Back at it for the start of another week.
Just a quick housekeeping note. Roy mentioned in the script links, but we’ll both be defined by days now. We were switching back and forth, but decided on the new schedule because of the pro scripts. He really enjoys doing them, and it was a bit of a chore for me. (See why this is a good partnership?)
Anyway, today we’re taking a look at a story filled with mystery and suspense. It’s actually a really good story, and I had a hard time putting it down. (Stopped in the middle though, because real life work need doing.)
The Servant by Elliott Maguire
Logline: a serial killer who crucifies and burns alive his victims plagues a small Alaskan town, forcing a troubled young cop to team with his father to stop them, before he lets his own demons defeat him.
Review ’em, if ya got ’em.
1.) Can we visualize the description?
Most of the description was quick and to the point. That’s good.
Elliot also did a really good job creating suspense, and here’s one of the better parts.
Devon SWINGS IN-GUN aimed hard down the DARK STAIRS.
He peers down into the DARKNESS.
Reaches out, SWITCHES on the LIGHT-reveals the steep stairs
head FAR DOWN.
He slowly steps down the stairs…
Reaches the BOTTOM, GUN at the ready.
The basement is filled with DARKNESS and SHADOW. Devon
reaches out, finds the LIGHT SWITCH-FLICKS it-the light
refuses to come on.
He pulls out his PEN-TORCH, switches it on, and shines
around the ROOM A washing machine and tumble drier.
Piles of folded clothing.
A corner, that leads FURTHER into the basement.
He walks cautiously towards the corner-
-a small sound, MOVEMENT-
Takes a deep, petrified breath. Gun and torch TREMBLE before him in his grip.
He turns the CORNER, shines the TORCH over a MAN, old, late fifties, in his UNDERWEAR, a gag on his mouth, CHAINED to the WALL, in a dirty, terrified HEAP at the sight of Devon.
Devon lowers his gun in shock.
There were other examples, but this one was my favorite.
Set in the story, I felt like this was coming, but I wasn’t sure, and couldn’t help but keep reading.
One thing I will mention as a problem though, was the structure of a lot of the description when things were happening quickly or when Elliot was trying to create suspense.
Devon steps in, immediately blending into the warm
-FISHERMAN and LOGGERS, beards and beer, laughter and
cigarette smoke, fill the almost rowdy bar.
Devon takes his coat off, places it over the back of a seat
at a table where-
It was almost describing camera shots and angles. Initially I liked it, but it just became too distracting, as I was focusing on how I was viewing these things. (FYI I really liked the “fisherman and loggers” description of the bar.)
Sometimes it even happened in the same sentence, which was confusing as I hadn’t quite settled on the first image, when I’m thrown another one.
He reaches out with his free hand, SEARCHES, finds the
SWITCH-FLICKS IT, the light comes on, revealing the LOUNGE
Couldn’t this just as easily be:
He SEARCHES with his free hand, FLICKS the light on, illuminating the lounge.
As I said, it was a decent tool to create suspense, but I feel it was overused.
My suggestion would be to go back and see where you really want to use it (which parts does it have the greatest impact), then edit out the other dashes so it – loses –
That punchy –
This phrase was used quite a bit, and makes me wonder why?
-The hard, completely BURNT and crisp body of CARL is lay on the clean stainless steel SLAB, harsh lights aimed at it from above.
I think it, or something similar was used in reference to Charlie being at the neighbor’s house at the end too.
However it was meant, it isn’t right. The body of Carl lies on the slab, because Carl is (or was) physically connected to his body.
Summing up this first question, it was good, but like I said, the dashes got on my nerves.
6 out of 10 points.
2.) Does the author use an acceptable format?
Yes, with two exceptions.
Length is at 124 pages. I’d argue that should be cut down to at least 115 if not 110 for this type of story.
We hit all the beats when we were supposed to, which felt kind of daunting, especially towards the end because it’s at that maximum length. I’ll get into things I think need cut later, but the fat definitely needs trimmed from this story.
Wow, were there a lot.
Know when to use there, their, and they’re.
Sits instead of sat.
Tire instead of tyre.
Pew instead of pugh.
And other proofreading points, especially where a word isn’t misspelled, but is the wrong word for the sentence, i.e. her instead of here.
Lastly, when talking about God, anything referring to Him is capitalized. God, Him, He, His, etc.
Even if you’re not a religious person, this should still be done.
The overall formatting was good, but these typos were a bit of a killer, especially considering they’re easy fixes.
6 out of 10 points.
3.) Is the dialogue free of exposition and rich in subtext? Does each character have a unique voice?
