How Not To Use A Jetpack

I was really worried that I was falling into the same rut I did last year. It seemed to take me ages to get started on this rewrite and considiring that last year the entire thing ground to a halt when the clocks went back there was a certain concern the same thing was going to happen.

But I’m back up and running now , starting with the prologue. Yes, the same prologue that might be cut completely in the end yet for now it stays. It’s probably a good starting point to settle in though seeing as the original version is only 200 words long.

Here’s the original version from draft one.

From the ground, staring up into the cold night’s sky, it could be mistaken for a rock. From the dark space above it had drifted into Earth’s pull and had begun the journey towards the surface. The heat of the atmosphere had begun to scorch the outer shell causing the blistering flames that left their own mark. It had completely succumbed to gravity once it had passed through the cloud cover. What minutes ago had been a large orb floating in a cold nothing now had patches of green separated by open blue.

Closer still and the mountains came into view with their white summits. The wind whistled around the rock. Small lights took form, some stationary and yet some moving in pairs. The moon hung high in the sky bathing the planet in a cold blue light.

The rock completed the last part of the descent within a few seconds. Splashing through the surface of the water it slowed before gently settling on the bed of the loch. The last remaining heat in the shell fizzed through the cool waters. The ripples of water on the surface spanned outwards, touching the harbour before gently lapping against the wall. The boats bobbed slightly before returning to their still silence.

Yet nobody noticed.

Urrggghhhh…

It’s horrible isn’t it?

I wrote this eighteen months ago and it’s pretty obvious that I just wanted this bit out of the way so I could get on with introducing characters and the main parts of the story. The description of entering the atmosphere is probably lifted from the relevant sequence in No Man’s Sky on the Playstation 4. Also, there’s no reference to the character who is aboard this craft at all simply because I had no idea what it looked like at the time nor what name it was going to get if any.

True fact, when I first came around to deciding how my alien would look I imagined him being like a tree with bark all over him. I was pleased as anything with this for about half a day until I was having dinner that evening and realised that I was imagining Groot from Guardian of the Galaxy. Changes have been made, I have no desire for Marvel’s legal team to pay me a visit.

That final line is trash as well. If nobody noticed it then who the hell is describing all this?

Anyway, here’s the second draft rewrite. Be warned that I haven’t had a chance to spell check this yet so there’s probably something really obviously wrong with it that I’m missing.

Never leave the legion.

As control was lost and systems readouts began to fade from the central command console those words set themselves to repeat in Pilot’s head. He and everybody else around him had always been told that you flew alongside all the others until either victory had been achieved or death had come for you. You did not leave the legion.

Pilot had lined up alongside near a thousand others in a battle formation. The gargantuan battlecruisers of the enemy had floated into view and the command had come through to remain firm. A huge ray had burst out, carved its way through the black space and torn through half of the ships positioned to Pilot’s side. For the first time in his entire life Pilot had felt what he had been told was fear. As a vast section of other ships had burnt out and fell from view he had taken the opportunity to flee. He had no idea where he was going just as long as it was far away from this battle.

He hadn’t got too far until the garbled messages from his command unit began. He’d only got slightly further when they’d cut his engine and life support. If the enemy didn’t kill you then they’d make sure they did the job themselves. He clicked on every single part of the panel in front of him with his white, plated fingers but nothing was operational. He was falling though space at a dizzying rate, revolving, twisting and aimless until he felt the entire ship sink in a constant direction.

He was falling rapidly towards an unknown planet. Checking the viewfinder only gave a blurred image of various shades of blue and green merging together rapidly. The smooth, shining walls on the inside of the craft began to glow with the intense heat of entering this atmosphere. Parts of the ship began to smoke and fizzle. Pilot gripped into the flight controls to ready himself as he tried to get a better view of outside.

There seemed to be only one sun here, it was currently moving towards the other side of the planet. There were vast stretches of blue with great carved out sections of what he assumed was land. Pilot thought of himself as quite fortunate, the chances of him hitting liquid were good. What he didn’t know was if it was going to be shallow or even poisonous yet.   

