Mala and I spent the better part of two days working on a 36 word log line for a TV script. It was excruciating, but we finally had something we liked. Log lines are the first thing a reader of your script sees. If it doesn’t grab you by the throat, the script probably goes in the trash. Sometimes this is called the elevator pitch—what you’d say if you had 30 seconds to tell someone what your script or novel is about. It had better be good and it had better be short.
That night I dragged my husband to our county’s 4-H Fair. Dinner out! I insisted. Less expensive than a restaurant and supporting an annual event for a good cause. Plus I get to eat enormous amounts of junk food and pet any number of competition clean farm animals: goats and their kids, sheep, rabbits, cows, miniature horses… heaven! Yeah, I’m weird that way. My husband always checks the trunk to make sure I’m not smuggling some home.
And then I saw the camel. Henry! In a large circular pen. Set apart from the rest of the farm animals. His head rose about four feet higher than anyone in the crowd pushing in on him. He, and his singular hairy hump, was leaning against the metal corral, so much the better for everyone to rub/scratch/touch him, which he obviously loved. It was a mob scene. A dad in the crowd had his two-year old daughter perched on his shoulder. Her blonde curls sparkled gold in the sunset. Her laughter was music as Henry nuzzled her with his big old camel lips. The crowd ooowed and awwwed. It was a Henry love-fest!
As the crowd dissipated, I saw a small 8 ½ x 11 piece of paper taped to Henry’s corral. It read: “HENRY DOESN’T SPIT!”
It was one of those writer’s great ‘show don’t tell’ moments. Then I realized this could be the beginning of a terrific log line. “Snakes on a plane” is my favorite of log line of all time. You get the visual in four words that say everything. I doubt it took that script writer two days.
One of the writing projects Laura and I have been kicking around requires knowledge of guns and knives. In the interest of full disclosure, I shot a rabbit once. A kill shot to the head. It was the first time I’d ever fired a gun, and for years after thought I was Annie Oakley. I never again was that competent and missed groundhog after groundhog as they dug out the foundations of our Harford County, Maryland barn.
Knives for me are kitchen utensils, not weapons to take down an intruder skilled in Krav Maga. (More disclosure here…I only know a tiny bit about Krav Maga because I just read three terrific mysteries by Melissa F. Miller in which the heroine was skilled in the martial art. When I took karate classes with my boys I was the only person I ever heard of who got cut by a foam knife and bled all over her gi.)
For this writing project we are going to need someone who knows more about knives and guns than either Laura or I do. We need an expert.
It turns out that my son, who lives in Montana, has a friend who is a knife and gun expert, so on a recent visit to Big Sky country I met with Sheldon Wickersham who showed me the kind of knife a female assasin might hide in her bra. I held it very carefully. If Laura and I ever write this character she’s gonna have to wear a 34 Triple D to be able to hide a 4” double bladed Gerber Guardian. Inside a boot or attached to a garter might be a better idea ‘cause if I drew a blade like that out of my bra I’d probably cut off my breast. I have no reason to think I’d be any better with a knife that I was with a gun.
I asked Sheldon if I could call on him with dumb writer questions about knives and guns. He graciously agreed, probably in no small part because we were eating strawberry shortcake made with berries fresh from my daughter-in-law’s berry patch. Then I asked him to pose for a picture to put on the blog, but had to take several because I thought he should look sinister. Sheldon is not a sinister person—his dog Jake knows he’s really a pussycat—so this is the best I got. If you want to know more about Sheldon, check out his website at www.bluestarknives.com. He is a noted Randall knives expert, the author of Randall Knives – A Reference Book.
Writers need experts. We all love the easy access of information on the web, but a knowledgeable person always trumps Google. Thanks, Sheldon, you haven’t heard the last from me.
Laura and I had our second “notes” meeting last Friday with Tim Weigand and Cecile (Cece) Davis from the Avalon Theatre. They had more perceptive suggestions about layering depth into the dialogue and suggesting physical actions that show the audience something about the character. When you write a screenplay you give an occasional suggestion about how a character reacts, but anything that smacks of telling the director what to do is a big No, No. You only put notes in when it is absolutely imperative that the director keep that piece of business. In writing this play, we are being encouraged to state the way we see action unfolding. I think they want to keep our vision. We’re not prima donnas. We’re happy to have Tim, as director, add his own vision to the production, but we’d love to sit in on the casting sessions.
At one point Tim and Cece jumped out of their chairs and started acting out one of the scenes, adding chunks of improv dialogue. What a treat. We couldn’t write their ad libbed lines down fast enough. They weren’t just doing a table read, they were in character. This made the script come alive. Laura commented later that although we have gotten excellent reviews for our novel (soon to be reissued as Last Chance Ranch), hearing someone say the lines in our play was a new, thrilling experience. It actually gave me goosebumps.
On Saturday we worked on revisions for five hours. Laura must have had a lot of coffee because we were in some sort of weird humor zone and ended up laughing until we were wiping our eyes. I reread that part this morning. Not sure if it works or not. Dog with an eyepatch – you’ll have to see the show! But we’ll probably leave it in and see what Tim and Cece think. It’s incredible to work with such talented people.
This is so much fun, but the icing on the cake is that we realized once the play is produced we can add “Produced Playwright” to our resumes. That’s pretty cool! Laura is already a “Produced Screenwriter” but neither one of us has done a play before. This afternoon we’ll make a few more tweaks and then email it off to Tim and Cece at the Avalon Theater. I’m sure they’ll have more terrific suggestions. The script gets better with each pass.