Storytelling Essentials: The Maze Runner

STORYTELLING ESSENTIALS: The Maze Runner

I want to talk about The Maze Runner today, a novel written by James Dashner and adapted into a screenplay. I saw the movie with a beautiful girl this week and I really enjoyed it. I wanted to point out some of the reasons it was such an effective story.

The movie begins with Thomas rising in an elevator shaft. He reaches the top, and the hatch doors flip open to reveal twenty or so teenage boys staring down at him. He has no memory of his past, and does not even recall his own name. He tries to run, only to discover the young men are surrounded by giant walls that close and open by their own power. When he stops at an open section of wall, thinking about running into the spooky woods, one of the boys violently shoves him to the ground, then assures Thomas that he was lucky for the knockdown.

This is an outstanding opening. Let’s discuss why:

1. Who is this young man? I’ll tell you who. He’s any and every person. Thomas does not recall his past, let alone his own name. Creating a protagonist with general characteristics is a great way to give the readers someone they can relate to (think Harry Potter).  Still, crafting a protagonist who can stand out in any crowd will create someone more memorable, as long as your readers can identify with them on some level (think Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Lenny and George from Of Mice and Men)

2. Instant conflict – The elevator Thomas rises on travels at an incredible rate of speed. It looks as though he is headed for a collision at the rooftop. Instead, the doors open to find a group of boys staring down at him. But these boys don’t readily accept him as a friend – they look like a group of punks who want to start trouble with the new kid. Thomas tries to flee, only to find he is trapped by the giant walls surrounding the area, and will be forced to live with them.

3. Suspense – So many great questions are raised in this opening. Who is this protagonist, and why was he sent here? And where is ‘here’ – what is this new world? And the moving walls – we already know he is in a maze (the title kind of gives it away), but what is behind those walls? After Thomas is violently shoved just short of entering the maze, he is told he should be grateful. The viewer is left to wonder what could possibly be behind those walls that’s worse than a violent, forceful knock to the ground. It isn’t until later we learn about the mechanical creatures lurking behind them, and by the time we do we are already expecting them to terrify us.

We want to know the answers to these questions, and more specifically, the answer to this one – Will Thomas find a way out of the maze? (that’s the plot)

Anyway, I strongly suggest you go check out this movie. And bring along a beautiful date if you can, it will only make it more enjoyable.

– Thomas M. Watt

– Author of A New Kingdom

For the love of good Brandy – Part 2

(part 1)

FOR THE LOVE OF GOOD BRANDY – PART TWO

“Tom, wait!”

Tom lowered his meat cleaver at Brandy’s approach. He had been fighting with Mike, who had come to his home in an effort to win back the gorgeous blonde woman.

“Don’t hurt him!”

Tom looked at Mike, who was still holding his switch blade and breathing intensely. He wanted to kill the man for coming to his property and trying to take back the woman whose heart he had crushed; the woman who Tom had given his heart and soul to piece back together. Tom turned around and called out to Brandy.

“He’s not going leave without you, doll. He’s come for a fight, so that’s what he’s gonna-“

Tom stopped his sentence short when he felt a sharp pain in his gut. His mouth came open and he struggled for air. He slowly looked to see Mike’s smiling, twisted lips tugging up his long rolling beard.

“That’s my doll, not yours,” said Mike.

Brandy screamed. “You monster!”

Mike ripped the knife out of Tom’s stomach, leaving the handsome man to crumble to his knees. Brandy turned around and stormed back inside, locking the door behind.

Mike looked down at Tom as blood puddled on the ground around him.

“Suck it cunt,” said Mike.

He spat on Tom then stepped on his side as he walked over him. He licked the blood off the switchblade with his tongue, then smeared the sweat from his beard with his sleeve. He proceeded towards the front door. Brandy was his, and he was going to make it known.

* * *

Brandy sat on a stool inside. She needed to hide, and she knew it. Mike was coming, and he was going to be violent.

But she couldn’t think clearly. Tom, the love of her life, had just been stabbed in the gut. He was dying, and there was nothing she could do about it. The best she could do was call the police.

Brandy got up and raced over to the phone. She dialed 9-1-1 and waited for the operator.

