Scribbler’s Saga #90 – Decisions, Decisions

Posted: July 5, 2019 in Uncategorized

60-Minute Man drawn by a friend…

© 2019 G.N. Jacobs

How do you begin your stories? You have several choices. An action open, a fistfight or something? A character open, your main character exists in a spaces both mental and physical that you describe? Setting, that orange you left out on the counter will rot as soon as next week?

Do you like Jane Austen going all witty about successful men going in search of a wife (a setting open disguised as a character open)? How about Melville having Ishmael wax blowhard about why he has to go whaling, but only on a Nantucket vessel taking a whole chapter (character)? Truthfully, I do variations and blends of all three and presumably you’ll learn to do the same. I have no preferences in my technique (or yours), just that it reads well.

A superhero overlooks Chicago from a height near to but not quite the formerly Sears Tower. He announces himself to the city in the tone of the more dramatically convenient of a stage whisper or Shakespeare soliloquy, just without the iambic pentameter. He throws himself over the rail looking for a fight.

Seems like this introduction is mostly a setting open. Towering concrete, rebar and glass at night as a battleground. Ooh! Of course, I robbed Batman and the union-mandated brooding over Gotham while standing between the gargoyles of Gotham Cathedral scene. I don’t reinvent wheels I don’t have to.

Possibly, the careful reader gets to chime in that 60-Minute Man’s introduction in his much delayed first appearance also has elements of the other two approaches? Certainly, I hinted at his character that whatever his flaws (a wandering eye for the ladies), he always moves forward. Additionally, I teased the fistfight to come having him leap over the railing.

What’s the why of a scene like this? Just because, mostly. And knowing I absolutely don’t want to go anywhere near the next scene in the story, the first of many moments in a law office discussing trademarks, sponsorships, reputation, public appearances, merchandising and a fierce game of paper football. An important scene that says what the story is about, but shit to open on. It’s not like we haven’t read Save the Cat and the harping on the Opening Image as one of the fifteen beats, right?

Things get even more interesting when you give me time due to the normal desire to get it perfect to experiment with the beginning (or ending). Or if, say, my ego tells me it’s time to come out of retirement as a screenwriter. I screw around with everything on the second go around all the time.

For my novel, Blood & Ink, I need to establish the heroine, Anna Victor. I put her in as valedictorian having to give that stupid speech. She drops her robe revealing pink man-catchers. Her mother promptly chews her out on the drive home to Los Angeles. A character open that reveals the chutzpah on this one and establishes the mother-daughter relationship. All of which is intercut with the vampire villain eating some other young lady that had no chance. I’m not stupid do action to establish villain and break up the main scene.

For the much delayed script, I did another variation of a character open. Fearing that I don’t have the kind of breathing room I want in a 120 page script, I’m just not going to waste time watching Anna’s pink skivvies (I’ll get caught looking, but not stupidly, Ducky). Good thing film has a cliché technique that prose doesn’t have: the tracking shot across the photographs on the character’s desk.

Dad and older brother are astronauts on a secret mission to Mars? A picture of both in their orange flight suits. Need to establish Anna’s ADHD? A picture of her taking neuro-feedback treatments with a lot of electrodes stuck to her head. For the mother-daughter relationship I did more than put a picture on the desk, Mom calls. Paging Mick Belker.

The rest of the scene where people actually talk is all about Bobby, the adorable little boy ghost that follows Anna home from the haunted house in Pacoima. In the book, Bobby follows the nice lady home. He serves as surrogate child, sidekick and unintentional plot obstruction resulting in Anna turning him over and shaking him from the ankles to see what drops out of his bottomless pockets. My script just has him being a little boy left to his own devices while the grown ups try to work; he thinks a friend with astronaut relatives is so cool and re-enacts the Apollo 11 landing at her desk with officially licensed toys that Anna didn’t provide.

So far I might’ve stiffed the action open. Got one, sort of. A rich heiress rides inside the body of a mysterious rookie firefighter trying to experience anything other than being an heiress for her book. All versions of this story: short story, incomplete script, incomplete graphic novel script, two different incomplete passes at a novel pretty much start with INT. BURNING HALLWAY. I mean the story’s about fire, right? And we can cite union bylaw here, right?

Yes and no. I actually start the story originally titled Ride Along (changed for obvious reasons) on the assembled Ladder Nine team tensed up in the stairwell ready to go through the door like paratroopers waiting for the green light. As much as I love big speeches before action scenes (Crispin’s Day, anyone?), I’m always going to poke fun. It also introduces the team while delaying the reveal of the mount program and then we do the big fire scene.

I’ve gone over the same 2,500-5,000 words and 6-12 panels again and again; nothing has changed in this open…ever. It’s as powerful as the come. Likely, it also beats the alternative…showing the main character getting into her infamous hair pulling, slapping and punching rumble with another heiress curiously much like Paris Hilton (does this count as a Save the Cat moment?). I’m not stupid, cut as soon as possible to the fire.

Some characters will, of course, scream out their opens. Batman broods atop Gotham Cathedral. A surgeon races time and blood loss to get the bullet lodged in the pound of flesh nearest thy heart. A sniper adjusts three mils right in the gentle Baghdad breeze going 800-meters minaret to minaret. Yes, I’ve written all these moments.

You’d think that having been there done that with all these opens in the past that I’d somehow have the next one locked in. You can stop laughing now. If you have all your writing decisions all sewn up like that, maybe you’re done as a writer. A fate worse than death.

Last example to prove my point. How do you present a young lady who is a witch serving as magic consultant to the LAPD, but who also couldn’t resist signing up for the police academy against her parents’ wishes? A crime scene (setting) to reveal the horrific aftermath of a magic fight? A cute father-daughter moment (character) where the father, a senior LAPD commanding officer, wants one last moment playing up the cadet and hazing thing, only to be deterred by his daughter’s special cat?

Or the current version set a few days earlier where the cadre run the cadets long enough to puke on the parade ground (character and setting) as a way of having the main character make friends with an important ally? Or how about skipping past all of this and just almost blow up the house (action) as part of a magic ritual?

Decisions, decisions. I’m still in that stage where Magic Scene Investigator can go any which way unfettered by the inevitable – “Make an end of it, Buonoratti!” – that must eventually balance against the exploratory fun of these projects. I’ll get back you when I know what’s what.

Clearly, I don’t have a preference nor end all be all answers on this or many other subjects. The point here was my confusion and that I can and should only just show you what your possibilities are. Then I should just set you loose with library card and Kindle account and get out of your way. The rest is up to you, as it should be…

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