The Old Man and the Tree – Part 2

fallen tree

*If you missed part 1, start here!

“You’ve got to be goddamn kidding me,” He said.

Harker was in disbelief that the neighbor’s kid had brought along four others, all around his age. They were all worthless when it came to removing a tree the size of the one on Harker’s lawn.

“What do you kids want? I don’t have any Nintendos.”

The children looked at one another with confusion.

“We want to help you,” said Jhonny, who had returned with his friends. Jhonny wore black rubber boots that ran all the way past his knees. They were adult sized.

“Help me?” Said Harker, with a haughty laugh. “No thanks. I’d rather get rid of this tree on my own.”

“But you can’t,” said Jhonny. “It’s too big for one person.”

Harker’s eye caught hold of Gerri-anne as she walked by with her three dogs. She walked her three dogs every morning and always donned a white tennis jacket.

“Hello Harker, how are you?” she said with a wave.

“Good Gerri-anne, how are you?” said Harker.

She smirked and continued on her way.

He had met Gerri-anne a few years earlier, shortly after her husband had passed away. He was a son-of-a bitch and left her with nothing, spoiled their kids everything. Her kids never visited or called, he had heard. Still, Gerri-anne always kept in shape and managed to smile. Her lawn was a mess though, but that wasn’t really her fault.

Harker shook his head, then returned to Jhonny. “Well you’re too small to do any good,” said Harker. “This job requires men.”

“We’re men,” said Jhonny.

“Oh yeah?” said Harker. “Saw that trunk for me.”

Harker dropped the saw on the lawn and laughed.

“Let’s go Jhonny,” said the little boy with the blue cap, named Fred. “This guy’s a dick.”

The children turned around and started walking away as Harker laughed. Jhonny began walking with them, then stopped abrubtly. He returned and grabbed the saw, than began sawing.

“What the hell are you doing!” yelled Harker. He jumped and grabbed the saw away from Jhonny. “Don’t you see the edge on this thing? It’s too sharp and dangerous for you.”

“But you said-”

“Don’t put words in my mouth, son! Why don’t you go on with your friends and play paddleball or something?”

“Jhonny, c’mon!” said Fred. “He doesn’t want our help, he said it himself.”

“I’m staying,” responded Jhonny.

Jeremy, the biggest of the kids, wrapped his hands around his mouth and hollered: “Stop trying to replace your dad, Jhonny! He’s dead, and this guy’s more of a grandpa, anyway!”

The other children erupted with laughter as Jhonny gazed down at his rubber boots. He itched his eye and started walking away.

“Good luck,” he muttered to Harker, without bothering to face him.

Harker scratched the back of his head.

To be continued…

  • Thomas M. Watt
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Storytelling Essentials: Deep 3rd Person Perspective

*This was originally posted over a year ago. I will have a brand new sketch posted tomorrow at 7:00 AM PST tomorrow. See you then!

STORYTELLING ESSENTIALS: DEEP THIRD PERSON PERSPECTIVE

So you’ve decided to write fiction, but have no idea what perspective to use. You love the way “Hunger Games” reads in first person, and wish to emulate it, but are uncertain how to describe situations and events that might be beyond your main characters current level of intellect. You decide to move to third person, but a short ways in realize that your story lacks emotion – and every time you try to broadcast the feelings of your protagonist, they come directly out-the-mouth through dialogue. Not very effective, seeing as how everyday people don’t commonly say, “I’m really scared right now.” And if they did, they’d be a pretty wimpy hero (Sorry, just saying).

I prefer deep 3rd person perspective. It’s sort of a hybrid of 1st and 3rd person that has become increasingly common in recent years. Here’s what it looks like –

* * *

George walked over to the wobbly wooden table, sat down, then stared at his now-cold cup of coffee. Since he’d first set that mug down, so much had changed…

George took a sip. He needed to think. He needed to be awake, no matter how much he needed to sleep. George groaned, ran his fingers through his oily, slick-backed hair, then crossed his arms and hunched over the table top. What could he do? Where should he start?

He winced his eyes closed, then gulped. The fact that he’d lost had yet to sink in. It was a terrible thought, but the fact that her murderer was still out there gave him something to keep his mind off her gruesome death. The way she looked, half naked, burn marks everywhere, and that thing she had on her face. What was that? Was it even human??

