The 10-Page Torture Test
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 on: May 20, 2017, 08:10 AM 
Started by Pitchpatch - Last post by Pitchpatch
Rakan posted this 90-page dystopian SF screenplay to Reddit.  I quite like the writing, but right from the first page I was compelled to "fix" something I knew would bug me more and more with each page turn.

Read for yourself the opening page, then I'll tell you what bugged me.


The staccato pounding of footsteps and the frantic scratching of paws against metal.

The surroundings are desolate, steam-punk, corroding.

Rusting stairs spiral up, ending in just a touch of baby blue light emanating from a door.

A girl (19) runs past us, her long dark hair bobbing behind her. Her physique is lithe, on the taller side, brown eyes laden with desperation.

After her follow the dogs. Huge, deadly mastiffs.

One, two, three.

Then a woman (43). Face as tough as sandpaper, skin clinging to bone, a wide frame, let's call her the Warden.

Glancing down, the girl sees that the dogs are only a few flights below her. She looks up: only five more storeys to go.

Fights to control her breath.

The dogs are gaining, spittle dragging on the floor after them.

Light streams from the door, the girl rounds the corner and--

The first dog bites her ankle. She topples over, trying to fight it off. The second dog jumps-

-and lands on her chest, ripping at her clothes. She writhes away from the attack, but the third dog begins to attack, forcing her to stay down.

Even as she works to fight them off, the girl's body twitches as the dogs maul and savage her flesh.

A piercing whistle from the Warden. As fast as they had started, the dogs leap back.

Her face is mangled, her body irreparably torn.

The Warden looms above, crouches down to the girl.

Through the girl's one open eye, we see fear in its purest form.


You're a fast one.

The girl wheezes, trying to stop the blood spurting from her neck.

WARDEN (cont'd)

Got nice legs.

The Warden lifts the girl above her shoulder and flings her off of the catwalk.

The girl's body flies down, past the floors, finally hitting the ground with a resounding


FADE IN on action and conflict -- good stuff.  This hook will keep readers reading.


The pacing and focus are muddy as hell.  For me, the words do not create a fully coherent sequence of images and events.  I found myself halting several times to make sense of the narrative's handling of time and space.

The layout of the stairs, for example.  It takes a moment to realize we're in a stairwell.  The girl whips by, and we're told dogs are chasing her.  The way it's written, it feels like the dogs are nipping at her heels, but then we learn the dogs are still a couple floors down.  We learn the girl's destination is five floors up and, after that quick moment to catch her breath, she's off again.  We briefly cut to the dogs, then we're back with the girl and she's already at the blue door.  It feels like she covered those five floors in a crazy short amount of time.  Not only that but the dogs have caught up too.

I figured this page would read better by shot-slugging the action and adding some narrative glue.  Also, I sprinkled some figurative language here and there.  This page, as written, has none.  To add color, energy, and humanity to your writing, every screenplay page should include some figurative language.

Here's my revision.  I use about 40 words more, but I think it's worth it.


Staccato POUNDING of footsteps.
Frenetic SCRATCHING of claws against metal.


Narrow and rusting, it spirals way up to a door emanating baby-blue light.

Everything here is desolate, steam-punk, corroding.


tall and lithe STREAKS BY, her long black hair whipping behind her.

At the hand-rail she stops to glance down --


sighting one, two, THREE MUSCULAR MASTIFFS, jaws snapping, drool flapping, driven nearly mad by the close scent of prey. This anarchy of tooth and tail and claw under the casual-but-firm control of --


a heavy woman with sandpapery skin and unblinking eyes that tick left and right, lizard-like.  Now ticking upward to observe --


twists away from the rail, fights to get her breath back.  She peers up: only five floors to go.


bark, jostle, snort and lunge, responding to the Warden's every command and encouragement as they relentlessly ascend the stairwell, floor by floor, closing in on --


turns a corner and the blue door is there, the handle is right there!  She reaches for it --

HUGE TEETH seize her ankle and the lead mastiff claims her, drags her down like a crocodile snatching a gazelle from the river's edge.

The girl rolls onto her back, fists clenched but knowing the fight is over already because the second dog has her now, and the third.  Screaming defiance while the dogs RIP AND TEAR, until the lead mastiff nuzzles her throat and BITES --


The dogs retreat slowly, growling in protest.

With one good eye left in her mangled face, the girl gazes up in terror as the Warden crouches over her.


You're a fast one.

The Warden's smile tells the rest: But not fast enough.

The girl wheezes, feebly tries to staunch her spurting neck.

WARDEN (cont'd)

Got nice legs.

Until now.  Now they look like flayed slaughterhouse meat.

The Warden easily deadlifts the girl above her head. FLINGS her over the railing, and waits for the jarring, wet --


 on: January 21, 2017, 03:49 PM 
Started by Pitchpatch - Last post by Pitchpatch
Josh's screenplay DEAD SEA popped up on Reddit today.  Let's feed the first page through the 01PTT grinder.