“Hello?”

“Operator! Oh my God, thank God!”

“Mamn, what’s wrong?”

“My husband!” Brandy got too choked up to go on.

“Mamn? Is there a problem with your husband? Did he do something to hurt you?”

“No, no, I just,” she lost her words again. Tom was outside bleeding to death. She needed to be there for him. She needed to tend to his wound.

“MAMN! Is this a prank call?”

“NO!”

“What did your husband do to you, mamn? What’s wrong?”

“Nothing, no!” Brandy paused, took a deep breath, then gathered her words. She opened her mouth then tried to explain what happened as calmly as she could. “He just got-“

Before she could get in another word, the line cut out.

“Hello? Operator!”

Nothing but the humming tone of a dead line was left to comfort her. Brandy covered her mouth and her eyes went wide.

“Operator?”

The window from the back door exploded to fragment. Mike punched out the pieces that remained. He stepped into the living room then flipped out his switchblade.

“Excited to see me?”

Brandy’s bottom lip shook as she spoke. “What do you want?”

“To get another taste.”

“I’d rather die.”

Mike laughed, then started walking slowly towards her. “That’s fine with me.”

TO BE CONTINUED…

– Thomas M. Watt

– Author of A New Kingdom

A New Kingdom by Thomas M. Watt

1st full review of my book! Thanks a ton to Dave Higgins, who is always fair and honest.

Davetopia

A New Kingdom by Thomas M. WattUnlike many authors narrating stories with a strong element of religion, Watt neither ignores other religions nor consigns them to falsehoods and evil magics. Instead he posits a world in which the benefits of any honest faith are the benefits of the true faith. Similarly, he does not condemn science itself. Combined, these acceptances add immensely to the sense this novel is about a world-spanning invasion by aliens rather than a crude allegory.

When aliens invade Earth and kill his father, James O’Keefe takes refuge in a nearby military facility. At odds with the leader of the bunker and thirsting for revenge, he returns to the surface and is quickly captured by the aliens. Faced with a choice between submission to the God that let his father die and the benefits of collaboration, he soon abandons his revenge for a place beside Mendax, the alien’s leader.

The story is an…

View original post 406 more words

For the love of good Brandy – part 1

Tom watched through the kitchen window as the truck came to a screeching halt. He turned to Brandy, then kissed her on the cheek.

“Everything is going to alright. I love you.”

She nodded then looked away.

Tom searched the kitchen drawers until he found what he was looking for – the meat cleaver. He took it with him, opened the front door, then walked out to his front porch. He clenched one fist and kept his expression stern as he waited for Mike to step out.

Mike slammed the door closed, took three hard steps in Tom’s direction, then stopped.

The only sounds between the two men were the rushing wind and rolling tumbleweeds. For a while it seemed like neither of them would speak, until Tom finally opened his mouth.

“Give it up. She’s mine now.”

“She only went to you because I left her heartbroken.”

“You’re wrong.” Tom swallowed. “She ran away from you.”

“And why do you think that is,” said Mike. He pulled out a switchblade from his pocket, then moved closer.

Tom took a step back then reached behind his back, where he’d tucked the meat cleaver into his jeans. He pulled it out and held it with as steady a wrist as he could manage.

Mike started laughing. “A meat cleaver? Wow, wouldn’t have expected that out of you.”

“Stay back. Get in your truck and leave, then no one gets hurt.”

Mike stopped, then shook his head. He hacked spat with fury at the ground. He ran a hand through his hair then pointed as he commanded his words. “I leave without Brandy, then i am the one who gets hurt.”

“C’mon,” said Tom. He flipped his blond lock back with the rest of his smoothly combed hair. “You don’t care about her.”

“Bullshit I don’t.”

“You cheated on her.”

Mike stopped. The two were six feet away from each other. Outside of striking distance, but steps away from the circle of death. The sudden gust of wind swept Tom’s curls and brushed Mike’s rolling beard.

“You just don’t get it.”

“What’s to get? You broke her heart, Mike. You left her in shambles, and I’m the guy who picked up the pieces. Now you expect to come back here and steal the puzzle?”

“The box said age ‘don’t be a cunt and up’.”

