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Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The Last of Us Novelization: An Example of Turning Your Screenplay into a Novel

I thought it might be useful to see the principles outlined in my book put into action. I'm going to novelize THE LAST OF US, from the video below. This is a work-in-progress. Who knows? Maybe I'll eventually end up with a complete novel!

CHAPTER ONE

Joel Shepard got home late. He pulled his beat-up Chevy pick-up into the driveway and turned off the engine. He sat for a moment, exhausted, under a full moon in the dead of a Texas night. He pulled the keys from the ignition and looked at the dark house before him. A two-story tract home on a half-acre lot with wood-siding. A rocking chair sat on the narrow porch by the front door. He grunted, opened the truck door and climbed out. Another red-letter day at the job site, he thought to himself. The crew was now down to five and was six weeks behind. And the client, now at the end of his rope, was threatening lawsuits.

As he walked heavily to the front door, his cell phone rang. He looked down, saw the number and veered away from the door. He lifted his head toward the heavens and shook his head. He answered it and said, "For chrissake. What now?"

It was his brother, Tommy.

"Just got off the phone with Lance," his brother's voice said. "Whatever's going around, apparently he's got it too."

"So," said Joel. He could feel his blood pressure rising. "No tile guy."

"No tile guy," his brother confirmed.

"That's just..." he was on the verge of swearing, but just didn't have the energy. He turned back toward the door, fumbling with the keys in his hand. "This whole job's going south, Tommy. And the goddamn contractor is nowhere to be found."

"If he's sick, he's sick," Tommy said. "Not much you can do --"

Joel opened the door to his house and stepped inside. "Tommy. Tommy," he interrupted. "He is the contractor." He caught his temperature rising and lowered his voice. "He is the contractor, okay? I can't lose this job."

"What is it about 'sick' you don't understand?"

Joel caught a glimpse of the ten year-old asleep on the sofa and his mood softened. "I understand."

"Look. I'll call around, find someone."

"Lets talk about this in the morning, okay?" he said. He flipped the switch by the door. The girl stirred as a soft glow of light filled the den.

"Hell, maybe I'll do it. How far along was he?"

"We'll talk about it in the morning."

"Sure."

"All right," Joel said. "Goodnight." He flipped the phone off and tossed the keys on the coffee table.

Yawning, the young girl sat up on one elbow. "Hey," she said, squinting up at him.

"Scoot," was all he could muster. She made room for him and he let his body collapse into the leather cushions.

"Fun day at work?"

Joel looked at her. She was in her plaid, thread-bare pajama bottoms and had one tee-shirt over another. Leather bracelets encircled her wrist and she wore a choker with beads around her neck. Her name was Sarah and she had a style all her own. Wheat-colored hair like her mother's - which she preferred to keep short - an aversion to make-up, to boys, and especially dresses.

Oh, and that Texas drawl of hers... That was all Joel.

Her father gave her a sideways glance. "What are you still doing up?" he asked, propping his head upright with tired fingers. "It's late."

"Oh crud what time is it?" She spun around and looked at the clock on the wall above the sofa.

Joel knew what time it was without lifting a muscle. "It's way past your bedtime," he said.

"But it's still today," she stated as an indisputable fact.

She always had a way of spinning things to her advantage, thought Joel, a trait she definitely didn't pick up from him.

With a burst of ten year-old energy, she scrambled to the far end of the sofa and began reaching for something hidden in the shadows.

Joel had a vague idea what was coming. He said, "Honey, please not right now. I do not have the energy for this."

Ignoring his plea, Sarah popped up and confronted him with an outstretched arm. "Here."

In her hand was a square gray box.

"What's this?" Joel asked, reaching for it.

"Your birthday," Sarah replied, again stating the obvious.

Joel glanced at her and opened the box. An overwhelming sense of appreciation swept over him at what he saw. He fought hard to contain it.

"You kept complaining about your broken watch," Sarah said. "So I figured, you know..."