One major problem is a lack of figurative language.  We're evaluating a single page, sure, but I'd expect to see at least one metaphor, one bit of connotative language on each page.  Not using figurative language is like playing poker without the royalty cards.  Screenwriting is chiefly about putting evocative images in your audience's head, and the best tool to craft written images is figurative language.  Hopefully Josh will begin exploring the power of figurative language during his next rewrite.

DEAD SEA opens with a decent hook.  Coupled with the logline, you can figure out much of what's going on.  Here's my revision for Josh's posted logline:

"To get a passing grade on her literature report, a high-school student uses an undiscovered novel by a prophet who hid it to keep its contents from coming true."

It doesn't feel quite there yet, and I'm not sure it captures everything Josh intended -- see the Reddit link above to read his original logline.  While I'm here I'll take another pass:

"To pass her literature class, a high-school student uses an unpublished novel written by a prophet who hid it believing its contents would come true."

A little better.  Now the 01PTT can begin.


EXT. THE LAKE - 1963 - DAY

It's small.  Man-made perhaps.  Smooth and glassy.

DANIEL GARNER, 35, in tweed jacket and khaki pants, stares across the water.

Maybe opening tight on Daniel captures the right tone for this story's first shot.  Maybe starting with the lake is right.  Only Josh can say.  What I like about the revision is how we hook into the slug, piggyback on it for context: "It's small" (THE LAKE).  That opening sentence is contemplative, as if we're already inside the protag's POV.

Nearby is a picturesque house with a rusty mailbox.

"Just a few yards away" is a wordy way of saying "nearby."  Is it important we know the lake shore is only yards away from the lake house?  We're talking maybe six feet.  I don't see the need to be precise here.  We have three key elements to arrange spatially in the reader's mind: the lake, Daniel, and the lake house.

Before we rearrange the flow, read the scene to the end.  Can you tell me where Daniel stands in relation to the house?  We were told roughly six feet divides the house and the lake edge.  Is Daniel standing on the lake edge?  Doubtful.  "He JUMPS into the lake, typewriter in hand."  Lake shores typically slope gradually into the depths.  So his jump will put him in -- being generous here -- three feet of water.  So he won't be drowning today.

No, if he's standing there ready to jump, clutching his metaphorical anchor, he's already well beyond the shore, seemingly poised over the lake's dark depths.  Which means he must be standing on a jetty/pier -- or perhaps on the lake house's deck which hangs over the water.  Both setups eliminate this scene's vague character staging.  So let's also add those spatial cues to make this scene flow without gaps.  I'm going to omit the "rusty mailbox" for now, because I'm guessing it's an unimportant detail.  I could be wrong.  If the mailbox turns up later, we'll know.

Here we go: rewriting the rest of the scene, then I'll swing back and explain the whys and wherefores.

EXT. THE LAKE - 1963 - DAY

It's small.  Man-made perhaps.  Smooth and glassy.

Alone on a wooden jetty, DANIEL GARNER, 35, in tweed jacket and khaki pants, stares across the water, a picturesque lake house at his back.

He writes on a scrap of paper.

Beside him sits a heavy vintage typewriter attached to rope.

Daniel inhales deeply.  Folds the paper, seals it in an envelope.

He removes his shoes.  Places the envelope in one -- it says "TO EMILY."

He knots the typewriter to his ankles.

He looks relaxed now.  Tranquil.  He hefts the typewriter, hugs it tight.

And JUMPS into the lake.

"He writes on a scrap of paper."  We compressed the original two sentences into a single efficient one.

Here, we're told the typewriter "sits at the edge of the lake."  There's our confirmation that the author imagined Daniel leaping into the lake from the shoreline.  See my earlier comment for why I call Nope on that.  Had this been a quarry lake, yes, leaping from the "shore" would land you in deep and deathly waters.  But this is not a quarry lake.  Who builds a picturesque house in a disused quarry?

My  revision snips away unneeded words and words that are at odds with our understanding of the scene.  "A bit of rope" understates the reality of how much rope is required to securely bind the typewriter to Daniel's ankles.

Again, we combine two sentences into one -- "folds the paper," "seals it" -- compressing the amount of text the reader must parse to arrive at the same understanding.

"We see" isn't such a big deal.  "We see 'TO EMILY' written there."  It's fine.  But can we do it without breaking the fourth wall?  Of course.

He removes his shoes.  Puts the envelope in one -- it says "TO EMILY."

or how about:

He removes his shoes and presses the envelope ("TO EMILY") into one.

or with em-dashes (pick your poison):

He removes his shoes and presses the envelope -- "TO EMILY" -- into one.

There we go: letting grammar and context do the work of "we see."

It irked me to think Daniel might cheat by shackling just one leg, leaving the other free to join an escape attempt if he changed his mind on the way to the lake floor.  

