Brexit. Kanye West’s Famous video. Independence Day 2 tanking. So much madness happening at the moment. Let’s add to that madness. I mean, where else do you get to read scripts titled “Lazer Sloth” and “Mermaniac?” Only at Scriptshadow!
Read and vote for your favorite in the COMMENTS!
Title: 3 Sweet Things
Genre: Contained Thriller
Logline: Three girls conducting door to door surveys are lured into a twisted and deadly all-night game of cat-and-mouse by a psychopathic home owner.
Why You Should Read: Because this is the dark and twisty home invasion thriller that KNOCK KNOCK should have been. Fuck you for that weak shit, Eli Roth. My girls don’t have to act like overheated whores to get what they want from a man.
Title: Lazer Sloth
Genre: Kids / Adventure
Logline: A trio of misfit kids must work together to protect a supernatural baby sloth from a deranged ex-child star and return it to the Oregon Zoo.
Why You Should Read: This is my first script. Awhile back, Carson talked about how we should write what we know. I spent the majority of my childhood outdoors — building forts, climbing trees and catching frogs. I wanted to write a fun live action kids script that captures what it was like growing up in a small town. Also, it’s got a sloth that shoots FRICKIN’ LASER BEAMS from its eyes!
Title: ALIEN DEATH DRIVERS
Logline: People around the city are being abducted by what appear to be alien beings driving super fast cars. When an illegal street racer discovers a connection to his beloved, missing sister, he hits the throttle and abducts the beautiful niece of the Death Driver’s leader, leading to a high-speed showdown.
Why You Should Read: I am an Australian screenwriter loose on the streets. I am currently working on a couple of projects with Eddie Brown Jr of MysterE Entertainment.
Why should you read ALIEN DEATH DRIVERS? – These aliens are not out to take over the world. They’re just gangsters out to make a quick buck selling drugs and enslaving humans for shipment off world. Human slaves fetch a good price. The love story between the lead character and the beautiful alien niece of the Alien Death Drivers’ leader is out of this world.
Logline: Based on the true story of Robert Tilton, the king of television evangelism tries to maintain his sanity as his empire is shaken up by a widow looking for revenge, the cult-like leader of a small church, and a young Diane Sawyer.
Why You Should Read: My name is Michael Weldon and I am 26 years old. I live in the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex and have been an aspiring screenwriter my entire life. I’ve written over a dozen short films and feature length screenplays on spec, this being the first one I thought was mature enough to send out into the world. The screenplay is currently submitted to The Academy Nicholl Fellowship, The Austin Film Festival Screenplay Competition, and the Final Draft Big Break Competition. If selected to be reviewed, I’d love to hear your thoughts. Thanks for always giving us readers great content.
Genre: Creature Feature
Logline: A screw-up cop needs the help of a conspiracy nut to convince a small resort town preparing for a bikini contest that there is a killer, alcoholic merman in the lake.
Why You Should Read: I realize that a tale about an alcoholic merman won’t reel everyone in, but as I cast the net wide enough I’m finding many who love sinking their teeth into this one. I’ve had some nibbles on previous scripts, but never any bites. This time we’re just going to shoot it ourselves, whether we raise money or not. What I’m really fishing for is any feedback I can get that will help improve this project.
Premise: In 1987 New Jersey, an aspiring rocker can win the big break of a lifetime opening for Bon Jovi, but when handicapped by a life threatening hairspray allergy, he attempts to cleanse the world of all hair-metal, beginning with hometown heroes Bon Jovi.
Why You Should Read (from writer): So, did you see X-Men this weekend and say to yourself “Damn! They really nailed what it was like to be a teenager in the 80s!” Then have I got a screenplay for you.
As aspiring writers of film, we all love movies and have our concerns about the current state of cinema. If you’re anything like me, when you open up Rotten Tomatoes and see the latest 370 million dollar CGI crap-fest that was written and rewritten by a team of fourteen professional writers using source material that was based on a video game, that was based on a theme park ride, that was based on a cartoon, that was based on a Hasbro toy, that was based on a different Japanese toy, that was based on a religion, that was based on a fever-dream induced by syphilis, and it’s sitting number one at the box office with a very robust 18% on the tomato-meter, then a little piece of you dies.
