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Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Coincidence By Design (A Beat-Sheet Example)

TODD has a long-suffering crush on coworker RACHEL. She's beautiful and out of his league. They both work for an ESPN-like sports network, with her in front of the cameras and him behind.

Todd meets/befriends the new neighbor in his apartment complex, plain-but-pretty SANDRA. She's obviously a better match for Todd but he doesn't see it.

On a company junket, due to an overbooked flight, Todd is bumped up into first class where he sits a few rows behind Rachel and meets DAMON, a mysterious business man who becomes aware of Todd's unrequited love for Rachel.

Damon gives Todd his card. COINCIDENCE BY DESIGN. Their logo is: You Can't Stalk The Perfect Woman, But We Can. Damon pitches his services: for a very expensive fee, they guarantee a number of faux coincidences that will have the woman of your dreams eating out of your hand.

When Todd returns home from the junket, being no closer to the woman of his dreams, he decides to go for it. He confides his intentions to his next-door neighbor Sandra (who secretly pines for him) and she tries to dissuade him.

Todd meets with Damon and hands him a check. The process begins. Over the next several weeks, the company will find out all it can about Rachel and begins arranging fake coincidences, designed for the purpose of endearing himself to her.

The coincidences come in various forms: he bumps into her at the opera (they both love Puccini), she spies him at her gym ('yoga'), he wears a tee-shirt featuring her favorite (but obscure band), he just happens to have tickets to their reunion, etc, etc.

As their relationship progresses, Sandra sees less and less of Todd. Finally, she turns on him. "Love can't be bought! It can't be manipulated! You have all the inside scoop. You know what to say and what to do." She raises the question: Is all fair in love and war?

Now that he's seeing Rachel routinely, Todd has elevated his social standing. He dresses better. Drives a better car. Things are going perfect. But then, Damon suddenly reappears: The fee is now double. Pay it, or we spill the beans.

This is their hook. They deliver on their promises and then blackmail their clients for more money. Todd doesn't have money. Faced with the choice of paying off Damon or having the truth revealed, he takes Sandra's advice and decides to come clean.

It doesn't go well. Rachel is appalled/aghast and dumps him on the spot. The sports network fires him for unethical behavior. And to make matters worse, Damon shows back up at his apartment and threatens to kill him.

As Damon attempts to bully Todd into cashing in his life savings, Sandra bursts into the apartment and there is a huge struggle. She manages to push Damon out of the window where she watches him scream his way down ten stories. Todd takes Sandra into his arms and kisses her. It's obvious: SHE is the one he was meant to be with. Soon, church bells ring and wedding rice fills the air.

In the epilogue, Sandra tells Todd she needs to run some errands. Camera follows her where she makes her way to the pier and sees a group of men playing bridge. One of them is Damon!

Damon looks up, smiles. He's glad to see her. She hands him a check which he politely accepts, folds and places in his pocket. Another job well done.


Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Requiem for a Fall - A Film Noir Treatment

High above the pacific, bomber pilot Capt. Guy Hawkins struggles to get his crew safely out of their damaged B-32. He’s down to just one man, young gunner Tony. He reassures the frightened young man not to worry and urges him to jump. Just then, the strap of Tony’s parachute gets caught on a jagged edge of the plane and Guy is left with no other option than to try and shoot the strap free. It’s a million-to-one-shot; it’s either the strap or the young gunner. Guy takes aim and fires.

Guy wakes up in his hotel room. The year is 1945 and the war is over. He’s covered in sweat, having just relived this nightmare for the umpteenth time. He’s distraught. He gets up, opens the window, hears the sounds of street life below him and pours himself a drink.

Janice Comely is adjusting the artwork on display in her small gallery. She’s smart, beautiful, well-dressed. She’s enduring the attraction of her fatigueless admirer, Dr. Lenny Self, the local psychiatrist. Lenny wishes to whisk Janice away, but Janice makes it plain she is already spoken for. Lenny is dapper, well-spoken, but a bit of a heel. He catches Janice by the arm and tells her that he doesn’t give up easily. Janice, not taking the good doctor seriously, leaves, telling Leonard she has a lunch date with the man she loves.

Guy emerges from his hotel room with a duffle bag hoisted over his shoulder. There’s a ruckus in front of the hotel. Police have custody of a couple teenagers caught vandalizing property. Guy recognizes one, Kid, who he was close to before leaving to fight the Japanese four years ago. Kid looks up to Guy but has been mingling with a bad crowd in his absence. Guy goes out on a limb for Kid, agreeing to pay for any damages. Kid promises to come around later to the gym where Guy suggests he can find work. Janice is a witness to Guy’s unselfish act of benevolence and beams with pride.

Janice and Guy walk to the diner where everyone greets Guy with a hearty, “Hey Champ!” They go into the diner where Pop greets them enthusiastically. Here we reveal that Delores works as a waitress for Pop and she has a crush on Lenny. Seems Lenny is the forgetful type and is always leaving behind something, this time, his expensive gold lighter. When she sees Lenny standing outside having a discussion with other gentlemen, she leaves her busy tables and rushes to take him his lighter, much to the consternation of Pop, who recognizes the one-sided relationship.

Lenny won’t have much to do with Delores, but he does seem to enjoy her attraction (makes him feel desirable). Lenny’s main objection to a relationship with Delores has to do with class distinction. A respected psychiatrist can’t go around being seen with a lowly waitress. This hurts Delores feelings but not enough to make her give up hope.

Later, at Puggy’s gym, Guy spars with another boxer in the training ring. Looking on with excitement is the gym’s owner, Puggy, and Guy’s trainer, Doc. Puggy expresses concern over Guy’s lack of killer instinct - he seemed to have lost it since the war. Doc reassures Puggy he’ll be back to contender-status in no time at all. “He’s the Champ, after all!” Kid cleans up, having secured work just as Guy had promised.

