A New Life

Throw a bunch of words in a hat, pull one out, and write a story using that word.

This week’s word: TEST

A NEW LIFE

Addie walks into the bathroom, the weight of the world on her shoulders. She had hoped there was another way, that the pharmacist could tell her, or send her to someone who could. Instead, he gave her a test.

She was so bad at things like this. So bad she couldn’t even finish high school. All the tests and assignments and fail, fail, fail, she’d even fail tests you couldn’t fail, like IQ and SATs. She failed her driver’s test twice before she finally gave up on that endeavor. What even is a blind spot anyway?

It doesn’t matter, because today is another one: a pregnancy test. The pharmacist said it could explain why her blood never came, but why couldn’t he just tell her? Why does she have to fail another test?

In the bathroom, Addie drops her pants and panties, sits on the toilet, and sticks the test between her legs. She then covers the small end in urine, some of which splashes onto her leg. “Points off” her driving instructor says.

It doesn’t take long before she is done, her urine gone and her examination complete. Now, the results.

Addie sits on the toilet while she waits, thinking about her test and what would happen if she passed. What kind of a mother she would be? Much better than her own that’s for sure: always calling her stupid and a failure, even in front of her father, who never did anything about it. No, she’d have a smart baby, and she’d never have any reason to call her a failure.

Finally, her results appear: a plus sign.

She stares at the sign. “I passed?” she says, letting it sink in.

Then it hits her. “I passed!” she hollers as she bounds off the toilet, out of the bathroom and into her unkempt den. “I passed, I passed, I passed, I passed,” she cheers as she bounces around the apartment, unable to keep her excitement in.

“Passed? Passed what?” Don asks, Don being the guy on the couch, the guy watching football, empty beer cans and a bottle of Jack around him.

Addie bounds to him and drops her test in his lap. “I passed, I passed, I passed, I passed. The blood di’n’t come so I took a test, and I passed!”

Don holds the test up to see what it is, then sees the plus sign staring back at him. His eyes widen.

*****

“But baby, I doan wanta go,” Addie says, sitting shotgun as he swerves down the road, around cars and through traffic. “I doan wanta kill mah baby.”

“You shut up you stupid bitch,” Don commands as he skids off the curb. “Whatcha want? To ruin our lives?”

“I di’n’t mean to. I di’n’t mean fo’ it to happen.”

“Ain’t possible for a girl to get pregnant less she means it. That’s a fact.”

Addie did not know that, did not know that was a fact. She didn’t think she wanted it, but pregnant she is, so maybe she did? Maybe deep down, in those secret parts of the brain scientists and doctors always talked about, maybe those parts wanted it and she didn’t know?

A red light. Don slams on the brakes, skids to a stop, just in time. They sit at the light, waiting. “I still doan wanta go,” she says.

Don doesn’t respond. The light turns green and off they go.

“I said I doan wanta go. Take me home.”

“No.”

“Take me home!”

“No!”

“Take me HOME!” Addie screams as she grabs the wheel, forcing a turn in the middle of the road. Don pushes back, then smashes his fist into her elbow, breaking her grasp and regaining control of the car.

“What the fuck!” Don yells as he slaps her face. “Don’t you ever do that again.”

A siren blares, a police siren, behind them. “Fuck!” Don screams as he pulls the car to the side of the road. “You just sit there, keep your mouth shut.”

The officer stops behind them, then approaches and taps on their window. Don rolls it down. “License and registration please,” the officer says.

“He’s drunk officer! He’s drunk and he’s takin’ me to the hospital and I doan wanna go!”

“You stupid bitch!” Don winds up for another slap and-

“Hey! That’s enough!” the officer interjects. Don listens, lowers his arm. “Out of the car,” the officer now commands.

Drunk and angry, Don exits the car. “I ever see you try to hit that girl again,” the officer threatens, “I will kill you. You got that?” Don does. “Good. Now, walk this line.”

Don doesn’t want to but what can he do? He lines up and there’s no way he can do it, barely even able to stand. One step and it’s over, he’s on the ground, down and out. Addie can’t help but laugh. “Shouldn’ta drank all that Jack!” she yells as the officer cuffs him and takes him to his squad car.

Addie waits as the officer returns, Don safely locked away.

“Thank you officer,” she says. “That man was outta his mind.”

“Ma’am, I’m gonna need you to step out of the car.”

“What?”

“Out of the car, ma’am.”