George shuddered then smeared his face. He took another big gulp of coffee, then smeared the brown from his sun-worn lips. He stood up so fast he knocked the mug down to the floor, bringing it to shatter.

He caught himself just short of swearing, then grabbed the chair backing with the tightly closed fold of his hand.

“Barbara,” He said with his eyes closed, then sniffed. “Who did it. For the love of God, show me something. Tell me who murdered you.”

After a short wait in dead silence, George let out a muffled whine, then scrunched his eyelids together.

A creak.

George’s eyes shot open. He slowly raised his gaze, and looked in the direction of the ominous sound. It had come from just above the mantle piece, right where he kept the picture from the fishing contest. The one Barbara always begged him to take down.

George remembered that picture fondly, almost able to smile even now from it. He’d caught the biggest fish in the water that day, won the contest and everything. He never understood why Barbara refused to smile when their photo was taken. He never understood why she always hated that photograph.

The creak sounded again. Same spot.

“Barbara?” Said George. The grin left him. He walked with a kind of slanted focus, keeping half-an eye on the picture. As he crept closet to it he felt his heart begin to beat a little faster.

“Are you… trying to tell me something?”

A thump. The sounds were coming from straight above, up in the attic. George didn’t think much of it – He was too rusty to even consider climbing the ladder to check it out.

George stopped by the picture. He placed his hand over the corner of the frame.

“Oh my God.”

He fell back a step, tripped, then crashed onto the short living room desk. He shut his eyes and pressed his hand to his heart. That man. That man in the picture Barbara had always asked him about. Jim was his name.

George gulped. A quick race of noises came from the attic – like footsteps.

After George won the fishing contest that day, he’d never seen Jim again – until this day. At the crime scene. Why the hell was Jim there, anyway?

George’s eyes flew open. He remembered something else – Jim asked where he was living at nowadays. And George had given him his exact address.

There was another thump from above. George had to get up, but he needed Barbara to help him…

* * *

Okay, so a lot of deep third person perspective in there, but you know what other story telling element was frequently employed? If you tuned in to my post a few days ago, you may have guessed it already – suspense. Once again, suspense is information withheld. Every time you found yourself asking, “Who? What? Why?” That was thanks to suspense, and is an effective tool to keep your readers reading. If you want to be a diligent student of the craft, you’d be wise to find and circle those sentences on your own, that practice employing them in your own scenes. When writing suspense, the questions are more important than the answers. In other words, your mind doesn’t compel you to keep reading because of how awesome the thing on Barbara’s dead face was – it compels you to keep reading because you don’t know what it was, but want to.

Deep third person perspective is merely a blending of plain, straight-forward depiction of events, persons, and things, with the inner thoughts and feelings of the protagonist. To better display the difference in perspectives, let me show you how the opening to this scene would have looked had I written it in third person limited:

George sat down at the wobbly talbe. He rested his hands on it, then let out a short winded breath. He balled his hand into a fist, then uttered a soft moan.

“Barbara… I can’t believe I’ve lost you.”

There was a creak. George raised his eyes to check it out.

The reason you now feel alienated from George, rather than involved with him, is because every description is entirely physical. The voice is that of the author, rather than George’s own, and the scene is akin to what you would see if observing, rather than partaking in. Here is how it may have read in first person:

I sat down in the chair and looked at my cup of coffee. It was cold by now. I couldn’t believe all the events that had transpired since the time I’d first brewed that cup. I couldn’t believe I’d lost Barbara. I couldn’t believe how she’d been killed; the way her body looked.

One of the drawbacks of first person is you must remain in character at all times. Your descriptions, your insights, even your suspense – everything is coming straight from the mind of your protagonist. She is the writer, not you.

Deep third person perspective may sound confusing, but after some practice you’ll get the hang of it. Of course, deep third person is my preference, and every author is different. Some even prefer second person:

You see George sit in the chair. You can tell he’s nervous by the way he stares at his coffee. You watch his hands tremble.

Blows, doesn’t it? Yeah, don’t ever write in second person.

 Hope this helps!