He removed the watch and sat the box down on the coffee table. He was too exhausted to handle the emotion that threatened to consume him, and so to avoid it, he focused on fastening the watch to his wrist.

"You like it?"

The truth was he loved it. But life had taught Joel to keep his emotions at arm's length, and so the protective shield came up. He tapped the watch face and - making a face - said, "Honey, this is nice, but..."

"What?" asked Sarah. There was a trace of panic in her voice.

He held the watch up to his ear. "It's nice but, I think it's stuck. It's..." He made a helpless shrug.

Instantly Sarah panicked. "No, no, no..." she said. She grabbed his wrist as her face went pale. A second passed... a second she noted by the ticking of the hand on Joel's watch, and her color returned.

"Oh ha ha," she said, pushing his arm away. She stretched out on the sofa away from him.

"Where'd you get the money for this?" he asked his daughter.

"Drugs," Sarah responded over her shoulder. "I sell hardcore drugs."

"Oh good," Joel said, settling in and grabbing the remote. "You can start helping out with the mortgage then."

 "You wish," Sarah replied with a snort.




Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Halo 3: Insult to Injury

The great thing about playing Halo was being witness to countless displays of  honor on the battlefield. This short clip is a prime example! Enjoy!

video

Monday, March 13, 2017

A Novel Truth

Chris Gaines was a middle-aged teacher at a creative writing class back in Texas. Rumpled shirt, tan corduroys. Wore suede chukka ankle boots, had the customary Friday Night Lights beer gut. Gave us one of the best definitions of a novel I've ever heard. He even made us get out our pens and notebooks to prepare ourselves to record the most insightful truth for writers of all time. Are you ready?

Here is his insightful gem:

"A book (or novel) is nothing more than a bunch of pages filled with words."

I know what you're thinking. This is a joke, right?

Wrong.

Mr. Gaines was serious and in his own way, Gaines was a genius. He was trying to impart something important to the beginning writer. If you compare yourself to Stephen King, or John Grisham, you're dead before start. You'll freeze up and justly so. Your first-time attempt can't be as good as theirs because they're masters at writing. But your first-attempt might be as good as their first-time attempt. Maybe even better. But the real truth is, it doesn't matter.

He told the class this: "Pay attention to the student who drops on my desk a three-hundred page manuscript by the end of the semester. If I had to bet who out of the class will make it as a writer, he or she would be my number one pick."

How can he say that without even judging the quality of the work? Crossing the finishing line reveals more about the character of the writer than any specific writing sample ever could.

Mr. Gaines, with his down-to-earth logic was attempting to demystify the novel for us newbies. He was trying to get us to remove it from the lofty perch we had placed it upon.

Think about it.

If you were to make a decision to complete a marathon, would you go find one tomorrow and jump right in? No. You'd pick a date a year in advance, and then you'd start training, a little bit every day, or every other day. You'd start off running/walking a mile. And when your lung capacity increased, you'd stretch it to two miles. After several weeks, you might find yourself running five or six miles three or four days a week! Imagine that. Others would look at you and say, "Well, sure. He's a runner," much the same way we look at published authors and say, "Well, sure. He's a writer."
A first-time novel doesn't have to be good, it just has to be.
Become like a freight train and write with abandon! Write without looking back. Set a target for yourself, a weekly goal, something easy for you to achieve, then increase it as you gain proficiency.

Never ever judge the work as you go along. That's like starting your marathon training, and, after having to walk after the first mile, giving up. It makes total sense for you to have to walk, there's no shame in it. You simply haven't developed the lung capacity yet.

Writing is no different. You can't be expected to write like Hemingway the first hundred pages, because at that point, even Hemingway didn't write like Hemingway! What Hemingway did do, and you can too, is stick with it. That's the difference between a wisher and a doer.

It's easy to do if you keep the truth in front of you: A book is nothing more than a bunch of pages filled with words. You can write a bunch of pages, can't you?

