Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Fat Cat

Our cat is fat.

I thought it was cool to have a cat the size of Godzilla until the vet told us the fat in the cat’s neck was crushing his windpipe. Which meant, the cat had to go on a diet.

The cat was not amused.

Not only did this life-saving diet plan mean he had to eat diet food. It meant he didn’t get that much of it either.

And then I learned: cats lie.

Dogs don’t lie.

I love you. I want to go outside. Yeah, I dug that hole. Ain’t it a beaut.

Dogs don’t lie.

Cats, on the other hand, will lie to your face with nary a guilty twitch.

Maybe that’s how the phrase Fat Cat got to be associated with politicians.

I am not a crook.

I will not raise taxes.

I did not have sexual relations with that woman.

Irag has weapons of mass destruction.

You forgot to feed me today.


Saturday, January 28, 2006

Jake and Heath

I saw this today and what struck me was the economy of the script.

When we first meet Ennis and Jack, neither says a word but oh so much is revealed.

We know Jack is on the make as soon as he leans against his truck and looks at Ennis.

Every movement Ennis makes is clenched. From the way he holds that paper bag to how he ducks his head and never looks up.

Much later in the film, about the time I'm wondering, can anyone tell these boys are gay, there's a scene with Jack telling his wife that she must call their son's teacher because he's complained too much and the teacher doesn't like him.

In the Thanksgiving Day scene where Jack finally tells off his jackass father-in-law, how much is conveyed by that little smile and proud nod to the son from Jack's wife. Amazing.

For me though, the same economy works against the picture, because I wanted to know more of the story. The structure after the first Act is episodic. It was like playing peek-a-boo with a masterpiece. Why can't we see the whole thing?

If the audience wants more at the end of a film, are they happy with the picture or frustrated by it? At least it will keep them talking about the movie long after the lights come up.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Wannabee Scribe Discovers Secret Of The Universe!

So, I’m writing my script this morning, and it occurs to me, this seems to be moving along a little faster than usual.

Never hesitating to look a gift horse in the mouth, my next thought was --

What’s up with that?

Conclusion: it’s the Board. The Save the Cat method of knowing all the Beats, Turning Points and all the Acts before the writing begins.

You know, like an outline.


It’s not that I never outlined before. I have. Kinda.

Something like this.
  • Act 1 – this is what happens.
  • Act 2 – then this probably happens.
  • Act 3 – and finally this.
Which isn’t much help when I get stuck wondering what happens NEXT and have to sit and think and think and sit and stew and fret until something comes to me. Facing the Second Act as a blank spot the size of the Sahara can be unnerving. And time consuming.

Now that I’ve probably jinxed myself into oblivion, I’ll sign off.

Your ever faithful,

Space Cadet.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Cold Hands, Warm Heart

Pooks is posting a picture of her office as inspiration to clean it up. She linked to the blog of novelist Jenny Cruisie where exists this picture of Jenny's desk that made me say, "Oh my God!"

I followed one link after another and discovered, apparently, there is a sub-culture or something where friends with neat desks tease their messy desk friends into attempting desk reclamation. So far, these are all in the nature of New Year's Resolutions so results are forthcoming.

My desk is neat. I've had to dust a time or two before I could sit down to work. Aha, you think. She's a little anal. No, I am a world class procrastinator.

Remember the movie, Throw Mama From The Train? Billy Crystal plays a writer. He sits in front of his typewriter. Then he sharpens some pencils. Then he sharpens some more pencils. Then he puts the pencils in a neat line. The second pencil is where I started laughing, and thought, a real writer wrote that.

So, my desk is neat.

Pooks has an idea, everybody should post a picture of their office. Ok.

My old desk doesn't arabesque,
in the morning when I first arrive.
It's a pleasure to see it's waiting there for me
to keep my hopes alive.

Good Old Desk -- Harry Nilsson

Friday, January 20, 2006

Constructing the Script

I hate to read craft books, which may account for my success or lack thereof. I do read them, but it’s usually while making a horrible face.

I recently found one that’s more than merely palatable. It helps.

Save The Cat by Blake Snyder is full of insights on how and why Hollywood works the way it does. More importantly for screenwriters trying to break in, STC offers tools and methods to create a better screenplay.

