Nicholas Reicher

Writing Your Next Blockbuster Film or Novel

Category: Sample Writing

Thoughts on “the Island”

Okay, I wrote “The Island” in one night.

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I literally wrote out a basic logline during a break in the day, wrote out a list of how everyone dies, and that was it. Then after all my nightly stuff, I opened Scrivener and began writing.

4200 words later, I was done. I couldn’t tell that story in just 1,500 words. I couldn’t give any back story, or give you an eye into the social structure of the Island, or give you developed characters in a 1,500 word story.

It required me to go to bed 15 minutes later, to be able to finish the story. And the next day I dragged at work, because that was some seriously intense writing.

What was I trying to portray in the story? I wanted to show how absolute chaos ensues when people panic. I wanted to show how a single man can completely change the way people think with a few comments.

Ernie Lee held a great deal of power over the community. The storekeeper Cary (yes, I know Squirrel Island doesn’t have stores, but I decided to make this story on a different Island!) had to divert a considerable amount of energy into watching Ernie the entire time, to keep Ernie from stealing something, or to distract Cary into letting him take something on credit he’d probably never pay.

We all know that person.

Ernie also had a single problem – he was a sociopath. He simply didn’t know right from wrong. Well, more accurately, Ernie knew right from wrong – he just couldn’t understand those concepts as they were applied to him. His responses if asked would be, a literal, “I don’t know what you mean.” So when they spotted a massive explosion that turned out to be a car crashing into a transformer and exploding, Ernie of course honestly thought it was an atomic bomb. And his words scared everyone, because when Ernie Lee states he’s going to survive, the very way that Carey was watching his store now becomes how everyone else watched their life. Ernie’s going to kill me, and if he’s going to do it, everyone else will too. It’s actually only four of them.

I borrowed one man from The Birds and from Jaws for my story – Missing Guy. In Jaws, it was Ben Gardner. These people never lived. They were dead from the moment the story was written. Who killed Missing Guy? Ernie. He beat the guy to death with the shovel. Darian only kills two men in the story. But again, that was part of Ernie’s plan – get them all to kill each other, and Ernie would just opportunistically take what was left.

The Island was originally titled “Squirrel Island”, but of course, I had to use artistic license, by putting a general store on it, and cars and trucks. And there are no permanent residents of Squirrel Island. In my story, there’s less than a dozen permanent residents.

Almost all of them are French. That’s a little known thing in some parts of Maine – There’s been a culture clash between the French and the Anglo’s for over a century. In most of Maine, it’s not so noticeable. It still can be found in some areas, like Lisbon Falls and Durham.

Where the French settle in, it’s usually in small communities. So I decided to make The Island one of those places. And because of its nature (a place where only a few people live every year), all of them are French except for one Anglo – who’s dead before the story even starts (Mike Johnson).

The antagonism between Ruthie Johnson and Ernie Lee is one of the established resident versus the outsider. Brooke was a outsider moved in like Ruthie, but because she was French, she was accepted, whereas Ruthie was not. Ruthie’s speech was designed to show them that. Probably none of the residents had ever realized that Ruthie was an outsider still, even though she lived on the Island longer than Brooke.

However, the only real antagonism Ruthie had was from Ernie. Carey’s reaction shows that the Islanders didn’t believe Ruthie killed her husband – but in New England once a rumor gets going, it gets a life of its own.

One of my goals was to give you an antagonist so nasty, you HAD to hate him. This is something I think authors have been getting away from, and it leaves the reader unsatisfied. Your villain is a villain because he’s too smart. Or he had a facial disfiguration as a boy, and so that’s why he became a body builder and a serial killer. Seriously, you don’t have to explain villains! You don’t have to justify them! Why is he a villain? Because he’s evil! I’ve found ample evidence in over 50 years of personal experience some people are just wholly given over to evil, and don’t care. Are they all sociopaths? No. The worst evil is done by people who know good from bad, understand how it applies to them, and have just made the conscience decision to go ahead and do wrong. Sometimes villains are villains because they’re evil.

Ernie murders Ruthie because he’s killing the outsiders, and purging his community. It’s satisfying to him. And he taunts her as she drowns by telling her that he knew all along she didn’t kill Mike, Ernie killed him years before.

In that one act, the reader now can’t wait to see Ernie die. Ernie killed a man, then taunts his widow for years by diverting blame? Oh, he’s got to die! Readers love to see despicable characters get their come-uppance.