Also in the gym is a seven-foot mass of human flesh known as The Monster. He’s as ugly as he is tall and every ounce of him ripples with muscles. He’s the mobster’s main boy, and eager to get in the ring with Guy in order to steal his thunder. Guy’s trainer waves off his intentions, only saying, “When the time is right.” Kid vows that Guy can “clean the floor with that ape” and inadvertently secures the mobster’s scorn (you don’t want to mess around with these guys).

Later that evening, at the local restaurant/bar, Guy dances with his girl, Janice. She’s concerned about him. “Still having nightmares?” Guy nods. She suggests that maybe Lenny can help. “He is a psychiatrist after all…” Guy responds that he’s not ready to fall down the rabbit hole yet. Meanwhile, we discover that a couple of mobsters have given Kid a “working over” to shut his big mouth. When Guy finds out, he’s furious and almost vows to settle it in the ring against the mobster’s main boy, The Monster. Doc restrains Guy, warning him, “You’re not ready yet, Champ.”

That night, Guy has yet another nightmare. Distraught, he goes to see Janice. He explains to her that since he’s been back, he’s been trying in vain to find the parents of Tony, the gunner who was lost, in an effort to explain what happened, to seek absolution. He reveals he’s even gone so far as having hired a private detective, who he’s not heard from in a while. Janice once again pleads with Guy to give Dr. Self a chance. “He’s a licensed hypnotist, darling. Perhaps he can help.” Reluctantly, Guy agrees.

In Lenny’s ornate office, the doctor lowers the blinds, setting the mood. Something tells us he’s got Guy right where he wants him. He has Guy recline on the couch and hypnotizes him. Slowly we re-emerge back to that fateful moment on the plane, with Guy drawing his sidearm and taking aim at the strap, while the poor gunner’s body flops in the wind, like a fish on the end of a hook.

At last the lights come back on and Lenny sits back, thoughtfully inhaling his cigarette. Yes, he has undercovered the truth, he tells Guy, and it isn’t going to be pleasant. “Are you sure you can handle this?” Guy nods. Lenny reveals that while Guy was under his hypnotic spell, he revealed the truth. His gunshot went awry and struck and killed the young gunner, which Guy witnessed in horror. “Your conscious mind has spent weeks keeping it from you. That’s why you wake up in a terrible sweat. But your subconscious mind knows the horrible truth: if you had hesitated just a moment longer, you would have seen the strap break free on its own accord, and the young gunner you so desperately wanted to save would be alive today.”

The revelation stuns Guy. He staggers in anguish from the doctor’s office, refusing to be comforted by anyone, especially Janice. He roams the empty streets alone, forming a resolution in his mind. At last he comes upon the hospital. He goes up to see the bandaged and unconscious Kid, and vows to make things right by the Universe, correct once and for all, all his wrongs.

The next morning in the gym, Guy appears, drunk. He tells Doc to set up the match between him and The Monster. Doc and the gym’s owner Puggy urge him to reconsider but he refuses. The match is set, much to the delight of the well-tailored mobster who sees in The Monster a sure-win.

The town now is abuzz with activity. Will Guy really face The Monster, a man he seems clearly outmatched by in every regard? Janice is worried sick and Guy refuses to let her into his heart. “It’s time for the dues to be collected,” he tells her fatalistically and then stumbles off.

Janice goes to see Lenny who, it turns out, has made a sizable wager regarding the fight. She turns to him for advice, but he has now grown wildly full of himself. “Soon I’ll be rich, darling,” he tells her. “I’m looking to invest and your father’s diner seems a prime investment.” She looks at him as he continues. “I’d hate to see it razed to the ground to make room for a parking lot.” And now, finally, Janice realizes the evil that Lenny embodies and she’s filled with regret that she ever let him weasel himself into the mind of someone as pure and noble as Guy. “What did you do to him?” she asks accusingly, but Lenny only looks at her and smiles.

Back at the bar, Lenny enjoys a drink and then pays his tab and leaves, just as Delores comes in looking for him. She finds his empty barstool, and beside it, his journal. She picks it up, and is driven by curiosity to glance in it. Something catches her eye. She looks up, desperate to find the one person who can make sense of it, but that person isn’t there. Delores races out, notebook in hand.

Janice is upstairs in her office above the gallery, crying, head in hands. An urgent knock at the door below. Janice finds Delores waiting, her arms wrapped around Lenny’s forgotten diary. Back in her office, Delores paces as Janice puts the pieces together. Something occurs to Janice. She quickly scrambles for the phone book and then dials a number. “SMITHFIELD 1 4 7,” she says. “It’s urgent.” Delores’s eyes widen as she struggles to comprehend. Janice looks up and their eyes lock. She’s definitely onto something...

But, unfortunately, the night of the big fight has arrived...

The auditorium is packed. In the center, a boxing ring. Doc is giving Guy, suited up in gloves and boxing shorts, one last appeal to beg off, but Guy will hear none of it. He looks like he’s standing on shaky legs. In the other corner, The Monster looms threateningly, and his corner is brimming with confidence.

The bell sounds. Guy stands up, and can’t help but look around the room for Janice who isn’t there. He faces The Monster and the horrible beating begins…

Janice waits impatiently at a bus stop for someone to disembark the bus. She’s a nervous wreck. Over loud speakers nearby, announcers describe in bone-crushing detail the lopsided beating Guy endures. “This is horrible! Someone should put an end to this fight! But Guy Hawkins won’t let his trainer intervene!”

Ringside, Lenny sits next to the mobster in the fine tailored suit, an evil smile upon his lips as he witnesses the beating of his life-long nemesis. Soon, Janice will be his, even if he has to blackmail her into his bed.