Wait, did I just spoiler myself?  Perhaps Daniel survives this attempt, and we are at the mercy of an unreliable narrator?

"A look of tranquility washes across his face."  Look around: lake, water.  Yes, "washes" is a nice active verb.  But in this context of water all around it feels jarring and misplaced, and far too florid.

"His face becomes tranquil."  That's the gist of it.  We might say, "A tranquility fills him."  But these seem perfunctory and far from show-don't-tell.  Let's give Daniel his moment, and instead of focusing on his expression let's describe what he's doing.

Daniel knots the typewriter to his ankles.  Hoists the dead weight to his chest.

For a heartbeat he savors the warm sun and the cool breeze -- for a heartbeat, and another, and one more.

He JUMPS into the lake.

Cranking the feels there -- for better or worse!

"We get the sense she's been waiting a while."  How?

DAD: It won't come any faster if you're watching!

Bingo.  She's waiting for mail.  Dad's line is key.  So if Dad's line tells us all we need to know about what she's doing and for how long, can we trim the "we get the sense..." sentence?  Because it feels a bit cart-before-horse-ish.

CASSIE WILLIAMS, 16, in sweatpants and a Plumtree t-shirt, looks out her window at the mailbox outside.

Day'um, we sneakily melded two sentences again, saving words and whitespace.

"She disregards this."

A fine, dandy, and suitably droll sentence.  Gets the job done.  But I couldn't resist adding some sassy POV:

She disagrees.

Disregard is about the same as ignore.  But "disagrees" -- without having to spell it out -- implies an exaggerated eye-roll or an annoyed gritting of teeth or one of many other signifiers angsty teens deploy to silently convey OMG, DAD, SERIOUSLY?!

That the mail truck arrives two seconds after Dad hollers his wisdom about how a watched pot never boils is too delicious to ignore.

Her Dad yells from the kitchen.

DAD: It won't come any faster if you're watching!

She disagrees.  What she needs to do is stare HARDER.

And -- what? -- the mail truck arrives!  Cassie hoots with joy.  Runs --


past her Dad --

DAD (not looking): Slow down.

CASSIE:  Suck it, Dad!


out onto the lawn.  She grabs the mail out of the mailman's hands.

And we're done.  This opening page performs two jobs pretty well: hook the audience with the strange suicide opener, and introduce Cassie in a way that quickly gets the audience on her side.  Having Cassie keenly awaiting a delivery is a clever way to involve the audience from the get-go.  I'm going to grab a fistful of stolen glory and say I marginally boosted Cassie's appeal on the first page with that "Suck it, Dad" line, seeded from the delightful father-daughter exchange Josh planted.

 on: July 29, 2016, 01:20 PM 
Started by Pitchpatch - Last post by Pitchpatch

The flight-sim recreation above is based on this episode of AIR DISASTERS.  More info at Wikipedia.

It's more than images.  It's more than words on a page.  It happened.  It's horrible.  And it can teach us about storytelling.


"July 19, 1989"

The WHERE and the WHEN.  Establish without delay.

"United Airlines Flight 232, a DC-10, en route from Denver to Philly, stopping in Chicago"

THE PLAN: fly safely from Denver to Philly.  This sets the audience's expectations.  We understand what will happen if everything goes to plan.  But if all goes to plan, and the end result is the expected result, what we have is not a story but a non-story.

OUR HEROES.  The captain.  The co-pilot.  The flight engineer.  All veterans of the flight cockpit.  The lives of these passengers could not be in better hands.

THE STAKES.  Almost 300 passengers.  But here's the kicker: it's Children's Day at United Airlines.  Today, kids fly for a penny.  So there's an unusually high proportion of children on board: 52.  A lot of these kids are traveling alone.  Please keep that in mind while you watch the flight-sim recreation.

CATASTROPHE.  In script terms, we hit the INCITING INCIDENT and we hit it HARD.  That plan we all agreed on?  Forget about it.  Flying to Philly would've been nice, but you know what's better?  NOT DYING.  In a heartbeat the needle tracking the fortune of our crew and passengers plunges from positive to deeply negative.

COPING.  Our heroes reel from the unforeseen event: a tail engine failure has knocked out the hydraulics — all hydraulics, including the backup systems.  Not supposed to happen but — That.  Just.  Happened.

IMMEDIATE THREAT.  Now impossible to steer, the plane twists to the right, shedding altitude.  The crew must get the wings level and do it NOW.  If they don't, the plane will turn turtle.  This is the first of several TICKING CLOCKS our heroes must race to beat.  The captain shuts off the wrecked tail engine.  They quickly consult the manuals.  Nothing.  Nobody planned for this impossibility.

SOLUTION.  If they can't steer with flaps and hydraulics, maybe they can steer with the healthy engines.  It's called differential thrust: throttle up on the dipping right-wing engine and throttle down on the left-wing engine.  It's crazy.  It's dangerous.  And it works.  The pilots nudge the plane level.  The immediate threat is over.  Now they can deal with the ultimate problem: how to land this plane and save lives.