What’s going on? She didn’t do anything. She doesn’t understand but she’s a good soldier and so she complies. “I’m gonna need you to walk this line.”

Oh no, a test. She’s no good at tests, fails them all the time. “But officer, I haven’t had nuttin’ to drink.”

“Just walk the line ma’am.”

Okay, she’ll do it, take this test. And you know what? She’s gonna pass, because today’s a new day and she passed her pregnancy test and she’ll pass this one too. Pregnant with the world’s smartest baby, who’ll read the entire dictionary and know all the answers on Wheel of Fortune and solve Sudokus without even looking at the page. Yes, the world’s smartest baby and she can surely pass this one test for him.

So she starts forward, walks a straight line. Then stands on one foot and touches her nose. And even the breathalyzer can’t fail her; she’s invincible, she passes them all.

“Well, you seem okay to me,” the officer says. “Just watch who you spend your time with. I’ll call you a cab.”

“I’m going to the hospital. Gonna have me a baby.”

The officer looks at her stomach. It’s normal sized, some belly fat but no signs of pregnancy. He looks back at her. “You just take care of yourself, okay?”

Addie nods. She will, her and her baby. She’ll take care of herself, her life, her world. Because now she can and now she will, passing her pregnancy test, passing another. Having a baby, being a mother. She will take care of herself, her new life, in this world.

The Best Halloween Ever

Combine the following into a story: suburbs, cheerleader, throwing knife, finding a missing train, comedy

THE BEST HALLOWEEN EVER

Jack and Bill were walking down the street, ready for the night of their lives. For it was Halloween you see, and they had the best costumes. Jack wack was an astronaut, complete with a helmet, visor, and all the doohickeys that go with it, while Bill went the cooler route: a ninja. Not American Ninja Warrior, but a real one: a mask on his head, ninja clothes, and he even armed himself with a throwing knife. A real one, so the vendor in Chinatown said. Bill could only imagine if the police found out: they would probably arrest him, he was such a badass.

Jack and Bill had been waiting for Halloween for so long, ever since they started in high school, lowly freshman, finally able to go to a party on their own. Bill’s brother, three years his elder, was the king of parties, the coolest kid in school. He gave them the address, told them exactly where to go.

And now they are outside, dropped off by Lyft since they still can’t drive. They had to check the address, since the place, located high in the Hollywood hills, seemed way out of the way for a high school party, but the address was correct, and they had arrived.

Jack and Bill surveyed their surrounds: a wealthy neighborhood with nice large houses, dark and quiet, with only a single beat up Camry parked across the street from the house they were visiting. But the address was correct, so the boys approach and knock.

After a short while, the door opens, revealing… the most beautiful women both Jack and Bill has ever seen. Dressed in a tight black dress, she was ready for a night on the town, making her even prettier. “Hello?” she says.

The boys are dumbstruck, their mouths hanging open, them unable to control them. Bill luckily had his face hidden behind his ninja mask, but Jack is in plain view, wishing now more than ever that he had gotten the helmet with the tinted visor.

“Sorry boys,” the girl continues. “No trick-or-treating here.”

And it is at that moment that Bill finally recognizes her, realizes where his brother sent him. “Are you…” Bill stammers out, barely able to speak, “are you that cheerleader from the LA Rams?”

“Yeah, that’s me,” the woman says. “Like you didn’t know that, trick-or-treating way out here.”

“We didn’t,” Jack says. “His brother sent us. He said there’s be a party here.”

“Nope, no party. Just-” the cheerleader stops mid-sentence, cutting herself off. “Oh shit,” she says. She is no longer looking at the boys, instead she is looking past them, at the beat up Camry across the street. She pulls the boys inside, closes the door behind them.

“Did you see that car on the street?” she asks. “Was anyone in it?”

The boys don’t answer, too dumbstruck acting being in this woman’s house. Everything here, the TV, the pictures on the wall, even the freaking toaster are the coolest they’ve ever seen. After some time, they finally manage a nod, but that is it.

“Fuck!” the cheerleader shouts. “That guy’s been stalking me ever since our first home game! I got a restraining order, what’s he doing here?” She is panicked, pacing throughout the house. She peers through the window, confirms it is him. “I’m calling the police,” she says.

At this point, the boys still dumbstruck, barely processing what is happening, Bill sees his moment. He pulls out his throwing knife, the real one, from Chinatown. “I’ll protect you, my lady,” he says.

“Don’t joke around,” the cheerleader replies, as she dials 9-1-1 on her cellphone.  “Hello, 9-1-1?” she says, to the voice that responds.