Now imagine you wake up one day with a literal allergy to CGI. You can’t go to a Cineplex or pass a Redbox or “Netflix and chill” without developing a rash and having your throat swollen shut. Your dreams of working in Hollywood crushed, because movies are literally trying to kill you. Would you lock yourself in your basement and cry yourself to sleep every night on your pillow of unproduced, Oscar caliber spec scripts or would you do everything in your power to rid mankind of the Michael Bays of the world? Well, Bon Jovi Sucks! is a slightly more realistic version of just that but with rock n’ roll.
It’s a subject I think most of us can relate to on some level, even if you haven’t a recollection nor an opinion of 80s popular culture. Plus it’s a comedy so it better damn well be funny. I’m really looking forward to some of that always great SS community feedback.
Writer: Eric Boyd
Details: 99 pages
It’s going to be a wild weekend at the box office with a five-tet of new films coming to theaters. For starters we have Independence Day. I know people loved the first film but I always mark my viewing of Independence Day as the first day I learned about the importance of screenwriting. That was one of the worst-written scripts I’ve ever come across in movie form. Roland Emmerich seems incapable of understanding how writing actually works. And to think he made a movie about Shakespeare. At least Jeff Goldblum is back. We need more Jeff Goldblum in this world.
Then we have The Shallows – A SPEC SALE! Not many of these make it to theaters, so I’ll be rooting for it to do well. From there we have shameless Oscar hopeful, Free State of Jones. When your campaign screams, “Please give us the Oscar!” I’m out. A movie should stand on its own. Speaking about standing, Swiss Army Man is one of the most original films to come out in a decade. Dead Ratcliffe practically guarantees I’ll see this. And finally Nicolas Refn has a new movie out, The Neon Demon. I don’t trust Refn as a writer, so I won’t be seeing this. But, at the very least, it’ll be unique, which is nice.
What about Bon Jovi Sucks? Will it ever make it to a multi-plex? I suppose that depends on your definition of “multi-plex.” It may also depend on your definition of Bon Jovi.
17 year-old Eddie may be the only person living in 1987 who hates Jon Bon Jovi. While the rest of his band, Cured Herpes, thinks the fluffy-haired one is the next coming of Jesus Christ, Eddie thinks his music sucks ass. To add insult to injury, Eddie is allergic to hairspray. So even if he wanted to to be in a Bon Jovi inspired band, he couldn’t be.
After Eddie’s unhealthy hatred of Bon Jovi loses him his friends and band, Eddie meets the new girl in school, Stacy, a Seattle transplant who believes in cool music, JUST LIKE HIM! In fact, she starts teaching him about the upcoming Seattle music scene, and finally Eddie feels like he has purpose again.
No teenage music movie would be complete without a Battle of the Bands contest, and Stacy introduces Eddie to a new band of guys who ALSO hate Bon Jovi. They’re not very good, but with Eddie’s guitar-shredding skills, they may have just enough to win it all. But will Eddie’s obsession with a man who has absolutely no bearing whatsoever on his life be his undoing? Or will Eddie finally become okay with Jersey’s version of Jesus?
A couple of quick thoughts here. Celebrity names in the title are a cheap but effective way to get your script noticed. Remember that in a business this competitive, every little advantage counts. And if you can present a reader with some familiarity in the title, you’re more likely to get a response than having zero familiarity. For example, which one of these scripts are you more likely to read? “George Clooney Must Die” or “Fallen Fields?” The first one contains familiarity. The second is just words.
When you do go with these titles, you have two options: the obvious route or the ironic route. The obvious route would be something like, “Murdering Donald Trump.” People hate Donald Trump. So building a title around that is going to get those people charged up. Then there’s the ironic way, “How I Destroyed Oprah Winfrey,” where you go negative against someone beloved. I think the second option is more clever.
Unfortunately, Bon Jovi Sucks’ problems extend beyond its title. For starters, I don’t have an opinion on Bon Jovi. He’s so blase that it’s hard to care about someone loving him OR hating him. So right from the start, it was difficult for me to get invested. I kept saying, “Dude, who cares? He’s just a guy with a few hit songs.”