And now the doors of the arena burst open and Janice comes racing in, with a man in a trenchcoat in tow. Everyone turns to look at the commotion. She fights her way next to the ring and calls out Guy’s name as he sits gasping on his stool, a bloody pulp, waiting for the bell to ring, announcing the start of the next round. Guy, his eyes barely able to open, turns and looks at Janice. She urges him, “Look Darling, Look who I brought!” His eyes travel slowly over to the man in the trenchcoat and his heart skips a beat.

It’s Tony, the gunner from the plane!

“Your detective found him,” she desperately pleads. “He’s alive and living with his parents upstate. She turns and points a finger of hate at Lenny, who is witnessing the events with a startled expression. “It’s all in here,” she says, holding up the diary. But Guy is too dazed and too confused to make sense of it all and just then, the bell sounds and Guy struggles one last time to his feet.”

The young gunner rushes up to the ropes. “Don’t ya remember, Capt? You made us bail out and my strap got stuck. You pulled your pistol and fired. Don’t ya remember? You hit the strap, Capt! It was a million to one shot and you did it! You saved me!”

And now, we find ourselves back in Guy’s mind, back above the clouds over the south pacific, and Guy leaning out, aiming the pistol, taking careful aim and Tony giving him a nod, that nod that says, “I know you can do it!” And Guy firing, and the strap goes free and Tony is whisked away, in a motion that would’ve been impossible for Guy to tell the difference without knowing the truth, which is why his mind struggled for so long. And now everything comes back to Guy and he realizes he was wrong to blame himself. And he turns and looks at the towering mass of flesh facing him and he begins to strike, to strike with such ferocity The Monster doesn’t understand what’s happening. And the crowd is on its feet, and The Monster, having winded himself from eight rounds of constant pummeling to a man who refused to go down, who would rather die than give up, The Monster, he now finds himself against the ropes, struggling to protect his face, his torso, but it’s too late, because The Champ is back and pummeling him. Finally, Guy hauls back and hits The Monster with everything he’s got, and The Monster spins and hits the canvas hard. Knocked out cold!

And the crowd is on its feet and Guy, regaining his composure, looks down and sees Janice racing up to greet him and he wraps her in his arms as they embrace.

And ringside, a sullen and shocked Dr. Lenny Self looks down at his program and rips it up. Beside him is the unhappy gangster, whose disgusted look says it all.


Saturday, May 13, 2017

Example of a One-Page Synopsis: RENO NEVADA RIDES TO HELL

Sometimes you will be asked to provide a synopsis of your story. In my mind, there are only three requirements:
  1. Cover all the major plot points.
  2. Reveal the climax and resolution.
  3. Keep the synopsis to a single page.
As an example, here is the one-page synopsis for my novel, RENO NEVADA RIDES TO HELL.


written by 

Flash Rivers

The multicolored landscape of mountains, canyons and deserts informs us we are in the AMERICAN SOUTHWEST. The year is 1899. The Gates of Hell have opened and evil is loose upon an unsuspecting land.

RENO NEVADA, a disillusioned gunman with a clever knack for inventing things, wanders the desolate landscape atop his towering, black stallion, SAMSON. He is snatched up by an old partner of his, a miscreant named HARLAN, who lives for one single purpose: to locate the map to the hidden treasure of La Puerta Del Inferno (Hell’s Gate). Reno, who blames himself for his wife’s untimely death, prefers torture over divulging the map’s location to Harlan.

Reno is rescued from his captors by a religious man who calls himself THE PREACHER. He wants to enlist Reno’s help on a quest: ride into Hell and close the gates. Although he feels an instant connection to the Preacher’s beautiful daughter, EVE, Reno refuses. It isn’t until he finds himself face-to-face with Hell’s demons that he reconsiders and joins the Preacher and Eve in their quest.

To achieve their objective, the Preacher and Reno must accomplishment two goals: The Preacher must find and retrieve the Key to Hell while Reno must return to his forsaken ranch with Eve and recover the map from its hiding place. To secure the Key, the Preacher must face an archangel of Hell known as the Gatekeeper. Reno and Eve are forced to tangle with Harlan and his gang of cutthroats. After a night of harrowing ordeals, both the Key and the map are recovered.

As the crusaders pause to rest in the town of Tempest before the final leg of their expedition into Hell, they suffer a devastating blow. The archangel snatches Eve right from Reno’s clutches and an unsuspecting tag-along kills the Preacher’s ally and escapes with the Key. With Eve taken prisoner in the Underworld and the Key lost, all hope is gone. Only the restorative faith of the townsfolk provides Reno and the Preacher the strength they need to carry on with their quest.

The two weary travelers follow Reno’s map straight to the Gates of Hell. Abandoning all hope, they cross the threshold, fearing never to see the light of day again. In a fierce battle that sees the Preacher mortally wounded, Reno manages to kill the last of Harlan’s men. Harlan, however, escapes. Lost in the catacombs of Hell, Reno stumbles upon Eve and frees her from her shackles. In an effort to escape, Reno finds the Key but watches in horror as it is consumed in the fiery abyss when Harlan suddenly appears and confronts him. Reno settles his dispute with Harlan once and for all as he relies on brains over brawn. With Harlan gone, he and Eve race to escape Hell.

With the Key gone and Reno and Eve reunited with the dying Preacher, a revelation occurs. Reno is the true ‘Key’ to closing the Gates of Hell. While the Preacher holds off the archangel, his dying faith enables Reno and Eve to accomplish their quest and escape Hell just as the opening is sealed forever. Eve and Reno reenter the land of the living, where faith and hope are restored.

535 words.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

The Typewriter - Chapter One

The lives of a man and his family are threatened by the discovery of a mysterious typewriter with the ability to see into the future... and into the mind of a psychotic killer.


He found the typewriter on Tuesday, April 14th, just after 9:30 in the morning.