Stephen Gagnon was originally named Elliot, and Brooke was originally named Elena. But that gave me three people in a short story who’s names start with “E”, and you can’t have that.

I debated the twist ending quite a bit. I wanted to write the story strong enough, so that you had to think it was a nuclear bomb, it really was World War III. But I couldn’t talk about an explosion that lasted minutes, the continuing roar, a blast of wind, stuff banged around on the Island, and then turn it into a car crash! In one of my novels I give you a blow by blow description of an atomic bomb explosion, and what it would be like to be within a mile or two of it. So that’s something I’ve done.

I could easily turn this into a movie script – the pacing is just right for it. But I’d be annoying and insist that all the actors have genuine Maine Accents.

I think the hardest part for me was this – whether to leave it like an “On the Beach” ending, or like it was. If you read it again, but stop at Brooke and Stephen in the police station after Ernie has been killed, the story has a chilling feel to it. I didn’t know if that’s how I wanted to end it or not? But for me the twist ending was the most satisfying.

The Island

Ernie Lee stomped into the only general store on the Island, shaking off the cold October rain. “Thought the rain would hold off.” He drawled in his Maine accent.

Photo by Mitch Mckee on Unsplash

Truth was, with that silly beard and no mustache, Ernie looked more like a Moose in a flannel shirt than a Mainer. The sleeves of his flannel shirt peeked out of the sleeves of his yellow rain slicker. Drops of rain fell from his slicker on the stained wood floor of the shop.

“Weather does what it wants to.” Carey Beaulac drawled, as he stacked the last cans of soup he had on the shelves. He kept an eye on Ernie. An Island native and not a mainlander, Ernie still was a trifle crooked, and everyone knew it. Tongues still wagged over his shady deal to attempt to file a quit-claim deed on an Islander’s land, just to get his own marina and not have to pay Marina fees. Of course, the deal had been discovered as he was trying to file.

“I need that shipment of rubber bands.” Ernie pulled the hat off of reddish matted hair that looked as if it had never seen a comb in his 40 years. He shook his head at the noise coming from the radio. Ernie had never been a music fan. “Need them for my lobsters.” It sounded like lob-staahs.

“Boat’s overdue.” Cary stepped back behind the counter. “Who’s traps you raiding today, Ernie?”

“Never poached a lobster in my life.” Ernie protested. “I’m an honest lobster-man.”
Cary snorted. “If by that you mean you’ve never been caught, I suppose so.” The wind howled harder, and the rain lashed the windows.

“Boat’s not coming in with that kind of weather.” Ernie mused. “I need them bands.”

“If the boat can’t make it in, you can’t make it out neither.” Cary said, opening a can of chewing tobacco.

Ernie flapped his arms – there was no use talking to Cary when he was in this kind of contrary mood. “Colin Wilson’s family’s been at sea longer than anyone in Maine.” Ernie said, bending to look at some coils of rope.

Cary ignored him. Ernie wasn’t going to buy any rope, not this late in the season. Lobster fishing was over and done with anyway for the year. But Ernie was right about one thing – Colin Wilson was not the kind of boat captain to take risks, but if anyone could get a boat in, it would be him. The common joke around this part of Maine was that if Colin Wilson had been captain of the Titanic, he’d have harvested the iceberg to make ice cubes.

Ruthie Johnson came in, the door blowing out of her grasp. She shut the door with an impatient squawk, trying to keep the cold air out of the store. “Nor’easter.” She pronounced, nodding, confirming her own analysis of the weather and agreeing with herself. Which was a good thing, because someone had to. “You got my mail in, Cary Beaulac?”

“Boat’s overdue.” Cary informed her.

“You’ll have to wait for your welfare check, Ruthie.” Ernie said. Ruthie gave him a withering stare that should have set his hair on fire. She made a face, and moved to look at the shelves, to see what she could buy for dinner.

“Groceries are for Island folk only.” Ernie told her. Ruthie turned her back on him.
“Ernie Lee, you know I’ve lived on this Island for seven years.” She said with some irritation.

“Married onto it. Then drowned your husband, you did.” Ernie made sure he had the low freezer between him and her. He eyed the icepick that was nearby that he knew that Carey used to chisel frozen meats out of the freezer when they’d sat too long.

“Oh, come on now, Ernie, don’t go spreading nasty rumors you know aren’t true!” Cary shouted at him, trying not to spittle anyone with brown juice as he chomped on the cheek full of tobacco.