Bigger problems started creeping up during the dialogue. We have characters saying things like, “It’s amazing, right?” “Chode.” “Jihad.” “Mind-fuck.” “Take a valium.” These are terms that were not being used in 1987, and the reason this is relevant is because I now know that the writer isn’t old enough to understand the era he’s writing about.
Obviously, you don’t need to have lived in the era you’re writing about to write a good script. If that were the case, how would anybody write period pieces? But if you haven’t lived in that time, you better study your fucking ass off and be the resident expert on that era. Because as soon as we know you’re bullshitting? Suspension of disbelief is done, and we no longer believe what’s happening.
I read an interesting article on that Cold War show The Americans. One of the teenage actors in the show was in a high school classroom scene and was given a calculator. When they started shooting, someone noticed that she was pressing the buttons in the way one would text on a smartphone. They stopped, went in, and explained that, back then, you pressed buttons with a single finger. She changed the action, and they continued shooting.
Small thing? Sort of. But sort of not. Authenticity is a huge component of writing convincing fiction. Every mistake you make makes your script less convincing. Never forget that.
Structurally, Bon Jovi Sucks sort of limps along, not unlike a lazy 80s ballad. Thing are happening (Eddie’s rushed to the hospital due to his allergy, his band dumps him, his girlfriend dumps him), but there doesn’t seem to be any urgency to the story. I remember when I first saw American Pie, another teenage high school film, and you got the sense that there wasn’t a lot of time to find dates to the prom. The characters needed to make their moves quickly. There’s nothing like that here to propel the story forward.
Finally, I never really understood why Eddie hated Bon Jovi so much. The rock star didn’t personally do anything to him. Eddie just disliked his music. While that kind of setup might’ve worked in a really broad comedy where logic isn’t as important, Eric seemed to be going for something deeper here. And if that’s the case, we needed a more personal reason for why Eddie despises this man so much. Without that, it seemed like the only reason Eddie hated Bon Jovi was so that we’d have a movie.
Bon Jovi Sucks wasn’t funny enough to be a broad comedy. It wasn’t serious enough to be a thoughtful comedy. It leaves you unsure of why the writer wanted to write the script.
Script link: Bon Jovi Sucks!
[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[x] wasn’t for me
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: It’s hard to make miserable characters work. I’m not talking about unlikable characters. It’s possible to make them work. But characters who are miserable – who don’t like their lives – who take that out on others – it’s hard for a reader to care for or want to root for them. Midway through Bon Jovi Sucks, Stacy says something that caught my eye: “Wow. I think this is the first time I’ve seen you really happy.” Duh, that’s why I don’t like this guy. He’s miserable. Nobody likes miserable people.
If you’re new to the Scriptshadow Script Challenge, here are all the previous posts…
Holy Joe Estherez.
We’re here! Can you believe it?
The final 10-15 pages of our screenplay! By this time next Thursday, we will have an official COMPLETED FIRST DRAFT!
But we’re not there yet. We have to complete the last section, a section we shall refer to as… THE CLIMAX.
The climax is your hero’s final confrontation. Whatever they’ve been chasing, they’re finally confronting it. It’s John McClane staring down Hans Gruber in Die Hard. It’s Mark Watney trying to rendezvous with his crew’s ship in The Martian. It’s Michelle in Cloverfield Lane finally escaping the house and having to get past the aliens. It’s Jay trying to lure the spirit into the local pool to kill it in It Follows.
Now, here’s the thing. It’s called a climax for a reason. You literally want the audience to climax. Well, maybe not literally. But you want them to have this feeling inside of them that’s euphoric, that they will never forget. And the reason most endings are bad is because writers forget that.
In fact, I’ve found that there are three types of endings.
The Everything and the Kitchen Sink Ending – The EATKSE seems like you’re doing the right thing. EATSKE writers tend to adopt the philosophy “more is more.” You see these most often in comic book movies, Transformers movies, or any huge action-driven franchise. The writers come up with some gargantuan set-piece, and we watch it play out. Unfortunately, we feel NOTHING after these sequences because they were driven purely by visuals. The epitome of this is the island-lifting climax in Avengers 2.