Jack Harrison pulled his shiny Lexus into the driveway at 2314 Crescent Heights Drive and stepped out. He was a thirty-something professional, in good shape, with a head full of blond hair that he tended to wear long, just over the collar. He wore slacks, designer shoes, and a dress shirt unbuttoned at the neck.

On the ring finger of his left hand was a slim gold band and on the sides of his car were vinyl door magnets advertising his company: FIRST CHOICE REALTY.

With his hands on his hips, he tilted his head and took a moment to appraise the property. It was a one-story brick home, just under two thousand square feet, built in the late sixties. The yard was a disaster, but the front of the house - with its red brick walls, white mold trim, and set of double doors with their inlay of frosted glass - wasn’t as bad as expected and his spirits rose. It would definitely sell; it just needed a little work on its curb appeal. A pair of azaleas by the front steps would work nicely.

Satisfied with his appraisal, he went to the rear of his car, popped it open and grabbed one of the dozen yard signs inside. The sky above was gray and threatening rain; a breeze tumbled past him, blowing his well combed hair out of place. He stood in the middle of the front yard and ran his fingers through his hair, taming it back into place and straightening his upturned collar. Jack considered himself no more vain than most in his particular line of work; he knew the importance of image and enjoyed dressing to play the part.

He pierced the lawn with the prongs of the sign then mashed it into place with the sole of his black dress shoe, leveraging his full body weight. He glanced back up at the house, then up one end of the street and down the other. He was juggling numbers in his head, performing calculations, approximating payment amounts. Eventually he would settle on just the right asking price.

The key to the house was hidden inside a small metal lock-box attached to the front door. He thumbed the four-digit combination, took out the key and used it to open the front door. Stepping inside, he withdrew a heavy-duty Stanley tape measure from his left pocket and a cellular phone from his right.

The house was dark and quiet. He stood in the middle of the foyer surrounded by rich mahogany flooring and dark green wallpaper.

“Hello?” he called out. A habit of his, from years of entering homes presumed empty but surprisingly weren’t.

Not hearing a reply, Jack sucked in a deep breath and then proceeded with his routine. He went through the house methodically, recording the dimensions of each room, notating them into his phone along with any special features or peculiar drawbacks. He acquainted himself with the home just as he would meeting someone new for the first time, getting to know them.

“Nice wood flooring in the entrance and throughout,” he said, stamping his foot, his phone to his lips.

In the kitchen, he recorded a note about the double range oven. Gas and electric. The stainless steel sink. The red oak cabinets. He wielded his tape measure like a sword, taking measurements, recording the details into his phone.

He opened the sliding glass doors to the back yard and walked outside, making notes about its size, the condition of the exterior fence, the large red wood deck. “Needs stripping,” he noted into the recorder.

He entered the bedrooms, noting their dimensions and the size of the adjoining closets. He stepped inside the master bathroom and made a note about the large pedestal tub next to the walk-in shower. “Nice,” he added, running his fingers along the cold cast iron surface.

He went into every room and walked over every square foot. The entire process took well over an hour and he captured and recorded every detail the home had to offer. When he returned to the den, something caught his eye. He stopped and frowned. There was a water mark in the ceiling, a long narrow stretch running right down the center, the edges stained with mildew. He stood on his toes to get a better look. “Water damage in the ceiling,” he grumbled into his phone. He reached up and a piece of drywall flaked off in his hand, sprinkling debris on his head and shoulders.

“Gonna have to get Gus to fix that.” He shook the debris from his hair and patted his shoulders clean. Then, using a familiar motion, combed his hair back into place with his fingers.

The water damage was troubling. Jack needed to look into that to make sure it wasn’t something serious. He slipped his phone and measuring tape back into his pockets and ducked around the corner, searching the ceiling for the door to the attic.

He stopped when he spotted the white drawstring dangling above his head in the middle of the hallway to the right of the den.

He reached up, grabbed the end of the string in his fingers and tugged. The door to the attic opened and a collapsible wooden ladder extended at his feet.

The attic smelled dank and musty. He frowned at the cobwebs blocking the entrance. He waved his arms past them and ascended into the attic, keeping himself crouched to avoid banging his head on the beams overhead. A single bulb with a pull chain hung from the rafters. He pulled the chain and squinted as bright light filled the attic.

An old furnace, cased in stainless steel panels, sat in a corner on top of a shallow aluminum pan to catch condensation. Jack could see the pan was full of dirty water - that probably accounted for the leak in the ceiling beneath his feet. He had to balance himself carefully on the rafters; only half of the attic had plywood flooring, the rest were 2 x 6 wooden beams with the typical pink cotton-candy insulation in between.

Okay, so the furnace needed work. He’d have to hire a plumber to give it a once-over. The drainage pan could just be clogged, that happened sometimes…

“Shit,” he cried out, almost losing his balance.

He had stepped on a corner of the plywood flooring that buckled under his weight. As he stooped to get a better look, he saw that the board hadn’t buckled as he thought. It was a cut-out piece, designed to cover a small section of the floor. Jack scratched the back of his neck as he mind tried to make sense of it.

He reached down and removed the puzzle piece and revealed a hidden section of the attic. As he squinted to get a better look, he caught sight of something hidden in the corner under the plywood. He lowered himself and, being careful not to tear a hole in his slacks, dropped to all fours. Carefully, he stuck his arm into the wedged opening and his fingers landed against something hard and cold. Something metal. Soon, they found a handle. He pulled the object free.

It was a typewriter.

Still in its case, Jack recognized what it was right away. Big, bulky, with the word ROYAL in large embossed letters on the top of its gritty surface. It was heavy too. He made a face as he struggled it free and then readjusted his position, sitting cross-legged with the thing in his lap.