Dialogue was decent. Other than a few speeches by the bad guy, and by Devon at his dark point, everything was kept pretty much to a minimum.
What goddamn time is it?
Too late to still be in a goddamn
This bit hints at a struggled relationship between Devon and his father.
Lily looks back at the map.
So what happened? You still
I always dream that one day all
this snow and ice was gonna melt,
and Ben and the others will be
waiting for me, preserved…
Will you promise me something?
Promise me you will catch my
Devon has no words.
Because I don’t think time heals
anything. Do you?
Devon tries to speak-cant. Shakes his head.
No. You just bleed a little slower.
This back and forth struck be as good, because Lily and Devon are both sort of bonding via their loss. Devon lost his best friend in childhood and still hasn’t gotten over it, and Lily just lost her father.
Was kind of deep.
(Notice those dashes popping up everywhere?)
For the most part, the dialogue was economical, which is a plus (especially for people like me who have trouble writing deep stuff).
One thing I wasn’t sold on was Willy’s stutter. I’m guessing it was in there to make him different, but I just don’t feel it added anything. It was just a stutter. (And I’d argue that he was differentiated anyway, by being the new sheriff who lives in Frank’s shadow.)
8 out of 10 points.
4.) Does the writer understand the challenges and rewards posed by the medium chosen in which to tell his/her story? Shorthand version of this is: Is it a movie and not a play?
The suspense I already talked about being well thought out.
There were some big scenes, with action that could only be pulled off on the big screen.
Overall, I don’t have many problems here.
10 out of 10 points.
5.) Is there anything unique in what the writer presents? Are the writer’s ideas, based on this sample, likely to continue to be original?
I think I read somewhere that this was an early draft by Elliot. Geez. That’s really good, and as I mentioned I had a hard time putting it down. I’d argue he’s definitely onto something, and sans the dashes, I’d have a hard time putting my finger what it is he has.
The one problem for me was I called the ending about halfway through. (Actually went out to dinner with my wife last night before finishing it, and told her all my predictions for how it’d play out. I was right.)
This might just be me, but how it ended up felt familiar.
8 out of 10 points.
6.) Does the script have a hook?
The logline had me looking forward to this story. Just the remoteness of Alaska suggests things won’t be easy.
Devon and Billy playing in the woods was good also, especially when Billy just disappears.
Next comes an older version of Devon who’s still dealing with it, and we see all the snow of Alaska which again, reminds us this story takes place in the wilderness.
15 out of 15 points.
7.) Is that hook effective?
Yes, but here’s the first opportunity to trim some fat.
I like how we get Devon and Frank’s relationship isn’t the best.
I like how Devon bumps into Lily.
I’m interested once we find out Leech has been brutally murdered in Miami.
The problems I have are:
The police station scene. Here we get information that could just as easily be given out at the bar in the toast to Leech, PLUS Reggie is set up and never really becomes the anti-Devon he was most likely intended to be.
Lily leaving the house. Other than being introduced to a fat Carl, do we need to see this?
Talk of Leech in the bar. Give us one story about him and a toast. I think the girl stuck in the gearshift is the best, but this joke needs streamlined. Takes too long to get there for something that’s only moderately funny.
Once Devon finds Lily and Charlie in the snow, that’s your inciting incident, and we shouldn’t be getting to it any later than page 15.
9 out of 15 points.
8.) Is there enough to maintain the hook? Reveals, conflict, etc.?
Once we find Lily in the snow things really start to take off.
Carl’s burnt and crucified, bringing the murders to Devon’s doorstep.
All the folks being killed were the heroes in an old missing children case.
We catch the bad guy right at the midpoint, literally page 62 of a 124 page script.
Lily and Devon have a steamy night together.
Bad guy turns out he wanted to be in prison all along.
He gets out and kills another person linked to the target.
Then we get the ending. (I won’t spoil that as I think other folks should read this script.)
One part I didn’t see coming was the villain being caught so early. The problem with that, and I got the sense that he wanted to be caught, is that he should be more methodical when killing Willy.
Bad guy’s caught, and things would probably die down around the police station, so I think tricking and killing Reggie is good (although it could just as easily be an unnamed guard), but he should surprise and murder Willy like it was all planned out.
Right now it feels like he got caught, and it was just dumb luck.
Also, I’m unsure of why he needed the weapons from the police station other than just needing another reason to be caught. He seemed to do well enough without them on the first two killings.
I assumed they were going to be child molesters, but I felt this fact was glossed over. And why did they bury the bodies in the wall? I liked the idea that they were “men with certain needs” and wished Frank had been more adamant about this, almost as if they did what they needed to do.
