a face of outrage. For Katharine the story has
collapsed. She wants it to be finished.
So Gyges killed the King and married the
Queen and became ruler of Lydia for
twenty eight years. The End.
(an uncomfortable silence)
Do I spin the bottle?
Almasy shrinks away from the fire, disappears into black.
INT. THE PATIENT’S ROOM. NIGHT.
Hana looks up from the Herodotus, sees The Patient’s eyes
closed. Gently touches his face ana whispers. Are you asleep?
Yes. Dropping off.
And Hana closes the book, gets up, and blows out the lamp.
INT. FENELON-BARNES TENT, POTTERY HILL. NIGHT.
PITCH BLACK and then A TORCH flickers on as Almasy enters
Fenelon-Barnes’ tent. He pulls apart his luggage, quickly and
methodically. He finds what he is looking for inside a trunk:
A LARGE FOSSILISED BRANCH; a collection of stone leaves,
wrapped in a piece of tarpaulin. Then he’s distracted by a
noise from Fenelon-Barnes’ bed. Almasy stiffens, turns to
investigate. There’s A LUMP in the cot. A dog? Almasy eases
back the blanket to reveal a YOUNG GIRL, no more than
fourteen, bound hand and foot. He holds the torch to her
EXT. BASECAMP AT POTTERY HILL. MORNING.
The next morning. Almasy and Madox prepare to take off. As
they talk, Clifton’s Rupert Bear taxis past them, a wave from
Clifton and Katharine. Madox is very disturbed by what Almasy
is telling him.
What did you think you were doing in his
What? Looking for the fossils. Why should
we wait until we’re in London? This girl
was probably twelve years old.
(getting into the plane) You shouldn’t go
into another man’s tent. It’s
Her hands and feet were tied.
5. Oct 4 – Thursday – Writing
Image-Action: Strip your script vision down to image (white body in the road) and action (sleuth threads her way through sawhorses). Hunt for the through-line — the continuous flow of action and image –while your brain plays with visual detail and the rhythm of narrative impulse.
6. Silent Movie: Use a modified filmscript format (scene headings, actions for shots, images for close-ups, NO DIALOGUE, etc.) to straighten out the linear sequence that tells your story.
Writing tip: If you have time, gather details from earlier writings — AND THEN, Treatment, Scene List, Narrative Summary, etc. — and print them onto a plot diagram.
7. Scene Breakdown: Explore a scene near the end of Act One. Use these categories — Scene name; Position; Ritual; Structure; Setting and Character; Objects on stage; Dialogue & Monologue; Action and Climax; Closed Circle; Intruder; Secret; Symbol and Archetype — and hook to the next scene.
8. Script — Scene Sequence, Scene Headings, Character Name, Dialogue, Action, Shot.
Add dialogue to Silent Movie using insights from your Script Breakdown.
Keys to writing the script: 1) know the story; 2) follow the through-line; 3) be a camera; 4) feel the rhythm of action and image in white space.
- · Enter Guest, Reading: Geof Miller on Script Format: 8:30-9:30
Homework: Add more scenes to Act One Grid. Type up Thursday’s work; hand in Saturday.
October 6 – Saturday AM – Back Story; Scene Sequence; Writing A Scene; Dress Rehearsal.
Type up All Writings from SatPM and SatAM and Hand in
1. Warm up:
Startline: The turning point in Act One comes when….
2. Three-scene sequence:
Before the Turning point, my protagonist…
After the Turning point, my protagonist…
3. Writing the Scene
I am writing a story about….
This is a scene about….
Setting: It was 3:00. The room smelled of…
Character A on B: His/her hair…
Action and Dialogue: What are you looking at?
Intruder/Complication: What do you two think you’re doing?
Climax & Resolution: Use the LSR to reach climax.
October 6 – Saturday PM: Writing the Scene or Scene-Sequence for Plot Point One; Dress Rehearsal.
Start at the Turning Point Scene – it should be in your treatment from Silent Movie — and re-plot a scene-sequence that climaxes at Act One. Then write the Act One Scene.