NEW STORY QUESTION: Will everybody die?  The crew earned our trust, respect, and empathy by responding smartly and selflessly to the sudden, overwhelming threat.  Most importantly, these heroes have given the passengers (and us) hope.  We believe they have a chance to save the day.  Now we really care.  Hope and love are the twin elixirs that hold back the eternal black nothing.  Will this story end in light or darkness?


IMMEDIATE THREAT.  The plane starts to pitch down.  Without any stick control the only way to lift the nose is apply more engine thrust.

SOLUTION.  So that's what the pilots do.  It solves the dive problem but creates a new one: how can the plane land if the only thing keeping the nose up is speed?  When building story, most of the time you'll want to deploy a solution that works but creates a new, worse problem, like here.

NEW PLAN.  The crew know they must land, and soon, before they run out of altitude.  They call in their emergency and head for the nearest airport: Sioux City, Iowa.  The flight attendants prepare the cabin for a crash landing.

IMMEDIATE THREAT.  The plane starts to climb.  It will stall if this continues.  The two good wing engines are keeping the plane aloft.  If they stop it's game over.  The captain knows what to do: he eases the throttle.  The plane slows.  The nose dips.  And dips.  Now they're diving again.  He throttles up carefully.  The plane straightens.  Another crisis over, at the cost of too much altitude.  If this happens again they won't make it to the airport 55 miles away.

EXECUTING THE NEW PLAN.  The radio tower instructs them to turn left on a new vector.  They can't do that.  The plane only wants to go right, which they continuously counter with differential thrust.  But they must turn left to have any chance of reaching the runway.

SOLUTION.  Using the two good engines, the pilots relent and allow the aircraft to twist to the right.  They figure a full circle going right is less risky than fighting the plane to force it left.  As they turn and lose speed the nose pitches down again, complicating the maneuver and spending more precious altitude.  Sioux City is still 40 miles away.

ACT THREE (midpoint)

NEW DEVELOPMENT.  A flight attendant informs the captain about a DC-10 flight instructor on board who wants to help.  The instructor joins the crew and takes on the delicate job of working the engine controls.

EXECUTING THE PLAN.  Sioux City crawls into sight.  This is it.  Ten minutes and 9,000 feet of altitude until they attempt to land.  They can't cut engine power or the plane will nose dive.  But the plane can't land safely at this ridiculous speed.  All the captain can do is connect the plane with the ground and hope for the best.  As they approach death, the men joke among themselves.  It's not the joking you and I indulge in daily.  It's the camaraderie of men who together face the unthinkable and give their all only to learn their all is not enough.

There is no panic here.  Everything that could be done has been done.  There will be no new development, no new plan.  There will be only an ending.  In script terms we have reached the end of Act 3: the moment of greatest despair.

The captain decides to tell the passengers the truth about what's happening:

"Ladies and gentlemen, this is Captain Al Haynes speaking.  As you are probably aware right now, we are having some control difficulties with the plane.  We're attempting an emergency landing in Sioux City.  We'll be landing in approximately eight minutes.  We've got about as much control over the plane as we can get.  But I need you to understand that this is going to be a crash landing.  Please review your emergency procedures.  This is going to be worse than anything you have been through before.  You need to be ready.  We will do everything within our power to get everybody to the ground.  But we need your cooperation."


EXECUTING THE PLAN.  Speed remains everyone's biggest concern.  To bleed some of it, the pilots decide to manually lower the landing gear.  Without the hydraulics there's no way to tell if the gear will lock into place.  From here on it's entirely up to gravity.  If the gear doesn't lock then the plane will inevitably disintegrate on landing.  It works.  The gear deploys successfully and creates enough drag to slow the plane marginally.  They're still going 70 knots faster than any safe landing speed.  The plane is 16 miles from the terminal.  Passengers have just a few more minutes to come to terms with the probable end of their lives.

Remember now the 52 children.  Remember those among the 52 children travelling alone.  If you do — if you truly do — this is the moment when, as a writer, you roll your chair back from your desk and you sit there quietly and you think long and hard about life and literature, art and artifice, about entertainment and experience, and joy and pain.  This is a true story.  No writer will ever capture on that page and no director will ever capture on that screen one tiny sliver of truth about how 52 children faced death on that day in that sky.  Frankly, that's a relief.  A truth like that would irreparably break the best of us.

Back in the cockpit, the crew strap themselves in.  There's one more circling maneuver to make to align the plane with the runway.  Then it's full throttle again to keep the nose up and the plane in the air.  Despite the plane's frightening airspeed, it's dropping 1,600 feet per minute.

TWO MINUTES UNTIL TOUCHDOWN.  In their final moments, the crew manage a chuckle when the tower clears them for any runway — as if choice of runway was something up for consideration!