Tom scoffed. “Very funny Mike. You always were a jerk, you know that?”

Mike raised his voice and gestured to his chest with both hands as he spoke. “You ever ask yourself why, you idiot? Haven’t you ever wondered why Brandy is crazy about me, and not about you? Why she is doing everything she can to keep from loving me, and everything she has left into trying to love you??”

“What are you saying?”

“Do I really gotta say it?”

Tom buttoned his lips. He breathed heavily through his nostrils, then raised the meat cleaver over his left shoulder and grunted loudly. He took a hard swing at Mike, who jumped back and narrowly avoided it. Mike flipped out his switchblade and backed away as Tom continued to chop after him.

“Hey, what the fuck!”

“I love that girl Mike! And she loves me! Stay out of our lives! Get away from here!”

Mike tripped and fell back. The blade fell out from his hand and went spinning along the ground. He crawled after it as Tom hurried behind. Tom took chop-after-chop at his ankles, but his attempts to de-foot him were all near-misses. Mike reached his switchblade, picked it up, then twisted around. The tip of his blade was pointed at Tom’s neck. Tom loaded his meat-cleaver down by his hipside, preparing for a woodchop-like swing.

Both men stopped at the sound of a door swinging open and the shriek of a frantic woman.

“Tom, no!”

It was Brandy.

TO BE CONTINUED…

– Thomas M. Watt

– Author of A New Kingdom

Storytelling Essentials: Rising Tension

STORYTELLING ESSENTIALS: RISING TENSION

The key ingredient to a powerful climax is the rising tension that precedes it. This is one of the more complex elements of storytelling, but the ability to implement it into scenes separates an amateur author from a professional. Let’s take a look at an example of a scene with rising tension.

* * *

Larry had ten minutes to get to Benji’s house. If he didn’t make it in time, Benji would slaughter his dog.

The entire thing was out of control. It all started with a small bet among friends. Larry never could have guessed their sick game would have spun this far out of control…

Larry ran faster as he approached the street corner. He wasn’t too far away, if he could just-

A street parade. Of all the days, the Fat Pride parade had to be today. Why, God, did they have to fill the sidewalks and proclaim their mutual fondness of morbid obesity on this day, of all days. Larry stopped. He didn’t have any options – how was he supposed to wiggle through these giant marshmallows?

The images flashed through his mind again – the blazing car, the confused car wash guy, and then his wife Leona. Leona at the swingers club. Leona with… them.

“Dammit!” screamed Larry, as he punched his thigh.

He didn’t have time to think about that now. His dog was next, unless he could get there in time. He checked his watch – seven minutes. He had to trek about a quarter mile in seven minutes.

Larry looked at the main roadway then gulped. The big boys and girls were marching through the street as they waved hoagies like they were batons. He looked down at his own gut and gave it a jiggle. Larry was qualified.

He tore open his button down flannel then ran into the roadway with the rest of the parade. More than a few onlookers seemed to notice he wasn’t in costume. But it wasn’t them he was worried about – it was the group of policemen pointing at him a little ways up. They were on their radios. They were still looking for him, and Larry knew it. Every step he took towards his house brought him closer to his own arrest. Still, he proceeded.

It should have ended that night – right at the bar, where it all began. The ‘quarter toss’, they had called it.

The game was simple. Larry was fifteen drinks in when he’d invented it. He took a quarter, then made a deal – if it landed on heads, Larry would buy the drinks. If it landed on tails, Benji would. Larry won that first toss, but incited a competitive nature in all of them that led up to this.  Everything from the purses of their wives to the trophies of their children had been wagered. Then the quarter game seemed boring – they needed a bigger fix.

And it all too quickly escalated into this game of exhausting challenges with huge payoffs and ridiculously high stakes. If Benji got to his house in time, he’d get the kind of prize that every man with blood in his veins and juice in his dick dreams about – but if he didn’t, he’d have to explain to his wife why their dog’s head would hereby be placed on the mantel piece above Benji’s fireplace.

“That’s him!” yelled one of the cops. The group scattered out, clubs drawn, and chased after him.

