Monday, May 11, 2009

NOTES FROM THE EDITOR, part VI (third script)

So, Troy had set forth more good feedback for improving my short story, "Life is Funny" and I set to work pondering how to get the motivation of my main character across. It was all there in the story already, I just needed to spell it out more clearly for readers, something of which I am often - I worry - guilty. I tend toward being obtuse, wishing to allow the actions of the characters to showcase their motivations, but I tend to err in favor of subtlety, which can be another word for confusion. I'm still learning the ropes of writing, but this exercise has, and should hopefully, allowed me to improve in that area. I hope that in the future, I will be able to still be subtle without losing the thread and motivations of the storyline for readers. We'll see, but at least I will have these notes to fall back on in order to keep me honest.

Anyway, my second rewrite for "Life is Funny" follows this. Any comments are welcome and if you want to compare the changes made in this iteration with the first two passes at the script, they can be found here and here. Thanks.

Life is Funny
by Chris Beckett

The back-story for this UFO tale is a fairly typical small-town one. Boy and girl date all through high school, and soon after graduation get married and move in to their own trailer or apartment in a less than stellar housing complex. The boy gets a construction/mill job while the girl works register at the local IGA or Wal-Mart. Things are good for a time, but eventually real life – often in the form of a baby – rears its head, straining the marriage and leading to one of many bleak results.

Page 1

Panel 1: We begin at the end, with our protagonist (Jake) holding his three-year-old son up in his arms so the two are face to face. The boy is overjoyed as Jake returns his son’s love, smiling at his boy as only a father can. Jake is wearing a weathered Detroit Tigers hat, an indicator for readers during flashback scenes.

CAPTION It’s funny how things work out.

Panel 2: FLASHBACK, late 70s, early 80s. A similar Detroit Tigers ball cap – not as weathered – is on the head of an 8-year-old sitting in front of the TV watching cartoons. In the background his parents are openly arguing.

CAPTION Prejudices inform our decisions, determining the paths of our lives.

Panel 3: A piece of framed string art (a noted 70s craft, I can get reference if needed) creates a portrait of Jake.

CAPTION Everything mapped out – point A to point B to point Z.

Panel 4: A jigsaw puzzle image – Jake and his wife Tammy wearing their caps and gowns from high school graduation maybe in the familiar form of “American Gothic” by Grant Wood.

CAPTION Like a meticulously planned jewel heist.

Panel 5: Jake fumbling a ground ball hit to him during a beer league softball game.

CAPTION Too bad life isn’t like that.

Page 2

Panel 1: Jake and Tammy toasting champagne at the head table during their wedding reception in the local American Legion hall. Everyone sitting at the table looks very young.

CAPTION Tammy and I got married out of high school.

Panel 2: The housing complex where Jake and Tammy live – a fairly mundane and depressing place with overflowing trash cans on many stoops and a general feel of disrepair throughout the place. They are sitting on their own tiny stoop in plastic lawn chairs, each one on a cellphone, intent on their conversations more than each other.

CAPTION We were in love.

Panel 3: In a bar where Jake is raising his mug of beer in a crowd of other early twenty-somethings. It is obvious Jake and those around him are having a hell of a good time except for Tammy, who sits beside him sipping at her soda looking lost and alone amid this crowd.

CAPTION That was what mattered.

Panel 4: At a barbecue where a number of their high school friends are also attending. Talking with one of his buddies, Jake has a beer in one hand while he rests the other on Tammy’s obviously pregnant stomach.

CAPTION But sometimes that’s not enough.

Page 3

Panel 1: In the hospital delivery room. A nurse is handing a bundled newborn to Jake. Jake is wearing the same Detroit cap we saw on page 1.

CAPTION Tate was so small.

Panel 2: FLASHBACK. Jake is at the dinner table wearing his Detroit cap. Only he and his Mom are sitting down to eat. An empty spot where his father should be is across from Jake, a full plate sitting there getting cold.

CAPTION I was excited about being a Dad.

Panel 3: FLASHBACK. Jake is watching an episode of the Cosby Show on the television as he munches on cereal.

CAPTION But it isn’t as easy as it looks on TV.

Panel 4: Back to the PRESENT. Jake and Tammy are in each other’s faces, screaming unintelligibly at one another. Taking all of this in is Tate, sitting on his mother’s hip. Jake is dressed in hunting garb, on his way out for a weekend at camp.

CAPTION Tammy used Tate like some anchor. Trying to pin me down while I was still young.

Page 4

Panel 1: Jake and Tammy are eating supper at their kitchen table, with Tate in his high chair between his parents.

CAPTION We discussed a separation.

CAPTION I’m moving out once I find a place I can afford.