They're coming in too fast but they can't delay.  They'll get one chance to land.  Even if they do manage to land, how will they stop?  Yes, they'll attempt to brake and apply reverse thrust, but without steering and without hydraulics how effective will that be?  No pilot has ever landed a DC-10 at this speed or without flight controls.

THIRTY SECONDS FROM TOUCHDOWN.  As the runway rushes up at them, Captain Haynes yells, "Brace, brace, brace!"  The nose dips again and the plane collects more unwanted speed.

TOUCHDOWN.  The plane shears and crumples with the force of a hundred high-speed train wrecks.  Choking black smoke and white-hot flames erupt from the shattering, cartwheeling fuselage.  After the ground has swallowed the tumbling wreckage's massive energy, more than a third of the occupants are dead.  But almost two-thirds are alive.  Somehow this wonderful crew of flight professionals shielded 185 men, women, and children from certain death.

THE END.  What final note do we pluck?  Triumph or tragedy?  Hope or despair?  Here, the best of life and the best of fiction come together.  The answer: a bit of both.  In tragedy lies comfort and connection.  In hope we find power and purpose.  Done right, movies give us all that and more.

This 13-minute flight-sim recreation delivers, with its cartoonish computer graphics and its plain subtitles, all the elements of great storytelling.  Okay, maybe not ALL, but certainly everything necessary for a compelling story.  High stakes.  Ticking clocks.  Overwhelming misfortune fringed with a glimmer of hope.  Relationships forged in the heat of conflict.  Constant escalating problems beyond those our heroes trained for and the clever solutions the heroes concoct.  A hopeful ending that comes at a heavy price.  There's more to it, yes, but give me a movie with these things and I'll walk away satisfied.

 on: June 08, 2016, 06:03 PM 
Started by Pitchpatch - Last post by Pitchpatch
Hey there, M84.

Thanks for the feedback on my feedback.  (Got ourselves a classic feedback loop.)

Great to hear you've got (a) no ragrets, and (b) fresh ideas cooking.  It's a real thrill for me to watch writers conceive a scene and watch them nurture it through to maturity.

What I like most about these 10PTTs -- and revision writing in general -- is the puzzle aspect.  It's like Scrabble.  In this case, there's a sentence with words expressing an idea, and you score on how vivid, clear, and memorable the idea is.  Say you read a sentence and you score it a 26.  It's an okay score.  No one will fault you if you settle for 26.  But what if, after more careful consideration and experimentation, you see another configuration yielding a better score?  What if there's a 38 waiting for you, if you're willing to put in the extra effort?

For me, that's how the process feels.  (The irony for rewriting is, longer isn't necessarily better; discarding words usually gets you a higher readability score.)  I'll always want the 38.  I don't care if it's in my writing or another's.  That 26 won't do if I smell a 38 waiting around the corner.

Sometimes I know how to nudge a sentence closer to 38.  Sometimes I don't.  So long as that sentence reaches 38 -- by my hand or yours -- I can rest easy.  Well, at least rest momentarily.  Because there's always the next sentence.  And the next.

So, yeah.  Your pages took some hits, bounced off the ropes, but they stood their ground.

I didn't escape unscathed.  I never do.  I beat myself up doing these 10PTTs.  The conceit of it, the arrogance, the self-importance.  The audacity of meddling with another writer's words.  What gives me the right?  What do I presume to know over others?  By what yardstick do I claim to know better?  It feels shameful at times.  What do I know, really?

I know something.  I know a 38 disguised as a 26 when I see it.  I know when I see that shit going down, imma take a running tackle at you, 26.  You'll go down a 26, but you'll get up as a 38.

Rewriting, folks.  It's a strange, wonderful game.

 on: June 08, 2016, 05:23 AM 
Started by Pitchpatch - Last post by M84
Thank you Pitchpatch for taking the time to analyze my 15 pages!! Very helpful stuff here! Great lessons in structure and formatting along with insight on how a reader would interpret these pages. Again, thanks! (excuse grammar I'm going to free-write this)

I have already begun updating scenes and writing notes on possible structural fixes. Ex. To address the Rob(Julie's brother) intro issue - I'm thinking of adding a line of dialogue on page 6 when Julie walks into her apt.. like have the mother say "Your brother passed by and asked for you" then have Julie roll her eyes or something.

I'm also thinking of adding the aftermath of the opening flyby attack- show the bloody crime scene and have Rob investigate. Probably pop this scene in before Julie goes out to the club.
I.e. Police yellow tape. Red and blue lights from parked cop cars. Introduce Rob as he investigates bloody aftermath etc...