Alone with the just the case and the long dark shadows from the bulb overhead, he eased the cover open. His eyes widened and he absentmindedly licked his lips. In his lap was an ancient typewriter, from the old gumshoe days of the fifties, in seemingly perfect condition.

“Wow,” he said, running his fingers over the cold metallic keys. He felt like a kid on Christmas morning.

And that’s when he heard a hollow knock at the front door.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

The Last Of Us Novelization - Chapter Eight: An Example of Turning Your Screenplay into a Novel


It took a moment for Joel to regain his senses. Behind him a gun battle raged on; the Fireflies had struck again. Up ahead, Tess sprinted away, heading toward the dilapidated tenement building across the street. Holding his wounded elbow against his side, he followed. From the speakers overhead, the woman’s unaffected voice droned over the loudspeakers: “All civilians must clear the surrounding area immediately.”

He ran past the orange and white barrels propped high on old tires, sloshing his way through a deep puddle in the street. To his right was a building that was tattooed with the familiar red & white WANTED signs of half a dozen known leaders of the Fireflies.

The Humvee from earlier drifted into position, the muzzle of the .50 caliber machine gun following Joel’s movement. It wasn’t safe to be on the street in this situation - soldiers shot first and asked questions never. Tess knew this, which is why she was running so fast.

“Goddamn Fireflies,” he cursed under his breath.

“Joel!” she scolded. “Let’s go! C’mon!”

As they turned up the street, Joel saw other residents quickly disappearing into buildings, like roaches caught in a flashlight’s beam. Tess was fast - she was fifty yards in front and headed toward the steps leading to an entrance in the far tenement building.

She reached the steps of the entrance and stopped to catch her breath. “Looks like the coast is clear,” she said. She headed up the steps toward the heavy double doors. “C’mon.”

Joel jogged up the steps just as the monotone recording repeated: “Attention. Checkpoint Five is now closed until further notice. All civilians must clear the surrounding area immediately.” Tess was holding the door open for him and he ducked inside.

He followed her into the darkened hallway, closing the door behind him. Tess turned and looked at him. She sighed. “Fuck. So much for the easy route.”

They were in a quiet lobby of an old apartment building; minimal power, paint-chipped walls, the smell of rotting wood. The large checkered tile beneath their feet was dingy and gray. Some of the doors in the hallway were barricaded with the familiar military locks: iron bars that expanded into door frames in both directions, with an Army placard in the center bearing a unique ID number and a warning not to intrude.

Tess saw the nasty gash just below Joel’s elbow. “You okay?”

“I’m fine,” he said. Thankfully whatever had grazed him had missed the bone, but it sure stung like hell. “Just a flesh wound.”

Tess pulled a small roll of gauze from her back pocket. “Here,” she said, handing it to him. “Patch yourself up.”

Joel took the roll and nodded. He quickly dropped to one knee and wound the gauze around his forearm, pulling it tight. When he was done, he used his teeth to rip the gauze free, then rose and handed the roll back to Tess. The whole affair took less than a minute.

“Good,” she said, nodding with satisfaction.

She turned and headed down the hall. “They’re gonna close all the checkpoints. We’re gonna have to go around the outside.” She turned to her left and headed down another dark hallway. A dim bulb flickered overhead.

Joel wasn’t sure he’d heard right. “Outside the wall?” Two things immediately sprung to mind: trigger-happy soldiers and flesh-ripping infected. Neither filled him with confidence.

“Or,” Tess said, giving him another choice, “we could just let Robert go.”

Joel grunted and said, “Cute.” They both knew that wasn’t an option.

As they approached the end of the hall, a dark figure rose from a chair. The faint light overhead shimmered on the black man’s glasses. It was Lawrence, one of the tenement building’s younger residents. Joel knew him vaguely.

“Hey Tess,” he said, falling in step with her. “You see that shit?”

“I was there,” Tess said simply and without bravado.

As they walked down the hallway together with Joel lagging a few feet behind, Tess looked at the young man and asked, “Hey, how’s the east tunnel looking?”

“It’s clear. I just used it. No patrols.”

The trio rounded another corner, this time to their right. A fire extinguisher hung on the wall.

“Where you off to?” Lawrence asked.

“Gonna pay Robert a visit.”

They entered a long hallway. Dark shadows interspersed with pale light. A ceiling fan turned slowly up ahead. The entire hallway appeared eerie and almost completely vacant. Another extinguisher hung askew near the corner.

“You too?”

Tess hesitated and her eyes narrowed. “Who else is looking for him?”

“Uh, Marlene. She’s been asking around, trying to find him.”

“Marlene?” There was incredulity in her voice. “What do you the Fireflies need with Robert?”

The young man snorted. “You think she’d tell me?”

Joel noticed another resident sitting in a chair against the wall with his arms folded across his chest. This one appeared to be either sleeping or comatose. Joel couldn’t have cared less either way. A wire cage sat beside him. Inside were a handful of pigeons gently cooing.

“Well, what did you tell her?” Tess seemed unfazed by this other man’s presence.

“The truth. I got no idea where he’s hiding,” Lawrence replied.

“Good man,” she said. “Hey, you stay out of trouble, all right? Military’s gonna be out in force soon.”

“Yeah,” Lawrence replied. “See you around.” He walked a few feet further and then took a position by leaning beside one of the locked doors, shoving his hands into the pockets of his coat. Joel met his gaze as he walked by and said nothing. Joel lived by one simple rule: the less friends you had in the zone, the better.

He and Tess walked along in silence, approaching another turn. Joel lagged a few feet behind her in her shadows.

Once alone again, Tess spoke as she turned left down another hallway. Her voice was low: “Marlene looking for Robert? What do you make of that?”

“I don’t like it,” Joel grumbled. “We better find him before the Fireflies do.” He could still hear the warning sounds from the emergency alarm wailing outside the walls of the building.