The Give’em What They Want Ending – The “Give’em What They Want” ending is a step up from the EATKSE. The writers know that pure action isn’t enough to satisfy the audience, and work hard to come up with an ending that’s thoughtful, creative, and well-executed. You don’t necessarily orgasm after a “Give’em What They Want” ending, but you feel satisfied. The Martian is a good example of a “Give’em What They Want” ending. We couldn’t have asked for a more exciting and creative finish to that story, and we felt good afterwards.
The Character-Driven Ending – The Character-Driven Ending approaches the ending from inside the character as opposed to outside. What have they been struggling with this entire story? What have they been struggling with their entire lives? Good writers build their endings around THAT. Because the only way to give the audience that climax is to touch them from the inside. Look at The Martian’s inspiration, Cast Away. The climax for Cast Away had Tom Hanks escaping the island just like Mark Watney escaped the planet. But which escape moved us? Cast Away’s. Because Tom Hanks lost his best friend, the only thing that kept him company during this ordeal, Wilson.
Needless to say, the Character-Driven Ending is the climax I want you to use. Look at your characters, figure out what’s going on inside of them, and build the climax around that. This is why Star Wars is the biggest movie ever despite being a franchise film. Its climax is about Luke overcoming his flaw (he finally believes in himself) and Han overcoming his flaw (he finally becomes selfless). The actual destroying of the Death Star is the least impactful moment in that trio of events. It’s the characters CHANGING that moves us.
But it doesn’t just have to be about overcoming flaws. As long as you build the climax around something character-related, you’ll have a better chance of creating a great ending than if you go surface level.
Take my most recent fascination, Zootopia. I’ll tell you exactly how a bad screenwriter (or even an average one) would’ve handled that ending. They would’ve thought, “It’s Zootopia. There are tons of animals everywhere. Our hero will recruit all the animals and they’ll attack the corrupt mayor in a giant stampede set piece!” Would it have been visually impressive? Sure. Would it have moved us? No.
Instead, the climax takes place in a closed-down museum with our corrupt mayor throwing our hero bunny, Officer Hopps, into a pit with her fox partner, Nick, who’s just been shot with the predator virus, making him “wild” again. The whole movie has been about Officer Hopps trying to trust Nick, a natural predator who’s a threat to bunnies. Just when they’ve finally become friends, they’re put to the ultimate test. Will Nick be able to put his friendship above his primal instincts and not eat Hopps?
It’s all about the characters, baby.
The last thing I want you to remember about the ending is that THIS IS THE MOMENT WHERE YOU UNLOAD YOUR BIGGEST PAYOFFS. Screenwriting is about setting up and paying off, setting up and paying off. But your climax is reserved for your biggest payoffs of all.
There’s a magic that happens when you bring something back that the audience has forgotten about. I don’t know what it is. I don’t know why it works every time. But it does. And when you combine that with a character-driven finale, it’s the recipe that results in that perfect unforgettable climax.
I mean one of the reasons The Shawshank Redemption stays with us 17 years later is because of the way it uses payoffs in its climax. The rock-hammer, the Raquel Welch poster, the “hidden within” bible moment. That’s the power of setups and payoffs in film. But this means, of course, you will have had to set all that stuff up in the first place. You can’t just decide to add a payoff at the last second. Or if you do, you need to go back and meticulously weave in a series of setups so the payoff works.
After your hero’s won the final battle, you have a choice. End it immediately (a la Rocky), or give us a post-script. The trend these days is to add a post-script and I have no issues with that. Just keep it short. We see Mark Watney teaching now that he’s back from Mars. But then we’re done. One of the biggest mistakes beginner screenwriters make is sticking around long after the climax. Once the air is out of the balloon, the audience doesn’t want to stay at the party. And the longer they’re forced to stay, the more bored they get. So show us a post-script scene (two TOPS!) to let us know they’re doing okay, then it’s time for credits.
Congratulations guys! It was fun going on this journey with you. Breaking the script down this way helped me see things more clearly as well.
But now the real hard work begins – rewriting. I’ll see you next week for when that madness starts. :)
Pages to write this week: 10-15
Page number to hit on a 110 page screenplay: 110 (THE END!)
Premise: In 1934 Texas, a teenage boy sets out to collect the bounty on a murdering fugitive, but when he finally finds her, he starts to fall for her.