Warm-up: Act One of my screenplay climaxes when…
Profiling Plot Point One:
Scene Profile :Scene name; Position; Ritual; Structure; Setting and Character; Objects on Stage; Dialogue and Monologue; Action and Climax; Closed Circle; Intruder; Secret; MMM (if you have one); Symbol and Archetype. Seven minutes for the scene profile.
Writing Plot Point One:
I am writing a story about….
This is a scene about….
Setting: It was 3:00. The room smelled of…
Character A on B: His/her hair…
Action and Dialogue: What are you looking at?
Intruder/Complication: What do you two think you’re doing?
Climax & Resolution: Use the LSR to reach climax.
Convert this scene into script format:
Analysis: Bobby Fischer Barter Scene pages 87-91 or thereabouts.
Homework: Type up your scene in script format. Bring copies for every member of your group + 1.
October 9 – Tuesday
Scene Rewrite; Performance
Warmup: What I’ve learned about my story so far…. (7 min)
Read each scene in groups. Discuss, using these rubrics:
Strongest part of the scene (beginning, middle, end)
Weakest part of the scene (beginning, middle, end)
What is the source of conflict in the scene?
Is there an intruder?
Can you identify the protagonist’s problem? Goal? Deeper Wish? Secret?
List objects in each scene. What plot tracks start here?
Can you identify the climax?
Time limit: 3-4 minutes analysis on each scene. Deploy timers.
Writing: break into pairs.
Rewrite the scene: Each writer rewrites the scene for the other writer….
Study this passage from Elias Canetti’s Crowds and Power:
“The lowest form of survival is killing. As a man kills an animal for food, and cuts bits from it as it lies defenseless on the ground and divides it for himself and his kin to devour, so also, and in the same manner, he seeks to kill anyone who stands in his way, or sets himself up against him as an enemy. He wants to strike him down so that he can feel that he still stands while the other lies prostrate. But this other must not disappear completely; his physical presence as a corpse is indispensable for the feeling of triumph. Now the victor can do whatever he wants with him, and he cannot retaliate, but must lie there, never to stand upright again. His weapon can be taken away and pieces cut from his body and kept forever as trophies. This moment of confronting the man he has killed fills the survivor with a special kind of strength. There is nothing that can be compared with it, and there is no moment which more demands repetition.”
Writing: Conflict brings your story alive. Dramatic conflict means a contest or competition where someone wins and someone loses. The winner exults; the loser slinks away, vomits, or dies. Conflict on stage or page or filmscreen simulates the struggle for survival. Canetti brings this struggle down to a single moment. His metaphor is killing — the act of taking a life so that the killer can live. Dramatic conflict revolves around this moment: victor and victim; kill or be killed; no more Mr/Miss Nice Guy.
Use this writing to focus your words on conflict. Focus on a single moment in your story where your protagonist (Character X below) must choose life or lose it, must engage in a death struggle with the antagonist. Use a dramatic startline to write your way into this moment.
Choose a startline:
a. Whose side are you on?
b. Get out of my way or….
c. He stands over X and….
d. X stands over him and….
e. At the climax of my story…
October 11 – Thursday — Scene Performance of Rewritten Scenes
Warmup: My mother wants me to write a movie about….
Performance of Rewritten Scenes Only
Scene Performance; Scenes due; Hand in what you can; send the rest –Writer’s Notebook typed double space,
Appendix A: Six Core Stories
The king is old. The land is dying. The queen is young. The stranger is beefy. Killing the king, the stranger replaces him on the throne. The king, a sick old man, is a scapegoat who pays for the dead land with his blood. The land is the resource base; when the land dies, the good citizens die.