Finally they reached the end of the hallway. An old sofa cushion, stained and mildewed, sat against the far wall. To Joel’s immediate left was an open doorway. Tess strolled inside without knocking and Joel followed her.

They entered an apartment with sparse furnishings. Windows lined the far walls, their dingy glass partially obscured by broken levolor blinds. A small wooden table squatted against the wall to the right, sporting a few plates and bowls. The walls were in the same dilapidated condition as the hallways: marred by peeling paint and water stains. The wooden floor was warped in places and littered with debris.

In the center of the living room was a pale area rug, a worn leather sofa and a gray loveseat.  The apartment was occupied by a sole resident sitting alone on the edge of the sofa. Behind the loveseat stood a battered mahogany bookshelf showcasing a busted television, and nailed to the wall beside it, for entertainment, a dartboard.

Tess approached the man without a hint of concern. “This is us,” she said to Joel, exhaling.

The man on the sofa sat with his hands in his lap and looked up from a fog of either drugs or alcohol. “Hey guys. How’s it going?” he asked, a slight slur to his words. He didn’t bother to stand.

“Shit’s stirring up out there,” Tess replied. Joel was near the window and could hear the sirens still blasting their alarm. “How we looking over here?”

“Ah,” the man said, scratching his stubbled chin with dirty fingernails. “It’s been quiet. No signs of military or infected.” The man’s eyes lifted to Joel’s. They regarded each other a beat before the man glanced away.

“That’s what I like to hear,” Tess said, her tone cheery.

The man made a vague gesture to the entertainment center behind the weather-stained sofa. Joel waited for the man to acknowledge his presence but the stranger avoided his gaze. The air was thick with an uncomfortable silence; there was something about this friend of Tess Joel didn’t like. He wished she was as guarded as he had become. It only took one loose pair of lips for the military to make damn sure neither of them were heard from again.

Joel moved toward the mahogany case. Ripped through the drywall and wooden slats behind it gaped a jagged hole, big enough for a man to step through and barely hidden by the edges of the bookcase. Tess took up position on one end of the entertainment center and motioned Joel to the other.

“Joel, gimme a hand with this.”

He gripped the edge of the heavy piece of furniture and together they slid it out of the way. The books on the top of the shelf fell and an empty bottle tumbled onto its side.

As Tess stepped through the hole and disappeared into darkness, he heard the man on the sofa snort. “Y’all take it easy out there.”

Joel didn’t reply but the hairs on his neck rose and sent a feeling of dread throughout his body. He jumped through the hole and fell into a pit of blackness.

He felt Tess’s presence beside him.

“God,” she gasped. “This place reeks! They need to watch what they throw away down here.”

They swam in a sea of darkness. A disgusting Molotov aroma of sour milk, human waste and rotting wood filled his nostrils. He could feel the gag in his throat rising.

In the distance, a gas-powered, single-stroke engine purred. The generator. He heard Tess reach for the light switch and flick it on, and in the next instant the underground basement was filled with light. Joel squinted, raising a hand to shield his eyes.

“Let there be light,” Tess pronounced.

Concrete floor, wooden tables. Iron beams embedded within the brick walls. He followed Tess around the corner into a room to her right. Now they were crawling through a makeshift tunnel, a shielded industrial lamp pulsed with light above their heads.

“Let’s grab our gear,” Tess said.

A concrete pipe waist high stretched across the entrance to the next room. Electrical cables hung low, suspended from beams in the ceilings. The place looked like a mining operation from the old west. Joel wondered how long the wooden pillars would forestall the inevitable cave in that was sure to come.

He vaulted himself over the concrete pipe and soon found himself in the middle of a small workshop with metal shelves, wooden tables, toolboxes and parts bins. A few weathered maps and posters were affixed to the walls.

“Our backpacks are still here from last time,” stated Tess, seeing them on the workbench.

Joel approached the bench and took stock of his belongings. A weather-beaten, leather backpack with worn straps, a clip-on flashlight, a gas mask with one working canister. He picked up the compact 9mm automatic handgun, racked the slide. He hit the eject button and a magazine popped into his waiting hand.

“Not a lot of ammo,” he sighed.

“Well,” replied Tess. “Make your shots count.”

Always the optimist, Joel snickered to himself. He slung the backpack across his shoulders and followed Tess to a scaffolding covered with a ragged gray tarp and plywood.

“All right, Texas,” she said, turning to Joel with a mischievous grin. “Boost me up.”

Joel shoved the pistol into his back pocket and tiredly took up his position, back to the wall, body crouched low, hands forming a stirrup just above his bent knee.

“You ready?” Tess asked, as she prepared to place her foot into his cupped hands.

“Yes ma’am,” Joel replied. He’d become used to his role as a makeshift ladder.

With a running start, Tess leapt agilely into his grip and in one smooth move Joel hoisted her up above his head. Years of practice had made the two of them practically experts at this maneuver. She grabbed the edge of the scaffolding and, with a grunt of effort, scampered over the ledge.

Joel waited for her head to reappear. She lowered a hand to him, bracing the other against her knee. “C’mon,” she said, her tone brusque. Joel guessed the idea of lifting a hundred and eighty pound man with a single arm was less than appealing.

He took a step back and, like Tess, got a running start. He jumped high so as to make her job easier. She grabbed his hands in hers and grunted. Joel felt her muscles strain as she gathered all her strength and pulled him up to the ledge.

He managed to get one hand on the ledge and then used his strength to pull himself up, aided by Tess grabbing him by the arm. Finally he climbed his way up, grunting from the exertion. With a sigh he rose to his feet. Tess’s face was flush from the effort. The two looked at each other and nodded.

Without a word, Joel slipped past her, heading to the exit of the tunnel just up above. A large wooden door had been propped to conceal the exit and he pushed it up now, motioning for Tess to climb underneath it.