When I started writing screenplays, my biggest problem was plot. I found an interesting device in a book called What A Producer Does by Buck Houghton. According to Houghton, producers graph scripts to "balance" the story. I started graphing my scripts to see where the plot went CLUNK.

Which is why, I’m used to taking them apart after the fact. Snyder’s STC advice is know all the parts, and know them well, BEFORE the writing commences.

In a moment of serendipity, I was trying to find someone to tell me how many beats the average script contained when I followed a link to STC. (Isn’t the Internet wonderful? Yes, it is.)

Armed with Snyder’s Beat Sheet and Board system, I figured out the 15 beats for my latest script, but what the heck could I do with 40 blank scene cards?

They mocked me from the board.

“We’re b l a n k,” they said.

“And there’s a heck of a lot of us.” :P

Well, they weren’t all blank. Several scenes I knew by heart, as they were what drew me to this story in the first place. But they were woeful few and patiently silent on the board.

So, I went back to the graph.

One line for the Act Breaks. And, I’m sticking with where STC says they are.

One line for sequences, which is how I finally learned plot. From my previous work, I knew my scripts always had seven or eight sequences.

One line for the set pieces. Five of them. (According to a WGA mentor who explained this concept to me in an email.)

One line for the beats. 15.


There it was. A plan. A map. A nice piece of forethought that did not mock me from my wall.

The blank scene cards said, “Nah-nah!”

The graph says, “Right this way, doll.”

Now all I have to do is, you know, write the thing.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Mystery of the Universe

My husband is five inches taller and forty pounds heavier than me.

We wear the same size jeans.

How is this even possible, and in what universe is that fair?

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Happy Birthday, Baby

First let me say this.

Please drink responsibly.

Do not drink and drive.

Always use a designated driver.

Sunday, January 15, our college girl turns 21. She has been counting the days to her first legal drink, and came home to share the event with her dowdy old parents.

I can’t help but think of other milestones.

When she didn’t look like a newborn anymore.


The Christmas Pageant when the music teacher had the kindergartners sing Silent Night. Sounded like mice in a tin can.

Learning to ride a 2-wheel bicycle.

For a parent facing a lifetime of letting go, nothing compares to the moment you first let go of the back of that bike.

Middle School.
Those eighth-graders looked so big and ominous.

Sex Education.
Kill me now.

High School
Kill me now, the sequel.

The First Prom
Waiting up. Wondering.

The Rest of the Proms
It never got any better.

The Car Wreck
Only the Ford succumbed.

High School Graduation and the All-Night Senior Party
More waiting but thinking this time, we won’t have to do this anymore.

Everybody kept telling me, Baby says goodbye, Mama’s going to cry.

Oh please.

So, we haul all her stuff into the dorm and the day is hotter than fresh poop and there’s no air conditioning in her room because, after all, this is Montana and by the time everything is unpacked, straightened up and plugged in, some of us are over-temped and cranky.

Ready to go home, in other words.

We troop downstairs one more time to bid each other goodbye at the car. New lives starting all around. I’m so not in the mood to cry, I’m actually thinking, ha, showed them.

And then, she hugs her Dad. I watch his face flush over her shoulder and he holds on to her like he remembers when she didn’t look like a newborn anymore.

I cried for 30 miles.

Please drink responsibly.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Personality Quirks

Possibly because I don’t like a particular yucky green, this test reports I’m stressed.

I wonder if there is considerable science behind this or if it’s another instance of a mere mortal brain clutching at straws. Sounded close enough to make me mumble – yeah, wish I could just go back to bed.

Remember the Magic 8 Ball – ye olde black plastic predictor of the future? I don’t remember when or how or even what happened, but I have a definite sense memory of clutching one of those little beauties, shaking it vigorously and waiting breathlessly to see what the universe had in store for me.

Here two intrepid souls disassemble the Magic 8 Ball to see what’s inside. They discovered the answers offered broke down like this –

50% positive
25% negative
25% ambiguous

I like those odds. Wish real life sorted out like that.

Here's the link, if you want to give it a try.


Tuesday, January 10, 2006


I've been married longer than I've done anything else except breathe.

With all this interactive relationship experience, one might expect that I know all there is to know about men.

I know a man will sit silently in the same room with a woman and think they had an evening together because they both watched the same television program.