The Big Event — replacing the king — comes at the end of Act One (plot point one) or at the middle of Act Two (midpoint). In Cain’s Postman, Stranger Frank and Cora the Queen kill king-husband Nick at the end of Act One. In Body Heat, Stranger William and Queen Kathleen kill the husband-king (Richard Crenna) at midpoint. In Oedipus, Rex, the queen and king of Thebes condemn themselves as sinning mother and doomed son when they match up back stories at midpoint: in the back story, Old King Creon, the long lost father of Oedipus, is killed by a stranger from Corinth at a place where three roads meet; the killer of Dad marries Mom and becomes King of Thebes. Key figures in King Replacement: The Sick (Rich) Old Man, The Beautiful (Young) Queen, The Handsome (Beefy) Stranger, the Wasted (Ruined) Land.
The queen is old or no longer useful. The king is powerful. The stranger, usually a female, is young and fertile. The land is forgotten, perhaps lost. In The Accidental Tourist (Anne Tyler), Macon Leary replaces wife Sarah with Muriel the strange Stranger. Macon, the king figure, is spiritually dead. The queen badgers him about rebirth, then moves out of the dead house to her own apartment. Using physical sex, Muriel the Stranger brings the king back to life at midpoint.
In the mystery genre, Queen Replacement generates plots packed with suspense because of the timing of the Big Event: when exactly to replace the queen. In the back story for Agatha Christie’s The Body in the Library, a crippled old man motivates murder when he tries to replace his dead daughter with a dancehall doxie. The murder brings Miss Jane Marple onstage to hunt down the killers. In Dial M For Murder, suspense builds as the husband plots to kill the wife at the climax. Key figures in Queen Replacement: The Other Woman (Man), The Victim Queen, The King in Near-Death (Ticking Clock), The Rich Old Man as Death God.
The quester, a low-verbal knight errant who cannot ask the question, quests far and wide (through Wasted Land and Blasted Desert and Mysterious Chapel Perilous) for a sacred vessel connected to the Last Supper, a Big Event in the Christian Religion. In the Grail tale from the middle ages, the Grail was a sacred object, a silver vessel carried by a Grail Maiden dressed in white samite. The search or quest is the plot spine of the adventure tale: the Odyssey, the Crusades, the military caper.
For different twists on the spine of the Grail Quest, change the object. The quest for a weapons implacement buried in a hillside in Greece produces a tale like The Guns of Navarone, where a band of questers goes on a fun mission of search and destroy. The quest for a mythic jeweled bird produces The Maltese Falcon, a mystery based on a treasure hunt that made author Dashiell Hammett a household word. Key figures in the Grail Quest: The Quester, His Brave and Sturdy Mount, The Grail Object, The Fisher King, The Grail Maiden, The Mysterious Castle, Chapel Perilous, The Dragon in Disguise, The Wasted Land.
Scapegoat Quest is a Grail Quest for a human instead of an object. The guiding metaphor is payment. The currency of payment, payment with blood, fits with the mystery genre. In the mystery tale, the killer pays for taking life with blood. The payment in blood, a transform of scapegoat sacrifice and ritual regicide from King Replacement, takes place at the climax. The Big Event in mystery is discovery, a form of unmasking: 1) the sleuth discovers the link between death and the resource base; 2) the sleuth discovers the killer’s identity. Because society lusts for revenge (eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth, life for a life), a staple of the mystery plot is a scapegoat substitution called the frame-up, an attempt an making someone besides the killer pay for the crime. Key figures in the Scapegoat Quest: The Scapegoat-Killer, The Scapegoat Substitute, The Sleuth-Quester, The Victim, The Resource Base, The Catalyst Who Controls the Resource Base (often a Sick Old Man), The Femme Fatale, The Grave, The Tribunal, The Instrument of Payment-Punishment, Blood.
Coming of Age
Coming of Age is a core story about change. The key symbol is the turnstile; the Big Event is passing through the turnstile. In a female Coming of Age story, the metaphor is Emerging Chrysalis or Ugly Duckling. In Cat’s Eye by Margaret Atwood, the teen protagonist bites her feet, tearing off strips of dead skin, a metaphor of self-destruction fueled by self-hate: she feels ugly and worthless; so she eats herself up.