Benji took one last glance at his watch – two minutes left. He looked up. His house was six down. He had to book it, but he was no triathlon athlete.

The cops were having trouble squeezing through all the fatties behind him. Larry was having trouble breathing.

That’s when he noticed it – the segways! A bunch of the big boys were driving them at a furious pace. They weren’t like the segways mall cops used – these were the ferraris of the stand-up, two wheel vehicles.

“Get off or I’ll eat you!” Larry barked at one of them.

The man looked scared out of his mind, and with one more grunt Larry startled the man enough to jump away.

Larry took the ride, turned the handle, and zoomed along the street. He turned around and watched as the cops gradually came to slow, realizing the futility of their pursuit. He weaved with ease between parade floats and men in sumo-wrestler attire. He checked his watch – 30 seconds. Larry looked up and laughed. He was going to make it. He was going to win the bet. He was going to have Benji’s wife-

Larry turned onto his driveway. He felt his heart skip a beat when he saw it – the front gate. It was locked, and he didn’t have any key. It was about ten feet high, with sharp spikes at the top.

He checked his watch again – fifteen seconds.

That was it. Finished. No chance.

He’d never jumped anything over 4 feet in his life. Well he did in high school, but that was only because he was on the-

Wait. He had a chance. It was a long shot, but it existed.

Eight seconds.

Larry turned and looked. A round man held a towering wooden fork. Larry took it from him without hesitation then started charging at the gate.

“Hey!” came the yell from behind.

Three seconds.

Larry planted the pronged end of the fork into the cement, pushed off his feet, then rode the handle as the fork used his own momentum to propel him into the air. Larry flew like the Michelin man were he a superhero.

One second.

Larry passed right over the doormat. He smashed into the front door with both feet and blew it open. He landed inside Benji’s house, on top of his front door, as a cloud of wood chips and dust puffed up around him.

“Well well well,” said Benji, holding an axe in one hand. The dog’s head was already locked in the guillotine. “Looks like you made it after all.” He sighed, then set the weapon on a table.

“You know the deal,” said Larry. “Go tell your wife.”

A short while later, Larry sat on Benji’s couch watching the football game.

“Here you go, Larry.”

“Thanks Benji’s wife,” he said, as he took the sandwich from her then had a bite.

“So, I have to ask… Is this really your wildest fantasy?”

“Not till you put a beer in my hand it isn’t.”

* * *

Okay, that was a long one (And sorry if you hate Larry, but sometimes assholes are more fun to watch).

Let’s take a look at the various elements employed, and figure out why exactly you felt the urge to read on as you approached the scene’s climax.

1. Suspense. Right off the bat, we learned that Larry needed to get home in ten minutes in order to save his dog from being slaughtered. This raises questions in the readers mind. Why is Larry’s dog’s life at risk? Why does he have only ten minutes to save him? These types of questions will compel your readers to read on right from the get-go. People read stories to get answers – but in order for your answers to matter, you need to raise the right questions, first.

2. Conflict – there are three major elements that keep Larry from getting to Benji’s house free-and-easy. The first was the ‘fat pride’ parade, the second were the cluster of cops, and the third was the locked gate with spikes at the top.

So, what exactly caused the tension to rise?

It was the combination of these elements. The main thing that pressed you to read on was the ‘ticking clock’ mechanism. This is any deadline you give to your protagonist. Even as we are reading back story about the origin of the strange game Larry is playing, the ticking clock is in the back of your mind. You are always aware that Larry has ‘x’ amount of time to attain his objective, and the fact that this ‘x’ is dwindling every moment creates a sense of urgency in the otherwise leisurely hobby of reading.

Stakes played a large roll as well. Nobody wants Larry’s dog to be slaughtered, it’s innocent! The ticking clock wouldn’t have mattered if the dog’s life wasn’t at risk, however. Try to imagine how this scene would have read if there were no stakes –

Larry had ten minutes to get home or else Benji would be really mad at him.

I bet you’re thinking something along the lines of ‘Oh, poor Larry… Have a nice life softie, if you need me I’ll be dealing with real problems while you risk getting your feelings hurt.’

Now the other element was the pay-off. If Larry gets home in time, something really good happens to him. I wasn’t too clear as to what that would be, so there’s a touch of suspense there as well.