Just then, a knock at the door disrupts the scene, the noise striking fear into the cheerleader, who screams.

“Bianca!” a voice yells from outside. “Bianca! I know you’re in there, you can’t hide from me!”

Bianca, as the boys now know her, runs into another room, away from the front door. “Hello, police? I need you, 322 Byron Drive. I have a stalker, he’s right outside!”

Another knock on the door, pounding this time. “Bianca! Let me in!” the voice yells again.

Jack is still dumbstruck, his jaw agape, staring at this beautiful lady in distress. Bill slaps him. “We have to do something! We have to protect her! We have to be men!”

“You’re right,” Jack says. “Plus, I’m an astronaut. Everyone knows you don’t mess with them.”

“And I have this knife,” Bill says. “Now what can we do in this situation.”

BANG BANG BANG! Coming from outside. Not knocking, not pounding; the boys peer through the window and see the stalker taking a sledgehammer to the door! He’s going to knock it down!

“No time to think!” Jack says. “I’ll distract him with my astronaut-ness, you throw the knife at him.”

“But that’s murder,” Bill says. “We’ll go to jail forever.”

Jack looks at Bianca, on the phone with the cops, trembling and scared but still beautiful in her tight black dress. “It’s worth it,” he says. “Now get ready.”

Jack approaches the door, opens his arms wide. He then cues Bill, who opens the door, Jack and his astronaut costume blocking the entrance.

“Go away!” Jack shouts. “Bianca doesn’t want to see you! She is a beautiful lady.”

“I’m going to marry her! Ahhhh!” the stalker screams as he grabs Jack, tries to choke him. Except he can’t, Jack’s astronaut costume being too thick. Instead, he and the stalker tries to spin Jack around while Jack resists, neither one getting an upperhand on the other.

“Do something!” Jack screams. “He’s attacking me!”

“You’re in the way!” Bill shouts, his throwing knife in hand. “I can’t get him!”

Jack and the stalker continue to wrestle, each one trying gain an advantage. Bill pivots around, looking for an opening. Finally, he finds one. “Hold him there!” he screams, then throws the knife straight at them.

He misses! Misses completely! The knife flies out the front door. “Oh shoot!” Bill says.

“What?” Jack asks, and in that moment the stalker gains the leverage he was wrestling for, throwing Jack to the ground. He then goes after Bill, who tries some karate moves to stop him. Except Bill doesn’t know karate at all, his moves barely doing anything.

But they do enough, stalling the stalker just long enough for the police to arrive, tackle the stalker, take control, and bring the craziness to an end.

The next hour or so consisted of nothing but police statements, the stalker locked up in the police car, Jack, Bill, and Bianca explaining the events. Jack and Bill leave out the throwing knife however, not wanting to get in trouble for it, and thus the police were totally confused about its position on the front lawn.

Finally, the police leave, Bianca allowing the boys to stay long enough to get picked up by their parents. But before they call them, she steps in. “You know,” she says, looking down at her sexy dress, “I don’t feel much like going out tonight. Wanna hang here with me instead?”

The boy’s jaws drop once again. All they can do is nod yes.

And that’s how the night went, Bianca changing into comfy clothes, Jack and Bill in their costumes (minus the mask and helmet), them all relaxing on the couch, eating frozen yogurt and watching scary movies. One involved something about a missing train, but honestly, the boys don’t remember any of it. All they remember is spending Halloween with a cheerleader from the LA Rams. It wasn’t a party, but it was the best Halloween they’d ever have.

12 Choices Amateur Screenwriters Make

amateur pro

Screenwriting is hard, I know; I’m still learning how to do it right. I also know that it’s not just writing that is hard, thinking like a writer – like a professional writer – is also hard, probably harder in fact.

In the last year I’ve posted several requests for short scripts, and as a result have read over 500 amateur screenplays (or at least the first five pages, or at least the first page). In doing so, and also in looking back on my own writing and my experiences in writing classes, I started to notice certain things, certain signs that scripts and the writers writing them are not up to snuff. That they are amateur, with the same voice and experience as every other amateur out there.

Also see: 13 Choices Amateur Filmmakers Make

Note: this post is not about execution. Things like bad grammar and typos, inactive protagonists and low stakes, unnatural dialog, these are all signs of amateur writing but they are on the execution front and there are plenty of blogs that cover these topics already. This post is different. This post is about common choices amateurs make. And while technically it is possible for an novice to write a professional quality script after making these choices, it is not likely and if your writing falls into these categories, it’s very likely that you are an amateur, that you are thinking like an amateur, and that your script is the same as every other amateur script out there.