“Go on,” he told her.

She scampered through the gap and grabbed the edge of the door. “Got it,” she said, holding it up for him.

Joel slipped underneath it and then replaced her grip on the door, easing it down. They were now out of the tunnel and one step closer to the outside.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

The Last Of Us Novelization - Chapter Seven: An Example of Turning Your Screenplay into a Novel


They were living in the dead carcass of a city, Boston, and although it was summer, the sky overhead hung low and gray. Armed soldiers in full riot gear patrolled the rooftops of buildings and they moved like apathetic ghosts, making their rounds, stirring up pigeons. For most soldiers, their spark of enthusiasm had died a long time ago. A rasping melancholy settled over the city, oppressing both captors and captives. Each of the buildings, like the city itself, had become a hollow shell: no power, no running water, just a refuge for the hollow-shelled survivors inside.

Grimy buildings, broken windows, trash lined streets. This was the world in which Joel and Tess lived.

Reminders of the old life existed, but they were few and far between. An American flag, worn and faded, hung limply from the side of a building. An occasional movie poster or playbill still survived on some of the brick walls.

The world as it once was no longer existed. Within the few remaining quarantine zones left in the country, democratic rule had been replaced by military decree. The military, with its heart no longer in it, oversaw the day-to-day operations.

Two types of citizens lived under this new regime. The non-infected and the recently infected. The only way to distinguish the two was by use of a thumper, an electronic scanning device that bumped up against the base of the skull and took a split-second seismic reading of the brain. If the waves didn’t bounce from front to back without obstruction, that meant something bad: the infection had taken root and was metastasizing the brain. The military had only one mandate in these cases: to eradicate the threat immediately.

The infected didn’t have rights. Even if the symptoms weren’t evident - it took one to two days for the recently infected to turn - or even misdiagnosed, the military had strict orders to put you down. Shooting was less desirable than lethal injection because ammunition had become scarce and was a necessity against armed rebellion. Potassium chloride was agonizingly more painful than a bullet to the head, but to those in charge, much more cost effective.

Ragged awnings, cracked pavement with weeds in between. In every corner, rotting garbage piled chest high. This is what surrounded Joel and Tess as they stepped out of the building, capped by a suffocating gray sky overhead.

Tess looked up at the sky, trying to gauge the position of the obscured sun. “The checkpoint’s still open,” she said.

The broken touchstone Joel wore on his wrist had forced him to develop a keen sense of time over the years too. “Only got a few hours left until curfew.”

“We better hurry up then.”

The corner near the alley was empty save for a man and woman in tattered clothes having a water-cooler discussion by an overfilled dumpster. The green trash bin was covered in graffiti. Above the dumpster was a weathered FEDRA notice warning residents about curfew hours and the consequences of violation.

Joel caught the tail end of their conversation as he approached.

“Wait, are you serious?” the guy asked with surprise in his voice.

“I got served the damn papers this morning,” the woman sighed. “I’ve been selected for outside work duty.”

“That’s such crap. Soldiers are supposed to handle the outside.”

“I’ll be sure to tell them that.” She caught Joel in the corner of her eye. “What about you, Joel? You been summoned for this bullshit yet?”

He knew what the military was up to and wanted no part of it. “Nope,” he said simply.

“Yeah, I bet,” she said, laying on the sarcasm. No one trusted anyone in the zone. Everyone was on their guard.

But the fact was, Joel had spoken the truth.

Joel and Tess walked down a narrow alley between the two buildings and approached an open, wrought-iron gate. Someone had spray-painted the words SEEK THE FIRE on the side of one building and another FEDRA notice hung askew on the building facing the gate. As was common, most of the military warnings plastered here and there had been defaced. This particular one had the word FREE spray-painted over it in red. Graffiti in the zone was as common as the trash on the ground.

The alley smelled bad; it reeked of human waste.

This was what life in the zone had devolved to, if you could call it that. Weeds, overturned trash cans. Boarded windows. Most of the government warning signs bore the familiar Fireflies mark of rebellion: two back-to-back “F”s spray-painted in luminescent colors. Some bore the distinctive shape of an actual firefly.

They turned a corner. The main street stretched at the end of the alley and Joel could see an armed soldier patrolling the rooftop up above. As he entered the street, he noticed a short line of survivors behind a wire fence, with an armed guard blocking one end. Above the line was stretched an awning with the words RATION DISTRIBUTION CENTER printed in black faded letters.

A recording of a woman’s voice droned from overhead speakers: “Attention. Citizens are required to carry a current ID at all times. Compliance with all city personnel is mandatory.” The military had use of gas-powered generators to provide what little power it needed to keep the dwindling population under control.

An armed Humvee in green camouflage paint raced through a puddle, spraying the sidewalk in dirty water.

Tess leaned tiredly against one of the concrete barricades and motioned to the line across the street. “Look at that,” she said. “Ration line hasn’t opened yet. Must be running low again.”

People in line fidgeted with visible irritation. A woman raised her voice: “Hey! How much longer?”

The guard sighed heavily. “Lady, when the rations arrive, we’ll open the door. All right?”

Joel and Tess turned to their right and headed up the street. To their left was a section of the street that was off-limits: wooden police barricades wrapped in barbed wire with armed guards in fatigues standing between them. Joel knew what this area of the street was used for and it made his stomach turn.

Just as they passed, several men in dingy white hazmat suits with gas masks and machine guns emerged from the door of the building behind the barricade. They ushered a handful of frightened citizens into the street and in short order forced them to their knees. “Hands on your fucking head,” ordered one of the men with gas masks. “Do it.” Then he turned to his associate and said, “All right. Scan ‘em.”

His associate then proceeded to check each one, placing the handheld thumper against the base of the skull. Joel watched, his intestines twisting into knots as he feared the worst.