These three ingredients – stakes, objective, and conflict, will make a good story whenever mixed together. Learning how to weave them effectively enough to create ‘rising tension’ is a skill that can be honed, but it takes both awareness and practice, just like anything else.

Hope this helps!

– Thomas M. Watt

– Author of A New Kingdom

Scene fun – Joe vs. zombies

Let’s craft two versions of the same scene, one better than the other. I’ll explain the difference afterward.

* * *

Joe came home to find the television eradically buzzing in the living room. He didn’t think much of it, so he simply turned it off before preparing himself lunch. He searched through the cubbard until he had two slices of white wonderbread and peanut butter, the crunchy kind.

He poured himself a glass of milk, then sat down. As he ate, he reflected on the days events. The zombie infestation was unprecedented, full-blown, and all-too-real. Joe always hoped for the best, but prepared for the worst. The sound of rapid footsteps prompted Joe to turn and look – a zombie was headed right for him! Before Joe got another bite of his sandwich, the zombie got a bite of him – and Joe was infected.

* * *

Ok, that’s scene 1. Let’s try that again, and see how some simple changes can make the scene more effective.

* * *

Joe slammed the front door the second he set foot inside, blunt axe in hand. Right when he did there was a grumble. Like a dog. Like a rabid dog…

“Hello?” said Joe.

He heard a slow creaking, followed by a sharp snap. Like someone tiptoeing over broken glass.

Joe clenched his fists. He crept through his kitchen. Could one of those things be here? He couldn’t even bear the thought of it. The entire day he’d been running. And he’d witnessed what those monsters did when they got their hands on uninfected humans.

As he walked through the hallway he heard another grunt. It sounded like it came from Julia’s room – his daughter.

“No, Julia!”

Joe quit tip-toeing and broke into a sprint. He kicked her door open just as he heard a window shatter. He entered in to find a parent’s worst nightmare – Julia’s bones were left in a heap of blood in tissue, like left-over ribs. Her head was partly detached, from the gaping hole in her throat, and lying on an ear.

Joe turned her head and stared into her baby blue eyes. He pet back her angelic hair with a shaking hand. “My girl,” he whispered. “My girl.”

There was a creak in her closet. Joe picked up the axe, gulped, then stood up.

* * *

Okay, let’s go over the major differences.

1 – Tone. There is no sense of ‘impending doom’ in the first scene, whereas in the second there is. Style is more important than sounding smart.

2 – Peanut butter and jelly? Who gives a shit. What kind of bread and the crunchy/smooth adds absolutely nothing to the scene. It doesn’t even give the reader a better idea of Joe’s character, so it needs to be trimmed. “Joe made a peanut butter jelly sandwich and ate while he reflected…” Is how it should have read. Take notice – every scene has a focus. In this scene, the focus SHOULD have been the question of whether a zombie was inside his place. PB & J does not strengthen this question in any way. Notice the blunt axe in the second scene does add value (it increases the stakes, as it gives us yet another reason to fear for Joe’s safety.

3 – By far the biggest problem is the late introduction of the zombie. Do you notice how little it mattered when Joe got attacked? Why is that? It was a total surprise. Was it the weak description?

Nah dawg. I could have written the best, most intricate zombie-attack-moves and it wouldn’t have mattered (think about how much better the second version was – and you didn’t even SEE the zombie).

This scene suffered because there was no suspense. You have to prepare your reader for what is to come – you have to tell them (indirectly) what is to come. The moment your protagonists suspects something is up, so will your reader. And guess what? Even if there was no zombie, just a stray cat running through, you would have paid more attention from sentence to sentence. Just like potential girlfriends/boyfriends, readers need something to worry about to keep them interested – and if you go so much as a page without giving it to them, you will lose them for good.

– Thomas M. Watt is a script analyst and author of A New Kingdom

Scene Fun: Keith fights for his wife – Part 1

Let’s craft a scene together. Before we begin, however, let’s establish some scene necessities, so we know not to go astray.

Protagonist: Let’s call him Keith.