– Thomas M. Watt

– Script Analyst for SpecScout.com

– Author of A New Kingdom

The Great Protagonist

protagonist

A protagonist is regarded as a hero because they take up a quest to attain something they have determined to be worth risking their life for. Their journeys are filled with obstacles and adversaries that at first appearance seem impossible to overcome, but the protagonist’s resiliency and resourcefulness often leads them to victory.

Whether we are pursuing a promotion, an accomplishment, or a personal goal, we should keep in mind that the obstacles along our journeys are an integral part of our own stories. Just like a memorable protagonist, we should allow conflict to fuel our desire to become stronger, and constantly adapt to meet the problems we are facing.

Will you allow your antagonizing force to defeat you, or will you rise above it? And in the moments when your demons creep up on you, will you undergo the internal change necessary to continue on to your own finish line?

Something to think about.

  • Thomas M. Watt

‘Master’ Progress

writer

I’ve just passed the midway point in Master (10000 words), and I’m very happy with how it is turning out. Spent yesterday evening figuring out a fulfilling way to end it, and though it is going to be complicated, i think it will have the emotional impact I’m looking for; the kind that makes for a climactic finish.

I’ve also gone to two writing groups in the past week. Though I’ve always had an aversion toward these groups, I’m pleased to say that I’ve met a couple of people who are serious about their pursuit of becoming published authors. Unfortunately, a large portion of these groups enjoy the creative freedom of writing too much to submit their work for criticism and analysis, and that is the kind of group I’m truly looking for.

If anybody out there is looking for feedback on their current work in progress, drop me a line in the comment section. My current work is going to be 20,000 words (100 pages), but I’d be happy to swap small sections at a time.

  • Thomas M. Watt

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

Storytelling Essentials: Story Structure

Storytelling Essentials: Story Structure – Act 1

Like it or not, all good stories have an underlying structure that has been purposely put in place to keep you involved throughout the course of the tale. In screenplays, structure is so straightforward and strictly adhered to that certain beats are expected to take place on specific pages. In novels, especially those of the literary variety, structure is much more negotiable, and one can get away with adhering to it loosely (not if you want to be a best-selling author, however). So, what is this big-bad-structure-thing that you fear will suck all of your creative juices dry?

Relax, it’s nearly the foundation to the incredible skyscraper you’re about to erect. Let me point out the basic elements of the first act. From here on out, you would be wise to look for these parts in every movie you watch or book you read. Trust me – you will start to notice them, and become a better writer for doing so.

Act 1 –

This is where we get to know the protagonist. What does she want? What are her goals? Give the reader a reason to empathize with her. The sooner the reader can connect to your protagonist on an emotional level, the better.

Inciting Incident – Theoretically, this should occur as early as page 0. Many argue it should come later. In a 120 page screenplay, anywhere between pg. 8 – 15 is appropriate. The inciting incident changes everything for your protagonist – it gives them a reason to take up a new quest. Whether it be the death of a parent (like in my novel, A New Kingdom), the attack of a terrorist, or the sudden outbreak of Malaria, the inciting incident makes the protagonist’s former way of living impossible. Their leisurely life has been taken from them – and the only way they can ever to return to it is to take up a new quest.

1st plot point – This marks the end of the 1st act and the beginning of the second. In screenplays, it typically falls between pg. 25 – 30. It is the decision of your protagonist to take up their quest. They know what they want, and they’ve decided to go after it, even if they haven’t figured out how to succeed yet. The antagonist, or ‘the force that stands against the desires of your protagonist’, is known at this point.

I will introduce you to the remaining acts in other posts, and hopefully get more in depth with any concepts that may seem alien to you. Act one should take up the first quarter of your story, in case you were wondering.

 If you want to learn more about story structure, I highly recommend Story Engineering, by Larry Brooks. I know it had a huge impact on my approach to writing, and I could have never gotten my current position as a script analyst without first understanding the concepts laid out in that book. Kevin Brown, my good writing friend whose blog can be found at creative mysteries.net, also agrees that it was a tremendous influence and help to him.

Hope this helps!