Sure you can.

Halo 3: Challenge of the Katana

Years ago, when Halo 3 was first released, it came with a special bonus.

If you were a gamer extraordinaire, then the elusive and highly sought-after Katana was yours to proudly display on your Master Chief back. Securing this ultimate boon wasn't easy. You had to get every achievement, forty-nine of them in fact, and while most of them were fairly easy to achieve, there was one or two that were extremely difficult.

Among these was the "Two For One" achievement: Score a Double Kill with a single spartan laser shot in a ranked free for all playlist (online).

This one ate my biscuits. It was impossible. I spent more time than I care to admit trying to achieve that bugger. Then, a friend of mine from work told me he had gotten it easily. By cheating.

Apparently, there were enough frustrated gamers out there struggling to achieve this elusive task that they formed an alliance and talked of their plans on a popular message board. If you reconfigured the language on your xbox so that you were able to join them in a match, then everyone playing could 'assist' everyone else by achieving the impossible.

I did this, got the Katana, but felt terrible about it afterwards. The victory tasted like ashes. So, in order to redeem myself and restore honor to the Halo universe and the Katana which it represented, I proudly present my legitimate (and extremely LUCKY) securing of the achievement: Two For One.

video

Friday, September 9, 2016

Masquerade - A Film Treatment

FADE IN:

Night. Porsche convertible, racing at high speeds; headlights scour the winding road, engine roaring. Man behind the wheel drives with intensity. Thick wavy hair ripples in the wind, eyes crazed. Beside him, RACHEL. She looks worried; the winding turns coming way too fast.

A damsel in distress being snatched away by a crazed, good-looking scoundrel?

That’s the vibe we get.

Soon, flashing lights on their tail. Sirens. The police. Rachel’s anxiety worsens. But scoundrel ignores them. Italian handmade shoe mashes on the pedal, the Porsche roars away.

Now, lights up ahead. A HOSPITAL. Emergency room entrance. The car whips around a sharp corner, cops close behind, sirens wailing. An ambulance sits with flashing lights, doors open. The scoundrel hops out, unconcerned about the cops pulling up behind him. A DOCTOR appears, intercedes on his behalf: “It’s okay, officers. He’s a doctor…” then ushers the scoundrel inside, Rachel on his heels. The officers stand breathless, confused. Pissed.

Scoundrel turns out to be plastic surgeon MILES DAMON. He’s hot-shit and knows it.

The hospital doc gives him the run-down. Teenage girl, traffic accident, face a pile of goo. Hands him the x-rays. Then he adds, “Here’s a high school photo her mother supplied…”

“Think we can do better than that,” Damon says, passing the photo to Rachel. “Let’s get prepped…”

Hours later… Locker room. Damon exhausted, covered in sweat. Rachel unties his scrubs, pushes them past bare shoulders, towels his glistening back. He turns, grabs her hands, the euphoria of the operation still in his bloodstream. He kisses her passionately.

Rachel resists, “Miles. What about your wife?”

“Fuck Evelyn.”

“I’d rather not.”

Damon pulls back, grins at her. “You don’t find her attractive?”

“Miles, stop.”

“Teasing you, darling.” He’s a rogue. Peter Pan in a man’s body; the talent of a plastic surgeon with the swagger of a pirate. He kisses her cheek, grabs her hand. They leave together.

SAME NIGHT

DAMON’S CASTLE. A stone mansion on a cliff overlooking the ocean.

He enters. Noticeably absent is his roguish air. He tiptoes up the stairs to the master bedroom, peers in on the woman sleeping soundly, mask covering her eyes. The look on Damon’s face says it all.

Damon creeps to his office two doors down. Pours a stiff drink, looks at glossy photos from a large envelope, is visibly pained. His wife in the arms of a blond-haired scoundrel half her age.

Suddenly EVELYN appears at the door, eye mask pushed to her forehead.