Objective: Keith needs to get to his cell phone to call his wife before she boards a plane and flies to a different continent, to live with her mother. (Notice the stakes – if Keiths fails to get a hold of her, he will lose her forever. This could appropriately be considered a ‘psychological death’. The threat of dying, in one form or another, is necessary to keep the viewer involved in the protagonist’s journey. Increasing the stakes will always add weight to your story. Stakes should be regarded as the torment your protagonist will endure should they fail in attaining their objective.)

Antagonist: Floyd, the two-faced scumbag who is friends with Bethany, Keith’s beautiful wife. He told her that Keith had been cheating on her, when in fact Keith hadn’t been. *The reason Floyd told Bethany this has yet to be determined, but will eventually come out.

Sound ridiculous? It is. In fact, I have no idea how to string all these items together. Oh well, let’s see what develops: 

*Motivation for the antagonist is incredibly important. The antagonist CANNOT be a character who exist solely to make fun of the protagonist then laugh loudly with their henchmen.

* * *

Keith couldn’t believe it. Twenty-two years. Twenty-two years of blissful marriage, until this brought it to a screeching halt – Bethany had somehow been convinced beyond any shadow of a doubt that he’d been cheating on her. she’d already booked her flight out of the country. He had only minutes before she’d be boarding and turning off her phone. After that, there’d be no way to get a hold of her – Once she got to the village of Checkistan, she’d have no access to technology or international mail. That’d be it – the end of a blissful marriage, all because Bethany’s schmuck friend named Floyd had convinced her that she’d been played.  And Floyd, who Bethany had said was a ‘kind, sweet-hearted man’, was unfolding to be the biggest nut-job Keith had ever met in his life. 

“Why are you doing this?” Keith asked him.

“Why did you cheat on Bethany? She deserves better than you,” said Floyd. He pressed the button to the drill and gave the bit a quick spin.

Keith stared in disbelief. Here he was, roped to a chair, and bound by his hands and feet. Facing death. Why? That’s what he couldn’t figure out. What compelled this sicko to destroy his life? Keith had run into him on a couple of occasions, but was never made aware that he’d done anything to upset this wack-job. 

“I never cheated on her. You made that up.”

No response.

“Why?”

“Because you DON’T DESERVE HER, Keith. You’re a despicable, vial human being. She told me all about those women she caught you flirting with. Don’t tell me you don’t masturbate to them whenever you’re taking a crap!”

Keith winced his eyes closed. This was the man who was destroying his life – this absolute moron. “What do you want? What can I do to prove how much I love my wife to you?”

“It’s too late for that now. You failed her. She must leave you and visit her mother.”

“What about you?”

“What about me?”

“What’s in it for you?”

“I get to teach Bethany’s tormentor a lesson.”

“Tormentor? Notice the ring? She’s my wife. That means she’s married to me, not you.”

“None of that matters anymore. After today, you will be dead, and I-” 

“She’s got no love for you. You’re nothing but a shoulder to cry on.”

“Ha!” Floyd said. “After today, I’ll be Bethany’s penis to cry on.”

Keith shook his head. “Your understanding of sex bewilders me.”

“Quiet!” Floyd spun the drill again. He approached with a twisted smile, and held the grinding construction tool with a flamboyant wag near his shoulder. 

“You’re a strange man.”

“You’re one to talk,” said Floyd. “A few moments from now you won’t be a man at all.”

“What?”

Floyd stuck the tip of his tongue through his teeth, then dropped down to his knees. He placed his hand on Keith’s knee, then crawled his fingers up his thigh like they were the legs of a spider.

“I’m going to make it so you never cheat again.”

“What are you talking about,” said Keith. He was scared now. Keith gulped, then tried to rip his knee into Floyd’s face. Unfortunately, the most movement he could manage was little more than a wobble. 

“I’m about to unscrew the screw that made you screw.”

Keith stared at him. Floyed smiled back and continued to rev the drill bit.

This wasn’t a joke anymore. This was serious. 

* * *

I don’t like my daily posts to run a full chapter length, and unfortunately this one looks like it’s got a long ways to go. I’ll resume this another day, sorry to cut it short.

– Thomas M. Watt

– Script analyst for SpecScout.com

– Author of A New Kingdom