Okay, here goes:

1. Writing about writers

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A Bonus Writing Exercise – dug up from the past!

I’m going into production tomorrow and I am super excited! Another one day shoot, experimenting with some new filmmaking techniques I want to try out. Because of all the preproduction (and moving, and wedding planning, and everything), I haven’t been able to post much on my blog. So I dug up this old writing exercise, something I did to alleviate boredom during my senior year of high school. I don’t remember how I started or structured this piece, other than to be random and I only allowed myself to write about people in the class I was doing the writing in.

Okay, here goes:

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Put on a Smile

Inspired by my previous entry, here is another poem, from another timed exercise.

PUT ON A SMILE

Once there was a girl named Jill.
She swang and she sung and she liked to twirl.
She also danced, she danced a lot,
and when she got tired she sat on her butt.

But that was not often, as dancing she loved.
It lets her feel free, she glows from above.
Dancing’s the best, makes her feel alive,
doesn’t matter if it’s swing or salsa or hip hop or jive.

But dancing is gone, it’s not what she does.
She goes to the factory, where she puts on her gloves.
Operating machinery each and every day,
her love for dance, she keeps it at bay.

Because you have to make money, you must pay your bills,
and so what if the result is your soul being killed.
You have to work hard, earn money, play that game,
You can always save dancing for another day.

And should that day pass, well what can you do?
You can pout, you can cry, you can go boo-hoo-hoo.
Or you can be strong and be tough, don’t get yourself down,
pretend you’re okay even though your soul has been drowned.

Put on a smile, let people think you’re just fine,
as you drift through your life, miserable all of the time.
Put on a smile, let people think you feel good,
as you toss and you turn, can’t sleep because of your mood.

Put on a smile, each and every day,
only you will know the sad life you’ve made.
Put on a smile, all the way to your grave,
where everyone can say what a great life you made.

Story of Tim

The timed exercise. Write non-stop for ten/twenty/thirty minutes (I don’t remember, I did this one a while ago). Keep your hand moving. Don’t cross out. Don’t worry about spelling, punctuation, or grammar. Lose control, don’t think, and go for the jugular.

STORY OF TIM

Once upon a time, there was a boy named Tim.
He walked and he walked, he walked on four limbs.
He did this because he was only two years old,
Even though it wasn’t what he was told.
People said “walk upright, it’s time to grow up!”,
but Tim walked on all fours and showed them his butt.
They said “it’s time to grow up, stop being a baby!”,
Tim said “Ef you and ef me and give me a lady.”

Twenty years later and Tim was twenty-two.
Where he felt most comfortable was at the zoo.
He wasn’t an animal, he walked correct now,
but more than people or persons he connected with cows.
People are mean, always pushy and bossing around.
Animals are nice, they are sweet, and they don’t make a sound.
People are stupid, they are grumpy, they think they’re so smart.
Animals don’t care, they stay quiet, they sit around and fart.

Twenty years later and Tim is forty-two.
He misses the cows who only say moo.
He has a job now; he’s square as can be.
He only has freedom when he goes to go pee.
In the bathroom, alone, he can be free, be himself,
not some puppet striving for plaques on a shelf.
In the bathroom is where Tim is free to be free,
not some faker loser who stings like a bee.

Twenty years later and Tim is sixty-two.
Now he goes around, creates lots of hullabaloo.
He quit his job, got out of that life.
He juggles chainsaws now, swords an axe and a knife.
He performs on the street, crowds love what they see.
Tim does what he loves, and that is the key.
Crowds give Tim their money, at most dollar bills.
It is not too much, Tim can’t buy his pills.
But now Tim feels great, no pills does he need,
his life is fulfilled, his soul has been freed.
He even got lucky, met the girl of his dreams.
He takes her home where she moans and she screams.

Now it’s Tim’s last twenty and he’s eighty-two.
Twenty more years, that just won’t do.
Tim is old now, juggling hurts his arms,
it’s taken its toll and he has lots of scars.
He’s still married though, still happy, still free.
He lies in his bed, dies at eighty-three.
His wife stays behind, she’s sad, still alive,
she’ll never forget this magical guy.
Who followed his heart, never fit with the rest,
and that’s what made him his very best.
That’s the story of Tim, the story’s at an end.
If you feel like you know him, I hope he’s your friend.