The machine hummed, then beeped. “He’s clean,” spoke the masked man. He went to the next, and then the next. When he reached the third, a young frail woman, the machine’s tone sounded an alarm. “Got a live one.”

The men in suits shoved the woman to the ground as she squirmed underneath their grip. “I’m not infected,” she pleaded in a horrified voice. “It’s wrong! The scan’s wrong!”

“Hold her down!”

Moving with impassive efficiency, two soldiers did exactly that while a third administered the lethal injection. The woman’s body jerked spasmodically as her muscles and organs grappled with the flow of potassium chloride in the bloodstream. In a mere matter of seconds, cruelly, the battle was over.

Joel’s stomach churned with disgust.

The soldiers quickly resumed their duties, placing the thumper against the skull of the last remaining citizen.

But after having just witnessed this military brand of justice, the poor bastard pushed the scanner away and jumped to his feet. “Fuck this,” he cried. He made it two feet before shots rang out and bullets peppered his back.

Just a typical day in the city, thought Joel, as a wave of cynicism shuddered through him.

One of the remaining survivors trembled with fear and gasped, “Oh shit!”

“Shut up!” ordered the leader of the group. “Consider yourself lucky. That’s what happens when you hide out in a condemned building.” He turned back to his associate and poked the air. “Call the clean up crew.”

One of the men in fatigues turned his attention to Joel and Tess. “All right, people. This isn’t a show. Keep moving along.”

Joel walked past the man lying in the street, stepping around the widening circle of blood.

Tess sidled up beside him and shook her head. “Seems like more people are getting infected.”

“That just means more people are sneaking out,” he said in a low voice.

He glanced up, past the concrete boundary of the zone with its tall guard towers and looked to the gray sky in the east, to what once was the Boston city skyline. It seemed surreal, like a Salvador Dali painting; buildings leaned against each other at impossible angles, seemingly in defiance of gravity.

They approached the main gate just as another Humvee came to a halt and a helmeted soldier in fatigues scurried out from behind the wheel. Up top was a female soldier with her arm resting on an M2 .50 caliber machine gun. She spoke to the man now on the ground. “They fuckin’ lynched them,” she said.

“The entire squad?” the driver asked.

“Yeah. Way I heard it, they lined them up in the street and cut ‘em up. Retribution and shit.”

Joel edged toward the gate slowly, rounding a large puddle of water. His curiosity was piqued but he didn’t want to attract any attention.

“We ever lose control of this place to the stragglers, that’s what will happen to us.”

Stragglers. A cute term for the way the military viewed Joel and the others: just a bunch of troublesome inferiors waiting for their turn to die.

“That will never go down here,” the driver assured her. Army trucks rumbled in the distance. “Any straggler even looks at me the wrong way, I put his ass down.” His eyes met Joel’s and they held each others’ gaze before the man looked away.

The female soldier snorted. “I’m sure that’s what they thought at every other QZ before riots broke out.”

“It’s those goddamn Fireflies,” the driver said excitedly. “They keep stirring the population up. We put an end to them. That’s how you solve this shit.”

“We agree on that,” the gunner said with a nod. And then, spotting the straggler, she spun the machine gun in Joel’s direction, a defiant challenge shimmering in her eyes.

Joel grunted and moved away toward the gate. The time for that battle would come, he told himself. All in due time.

Tess was hanging back near the checkpoint, waiting for him.

“I got us all new papers,” she said as he approached. “They shouldn’t give us any static up there.”

The checkpoint was a wide, double-gated barricade large enough for military grade trucks in the center and pedestrians on the right. An armed guard patrolled the walkway overhead. An American flag hung loosely from a pole at the top of a guard tower where spotlights had been affixed to the hand railing. Just beyond the checkpoint lie the main plaza surrounded by more of the same decrepit buildings.

They walked past the orange and white barrels marking the entrance to the checkpoint and Tess turned to Joel and whispered, “Just play it cool.”

The diesel engine of a camouflaged truck grumbled as the checkpoint guard waved an arm at the driver. “Drive on through,” he ordered.

Joel approached the guard dressed in full riot gear as he turned casually to Tess, motioning for the papers. Tess handed him the two passports without saying a word.

“Let me see your IDs,” the guard said tiredly. He had deep circles under his eyes, his face sagged with exhaustion.

“There you go,” Joel said, placing the passports into the soldier’s gloved hand. The man’s other hand loosely held an M-16 pointed downward. As Joel waited, he considered the soldier. The man looked like he hadn’t slept in days.

The man looked at the papers with unfocused eyes, forcing himself through the motions. “What’s your business here?” he asked. In his tone was a zero lack of interest.

“Got the day off,” Joel replied. “Visiting a friend.”

The guard nodded. “All right. Move on through.”

And just as the guard stepped aside to let Joel and Tess pass, an explosion ripped through the diesel truck that had just cleared the outer checkpoint gate.

“Oh shit!” cried Tess as they recoiled from the blast, hands instinctively going to their ears. A searing blast of heat swept past Joel as the ground beneath his feet trembled. He felt a fishhook snag his arm belong the elbow and threaten to rip it loose. His body felt on fire and a painful ringing stung his ears.

“Get out of here!” the guards shouted. “Go!”

The men rolled the gate closed as orange flames engulfed the truck. Joel was still recovering from the blast as the world spun madly around him. As he regained his senses, he turned and saw a machine gun battle erupt beyond the gate. Above the ringing in his ears he heard the muffled cry of a guard: “Close it up! Fireflies!”

He felt a bullet whistle past him and then the gentle touch of a hand upon his throbbing arm. It was Tess. Although he couldn’t hear, he could see she was pleading with him to get the hell away.

“Joel,” she said, her voice sounding as if he were submerged underwater. “Come on! Let’s get out of here!”