The description, and even the multiple fight scenes once at the church needs to be streamlined. Think of Roy’s obsession with inferring. We don’t need to read Devon’s every move, so cut out the middle parts of some of it, and we’ll assume he did B before moving from A to C. (Short version, cut out unnecessary description at the end.)
This will also get you closer to that 115 page mark.
5 out of 10 points.
9.) Does the story play to a target audience, and have the elements demanded by that audience?
Don’t kill Lily. That’ll piss people off. I’ll admit I didn’t expect it, but it was too much.
Leave her fate in jeopardy when Devon leaves the station, but don’t kill her.
When the Man comes down the stairs in the house, drying his hair, and the burning truck right outside, shouldn’t Devon question this more? I mean he’s drying his hair which to me instantly suggested he had just been outside in the heavy snow.
Billy having the flashback in the present was odd and hard to understand. At this point in the story it’d be much easier to just give us an old fashioned flashback. Most of the people will have guessed already anyway, so dragging it out isn’t good.
Overall I think Devon’s story needs a bit of work too. He should just be a golden boy type of cop dealing with the childhood loss of his best friend. This plot point is never really dealt with because the author knows we’ll see Billy again at the end.
Having him be the golden boy and then taking the dark turn he does after the murder in the police station, makes his dark moment with Christine (which could also be streamlined) have all the more impact, PLUS makes us wonder at the end if he’s going to murder the Man or not.
OH, and why was Frank no longer the sheriff? And why does everyone go along with him once he takes charge? Especially Devon?
Last issue I had was when Carl got killed. Why were there rotten fish in the kitchen and clothes outside in the snow? Wasn’t Lily staying there taking care of her dad? Seemed a bit odd.
Overall though I think the reader/audience will be on the edge of their seats like I was.
5 out of 10 points.
This was a great story.
Every plot point in there I’d argue belongs.
The issue becomes trimming the fat from the beginning and the end to get it to a manageable page length that will make a reader easily finish it.
Once the typos and dashes are fixed, along with the length, Elliot will have a nice piece of writing on his hands, and I wish him luck with it.
Total 72 out of 100 points.
I’m not sur but with serial killer cases, usualy the FBI kicks in. Also Devon should find more clues by himself. But as a first draft it was really strong. Also as an alternative ending Lilly’s boy(Chris or something like that) can stay with Frank and Devon should find out about the past events from someone else so whe he goes to get the boy it can create suspense.
I’m not sure on the FBI part, but easily a case to suspend disbelief.
I REALLY dig the idea of Frank pulling a, “Heck, I’ll watch the kid,” move and then we find out at the end about Billy. Hey Now! Talk about drama.
I’m not sur but with serial killer cases, usualy the FBI kicks in
No, if the case occurs within a single locality, the local police would be wholly responsible for the investigation.
If the crimes spread across several localities within a state, the crime would typically be handled by (1) a coalition of those local police departments, (2) handled separately by the local police departments or (3) fall under the jurisdiction of the law enforcement agency at the next largest political unit — for example a county Sheriff’s department or the State Police (depending on the state laws and the roles those organizations play in their jurisdiction).
They can request assistance from the FBI, but even in that case the FBI would not run the investigation.
The case would fall into the FBI’s jurisdiction if the cases cross state lines or federal lines, or occurs on Federal property.
Thanks so much for the review Hank, very much appreciated. I was in such a rush for feedback that I sort of breezed through the proof reading, rookie mistake I guess but I’ll be making sure to fix this issue on the second draft. A few of the points you raised are being implemented into the second draft, which I started on Monday, these are the major ones:
-Devon is now Sheriff, Willy is a reliable Deputy.
-Lily is now an ex-FBI agent who has been obsessing over the case and brings it to Devons attention, while being persued herself by her former boss. Devon agrees to shelter her on the basis she helps with the case.
-Lily doesn’t die, but instead has more of an arc.
-the population of the town is smaller, as is the Police force. So no Reggie.
-the idea of the Bible references has been scrapped, I just don’t think it went anywhere, so I have introduced a more procedural element in its place.
There are quite a few more minor ones, but these are the main ones. On top of the advice you have given on format, I’ll lose the dashes. I’m hoping with these changes the page count will go down to around the 105-110 mark.
I will definitely be taking all of your advice while doing the second draft, I agree with every point you have made. Thanks again Hank, really really appreciate it!
Not at all a problem, and thanks for letting us take a look.
After chatting with Roy a bit, I wouldn’t take out ALL DASHES, but just watch their overuse. I think a good example of how you used them is with that basement scene.
He walks cautiously towards the corner-
-a small sound, MOVEMENT-
Just rmember for them to be most effective they’ve got to be kept to a minimum.