This would potentially fix Rob's intro, support the hook, and up the stakes early... Cop lights might serve as a "visual flourish" since Red/Blue/Pink Lights bounce off our 4 dirt bike riders when they enter the club a few scenes later.
**Just an Idea, I'll have to weight this scene out against the rest of the script to see if it works.**


The picture you added! (for pages 4,6, and 7) Yes x1,000,000! It's like you picked those images off my brain. ( I guess that's what a screenwriter feels like when they see their movie properly made)

Regarding revisions:
Page 1- Yes! I love the rewrite/reformatting it reads a lot better. This is definitely a keeper, minus a few changes I'll likely make. I did want to "misdirect" the audience a bit and play off the usual "city skyline establishing shot" thing to then reveal it's a living POV shot. As you said I have to articulate that on the page.

Page 13 (note 48)
Wowww absolutely love this revision. I love the way this reads. I'm talking about the "22 lines sans white space" version. I think this is a moment where we should indulge and take as much space (time) as needed. This works really well.


I'll try to add more comments soon! Again, this feedback has been invaluable.Thanks Pitchpatch! The first 15 pages came back from the torture test literally red and blue... bloodied and bruised. But as they say, "That which does not kill us..."  

 on: June 04, 2016, 05:35 PM 
Started by Pitchpatch - Last post by Pitchpatch


[I see I missed another misspelling of JULIE top of this page.  Suggests M84's not using Movie Magic or Final Draft, where character name typos rarely slip through.]


"Guides" is okay but, again, lacks conviction.  Rob's sole mission at this moment is to get his sister to safety -- and fast.  There'll be no gentle guiding.  "Yanks" connotes the same unrelenting grasp without stating "Rob doesn't let go of Julie."  Other strong verbs I considered: "tows", "hauls", "drags".  I figured "drag" to be a tad excessive, even in this situation.


Didn't want to repeat "Loner" is all.


LOL, this sentence is a clattering trainwreck -- but still delightful!  Because you feel the writer going flat out, exhausted and energized, trying to keep pace with the story spewing from their creative wellspring.  This kind of first draft writing makes me smile.  When a writer is in this enviable fugue state all is forgiven so long as they funnel that stream of images onto the page.  Capture first, clean later.

So, the first problem with the sentence is "them" and "they."  We must carefully manage reader focus during these fast action scenes.  That means careful placement of pronouns.  Use them only after establishing the nouns they replace.

In this instance, the pronouns stand for Rob and Julie, but it's not clear, because we didn't re-establish that we're back with those two.


Near the exit, Rob and Julie get swept up in a wave of fleeing clubbers.  Rob takes a last hard look at Cabo's table, considers Julie, and decides.  His hand at her back:

ROB: Come on, let's go!


And we'll quit there.

Overall?  I like this story.  Not a lot happened, but I like what's there.  It feels like this could go places.

Problems?  Plenty.

Top of the list is structure.  Hook is the invitation to the party.  [CORRECTION!  The hook is the descent into NY streets and the attack on the street kids.  But it made so  little impression on me -- with its unremarkable, detached antagonist POV -- that I forgot all about it!]  Perhaps moving the supermoto biker intro to the front serves as a better hook.

Inciting incident is the attempted murder of Cabo.  All of this should fit into 12 pages-ish, ahead of a 1st Act turning point around p.24.  I can tell you the inciting incident ends on p.17.  That's far too indulgent.  In the next draft the writer should savagely trim these opening pages to reduce page count.  Brutal, but necessary.

Grammar, punctuation, typos -- standard problems afflicting early drafts.  A persistent disregard for the fundamentals marks any rookie screenwriter as someone who's arrogant, oblivious, or NFG (no fucks given).  If you're the first, your name better be Tarantino.  For the others, commit to improving your craft.  Keep three browser tabs open:,, and for researching grammar rules you don't understand.

And we're done here!

Thanks for reading.  Thanks to M84 for the pages.

Coming soon: a different kind of 10PTT starring two drafts of the same iconic movie.

 on: June 04, 2016, 05:25 PM 
Started by Pitchpatch - Last post by Pitchpatch



Unfortunately -- or, in this case, fortunately -- there's no avoiding a weapon onomatopoeia here.  GUNSHOT! GUNSHOT! will not do.  It reads as lamely as PEW! PEW!

We don't have a lot of options for handgun sounds, but we have enough to do the job.  Here's the short list of candidates pulled from my writing files:


Observe how these words start with a hard consonant to match the concussive punch of a gunshot.  Note too the single syllable in most cases.

"BLAM" I would think is most used.  Then maybe BOOM! and CRACK!  I chose POW! for its simplicity, even though it skates perilously close to the now ridiculed PEW! PEW!

My favorite sound effect in a screenplay is Jim Cameron's use of KA-CHAK! for the terminator doing those one-handed shotgun reloads.  A more perfect alignment of word and sound there has never been, IMO.

Hey, I want to try something here.  Just an idea that probably won't work.  But gotta try new things, right?  "You have to be willing to take those risks.  In whatever you are doing, failure is an option. But fear is not."  That's James Cameron again.  He's kind of a smart guy.  And fearless.


making his way closer to:


The Loner approaches Cabo and --

pulls out a -- BLAM! BLAM! BLAM!