About: Dreamland finished fairly high on last year’s Black List. This is the writer’s breakthrough screenplay.
Writer: Nicolaas Zwart
Details: 120 pages
One of the hardest things to do as a script-reader is take chances on material outside of the norm. This is why most ideas outside the norm never get read. If the genre is undefined (or is some version of “straight drama”), it almost always leads to an undefined narrative, and that’s what scares readers and producers off. They’ve wasted too many hours giving those scripts a chance only to come up empty.
But the truth is, the best scripts tend to be dramas. They’re the ones most likely to make you feel something. Unfortunately, the skill set required to write drama is exponentially higher than that required to write anything else. That’s because you can’t use tricks to keep the audience’s interest. You have to be a great dramatist. And most screenwriters don’t even know what that means.
What it means is being a good storyteller. Building up living breathing compelling characters. Using suspense, tension, mystery, and curiosity to keep the story interesting. Infusing your script with consistently unexpected developments, as opposed to going with the same old cliche plot beats. Being brave and unafraid to try new things. And, of course, bringing that all together in a harmonious organic way.
If that’s confusing, just think the opposite of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. If you make the opposite choices of everything in that movie, you will write something great.
Dreamland follows 15 year-old Eugene Evans, a kid stuck in 1934 rural Texas right after the dust storms destroyed all the farmland. This has left Eugene’s family, and others like his, scrambling to find jobs. And since there aren’t many jobs in the middle of nowhere besides farming, everybody’s leaving.
At the very least, the town is experiencing some excitement. A 24 year-old woman named Allison Wells robbed a couple of banks nearby and is said to be hiding out in town. The FBI is awarding 10,000 dollars to whoever can bring her in, and Eugene figures this is his shot to save his family.
Eugene doesn’t have to do much looking, as it turns out the recently shot Allison is hiding out in his barn. Allison puts on the charm, convinces Eugene to help her get better, and it isn’t long before she has him looking to steal a car so she can escape to Mexico.
Eugene falls in love faster than a honey bee and is a helpless pawn in Allison’s plan. But when Allison learns that Eugene plans to come with her, she may have to resort to more violent means to complete her plan. Either way, this isn’t going to end well.
Dreamland is sort of like this weird combination of E.T. and that awful Jason Reitman movie, Labor Day. It has its strengths, but ultimately the engine at the center of the story isn’t powerful enough to keep us caring.
But let’s look at what works. We have a solid motivation. The reward money Eugene is after would save his family. We have suspense. He must hide Allison from his family. We have a goal driving the story – Allison has him looking for a truck so she can escape. We have urgency – we can feel the town closing in. It’s only a matter of time before they figure out where Allison is. And we have some clever choices as well. Eugene’s step-father is the town deputy. So an authority who can put an end to this lives literally a few feet away from our hero.
And the character development is solid as well. Zwart spends the opening 10 pages of the script setting up the story through Future Eugene’s voice, as he tells this tale of his childhood. This allows him to tell us all these things about these characters that three-dimensionalize them. For example, we learn that Eugene’s father was a drunk and left the family for Mexico when he was a child and Eugene is desperate to see him again.
Narrating can be a blessing and a curse in that sense. You can use it at any time to tell us more about one of the characters if need be. For example, Eugene goes into detail about Allison’s past as well. And the more you know about a character, the more real that character feels to you. But whenever we’re covering backstory, THE PRESENT STORY IS NOT MOVING FORWARD, which is always dangerous. Audiences HATE when the car isn’t on the road. They get antsy quickly. And any time you’re covering backstory, you’ve stopped the car to get some food.
But none of this covers the real problem with Dreamland, which is the one I hinted at at the beginning of this review.
Is this really a compelling story?
A 15 year old protagonist in a period piece. Can you name me one period piece movie in history centered around a teenager that was good? Or even memorable? I’m guessing you can’t. And that’s the core of the problem here. There’s a story, for sure. But it doesn’t feel important enough. And since it doesn’t have any sexy genre tropes to throw at us, it’s the kind of script that leaves you nodding your head and saying, “That wasn’t bad,” which in my opinion, is the worst reaction a reader can have. Love my script, hate my script. But don’t “not bad” my script. That’s the kind of reaction that means you didn’t take a single chance in your screenplay.