In a male Coming of Age story, the metaphor is Warrior or Knight Errant. Huck Finn is a white boy trained in the damnation theories of White Christianity by the Widow Douglas, a Death Crone hiding behind a mask. The turnstile for Huck is his decision to brave the fires of hell by mounting a military caper-style rescue to save his pal, his quest-buddy Nigger Jim. Huck voices his decision (“All right then, I’ll go to Hell.”) and passes through the turnstile from boyhood to manhood.
Rags to Riches
A core story carved out of King Replacement, Rags-to-Riches is built on a threshold crossing to gain access to a resource base. The movement is up: an ascent from rags (poverty) to riches (wealth, safety, comfort). The drama in Rags-to-Riches comes from plotting the Big Event — solving problems (guardians, barriers, tribute, etc.) at the threshold.
Poor girl Cinderella has a Royal Ball to attend because the Prince needs a Princess. The prince needs a princess to produce an heir to the throne. The throne needs an heir because the King is old. Cinderella, a fertile virgin trapped in the waste land of cinders, escapes her cage of economic deprivation by using the wardrobe magic of a mythic helper. The magic has a time-limit: it runs out at midnight. When the magic runs out, Cinderella is whisked out of the happy castle and back to the waste land. Climbing up and out of poverty, a rise held dear by the middle class from the Middle Ages onward, is heroic. Cinderella is the undying hero of the middle class. She gets her guy; we feel good.
Cinderella figures are useful in story-telling because they are instantly known, easily recognized by wide cross-cultural audiences. Muriel Pritchett, the ding-bat stranger who replaces the queen in Tourist, combines the poverty of Cinderella with the magic of the Fairy Godmother. Irina Asanova, the femme fatale of Gorky Park, escapes from the icy Soviet deep freeze to the furry warmth of America by selling her slim non-virginal body to the killer, an American emperor of fur. In Working Girl, a movie of the eighties, Melanie Griffith plays Tess, a Cinderella secretary who replaces the Evil Stepmom Catherine when she borrows wardrobe items to attract the Prince, Catherine’s object of desire. In Working Girl, the Fairy Godmother figure is a wealthy communications tycoon. Key figures in Rags-to-Riches: Cinderella, The Evil Stepmother, The Fairy Godmother (Mythic Helper), Villainous Helpers, The Handsome Prince, The Economic Resource Base (wealth, castle, big house, big corporation, fat bank account, fertile land, garden, etc.), The Big Celebration (wedding, funeral, party, dance, etc.).
Appendix B: King Replacement
Insurance agent Walter Huff, the intruder in James M. Cain’s Double Indemnity (1943), has no trouble getting inside the closed circle of the Nirdlinger house, a Spanish style job that spills over a cliff in Hollywoodland of the Thirties, because Mrs. Nirdlinger lets him in.
With very little coaxing, the sexy Mrs. Nirdlinger admits Walter the Intruder inside the circle of her plan: to kill her husband, Mr. Nirdlinger, and collect some insurance money. A Death Crone killer in the film noir mold, Mrs. Nirdlinger recruits Walter’s muscle for murder: “I raised up, put my hand over his mouth, and pulled his head back. He grabbed my hand in both of his. The cigar was still in his fingers. I took it with my free hand and handed it to her. She took it. I took one of the crutches and hooked it under his chin. I won’t tell you what I did then. But in two seconds he was curled down on the seat with a broken neck, and not a mark on him except a crease right over his nose, from the crosspiece of the crutch.”
The wife wants out from under a marriage. She admits a stranger to the closed circle. The stranger, helped by the wife, kills the husband. The motive, as we learn from the second encounter of wife and stranger, is Twisted Love. Testing the wife’s resolve, the edge of her steel, the intruder kisses her. “I was trembling like a leaf,” says Walter the Intruder, waiting for her reaction. “She gave it a cold stare, and then she closed her eyes, pulled me to her, and kissed back.”
Asterisk. Asterisk. Asterisk.
