The 10-Page Torture Test
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Author Topic: 01PTT: Dead Sea by Josh Park  (Read 329 times)
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Rollercoaster on fire
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« on: January 21, 2017, 03:49 PM »

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"To pass her literature class, a high-school student uses an unpublished novel written by a prophet who hid it believing its contents would come true."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.
« Last Edit: January 21, 2017, 03:58 PM by Pitchpatch » Logged

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