So while Dreamland did a lot of good things, it’s unfortunately not the kind of thing that stays with you.
[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[x] wasn’t for me
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: My guess is that you do not feel compelled to comment on this script. In fact, your reaction at the end of this review was most likely, “Meh. Time to check Slash-Film.” That’s because it does not exist within one of the sexy genres (action, adventure, horror, sci-fi, thriller, comedy). I now want you to look at your own script. Does it exist outside of those genres as well? If so, it will very likely garner the same reaction from others that you are giving this script. My point being, while there’s a chance you’re the special one, it’s more likely that nobody cares with a genre like this. It’s the same reason nobody saw Labor Day. You play outside of the biggest sandbox, very few people will want to build a castle with you.
What I learned 2: It’s very VERY hard to build movies around teenage protagonists unless they’re big genre films (Hunger Games) or high school movies. Adults (30-40), good. Kids (8-11), good. But there’s something about teenagers that never feels quite right for some reason. I’m not saying it can’t be done. ANYTHING can be done. I’m only saying to be cautious because the vast majority of the time, it doesn’t work.
Premise: A con woman masquerading as a psychic helps a young mother deal with her possessed step-son, only to realize she’s in over her head.
About: We’re doing something different today. Earlier this year, Gillian Flynn of Gone Girl fame sent out a short story to all the studios and a huge bidding war erupted. Universal ended up winning the rights for seven figures. Short stories are actually perfect for adaptation. While novels are huge and cumbersome and you have to leave a lot of the nuances that made the novel great out, short stories allow you to flesh things out, expand on what’s working and make it even better. In an interesting side-note, Flynn wrote this for George R.R. Martin.
Writer: Gillian Flynn
Details: 61 pages
I’ve been working on this far-from-groundbreaking theory that the bigger the situation in your screenplay, the higher your ceiling at the box office. So if you blow up our planet in your script, you can top out at 500-750 million dollars. If, by contrast, you chronicle a murder mystery in a small town, you may top out at 15m if you’re lucky. If you write about the mob’s stranglehold on one city, expect 75m tops.
It didn’t always used to be this way. Movies like “Love Story” could make a billion dollars. But the reality of the matter is, in order to pay that 15 bucks, audiences want an experience these days. And if the world (or something similar) isn’t at stake, it’s hard to feel like you’ve experienced anything. There are exceptions to this rule. There always are. And certain genres like horror can muck up the equation. But on the whole, it’s becoming more and more true.
Which brings us to Gone Girl. I always wondered why that film was successful. Sure, it was a big novel. Yeah, it had David Fincher. But the average moviegoer hasn’t read the novel (nobody reads, in case you were wondering) and I can guarantee you they have no idea who David Fincher is. This was just a missing wife movie. Then I realized, it’s because the missing wife storyline went national. Had Amy’s disappearance stayed local, the situation wouldn’t have seemed as big, and the box office wouldn’t have been as big.
For all intents and purposes, Flynn’s follow-up film, Dark Places, should’ve been a huge hit. In the old days, it would’ve been heavily promoted and everyone would’ve rushed to the theater to get themselves some more Gillian Flynn. But it was a smaller situation with less at stake, and therefore, it had that low ceiling.
Where does this leave The Grownup? Let’s find out.
Our nameless narrator didn’t plan to become a con woman. It’s just the only thing she grew up knowing. When her father died, her mother resorted to begging, and our heroine quickly learned the art of conning – of doing anything to get that next GW.
After she grew up, she got a job at a local psychic’s office, which she quickly learned doubled as a place for rich assholes to get handjobs. And our heroine would soon be giving those handjobs.
She would eventually graduate to the front room, however, becoming a “psychic,” and that’s where she met Susan Burke, a rich wife who’d obviously had a rough go of it. Susan confided that she had a step-son, 15 year-old Miles, who she feared was possessed or demonic, or possibly just crazy, and feared for her life. She felt that the old house they lived in may have been possessing Miles, and she wanted our heroine to check it out.
Once at the old Victorian mansion, we learn that it is, indeed, fucking creepy. But that creepiness is nothing compared to Miles, an undersized teenager who looks like he could shoot up a school while snacking on a box of cracker jacks.