Panel 2: Looking down on Tammy and Jake’s bed as they have sex. Jake is on top of Tammy, bedcovers above his waist. Tammy is looking off, grief-stricken, tears dampening the side of her face.

CAPTION But for now, I’m in the guest room.

Panel 3: Jake walking at night through the quiet streets of the town, his Detroit hat evident on his head. Trees line the sidewalks and only about half the streetlights are working, giving a hazy, melancholy look to the scene.

CAPTION Evenings I usually take a walk, just to get away.

Panel 4: Tammy sitting in their living room, head in her hand as she cries uncontrollably.

CAPTION It’s good for both of us.

Page 5

Panel 1: This panel takes up the TOP ½ OF THE PAGE. Jake (don’t forget the Tigers cap) has made his way to the end of a dead end road and is standing at the edge of a large field full of swaying grasses dotted with trees here and there. Maybe on the far end of this field we can see a house where the street picks up once more. In the upper left of the night sky hangs a ¾ full moon and in the air directly above Jake a huge UFO hovers.


Panel 2: Same scene, but a white light directed at Jake is emanating from the UFO, putting him and the rest of the scene in an exaggerated chiaroscuro of light and shadow.


Panel 3: Inset to panel 2. A white panel in the lower right hand corner with just the barest outline of Jake’s eyes, nose, mouth, and hairline. It not only represents the intensity of the light but also intimates that he is being transported onto the ship.


Page 6

Panel 1: A darkened room on the UFO. A single light illuminates Jake – his naked body half covered with a sheet, his wrists and ankles strapped to a surgical table. He is struggling against his bonds. Nothing else of his surroundings is visible.

JAKE Hello? Hey! Who’s there!

Panel 2: Similar to panel 1. A few more lights are on, illuminating the heads of Jake’s captors (3 typical “grey” aliens unless you have a better image) at the edge of the darkness. Jake is still pulling against his bonds

JAKE No. Please!

Panel 3: The aliens move in closer on Jake. One has raised its hand, brandishing a type of drill, which is on and making a horrific sound.


JAKE I’ve got a boy! Tate! He needs me!

Panel 4: On Jake (alien hands possibly coming in off panel). He is crying now, face contorted, unable to hold in his terror.


JAKE (small) I can’t leave him. Can’t leave Tammy.

Panel 5: From the side and slightly below the surgical table. The aliens are now right over Jake, who has given up struggling, the drill at his temple.


JAKE (small) I need them.

Panel 6: Jake’s POV. The three aliens are in his face as Jake begs for release.


JAKE (small) Please. Let me go.

ALIEN #1  (or something unintelligible)

JAKE (very small) No.

Page 7

Panel 1: Jake is lying in a heap – fully clothed once more and rubbing at his temple – at the end of the dead end road where he just encountered the UFO, which is nowhere to be seen. The gibbous moon has traveled across the sky and is now partially hidden by the horizon on the right of the panel.

JAKE Ooohhhhhh.

Panel 2: Looking down on Jake, his eyes wide with realization of where he now is.

JAKE They brought me back.

JAKE (small) Tammy.

Panel 3: Jake is jogging/running down the street heading for home.


Panel 4: From behind Jake as he opens the door to his place in the housing complex.

JAKE Tammy!

Panel 5: POV from the top of the staircase inside. Jake is bounding up, two steps at a time, pulling hard on the railing to go faster.

JAKE Tammy!

JAKE I’m sorry!

Page 8

Panel 1: Tammy is sitting up in their bed, fear on her face as Jake sits at the end of the bed, unable to hold his emotions in. Jake is holding one of Tammy’s hands in both of his as he speaks.

JAKE I’m sorry. I haven’t been there for you. Not for you or Tate.

JAKE I understand that now.

Panel 2: Tammy and Jake are now hugging tightly.

JAKE I don’t want to be my Dad. I want to take care of you guys.

JAKE I want to be a family.

Panel 3: The couple lean back to look at one another, their hands still resting on one another’s hips.

JAKE If you’ll let me stay.

TAMMY That’s all I ever wanted.

Panel 4: The two hug again, tears streaking the cheeks of both of them. Baby Tate is also making his presence known, having been awoken by his father’s yelling, his screech coming through the open door.

JAKE Thank you. Thank you.

TATE (from door) WAAAHHH

JAKE Tate.

Panel 5: Jake is entering the nursery, Tammy close behind. In the crib stands Tate, his arms reaching for his father.

JAKE Hey, buddy. Don’t cry. Daddy’s here.

JAKE Daddy’s got ya.

Panel 6: SAME AS PAGE 1 PANEL 1. Jake holding Tate up so they are face to face, ecstasy and unconditional love apparent on each of their features.

CAPTION It’s funny how things work out.


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