Rob reacts to the shots --


People SCREAM and PANIC.  The music dies.

What do you think?  Does the truncated description with the gun heighten or harm the moment?  I love to find moments where you believe you can trust the reader, where you cross your fingers and pray the context is clear enough to have your reader finish the thought for you.


No doubt there's a better word than "pry" but to me it conveys the right amount of forcefulness.  "Tries to get through" strikes me as lacking conviction.

 on: June 04, 2016, 05:19 PM 
Started by Pitchpatch - Last post by Pitchpatch



Nothing wrong with "BACK AT CABO'S SECTION" other than my penchant for brevity and my dislike for the word "section" over "table."

In this mini-slug we simply don't need to spell it out in full.  We have the preceding very natural match cut of "His eyes fixate on Cabo's section."  There's no friction to overcome.  BACK TO CABO.


"Javi talks to one of the bottle girls.  Boogs has his arm around a girl."

For me, these sentences clash, because they both end with "girls/girl."  It feels clumsy.  I'm not entirely happy with my revision, but at least it eliminates the clash:

"Javi talks to a bottle girl.  Boogs has his arm around another."

I couldn't quickly find a smooth arrangement that left one of these girls a bottle-service girl and the other not.  It was easier to make them both bottle service girls or both not bottle service girls.

Could simplify to:

"Javi and Boogs flirt with the bottle girls."

46.  DA FUQ??

Whoa, whiplash!  We had this same brief scene two pages ago!  Only difference is Lola's line: "Dance with Michael!" / "Dance with Omar!"

Da fuq is going on here?  Are we playing the repetition for laughs?  Given the identical description wording, I'd say not.  Looks like an editing error, a duplication left over from an earlier draft.  We'll have to wait until the author explains herself/himself.


Ah, okay.  "They don't see each other."  So, we're supposed to know they're brother and sister.  Therefore, the portrait in the earlier scene didn't depict them as children.  The portrait set up this moment so we would recognise Rob at the bar.  Coolio.  That earlier portrait scene still needs fixing, though.


This little sequence is as indulgent as it is awesome.  We're talking at most five seconds of screen time, 1/12 of a page, so five lines max.  Yet we've got 16 lines -- not counting whitespace -- devoted to this moment.

I hesitate to revise, because I LOVE my slow-mo shots and my character moments.  Go read my 10PTT for Trevor Mayes's 23 MINUTES if you dare -- a screenplay/movie told entirely in slow motion.  (Possibly no longer true, if what I'm hearing about later drafts is true.  I weep for the loss of what might have been a revoluntionary piece of cinema.  On the other hand, I understand the impossible challenge a pure slow-mo approach presents.)

You're here for the rewriting so, putting my reluctance aside, rewrite we shall.

Chino stalks by her.  Julie catches his gaze.



MUSIC turning glacial along with time.  The background fuzzes into a dream-like haze.


alluring and terrifying.


Frozen.  No breath.  No heartbeat.


Frozen.  No sound.  No movement.  ANNIHILATION.






walks away, eyes locked on her.


unable to break free until --


glances away and --

TIME catches up and --
SOUND pours in, loud and chaotic.

Goddammit.  That took 22 lines sans whitespace. I blew past the author's original line count by six.  GODDAMMIT!  But slow-mo is so much fun!

Okay, okay.  Funtime's over.  Kill your darlings.

Chino stalks by her.  Julie catches his gaze and

TIME SLOWS as they LOCK EYES.  Music turns glacial along with time.  The background fuzzes into a dream-like haze.

CHINO'S EYES -- alluring and terrifying.

JULIE -- frozen.  No breath.  No heartbeat.

THE WORLD -- frozen.  No sound.  No movement.  ANNIHILATION.

CHINO... smiles.

JULIE... smiles.

CHINO walks away, eyes locked on her, Julie unable to break free until --

CHINO glances away and -- TIME catches up and -- SOUND pours in, loud and chaotic.

There we go.  Down to about 10 lines, excluding whitespace.  We knocked it down by just over a third.  That'll do, pig.  That'll do.

 on: June 04, 2016, 05:10 PM 
Started by Pitchpatch - Last post by Pitchpatch



Rob's intro.  This is Julie's brother.  We saw a framed picture of him in the scene with Julie at home with her mom.  So we already know who he is.

Or do we?

Here's the description from the Julie/mom scene (my revision of same):

Julie kisses her.  On the way to the kitchen, Julie passes a portrait of herself and older brother ROB, and a framed picture of their father in police uniform.

Okay.  Except for one thing: how old are Julie and Rob in that portrait?  This is important, because how Rob's club intro plays out depends entirely on this glimpsed portrait.

Was the portrait taken when they were kids?  Or was it shot not too many years ago, and we easily identify Julie and Rob from that framed portrait?

