CS Open, Round 1: Undying Devotion
Continuing off yesterday’s introduction of the CS Open competition, I’m going to start out with the scene for which I wrote the first draft.
Here’s the premise again:
Your PROTAGONIST is in a jam. He (or she) had been relying on deception in order to further his objective, but his ENEMY has figured out the ruse. Write the scene in which your protagonist’s LOVE INTEREST confronts him with this information acquired from the enemy – while staging it in a tricky or dangerous situation.
This scene actually comes from a movie idea I had a few years ago, in which a man moves into a haunted house and falls in love with one of the ghosts. I set that project aside when I began seeing advertisements for Just Like Heaven, although it turns out JLH is more similar to Ghost Dad than it is to my concept.
Before I explain the overall story of the project I working-titled “Undying Devotion,” I’m going to post the scene as submitted to the competition.
As a formatting note, we were told in the contest guidelines to treat the appearance of each character in the scene as we would their first appearance in the script. So even though we would have already met all of these characters previously in the hypothetical full script, they get the CAPITAL LETTER NAMES when they’re introduced here.
As I mentioned yesterday, the challenge here was primarily in getting across the salient points of what had come before, getting the reader caught up with the story without having the story in front of him. It’s an odd challenge, requiring — at least in my view — a minor suspension of the “show, don’t tell” axiom. We can’t show you Sid knocking Jeremy out with a wrench. We have to tell you that’s what came before.
The easiest way would be to simply have a brief “aside” paragraph at the top, giving a synopsis of how things came to this point. I felt that was also a really lazy, artless way to do it, so we opted to try to insert that information into scene description and dialogue. Instead of simply saying “In the previous scene, Sid knocked Jeremy out with a wrench,” we describe the wrench as “the wrench he used to knock Jeremy out.”
If this were an actual excerpt from the full script, we probably wouldn’t have done it quite that way, but there could be a good reason to do so. I’m a fan of making the script read like the intended movie — if the audience isn’t supposed to know something, then I’ll try to find ways to keep it obscured from the reader, as well. If we never saw the wrench, if Sid just came up behind Jeremy and knocked him out without warning, then this could be a good way to reveal it at the same moment that the audience would discover it in the finished film.
By this point in our story, Jeremy has been to the spirit world before. We tried to demonstrate this via his reaction to waking in this place. He doesn’t have a “what the hell is happening here?” moment. He immediately understands, leaps up and takes action, apparently comfortable with the rules of this world.
Mary’s introduction includes the detail of her antiquated clothing style, which ideally cues the reader immediately that this is the time period from which she hails. She’s not like Jeremy, merely unconscious somewhere. She’s straight-up dead and no two ways about it. This hopefully could establish right here that she has been in the spirit world much longer than he has.
The manner in which she died is also expressed, somewhat less subtly, when Jeremy says it outright. We needed to have that bit of conversation to introduce Father, at least in the abstract, but reading it again I think it’s a little too on-the-nose to have him mention that Father murdered Mary. That’s pretty clearly something for the benefit of the reader, and not something we would have needed to include had there been 60 pages of script preceding this, during which time we would have already learned this.
Even given that, I’m still not sure it was an entirely necessary detail — sure, it establishes that Father was insane and so sets us up for his coming manifestation, but there was probably an easier way to do it. Even just leaving it off with Jeremy’s “How can you trust HIM?” probably would have sufficed. Had we time for an additional revision, that line would probably have been dropped.
The meat of the scene — our heroes fleeing as the ghosthunter attempts to exorcise them from this world — is actually the first concept I had when I was developing the story some years ago. It seemed like a unique tricky/dangerous situation in which to set an argument, but there are a couple of differences from how I had previously thought of it.
Number one, the “deception” angle of Jeremy initially “loving” her in the hopes that it would fulfill her unfinished business and she would move on, was added just to address that part of the competition premise. I’m not sure I would keep it if writing the story outside the bounds of the premise, although it does fit in with the “guy pretends to like girl for a bet/pity/whatever, turns out to really like her” trope of the genre.
I had originally envisioned the scene as much more expansive and terrifying, really moving through the house with this relentless foe in pursuit. It had to be pared down significantly to fit into the five-page limit. And the final moment of the scene, with her successful exorcism and Jeremy’s leaping in after her, was not part of my original concept and I’m not exactly sure where the story would go from there. But I think it definitely makes me, as a reader, want to know what happens next, which is the primary goal for the end of any scene.
Tomorrow I’ll post the scene which Anthony conceived, which we call “Solid State.”
- It occurs to me as I write this that we probably could have come up with a more interesting object than a wrench for a professional and slightly mad ghosthunter to clock a guy with. What exactly would a ghosthunter do with a wrench, anyway? It hardly seems apropo to the job at hand — and if all he uses it for is knocking people unconscious, he might as well have one of those handheld knocky-outy things you see toughs carrying in the movies.To an extent it’s an error of imagination, but when we describe the guy putting the wrench away, you know what we’re talking about. I make up some occult object and suddenly I have to explain it (or would have explained it in the previous scene), and within the bounds of the scene there’s no time for that.↩
- In the broader context of the story, Jeremy has previously walked in the spirit world in his dreams. This is also where he met Mary and developed his relationship with her. There was no way to subtly indicate this, but also no need for this information. The scene makes sense without it, and it would smack of over-explaining to shoehorn it in.↩