He was close enough now to see small dots of light gathered in small bundles across the land. His path led straight towards a small chunk of land separate from the rest. As his descent gained pace he could see that he’d be just about avoiding the larger collections instead nearly hitting one of the much smaller ones. He gripped tighter to the steering column, as he did so his skin began to crack. Even before impact it seemed his body might not make it. An almost deafening whistling noise echoes around the cockpit as the air rushed past the out shell. Pilot closed his eyes and wished he’d just stayed home instead of counting his last moments before careering into the surface of some distant planet.

With a deep thud the ship plunged through the liquid surface. Pilot was flung headlong across the entire cockpit, landing in a heap at the other side. The intense heat was quickly replaced by angry bubbles that hissed along the hull. The descent slowed as the ship floated down onto the surface before bobbing to a gentle stop at the bottom.

Pilot picked himself up. One of his arms had shattered almost completely in the crash landing. It was still on the floor on the other side of the ship twisting and moving along the floor before finally curling up. Pilot wondered if he would be able to find another body on this planet, perhaps one more suitable for the environment he found himself in.

Just as he was about to enjoy still being alive for now he heard the first drips of liquid seep through the front viewfinder.

A bit better, more from the perspective of being in the ship itself rather than watching it on the ground. Pilot gets a few references to make sure it’s clear he’s not of this Earth. I’ve been careful not to use words like ‘sea’ or ‘cities’ because he won’t know what they’re called yet. It reads way better even though it’s a bit longer than I maybe would have liked.

Don’t worry, I’m not going to do comparisons for every single chapter. I’ll leave you all alone after this.

Hand Crafted

My old laptop was rocking Windows Vista as I’d never bothered to upgrade it. It had reached a new level of clunky, often collapsing in on itself and giving me the blue screen of death. The barrage of ‘this software is no longer supported’ kept coming up like the cockroaches surviving the nuke. I backed up the stuff I needed (surprisingly little actually) before cleaning out the hardware and retiring the old girl to the hills. A short drive out to the retail park meant I could pick up a new laptop running something a little more up to date and quicker. My scripts made the jump across to the newer version of Celtx.

Whilst it’s good to have a new piece of tech to hand I’ve found myself trying to avoid staring at my screen wondering what to write next by returning to notebook for a while. You may recall a few weeks ago I mentioned a text adventure game that I’m trying to get working. After many attempts at trying to write it on software I gave up and bought a small notepad. After writing page numbers in the corners I now have a prototype, physical booklet which kind of works as a demo/introduction to the whole thing. It’s complete with small diagrams as well. Sometimes it’s really good to just get down to writing without formatting and having constant pop ups disturbing the process at hand.

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Now to do the same thing working out the rest of Parallel.

Devil Storms

I took a look at Parallel again. Well I took a look at the four or five pages that I’d done a few weeks ago and promptly scrapped the lot. I’ve started again, this time starting the story on Earth at the Mission Control building as they guide the penultimate scientist down from the space station to terra firma. This leaves our remaining scientist alone up in the sky until the shuttle can turn around and get her too.

There are flaws in this already. Why should there be a shuttle that can only take one person at a time. Surely any project like this would be funded to a large degree and be able to fit all of them on board? The only thing giving some kind of reason for this right now is a very simple one. This expedition to the stars is not only in the near future but also very British. I don’t want the massive NASA missions that we’ve seen in movies before with hundreds of technicians running around massive computers. This is something on a much smaller scale with just about enough funding to get the thing off the ground.

I had toyed with the idea of having a huge Union Jack flag proudly displayed on a pole in the room much like the American ones displayed either side of the President during speeches at The White House. I then began to think that it’s not something we Brits would do. We would simply be uncomfortable with that level of bombast. I’ve therefore settled by having a very small flag on the desk of the lead technician. It still means the same thing but it’s more in keeping with nationality in this film.

The other slight trouble I have is that all the characters you meet in the first few minutes are white men. Our scientist in the sky, whose journey back home is the bulk of the movie from then on, is female and in her early 40’s which isn’t often a profile seen in a movie like this. The trouble is that it takes a few moments to get to her currently and I’m worried it’s a bit off putting.

 

But still, we’re off and running again.

 

Red Rum

So what exactly are we doing here then?