“Mike Johnson was the best crewman I ever had on my lobster boat.” Ernie said. “Swam like a fish. No way he could drown. Left my boat to go home with a pocketful of pay and never saw him again.”

“You’re a cruel, lying arrogant…” Ruthie began, tears of rage in her face to be blamed yet again for the loss of her husband. “And if he was the best, why didn’t you ever pay him?”

“I paid him fair and square!” Ernie said, his prominent jaw set with defiance. “Nobody can call me a cheat or a thief.”

“Nobody unless they live on this Island, you mean!” Ruthie said, shaking in rage. She was furious that a tear ran down her cheek, and she knew that Ernie saw it. “I’m surprised Officer Gagnon hasn’t arrested you yet!”

“…this week.” Cary filled in. “It’s only Friday Ruthie. Ernie should be drunk in public by morning.”

“You stay out of this.” Ernie growled. But he was losing his will to fight, and was trying to think of a way to get Cary to let him take two coils of line for his pots on store credit.

“No credit today.” Cary said, watching as Ernie looked over the lines.

“Aw, c’mon Cary, I’ve got a big haul soaking out there, and I can pay you by tomorrow! I’ve got two restaurants in Bar Harbor goin’ ta pay me top dollar for fresh lobster…”

“And they don’t ask what pots you stole them from.” Ruthie snarled in anger.

The door opened again, chilling everyone with the cold air. Adam Harnois stepped in, looking for all the world like a clean-shaven lumberjack. Following him was Officer Stephen Gagnon and Brooke Michaud. Everyone looked at one another with a nod. They’d noticed that Officer Gagnon seemed to be seen in the company of the newest resident of the Island lately, and Island folk all had their rumor mills busily grinding. Cary couldn’t really understand it, since there was nothing wrong with a single policeman dating a single woman, but Island folk were strange, to say the least.

“Evening, Cary.” Adam said, always seemingly cheerful. “Boat in?”

“Overdue.” Ruthie and Ernie said at the same time, and Cary took the opportunity to spit a mouthful of juice into an old Coke bottle.

“Anyone seen Ralph this evening?” Stephen asked.

“Probably sleeping off a drunk.” Ernie said.

“Which reminds me. If you’re drinking tonight, please stay in until you sleep it off too.” Stephen said. “I don’t want to have to arrest you again.”

“Ralph Heil’s not a drunk.” Ruthie said. She was still furious at being accused of murdering her husband. Again.

“So you say.” Ernie added another barb at her, as he looked over some cans inside a box. “Planning to drown him next, are you Ruthie?”

“Don’t you touch them cans, Ernie.” Cary told him. “They’re special order for Officer Gagnon.”

“In other words, he paid for them already.” Ruthie said. “And them cans is probably your jail chow for your next arrest.”

The door opened again, letting Homer Johnson and Darian Fisher in, both in matching rain slickers. They had their Muck boots and Grunden oil pants on, a sure sign they’d just got in from their boat. “Colin Wilson’s going to have his hands full if he doesn’t get here soon.” Homer said. “Seas are a fright. Took a minute getting tied in to the dock cleats without the boat crushing my hands.”

“Getting dark out.” Stephen observed. “You think Colin’s going to risk a sea like that in the dark?”

“Oh, yeah.” Several agreed at once.

“Colin would row a boat out on a night like this to harpoon Moby Dick, and tow him to shore.” Darian exaggerated. “And go back out to sea.”

There was a burst of static from the radio. A sudden bright, bright burst of light came from the distance. The radio went silent, and a moment later the lights failed. A BOOM rolled in across the water onto the Island, pushing aside the Nor’Easter squall for a brief moment. It felt as if the Island rocked for a second.

There was a burst of voices in the darkness, until Cary was able to get an emergency light on. Pale, frightened faces stared back at him. They could see in the distance a red glow, as if something was on fire in the distance on the mainland. Darkness was trapping them now. Not a single glimmer of lights could be seen from the mainland. In the shadow of the flare and the spreading glow, it looked like a mushroom cloud was rising into the dusk air.

“The bomb.” Ernie said. “The bomb.”

“What are you going on about now, Ernie?” Homer drawled.

“The Reds. They finally dropped the bomb. You heard it, felt it, saw it. Bright flash, boom.” Ernie said. “Probably nuked Bangor.”

“Why would the Russians nuke Bangor?” Adam put his hands on his hips. He almost looked as if he was scolding Ernie.