– Thomas M. Watt

– Author of A New Kingdom

Conflict: Damien Vs. Ronnie McDee – Round 2

CONFLICT: DAMIEN VS. RONNIE MCDEE ROUND 2

Greetings everyone. Let’s pick back up where we left off yesterday. If you weren’t here, we talked about the importance the role of conflict has in maintaining the interest of your readers. If you’d didn’t read the previous lesson, you’d be wise to go back and take a look, that way you’ll be sure not to miss anything.

Yesterday we wrote three versions of the same scene. In the first, Damien casually left his office building and greeted his wife outside. In the second, we added a ticking clock, which in this instance was (literally enough) a time-bomb. In the third scene we added Ronnie McDee, a sinister clown who was meant to be Damien’s ultimate antagonist, but wound up making everyone feel dumber for ever considering any of my advice by behaving like a cartoon goofball (and I don’t know that there is any higher insult to a full grown man then to consider his comedic fodder goofy).

So we’ll add conflict to what we already have, and observe how the scene improves.

level 1 – an objective (get to his wife)

level 2 – a ticking clock (time bomb)

level 3 – a nemesis (Ronnie McDee)

Level 4 – Let’s get a real nemesis. Someone we’re actually afraid of. So where do we find an antagonist worth fearing? It’s not about we. It’s about Damien. What’s his greatest fear? What are his short comings in life? Ah, you see what I’m getting at?

Adding an internal conflict to this scene. From here on out, Damien is no longer the blank faced cubicle worker, he’s about to become a someone. Let’s cut the shit and get to the scene already.

* * *

Damien watched the circular lights flash as he descended floor after floor in the elevator shaft. He knew the bomb was going to go off in a matter of minutes. He knew his wife would die if he didn’t get to her in time. And he knew the only person he ever prayed to be struck dead was waiting for him at the bottom floor. There was a battle ahead, no doubt. But Damien was having trouble focusing on what lay ahead of him. He was to busy trying to suppress what was supposed to be behind.

The memory felt like it had been branded to his brain.

This wouldn’t be the first time Damien found himself face-to-face with Onaldo. And both encounters involved a woman of his dreams. Only the last time, Damien lost her.

He remembered her light hair, her dark eyes, and the way she kissed his cheek. Every day since her death, Damien felt the burden of his failure. His wife always told him he’d never moved on – and in fact, Damien never did. She was not the type of girl you forgot about.

The elevator reached the bottom floor and the shiny silver doors rolled open. Standing twenty feet away from him was Ronaldo, wearing his typical yellow jumpsuit and red suspenders.

“Good afternoon, sir. Can I interest you in a McBlurry today?” Ronaldo raised a frag grenade in his right hand. “Or perhaps a big and tasty?” He unzipped his orange pants, whipped out his white-and-red member, then began helicoptering it around in a circle by the swing of his hips.

“You’re a sick fuck,” said Damien.

He stepped out of the elevator and clenched both fist so tight his knuckles cracked. He did his best to hide his nervousness, but couldn’t hide his subtle gulp from Ronaldo. The clown caught everything.

“Ah! Now I remember. What was it I served you a few years back?”

“Don’t.”

“I think I know.”

“DON’T!”

“She got a happy meal, didn’t she?”

Damien shook his head as his breath fumed through his nostrils. He heard something beep – no doubt the timebomb, somewhere nearby but hidden.

He winced his eyes closed. The memory was resurfacing. The most painful moments of his life. Her name was Lela.

“What was her name again?”

“You say it I’ll cut out your fucking tongue.”

Ronaldo began tapping his chin with his finger. His eyes rolled up toward the cieling. His painted lips raised in the corners, smiling that sick smirk he always got before he killed someone.

“Ah yes, I remember. It was for your daughter, LELA!”

***

Sorry, but I’m going to have to leave you there, due to time constraints. I’ll try to pick back up here tomorrow, and go into detail about whatever I feel may be of benefit to you. For now, notice all the questions raised throughout the scene. They mostly have to deal with Damien’s fear of returning to his past. (Why is he afraid? What happened between him and Onaldo? Who was this girl? Also, where is the timebomb, and will it blow before Damien gets past the clown?)

Hope this helps!

– Thomas M. Watt

– Script Analyst for SpecScout.com

– Author of A New Kingdom