One day, when Susan isn’t around, Miles threatens Heroine, “Do not come back or you will die,” and Heroine makes the mistake of ignoring that request. What follows is not at all what we expect, as our heroine learns that she may have been afraid of the wrong person all along. And that maybe it isn’t the house that haunts, but one’s past indiscretions.
What’s funny about this short story is that it’s exactly 60 pages. Which means if you double-spaced it, you’d have a screenplay. So why didn’t Flynn just write a ready-to-go screenplay? Maybe because when George R.R. Martin says, “Write me a story,” you do it no questions asked? Even if he’s incapable of finishing his own stories?
I was paying particular attention to the structure of this story, since I don’t know much about short stories, and found it to be somewhat similar to screenplay structure. You start out with a shocker of an opener, something that grabs the audience. Even better if you can do it with the first line, as we see here: “I didn’t stop giving hand jobs because I wasn’t good at it. I stopped giving hand jobs because I was the best at it.”
From there, you pull back, tell us about the characters. With novels you can go more into backstory, which we do here. In screenplays, it’s more about giving us a scene that encapsulates our character’s identity (so if your hero is stubborn, write a scene where he insists to his boss that he’s right).
And from there you start building the elements of your story. Get to know our heroine’s job. Get to know who the key characters are and what’s going on with them. And with that, you want to create some mystery. You can’t just be in set-up mode where you’re conveying nuts and bolts information. Your set-up must be entertaining. And mystery is an easy way to entertain.
For instance, Susan comes into the shop and looks bad. Something terrible has happened to this woman. You can hear the quiver in her voice. So when she leaves after that first session, we want to know more. We’re curious about her circumstances.
But when you’re talking about Gillian Flynn – let’s be honest – you’re talking about one thing: her endings. That’s her achilles’ heel. Gone Girl had one of the most nonsensical unsatisfying endings for a great story ever. You can paint it however you want, but the reality is, Flynn painted herself into a corner and couldn’t find a dry spot to jump back to.
So how do you write a good ending?
There’s two schools of thought here. The first is the Michael Arndt (Toy Story 3) philosophy. Don’t start writing your script until you’ve figured out your ending. In other words, outline! If you don’t know where you’re writing towards, your story will jump all over the place.
The second way is the opposite of the first. Embrace a “searching” philosophy and find the ending by writing the script! The argument here is that you’ll find a much more interesting ending than would’ve been possible had you methodically bullet-pointed your way through an outline. While this approach is riskier (without a destination, you could completely lose direction), the potential reward is bigger.
Here’s the trick with the second option though. If that’s you how find your ending, YOU NEED TO THEN GO BACK AND REWRITE YOUR ENTIRE SCRIPT.
Why? Because the large majority of what you’ve written, you’ve written with no idea of how things were going to end. So you now have all these scenes which have little-to-no connection to your ending. The best thing to do, then, is go back and rewrite everything so that it connects organically with that ending.
The thing is, VERY FEW WRITERS HAVE THE PATIENCE TO DO THIS. They instead change a scene here and a scene there and convince themselves it’s good enough. And they’re left with this patchwork story that, at times, connects with the ending and at times tells a different story entirely.
Then there’s the third option. I call this the “Fuck it” option. This is when you don’t really know how to end things, so you write a bunch of bullshit and hope for the best. This is how The Grownup ends. It’s so apparent that Flynn didn’t know how to end this that you can actually hear it in the character himself. As he’s talking, you can hear him searching for a logical ending. I can’t get into specifics without spoiling things, but let’s just say that any bottom level prodco executive would tear this to pieces.
Maybe whoever adapts this will address this issue. I hope so. Because there is a lot of good to the story. But man, that ending?
[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[x] wasn’t for me
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: There are a TREASURE TROVE of great movie ideas out there. Where? SHORT STORIES. Why? Because a) it’s the last place people think to look for movie ideas, and b) nobody reads short stories. If you’re looking to hack the system, get a bunch of those “Great short stories” books and devour them. I guarantee you’ll find a good idea sooner or later. And since it’s an adaptation, anybody you send it to in Hollywood will take it more seriously. Good luck!