“Probably wasn’t just Bangor. Probably Washington, New York, Hartford, Boston, Chicago… every major city.” Ernie said.

Panic was beginning to grip everyone. “Horse Feathers.” Darian said. “Horse feathers.”

“Radio’s on batteries, isn’t it?” Ernie said. “Hear anything?”

They looked around, fear in their faces.

“Storm’s bad enough that we wouldn’t hear the radio.” Homer said, uncertain.

“We were hearing that racket just fine till the bomb went off.” Ernie said.

Darian looked at his cell phone. “I… have no service.” He said. He was beginning to panic. Everyone looked at their phones, and Cary tried to dial out on his. He finally put away his phone, uncertainty in his face.

“Everything’s changed now.” Ernie said. “We may be the only living people for a hundred miles around. And it’ll take a week for the mainland to be safe from the radiation.”

“Hold on, now.” Stephen said.

“Now, you hold on there, Mr. Police Officer.” Ernie said. “I’m sober right now, so I don’t have to listen to you.” There was a metal grating sound, and Ernie was hefting something.

“You put that shovel down, Ernie.” Cary ordered.

“All I know is, boat didn’t come in.” Ernie said. “Bad storm out. No fishing for a day, maybe longer. And the shelves are empty.”

“What are you saying, Ernie?” Ruthie couldn’t believe what she was hearing from the crusty old lobster bandit.

“Eight or nine of us on the Island.” Ernie said. “Not enough supplies for all of us. Only enough supplies in this here store to keep two people alive for a week.” They could see in the dim light that he was hefting the shovel.

“He’s gone mad.” Homer said. “He’s lost it.”

“Have I?” Ernie laughed, an ugly sound. “There’s no boat. You heard the boom. You felt it. Saw the fires on the mainland. There’s never going to be another boat. Not tonight, not tomorrow, not ever.” He was backed up against the door, holding the shovel. “Nine full time Islanders here, and enough food for two. And I’m not going to starve. Not Ernie Lee.” He opened the door, and was out in the storm. “So while you panic and kill each other, I’m going in hiding. When you all are done, I’ll come out and survive. I wouldn’t stay too long in a group, and make it easier on someone big and strong to kill you.” The door shut, as Ernie stepped out of sight in the storm.

“He’s gone mad.” Homer said, fear in his voice. He stepped over to Darian, but Darian whipped out a knife.

“You stay back, Homer.” He said, fear in his voice. “Think I don’t know that trick?”
Stephen held up his hands. “This has gone on too long. Darian, put that knife down.”
“You’re gonna have to shoot me, Stephen. No lights, no cell phone, no radio. He’s right, and I’m not dying either.” Darian told him. He was backing to the door, too.

Adam Harnois moved forward, wrapping his arms around Darian in a bear hug.
“Hold on, there, Darian, don’t panic.” Adam went silent, and his eyes went wide in the dim light from the storm. He staggered back, and they saw the blood coming from his right side, where Darian had stabbed him. Darian turned and jabbed the blade at Adam repeatedly, until Adam sank to his knees, a ghastly groan coming from him as he pitched forward. Stephen pulled his gun, but Darian turned and ran out of the store.

Adam was down on the floor in the midst of a large red pool, as Stephen rolled him over. Adam opened his mouth, a gurgling sound coming out. Bloody froth was on his lips, as he began to convulse. Adam stopped moving after a few minutes.

Stephen stood. He headed to the door. “Cover him with something. I’ve got to go find Darian.” He was out in the storm, the door slamming behind him,

“He killed him.” Ruthie said, panicking. “Stabbed him to death. Horrible.”

“I didn’t think it was like that.” Brooke said. “Stabbing him again and again”

“I’ll find him.” Homer said. He headed out into the storm.

* * * * * * *

The rain felt as though a thousand icy needles were piercing his skin. Homer could feel his hands cold, and starting to go numb. He ran forward, trying to see in the driving rain and wind. His eyes were trying to close to avoid the punishing cold rain. He charged towards the Marina, knowing Darian would be hiding on the boat. Homer ran onto his boat, seeing Stephen step out of the cabin.

“Not in there?” He asked. Stephen shook his head. They booth ran forward in the rain, trying to make their way into the only street on the Island, the twisting one that led to a hundred summer cabins, the ones the tourists would rent, and the regulars would live in during summer months.

“Which house?” Homer shouted, trying to be heard over the loud wind, which was beginning to sound more like a hurricane. Stephen looked around, shaking his head. It truly was a hundred to one. And Darian could keep avoiding them with ease.