If the former, we (the movie audience) do not know who Rob is when we see him at the club bar.  If the portrait is recent then of course we know who he is when first we see him at the bar.

Out of those two scenarios, the most dramatic tension comes from us knowing in advance who Rob is.  Otherwise when we see him he's nobody in particular and therefore unworthy of our empathy.

So, it's important to go back to that Julie/Mom scene and clear up the ambiguity created by the vague portrait description.


"He turns to the crowd."  Here's a good example of micro-managing your description.

If movies are life with the boring bits cut out then screenplays are novels with the boring bits cut out.  You don't have the pages to detail every action every character performs.  You're holding a paintbrush, not a calligraphy pen.

Must we be told Rob "turns" in order to observe the crowd?  No.  We intuit it.  He's facing the bartender.  To face the crowd he turns.  It's there already in the context.

I'm picking on a trivial example.  Nonetheless, it's something screenwriters should watch for.  Are you writing stuff the reader understands already?  Then hit that backspace key.  Save a word here, a word there.  Every word saved contributes to a cleaner, leaner read.


"LONER, a rugged, jaded, criminal looking, with a heavy stack of..."

I love the "He's gonna be trouble" line, but that earlier sentence does not parse nicely.  Try:


Also eyeing the club: a brutish, felonious LONER draped in religious beaded necklaces.

He's not enjoying himself.  His eyes fixate on Cabo's table.

Trouble's coming.

 on: June 04, 2016, 05:05 PM 
Started by Pitchpatch - Last post by Pitchpatch



"Flying sea" is a strange figurative combo.  Seas don't fly, not even metaphorically -- except perhaps in a Terry Gilliam film. "A sea of sparklers," okay, sure, spot on.  But not a "flying sea."  What can we substitute?  Cloud?  Storm?  Swarm?




carried to us by eight provocative Latin girls. They hold the champagne and vodka bottles high in the air for all to see.

Note too, "a sea of flickering sparklers are carried to us..." is wrong re subject-verb agreement.  How many seas are being carried to us?  One.  How many sparklers?  Many, but "sea" is the thing linked to "carried," not "sparklers."

Think of it this way: a crate of bottles.  You wouldn't say "A crate of bottles are carried to us..."  You'd say "A crate of bottles is carried to us."  Because crate is singular, no matter how many items it contains.


What's a verb that means something "spread around" something else? Off the top of my head:


We've got more slightly jarring repetition here, with "VIP sections."  My gut feeling is to combine these two sentences, to kill two birds (repetition, passive verb) with one stone:

Around the dance floor, flamboyant patrons at crowded VIP tables drink and celebrate.

Which lets me mention my favorite writing axiom: As a general rule, orient the reader in time and space at the beginning of your sentence.  Spatial and temporal cues anchor the reader and give them solid ground to build on.

Sometimes you'll want to reverse it for dramatic effect -- say, if you want to disorient or shock your reader.  Most of the time stick to the rule and your writing will be clear and intelligible right from the first draft.


The bridge between the first two sentences is the contrasting of Julie and Lola's behaviour.  I don't think the contrast is sharp enough, as written.  Seems to me, Lola is not just "a lot looser"; she's completely at ease.  This is not new territory for her.

Julie bops her head to the MUSIC, too hyperconscious to let loose.  Lola, totally at ease, talks and laughs with Junior and Michael.  All hold drinks except Julie.

38.  The subtle voodoo of LATER.

There's been a time cut.  Julie was alone;  Lola was talking with Junior and Michael;  now, Julie and Lola are dancing together.  We should bridge that time jump somehow.  It's not a big deal in this case, because it's not unclear what's happening.  But let's go through the analysis anyway.

The first approach is to fully re-slug:

All hold drinks except Julie.


Julie dances with Lola.

But that's overkill.  We haven't changed locations.  We only skipped ahead a few minutes.

The next way to handle it would be a scene transition:

All hold drinks except Julie.

                    CUT TO:


Julie dances with Lola.

This makes it very clear what's happening.  In a pre-production draft we don't need these formal CUT TOs except where they resolve ambiguity or they help smooth a transition -- like here.

But it swallows a couple extra lines.  That feels kind of wasteful.  And anyway, don't we get exactly the same result from:

All hold drinks except Julie.


Julie dances with Lola.

Yeah, we do.  With no extra whitespace cost.


We can kill the parentheticals by fulfilling their purpose in the description.

Lola, drunk now, dances with Julie until Junior pulls Lola away.  As she goes, Lola mouths to Julie, all voices crushed to silence by the concussive music:

LOLA: Dance with Michael!

JULIE: Gonna get a drink!

LOLA: Okay!

There.  Zero wrylies.  We saved three whole lines of whitespace at the cost of one extra over the original text, for a net saving of two.


"VIP table" feels more descriptive to me.  "Section" doesn't conjure any concrete imagery.  With "VIP table" I imagine patrons clustered around it, that little table slick and brimming with shot glasses and party detritus.

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