Dispatch from The Quest: Ben Odgren

November 29th, 2012 by

The Quest participants have been hard at work pounding out a first draft of their original screenplays, but Ben has found the time to compose a dispatch for us.

The past several weeks have reminded me how fun writing the little moments you didn’t realize were about to happen can be. The moments that aren’t in the outline, but where the spontaneity feels like it adds a little bit of character and energy on your way to the next scene.

I find these are the moments I enjoy writing the most. Finding a cool action beat or mini set-piece within a larger one. Or when characters take the conversation in a slightly different direction you thought it would go.

It’s like being in a car and taking a wrong turn. Except that wrong turn leads you to a street where there’s an adorably precocious brother and sister selling lemonade for a quarter a cup. You’re thirsty, so why not pull over and support a couple of budding entrepreneurs? The boy’s name is Wiley and he claims to sell the best lemonade in the whole town. His twin sister, Mary Sue, agrees. They stir in real lemon juice with the powdered stuff. That’s the secret.

After tipping them an extra dollar each you ask them why this road isn’t on the map you were using. Mary Sue asks for the map so she can take a look at it. You hand it to her and as she and her brother study the criss-crossing lines you realize nobody else is on the street. Nobody is doing yard work. No one is walking their dog. The kids both start laughing. She turns the map over. Right there, she says.

You brush some sweat out of your eye and squint at the map. Look at that. Dead Man’s Road. Right between Oak and Pine. Not sure how you missed that. Especially with the distinct and rather out-of-place name.

There must be some kind of story behind that, you say. Wiley and Mary Sue roll their eyes. There’s a story, alright.

Turns out that there was a guy named Larry Dedman and he died of natural causes but he was also kind of an old coot with a lot of money who wanted the street named after him but the guy who made the street signs hated Larry Dedman just because of how much of an old coot he was so he added an extra letter and a space and everybody in the town decided to keep it because they didn’t really like him that much either.

You take a sip of lemonade from the tiny dixie cup. It’s tart but in a refreshing way. You thank them again for their help and find the street that leads to the industrial park you were looking for. You made it. It’s time to inspect some sliding glass doors.

I’m reminded of Anne Beattie’s observation: “People forget years and remember moments.”

There’s also an anecdote about Hollywood’s first notable movie producer Irving Thalberg who told writers at MGM if they could give him five memorable moments in a script, he could deliver a great movie.

About Ben: Maine writer with a love for pulpy genre movies, keeping library books out for a little too long, and strong coffee. Twitter: @benodgren.

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