It was a lethal cat and mouse game.

“”Sweet jumping Christmas.” Homer said, stopping.

Stephen looked at him, unsure. “What?”

“Ralph. If Darian really thinks we just got nuked, then he’ll go kill Ralph to make sure there’s one less.” Homer said.

“This of course assumes that Ernie is wrong.” Stephen said.

“What?” Homer stood there with his mouth open.

“I tried my radio.” Stephen said. “No answer from the mainland.”

They stared at one another, trying to decide what that meant.

Only enough supplies for two.

“Let’s check on Ralph.” Stephen said. Homer nodded.
They set out together, towards the east end of the Island, where the rain was much worse.

But Homer kept his distance from Stephen. He’s got a gun. And one down so far. Seven more to go.

They banged on the door. “Ralph!” Stephen hammered on the door. He looked back at Homer. “We’re going to have to try banging on the windows.”

Homer hung back, keeping his distance. “Sure.” He said. “You first.”

Stephen looked at him. His hand was resting on his pistol.

“Homer, you’re being a fool.” He said, his voice level. Homer stood facing him, several feet away.

“You said it yourself. Nobody’s answering the radio. Lights on the mainland are off. Darian’s already killed a man, and you’ve got your hand on your gun.”

“Of course.” Stephen said. “Because you’ve got the same look in your face Darian had.”

It was out now. They didn’t trust each other.

“One man down.” Homer said. “And you’ve got a gun.”

“I’m saying it one time.” Stephen said. “Keep your distance.”

It was an impasse. Homer began to back away. “Think you’re so special, because you don’t have to fish for a living.” Homer said. “Divorced man in my fifties, bent over and old before my time from the seas. I’ll die alone, I know. But I’m not dying tonight. I’m going to live.”

“Homer…” Stephen said. But Homer backed into the storm, and was around the corner of the house before Stephen could do anything. Stephen shook his head, and moved around the house, banging on the windows.

He rounded the corner, and stopped.

The back door was swinging open in the storm. Stephen pulled out his flashlight, and moved inside. He saw Ralph, lying on the sofa. Blood was splattered everywhere. Stephen turned off the flashlight, and stepped back out. He moved back towards the west, heading to the general store.

As he walked, he realized Brooke was at the store, protected only by Cary Beaulac and Ruthie Wilson. Against a man with a knife, and another with a shovel, and who knows what kind of weapon Homer had.

His walk turned into a run.

* * * * *

Homer stepped out of the darkness, carrying a hook from his lobster gear in his hand. He moved towards his boat. “Darian!” He shouted. “Darian!” Only the howl of the storm answered him. He felt the fear in his throat, and moved forward. “Darian! Enough supplies for two! You and I can help each other!” He bawled. He got on the boat, knowing Darian would be near. He grabbed the door to the cabin and opened it, jumping back, hook slashing.

There was nobody in the cabin.

Homer turned, lurching with fear, anticipating Darian being behind him. He ran forward, and saw it.

The car skidded as it lurched around the corner, tires skidding on the wet cobblestone road. Homer screamed as the car roared forward.

The sound was sickening, as Homer’s body went under the car. The car skidded, and slammed into a rock wall supporting the hill against the fury of the storm.

Darian heard the sound of the car horn, and realized he’d blacked out for a minute. He was trapped inside the car, the air bag deflated in front of him. His forehead was bleeding, and he knew he’d hit something. He tried using his left arm, but it wouldn’t move. As the pain awoke as well, he realized he couldn’t move either. The steering wheel held him in place against the seat.

Liquid poured down on him, and he saw Ernie standing on the hood of the car, a can of old gas was in his hands. The water in it had made it bad for engines.

But it would still burn.

Ernie leaned in through the broken windshield. “Five left.” He said. “Five.” He lit a match, and stuck it into a book of matches. They flared up, and he tossed them onto Darian.

The gasoline on his clothes lit up, and Darian screamed as he began to burn. He struggled to get up, but he was pinned in place. Ernie dumped the rest of the gasoline on him, and jumped back off the car, as Darian’s head caught fire. The high pitched screams kept going and going, as the smell of burning rubber rose up. Ernie walked away and the car flared up, the flames reaching the gas tank, turning the car into a bright orange fireball.

The screaming stopped as Ernie walked into the rain.

* * * * * * *

Stephen moved inside the store, gun down at his side. He sighed in relief as he saw them. “Homer’s out there. Doesn’t trust me.” Stephen said. “Ralph’s dead.”