“I assume you performed another one of your miracles tonight?”

Damon shows her the photo. “Why do you dislike me so?”

“I don’t dislike you darling. I despise you. There’s a huge difference.”

She turns, leaves. Damon falls back in his chair, confused, demoralized. He flings the photos from his desk, reaches for the open bottle of scotch…

THE NEXT DAY

Rachel, at the upscale office, giving a woman botox injections. She’s skilled, professional. She looks up, sees a disheveled Damon shuffle by.

Later, she appears at Damon’s office door, sympathy in her eyes.

Damon confesses: “I can’t go on like this. She knows I won’t divorce her. She’s conditioned me to a certain lifestyle and she knows I’ll never give it up. She enjoys torturing me.”

Rachel says: “I’ve been thinking about it and I think I have a solution. Come by later tonight…”

LATER

Damon, pacing, head in his hands.

“Murder?”

Rachel sits calmly on the sofa.

“The perfect murder,” she corrects him. She patiently goes over the plan:

“We find a suitable candidate to take Evelyn’s place. Height, age, general proportions. She agrees to surgery. We make her into the spitting-image of Evelyn, right down to the birthmark on her ass. She acts the part of Evelyn and when no question remains as to who she is, she’ll agree to a public divorce and leave you everything.

Damon considers, “But… why would she agree to this?”

“Why else? Money. A new identity. A fresh start on life. Just leave the woman to me.”

“And if she goes to the police?”

“Why would she, Miles? To get herself arrested and thrown in jail? Not likely...”

Damon thinks it over… “Murder.” The word lingers on his lips and Rachel’s eyes shine. “But is it possible…” he wonders.

Rachel grabs his hands. Skilled, talented hands. “You have the skill, darling. You know these gifted fingers can do it. Why not put your talents to use and create the future you deserve? The future we both deserve.”

He looks into her eyes. She’s very convincing. Suddenly he scoops her up into his arms and kisses her passionately. Looks like he’s made up his mind…

So…

They plan how they’re going to kill Evelyn. The easiest is sodium thiopental, while the woman sleeps. But when Damon goes to perform the injection, he has a change of heart, and instead descends downstairs to get drunk. Rachel shows up expecting to see a dead wife, but Evelyn confronts her, ridicules her for wanting Damon. Rachel calmly picks up a golf club and bashes his wife’s brains in right then and there. Done.

Next comes disposing of the body. They wrap Evelyn in cellophane and haul her to the dock where Damon’s twenty-foot schooner sits anchored. Choppy water at night makes the task arduous, but they manage to weigh her down and dump her overboard. Step two complete.

As the days following Evelyn’s murder wear on, Damon appears frazzled. People are asking about her. He’s worried the lie about her sudden disappearance is wearing thin. Rachel eases his nerves: “I found her!”

She introduces Damon to the woman who will become the new Evelyn: DAISY. Rachel explains how she found the poor woman at a battered woman’s shelter. “She’s the perfect candidate! Perfect height, age, hair color, eye color!”

Damon’s confidence returns. YES! He can do this. He can make this woman into the spitting-image of his dead wife. Elated, he schedules the private surgery…

Hours pass as the doctor painstakingly reconstructs Daisy’s face to match the numerous angles of Evelyn’s profile on the various monitors. Rachel assists, her body tense.

Finally, the surgery is complete. It’ll take weeks before the scars heal and the bandages come off. Damon insists the patient recuperate at his castle. As the days pass, a fondness for the woman grows in Damon’s heart.  You could almost say, an attraction...

And Rachel notices…

The bandages come off. Daisy IS Evelyn, down to every detail! Their plan is a complete success!

But...

Rachel can’t help notice how close the two have become.

Damon takes pride in caring for his new wife, who has all of Evelyn’s beauty and none of her flaws.

When Rachel catches the two of them sharing a tender moment, it’s the first realization her plan has a fatal flaw: she didn’t account for Damon’s attraction to this phony surrogate!