The same power triad of husband, wife, and intruding stranger forms the dramatic base for Cain’s earlier tough luck tale, The Postman Always Rings Twice (1934). The intruder is chosen by the wife, then invited into the murder plot. The plot is to get money — a fertile slice of a resource base — while replacing the husband with the intruder. The wife is young; the husband is old. Because of the ancient Ritual of Rut, this story of husband replacement has staying power.
Here’s Frank Chambers, the intruder in Postman, preparing the reader for heated rut. The subject of Frank’s attention is Cora, the young wife of victim Nick Papadakis, the proprietor of the Twin Oaks Cafe: “Except for the shape, she wasn’t any raving beauty, but she had a sulky look to her, and her lips stuck out in a way that made me want to mash them in for her.”
This primal ritual, a young male replacing an old male in the bed of the fertile female, draws power from the ancient ritual of kingship succession. The king grows old; the land is plagued by his wrinkled grayness; the king must therefore die. To engineer the death of the king, the queen chooses a helper, a muscular young stranger. The triangle of king-queen-stranger, a throne-room model for the perfect character triad, creates opportunities for a suspenseful plot. When does the queen decide? How does she select the stranger? How smart is the king? What is the method of murder? What’s the method of corpse disposal? Who has the point of view? How much does the king suspect?
According to Barbara Walker, the ritual of king replacement in the long sweet days of the Matriarchy was based on the sex appeal of the intruder-stranger. “In early Asiatic civilizations,” writes Walker in her Woman’s Encyclopedia, “kingship depended on the choices of women. There was no law of primogeniture….Marriage with the earthly representative of the Goddess, in the form of the queen, was essential to the position of kingship….The goddess-queen’s choice largely depended on the candidate’s sex appeal. If she tired of the king’s lovemaking, he could be deposed or killed, for the queen’s sexual acceptance of him determined the fertility of the land. In many early societies the old king was killed by the new king, usually called a ‘son’ though he was no blood relative. Hence the unbroken chain of Oedipal murders that puzzled modern scholars….”
Heated by murder, Oedipus, a seeming stranger to Thebes who was actually born in Thebes — this is just one of the secrets of the most-performed play in the history of theatre — marries the queen-goddess. Oedipus is a strong stranger, with enough muscle power to kill not only the king, but also the driver and a herald who rides shotgun for the king’s chariot. Killing the king-father brings Oedipus full circle, the killer-son returning home after a maturing absence. If the murder is a ritual murder ignited by the ritual of heated rut, and if the ritual of rut occurs with the queen-goddess, getting home could be perceived by hero and reader as a “sacred” act.
To put a modern spin on the character triad of king-queen-stranger, you follow Cain’s lead, hauling the characters out of the Theban throne room into contemporary America, land of the classless society. Pass the point of view to the intruding stranger, making him the protagonist. Garb the queen in a white dress marked by red coloring spilled as if by chance from an ice cone on the waterfront. Whisk the queen to her castle breathing heavy facing the stranger through hot glass. To reach the queen, the stranger smashes the glass with a lawn chair. Coupling with the stranger for thirteen pages, the queen wishes her husband dead.
Queen: It’s what I want most.
Stranger: How good it would be for us if he were gone….But there’s no
reason to think he’s gonna die, so we might as well forget about it.
It won’t just happen.
On page 60 of the screenplay, at the exact midpoint of this archetypal tale of blood and money, the stranger kills the husband, a hard guy who almost kills the stranger first with a pistol hidden under the pillow. In an agonizing twist that makes beautiful music with dramatic irony, the queen frames the stranger for the murder that was her idea. The tale ends with the stranger on Death Row in prison garb and the queen soaking up rays next to a bronze beach boy on an archetypal tropical isle.
The movie is Body Heat. The queen is played by Kathleen Turner. The stranger is played by William Hurt. The king is played by Richard Crenna.
Archetypes help you lock down High Concept: This is a story about replacing the king with a stranger who becomes a handy scapegoat for killing the king. High Concept + Template enables you to write a story with lasting power.