Not sure, maybe it’s a writing exercise or an experiment.

You’re just struggling with whatever it is you’re supposed to be writing aren’t you?

On the contrary, I awoke this morning with the aim of making it to fifteen pages of the current script, I’ve just hit sixteen so I’m good for the day.

Why not just keep going?

I thought about that but it would mean I’d get to the end of today and realise I’d spent all day writing. I’m back in work tomorrow so I’d feel it about lunch time.

All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy?

Yeah, pretty much like that. Today was a good day to start the script proper because my wife and son are off down to visit the in laws for a few days so I’m on my own in the house. Well, I’m the only human anyway as I still have the cat here.

What’s the cat’s name?

Raul.

As in Spanish Raul, the footballer?

No, we got him as a result of somebody who worked for my Dad. She was moving in with her girlfriend who had a dog so she had to give up the cat. When he arrived at our house he still had his ‘equipment’ intact. He was at the back door wanting outside and I told my wife we couldn’t let him out because he’d impregnate half the neighbourhood. He was like that guy off the Irn Bru adverts.

Which guy?

The guy who says “Hello ladies, want to come to Raul’s house and make sandwiches?’.

Nope.

This guy!

Right, enough about the cat. What questions do you hate being asked when people find out you write?

Probably the usual ones like ‘where do you get your ideas from?’ and ‘have you written anything I might have seen?’.

Okay, so where do you get your ideas from?

Not you as well.

Just roll with it.

Alright fine. Pretty much everything I write is me attempting to recreate an episode of The Twilight Zone. I usually like strange stuff, the ordinary becoming the extraordinary. I’m currently trying to do all this whilst avoiding the usual science fiction markers.

What like?

Little green men and any character saying something along the lines of “We’re into the asteroid belt outside the planet Infidium’.

Have you written anything I might have seen?

Cheers for this.

Anytime.

I probably haven’t to be honest. Unless you were attending any student film screenings in Carlisle around the early part of the millenium or you’ve seen a film about a guy trying to make a robot version of himself to replace him at work at a film festival lately.

No, I didn’t see that.

Well that’s all I currently have. I’m working on more though, most of which are detailed in this blog.

I don’t really read it.

Not many people do. I think it’s just because it’s really hard to write something interesting about the writing process because for the most part it’s a complete grind. There’s a lot of looking at blank screens, going back, changing everything and then spending days worrying about it. It has all the hallmarks of a really private, internal thing which you’re trying to drag out into the light. Also, writing seems to be a thing most people believe they can’t do.

How do you mean?

Well, you’ll talk to some people and upon discovering what you do they’ll firstly regard you as some kind of alchemist. They think it’s impossible to take an idea out of nothing and make it into something. Then comes the inevitable “Oh I couldn’t do that” or “I’ve often thought about writing a book”.

You believe they should just get on with it?

Exactly. I reckon a lot of good writing is all about learning how to cope with bad writing. A whole ton of people will just sit on an idea because they don’t see any worth in it or because they can’t see past the blank screens or notepads in front of them. As a result the entire thing goes to waste. It’s all about just biting the bullet and going for it. The first few drafts will always be utter garbage but the key is to not go back. Make a mental note of the fact you’ll go back later and change stuff but for now it has to just exist.

As opposed to an idea?

Yeah, once you’ve got that then you can work from there but there’s a big difference between having characters, dialogue and locations floating around your head to it being down on a page. Quite often it feels like a massive weight has been lifted when I type ‘The End’.

Do you enjoy writing?

Mostly I do otherwise I wouldn’t be doing it. I like the problem solving stuff which is usually worth suffering the days of struggle for the eureka moment when it all comes together. Those moments are the best, reading back through something that flows right is amazing. I had the same attitude to video editing back in college, I liked taking a raw material and making it into a story. You’re pretty much performing an illusion, you’re suspending the audience’s disbelief. When it comes together it’s pretty magical. More people should write because it’s one of the best things you can do as a human.

Where do you usually write?

In an ideal world I’d have a room to go to but I’m currently sat on the breakfast bar in my kitchen with the back door open to let some air in. It’s been really hot lately.