I know it’s risky business to ask a man what he’s thinking at any given moment because odds favor thoughts about pickup trucks and what’s for dinner over anything apt to be considered even remotely romantic.

I know only a man would buy something broken and think he's gotten a good deal.

At least I'm not married to a writer.

A writer will buy 12 notebooks only to conclude each is more precious than the last and none is really right for the project at hand.

Immobile, a writer can stare into space for long periods of time, and when asked what she’s doing, will reply, “working.”

A writer can detect differences in pencil lead smoothness by hand; a problem others need an electron microscope to resolve.

A man married to a writer fits the textbook definition of a saint.

Monday, January 09, 2006

My Collegiate Anthropologist’s newest bumper sticker.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

The Caveman and the College Girl

My daughter is a junior in college. She’s studying anthropology.

I’m having almost as much fun with her college years as I had with my own.

She called a while back with this story.

There she was, minding her own business, walking to class listening to Steve Miller on her headset. As she reached to open the one of the doors to her class building, a boy who had just passed her going the other way, stepped back, and opened the other door. She ignored him and continued on her way.

And then, the young gentleman yelled at her for not going through his door.

Which switched her attention from Steve Miller to the world happening around her. She looked at the boy, said, "Ok, fine," and went to class.

Later she called her Dear Old Mother and said,

“I don't need some caveman to open the door for me.”

“I am not a helpless little woman.”

D.O.M. says, but dear, he's not implying you're helpless. He's showing you he has manners.

To which she replied, "I can open my own damn door."

And I said, listen up, Gloria Steinem. When someone opens the door for you, they're not indicating anything negative about yourself. They're just offering evidence of manners and in this sad, angry and often crappy world, a few manners goes a long way.

She muttered something along the lines of D.O.M. might be partially right about some minuscule element in the above scenario.

And I said, that the guy yelled at you for not using the door he opened, well, that's just weird.

To which she replied, "They're all psychos, Mom."

Right. Like that was what I wanted to hear.

Oddly though, if an actual Neanderthal had opened the door for her, she would have brought him home to tea. Budding anthropologist that she is; Neanderthal man is her favorite. She had bumper stickers made that read:

Neanderthals are people too

She emailed pictures to me of some bone that, according to new thinking, proves Neanderthals could speak.

Whether or not they said, thank-you, when someone opened the door for them is a matter still under study.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

The Tyranny of Had

Screenwriting can be a frustrating pursuit. There’s formatting minutiae, structure paradigms, ether-like qualities of story, and the perception that Hollywood is a solid-wall bastion that we must fling ourselves against until we break through or are broken.

So, every once in a while, I say to myself, “Self, we should write something else. How about when the next script is finished, we write a novel.”

And Self says back, “What about all those hads?”

Now, screenplays are written in present tense. Characters see, drive, talk, make love, fight, and die in the now. They don’t think about doing it tomorrow. They don’t remember when they did it yesterday. As the reader reads, so doth the character perform.

Novels are written in the past tense. Stuff in the novel has already happened and someone is telling the story. Which means going into the past and back to the future. Which means the writer has to know how to make those verbs work. Which requires all those hads.

Had is a helping verb. There are 23 of them.

Why I fixated on had and not one of the others, I do not know.

Had, apparently indicates the past perfect tense.

Know how I know?

Looked it up.

Had to.

Most summers I attend a writing workshop or writer’s conference. At one time or another, I’ve taken fiction classes from Deidre McNamer and Ursula LeGuin.

I’ll be cooking along in whatever fiction class I’m taking, supposedly learning novel techniques from the masters and I’ll have the HAD nightmare.

I’m working at my computer. Writing a novel. I’m also watching myself from the doorway, and I know I’m writing a novel not a script because there is a pile of hads on the floor at my left. As I write along, I’ll take a had or two and sprinkle them in, but the pile of hads doesn’t get any smaller. As a matter of fact, it grows, as if there exists an artesian well of perfect pasts springing a never-ending supply of hads. Quickly, the pile of unused hads towers over me. I begin flinging them with both hands at my computer to no avail and …

I wake up wondering if Mrs. McCutcheon let me out of 5th grade with an important piece of my education bereft.

So I go back to screenwriting where everything is happening now and no hads are required.

Which is why I won’t become a novelist.

I have hadrophobia.