Scene Profile – Leaving Las Vegas.
Name: Biker Bar
Position: scene 93 Act 2 pt2.
Ritual: Love Quest, Negotiation, Combat
Purpose: Indexes Protag’s death wish and his romantic character.
Character and Setting: The place is a Rough English Bar in Las Vegas. A dark, dirty place. It is early morning. Protag enters for a drink when he discovers that the grocery store is closed.
Characters onstage: Protag Ben, Biker Girl, Aging Blonde in leather hot pants, a young Biker Girl, Biker Boy in black leather, Bartender. The aging blonde doesn’t have a speaking part. Ben wears the new clothes Sera has given him.
Objects on-stage: paper napkin, jukebox, slot machines, beer can, stools, Ben’s clothing, towel.
Dialogue-Monologue: Biker Girl propositions Ben who checks with the Biker who gives him permission to buy the BG a drink. BG offers to move in with Ben, to suck him, to spend the day in the sack. Ben tests words, “I’m deeply in love with Sera.” The Biker pulls Ben and the BG apart and offers Ben a way out, but Ben makes the grand gesture of holding his position as knight protector.
Action and Climax: The scene climaxes when the Biker smashes Ben in the face. Action chain: Ben enters the bar, orders a drink. BG approaches to make her move on Ben while the Biker slugs quarters into a one armed bandit. BG deepens negotiations, Ben backs away, the Biker calls Ben out then head butts him and drops him. Biker and BG split. The Bartender gives Ben a towel to wipe up his blood, then expels Ben from the bar for fighting.
Closed Circles: The closed circles are the Bar; Ben’s space.
Intruder: Ben, the outsider intrudes into the dark world of leather bikers. BG pushes into Ben’s space. Biker smashes Ben’s body.
Secret: Biker Girl baits suckers to keep her boyfriend on edge; Ben is in love with Sera.
Symbol/Archetype: Symbol – Ben’s clothing becomes stained with his own blood. The shirt, symbolizing rebirth and love, is an index to Sera’s acceptance of Ben. Bloodied the shirt symbolizes Ben’s irrevocable downward spiral that not even love can redeem.
Archetype #1 = Outsider/Quester = Ben; Archetype #2 = Temptress = Biker Girl; Archetype #3 = Death God = Biker.
Some Archetypes from Carl Jung and others:
Mother (Terrible Mother, Good Mother, Great Mother)
Rebirth (Metempsychosis, Reincarnation, Resurrection, Rebirth, Transformation)
Spirit (Imps, fairies, Tinkerbell, mythic helper)
Trickster (Fox, Raven, Wily Coyote, Felix Krull, any con-man)
Shadow (teenage gangs, dark side, Darth Vader, Freddie)
Puer Aeternis (eternal youth, boy who refuses to grow up, Peter Pan)
Outsider (an emerging archetype according to some – Not the Pariah of old but someone
with tattooed arms, shaven head, purple hair – Old Motorcycle Gangs, Bloods, Crips….)
Wise Old Man
Bitch Goddess (version of Terrible Mother)
Archetype is not stereotype. Stereotype is metaphoric simplicity while Archetype is Core Structure that can be transformed into metaphor.
Study this passage from Erich Neumann’s Art and the Creative Unconscious.
“The archetypes of the collective unconscious are intrinsically formless psychic structures which become visible in art. The archetypes are varied by the media through which they pass – that is, their form changes according to the time, the place, and the psychological constellation of the individual in whom they are manifested. Thus, for example, the mother archetype, as a dynamic entity in the psychic substratum, always retains its identity, but it takes on different styles – different aspects or emotional color – depending on whether it is manifested in Egypt, Mexico, or Spain, or in ancient, medieval, or modern times. The paradoxical multiplicity of its eternal presence, which makes possible an infinite variety of forms of expression, is crystallized in its realization by man in time; its archetypal eternity enters into a unique synthesis with a specific historical situation.”