I write here mostly.
I write here mostly.

So you’re finished writing for the day, what now?

Hoovering, cleaning my bathroom, getting dinner together and then the World Cup final.

The rock and roll lifestyle lives on.

Hey, you can’t beat a good bit of hoovering.

 

 

 

Tied To The Traintrack

The first five minutes are down on paper (well, on computer file because I’m all modern like that). It’s a terrible read, the dialogue is clunky and my main witchfinder might as well have a handlebar moustache he twiddles considering how evil I’ve made him. Obviously if you’re going to be tieing up people to massive sticks in the ground before setting them alight then you might be of bad intent but it’s bordering on panto at the moment. I now need to get a scene by scene together with details of every segment and why it’s there. After that the process is fairly straight forward.

In theory.

Probably best of with nothing like this.
Probably best of with nothing like this.

The only other piece of news yesterday came in the shape of Alphabet Pictures rejecting ‘The Salesman’s Gamble’. Sadly, after a couple of rewrites they cannot see a way of making it into something they would want to direct. I send a reply thanking them for the time they’ve spent on it already. I’ve worked with these people before. they got me to Cannes and they know what they’re doing so I’m not about to argue the bit with them. It’s certainly a knock but hardly a serious one. I move on.

Riding Through Dust Clouds

So back to The Last Alive for now then.

I am around 37 pages in just now and it’s a mess, a wobbling sci fi tower full of half baked ideas that don’t quite link in that well together at any point. It could fall down at any moment and take everybody else with it. I’m writing it knowing that there’s a vast amount of surgery to do afterwards, well aware that it’s all complete tosh right now and I’ve straddled two main ideas and am at risk of collapsing down the gap.

The alien idea is sound enough but every single scene I write with the Nightcrawlers makes me start to think it would be very, very expensive. They don’t have a physical shape instead appearing as clouds of smoke which would probably require CGI. This in turn will probably be beyond most budgets for a first time feature. From a story point of view they probably don’t have to even be there, especially as they only seem to exist to give the town folk something to battle against come the final reckoning. The threat to the town is surely Morag herself, a girl back from the dead without ageing a day in the meantime? I’m coming round to the fact that smoke monsters only detract from the idea of a town coming to terms with one of their own coming back after they had mourned for her death years previous. There would hang so many questions over that situation that it would hopefully drive it forward far more efficiently.

There’s already the battle between Darren who looked for this girl many years previously and didn’t find her and Isabelle, her Mother, who still blames him for not doing so. Add young Morag into this and the possibility of her not being the actual Morag from all those years ago. That at least cuts down all the chaff from something which seems to have become so overblown and schlocky it’s becoming a pain to write.

I don’t think I’m ever going to finish this draft of The Last Alive, instead I’m giving it up as a lost cause and starting over again. It might seem dramatic but I’d rather do this than simply plough to the end of this current version before taking that apart for surgery instead. As an amatuer screenwriter with nobody currently standing over me I have the power for now to kill off ideas that aren’t working to hopefully give rise to something far better.

A Long Distance

I’m finding it really hard to write.

Not shocking news, of that I am aware and if it were an easy process then we’d all be doing it. To put a further point on it though I’m finding it hard to write in the vacuum. Whilst I’m finding rewrites easy with feedback from the producers and directors I’ve spoken with thus far it’s the other ideas that are failing to gain a foothold. The rapid evolution of The Salesman’s Gamble from simple writing exercise to full blown developing script being read by those outside is testament to the former, the glacial pace of The Last Alive is the latter.

I am often overwhelmed with the thought that this is a waste of time and that I’m ploughing the effort in for very little return which, even then, will be years away yet. Opposite to this is that I often get a nagging voice in my head when I’m trying to sit and read or play video games saying that I haven’t done enough to get a script writing gig yet. Whilst I’m glad I’ve got a few different things at various stages of development I’m still concerned that this is a scattergun approach with absolutely no structure to it at all. As a result of this is often hard to concentrate on writing anything because it involves shutting real life out for a while.

There are ideas there, it’s just finding them between the static.

I am 33 years old and quite often I feel I’m spending my life waiting for other people to say ‘Yes’.