When Rachel floats the idea of ‘getting rid of loose ends’, Damon is appalled.

He’s soon confronted by the reality that he’s fallen in love with this woman, fallen in love with his wife. “It’s not safe for you here,” he tells Daisy/Evelyn. “We’ve got to leave, get away from here. Together…” Daisy/Evelyn agrees and she confesses her love for him. Damon’s heart soars...

Without Rachel’s knowledge, Damon plans their escape. As a sign of good faith, Daisy suggests putting his profitable practice entirely in Rachel’s name. Damon hesitates - its represents a sizable income - but if it means appeasing Rachel, he’ll do it. He makes immediate plans to have his lawyer draw up the paperwork...

But Rachel’s no dummy. With the knowledge that Damon’s away in the city, she drives out to the isolated castle on the cliff. Out to where a defenseless Daisy waits patiently for the good doctor’s return. In Rachel’s hand, a loaded revolver. In her eyes, fierce determination.

Damon, driving those same winding roads, gets a feeling something ain’t right. He tries calling the mansion. No answer. Worried, he spins the car around, mashes the pedal. Hopes he isn’t too late.

He pulls up the circular drive, sees Rachel’s car. Panics. He rushes in, races up the stairs, bursts into Evelyn’s room, sees Rachel with the gun, lunges for her.

A SHOT rings out across the expansive estate.

Back in the bedroom, gunsmoke clears.

Rachel stands over Damon’s prostrate body. She turns the gun on Daisy, whose face has turned ghastly white…

And then her fingers drop the gun and Rachel races into Daisy’s arms, and the two of them embrace. THEIR PLAN WORKED!

Later, police cruisers, ambulance, the whole nine yards. A DETECTIVE compares notes with his partner.

“The wife says the nurse entered the bedroom just as the good doctor was about to pull the trigger. The two grappled and the gun went off.”

“Looks like she got here just in time…” the partner adds.

As the ambulance with Damon’s body leaves, Rachel and Daisy stand on the front steps, looking on, just two ordinary women having shared an extraordinary, horrific ordeal. But hidden from view, behind their backs, two hands clasped tightly and lovingly together.

THE END

Monday, August 29, 2016

Excerpt from Reno Nevada: How Harlan Lost His Hand

   Harlan laughed hard. What a pleasure it had been, kicking Nevada off his perch high aloft the shaft and into the black pit below. Now he could be with his poor, beloved horse all he wanted, provided that he survived the fall, which was unlikely, considering the distance.
   He looked at the parchment in his hand. Now he had the map and the wonderful realization he didn’t have to share its treasure with anyone. But something was happening. He felt a jolt somewhere within the cavern, then heard the tick! tick! tick! of  a mechanism moving, and he quickly took up the position Reno had vacated, leaning over the edge, peering into the darkness.
   “Reno!” he shouted.
   He waited for an answer but none came.
   Gears were turning in the dark and then his body jumped at the sound of a rapid succession of gunshots reverberating in his ears, and just as he realized what the gunshots were, the sluice gate above him slammed shut in a gunshot of its own, and before he could jump clear, the gate had turned into a guillotine.
   It severed his extended arm clean off at the elbow.
   He cried out in pain, grabbing the bloody stump where his hand had been – the hand clutching the map – and blood gushed through his fingers. In a panic, he ripped the bandana off his neck and wrapped it around the wound as tears of sweat and pain filled his eyes.
   Heaving in great gulps of air and fighting off a wave of nausea and shock, he rested his great hulking mass against the cubby hole wall.
   Getting out of here wouldn’t be easy and he knew he had to make his way to a doctor before he bled to death. The only comfort was the knowledge of where the map had fallen. He could picture it now, in his mind’s eye, lying in the pit alongside Reno’s broken body and the dead gargantuan stallion.
   Wrapped tightly in the fingers of his own severed hand.