Over the course of the 24 weeks I am working with the writers in The Quest, each will write a weekly dispatch to share with the GITS community. There are several reasons for doing this, the main one educational: Hopefully you will learn something of value for your own understanding of the craft from the experiences of the Questers. I should also add they are a great group of people, so I expect you will enjoy getting to know them.
Today: Troy discusses monkeys, spiders… and panic:
Lesson learned this week: Don’t panic.
First, I had a monkey on my back. Then a spider. Fortunately, neither turned out to be real.
The monkey was figurative. Seven weeks into the Quest and I still hadn’t settled on a story for my log line. I’d posted three completely different synopses that I shared with my fellow Questers (and written three more that I spared them from). None felt right. Each version had their strengths, but also came with unique problems. In one the protagonist seemed okay, but not the nemesis. In another, it was the reverse. In some the external conflict was decent, but it didn’t map to the underlying emotional conflict.
As each week passed, the monkey on my back grew larger. Being that I’m currently in Costa Rica, he was a howler monkey. He’d poke his furry head over my shoulder and whisper “As everyone else is developing their stories, you don’t even have one. You’re falling behind, you know.” I was trying to remain calm, but panic was creeping in.
Well, I’m happy to report that this week I settled on a story. It’s not perfect and has some unique challenges, but I think it can work. My panic has subsided. The howler monkey finally hopped off my back and scurried back up into the trees where he belongs, with his friends who roar every morning at 5am sharp just outside my bedroom window. They’ve become our family alarm clock.
And the spider? That moment of false panic came on a jungle walk with my five year-old son. In the spirit of this week’s lectures, which focused on “Scene,” and in honor of GITS “Script to Screen,” I’ve written the little experience in screenplay format. The video can be viewed here.
Monkeys. Spiders. Panic. Sounds like a typical writing experience, winding our way through a mental miasma that can tend to creep us out. Panic at every new page. Spiders with ever scene. Monkeys accompanying every… montage?
Sorry, tried to keep up the alliteration.
We know we are going to be confronted by these and more with each story we undertake. Does that mean we should avoid going on the adventure? Check out the video above with Troy and his son for the answer. You’d rather miss out on moments like that?
So, too, with writing. With every nightmare experience — Monkeys! Spiders! — there are glorious ones as well.
Therefore time to trot out the well-worn mantra: Trust the process!
About Troy: Born Midwesterner with heart in San Francisco, but nothing beats NYC. Entrepreneur. Writer. Lover of the underdog. Grateful father of 3. @troyklith.
To read Troy’s scripted version of his jungle adventure with his son, hit More and go below the fold.
EXT. JUNGLE – DAY
The TROPICAL SOUNDS of the Costa Rican rain forest.
A FATHER’S POV —
FOLLOWING his five-year-old son, WHITMAN, who wears an explorer vest and a leather sash (his father’s belt). Whitman steps cautiously over the jungle terrain.
(Note: Their entire conversation is whispered. Tense.)
FATHER (O.S.): Whitman?
A beat. The young boy turns.
FATHER (O.S.): You see any monkeys?
As Whitman shakes his head “no,” something over his father’s shoulder catches the boy’s eye.
WHITMAN: I just see a spider web.
FATHER (O.S.): Where?
WHITMAN: It’s right… hanging.
The camera shakes.
FATHER (O.S.): Behind me?
FATHER (O.S.): Where?
The boy’s voice remains calm, but his brow furrows.
WHITMAN: Right on your body.
The hand held camera whips around —
FATHER (O.S.) (gripped by fear): Ah! On my BODY! Where?!
WHITMAN: Right… right on the side. Right there.
The camera shakes wildly —
FATHER (O.S.): Ah! On me?! (whisper turns to scream) GET IT OFF ME!
O.S. the father SWIPES WILDLY at his clothing. Finds nothing, but the heavy breathing betrays his terror.
FATHER (O.S.): Was there a spider on me?!
WHITMAN: Yeah. No.
FATHER (O.S.) (panting): There was a spider on me? Oh my gosh.
The boy’s face can’t hide his disappointment. It won’t be the last time he’ll witness his father’s panicked display.
WHITMAN (a touch of condescension): No, it was just a spider web. It was just a spider web. All right?
Whitman’s tone forces the father to regain his composure. He kneels down next to his son. The FATHER’S SWEATY FACE isn’t the result of the humid jungle, it’s caused by his deep-seated fear of spiders.
FATHER (attempting to change subject): Okay… Now, you want to tell everyone where we just were?
The boy turns to the jungle.
WHITMAN: The bridge.
FATHER: How many bridges?
Whitman fans four fingers.
WHITMAN: I think… four.
The father’s eyes go wide, remembering the slithering, crawling terrors hidden beneath the mossy logs.
FATHER: Four bridges. In the jungle. And we thought we heard monkeys but we didn’t see any monkeys. How big were the spiders we saw?
WHITMAN: Pretty big.
Hoping his son will reveal that the spiders they’d just seen were considerably larger than his outstretched hand —
FATHER: Like show how big —
Suddenly, a CRASHING SOUND a few feet away! Some animal. The father jumps up. Camera spins to the sound —
FATHER: What was that?!
The boy is unsure, but knows he must keep his father calm.
WHITMAN (O.S.): It’s just another guy that’s crossing the trail.
FATHER (O.S.): Are you sure?!
WHITMAN (O.S.): Yeah. I saw him.
FATHER (O.S.): Okay.
WHITMAN (O.S.): Dad?
FATHER (O.S.): Yeah.
The boy speaks softly. He’s noticed something.
WHITMAN (O.S.): There’s another spider right there. In that log thingy.
But the shaken father doesn’t hear his son’s quiet warning as he steps forward… toward the log.
FATHER (O.S.): Okay. All right. Say goodbye.
The boy looks into the camera, whispers —
WHITMAN (O.S.): Goodbye.
CUT TO BLACK.