“Who killed him?” Ruthie asked, beginning to panic.

“Darian, or Ernie. Don’t know.” Stephen said. “But Brooke and I are going to the police station for safety. You want to come with us, you’re welcome to.”

“Go outside, so Ernie can kill me?” Ruthie asked. “Or so you can kill me without any witnesses?”

“Not you too?” Stephen asked, wearily.

Brooke held up her hands. “You can trust Stephen!” Brooke said. “He’s a police officer.”

“I trust nobody right now.” Ruthie said. “I’m the only one here without any ties to the Island, as I was reminded earlier. I’m not a Gagnon or a Michaud, an Ouellette or a Beaulac. I’m a Sullivan, and I married Mike Johnson, and that’s my tie to the Island. Ad I’ve got no security now.” She was backing to the door.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re not born here, or not from family here.” Brooke said. “You’re Island folk now.”

“No.” Ruthie said. “My husband’s gone. And you’ve got a man,and he’s got a gun. Only enough supplies for two. Well, you’re not killing me!” She backed out, and turned, running.

Ruthie ran and ran, struggling to breathe in the cold, wet and rain. She ran out onto the dock, trying to put distance between her and Stephen. She ran, her feet slipping on the wet wood. She dashed past the corner where the burning car was, and ran along the sea wall so nobody could jump her. She ran towards the next corner, intending to cut the corner and dash off to one of the cottages.

Something smashed into her face, and she fell back. Hands grabbed her and lifted her…

…and she was dropping, landing in the sea. The water was deep here. The storm waters banged her against the sea wall, knocking her again. Her jaw and head hurt immensely.

Ruthie screamed, arms clawing. She saw Ernie standing there, holding the shovel.

The surf was dragging her out deeper, waves washing over her. It was taking all of her strength just to stay on the surface.

“How’s it feel?” He shouted. “How’s it feel to drown in the sea, the way you killed yer husband?”

The water closed over her head, and the water was drawing her back from the sea.

“I didn’t kill my…” She shouted, voice distorted by her broken jaw. She choked on a mouthful of sea water. “Please, Ernie!” She screamed.

“Drown! Drown!” He shouted, waving the shovel. “Maybe you’ll float next to your husband!”

“I didn’t kill…” She sobbed. She was kicking and thrashing, but getting tired. The waves were strong, strong. The water was leeching strength from her. “Ernie, please! Don’t kill me! I didn’t kill my husband!”

“I know!” Ernie shouted. “I killed yer husband! Caught me cheating him out of his pay! So I smacked him in the head and threw him overboard!” He laughed as she sank beneath the waves. The waves continued to roll and break over where she’d gone under. He couldn’t see her now. Ernie laughed, feeling the warmth of the whiskey he’d been drinking all day. He lurched, heading back to the store. Two left to kill.

* * * * * * *

“Let’s go.” Stephen said. Cary looked at him, undecided.

“Police Station’s the safest place.” Stephen told him. Cary shook his head.

“You go. I can’t leave my store.” He said. “I’ve got a surprise waiting for Ernie when he tries to come in here.”

“Ernie’s going to kill you, Cary Beaulac.” Stephen told him.

“If he does, it’ll buy you both enough time to get safe.” Cary said quietly. “You two deserve a chance. Go get safe, and avenge me.”

Stephen nodded, and he looked out into the storm. The storm was getting more furious.

“Cary, don’t be a fool.” Brooke said. “If you stay here, Ernie will get you.”

Cary shook his head. “You two go. I owe Ernie this much. I know he’s a lying, cheating, murdering fool. And tonight, I’m going to make sure he gets his own.” He patted his stomach, and Stephen saw he had something under his shirt. “Go.”

Stephen took Brooke by the arm. “We’re out of time.” He said. They ran out into the storm. Stephen had his gun out and pointing, as they ran down past the smoldering car. They saw Homer’s body in the street. “Keep going.” Stephen told her. They ran.

“Someone’s in the water.” Brooke said, her voice trembling.

“Face up or down?” Stephen asked.

“Down.”

“Keep going.” He said. There was a scream behind them, and several gun shots.

“Run.” Stephen said.

They ran, feet slipping, sliding, as they made it towards the police station. The sound of a truck engine racing made them burst into a sprint, desperate, lungs crying out for air, feet slipping on wet cobblestone.

Stephen grabbed the police station door, and pulled on it. He shoved Brooke inside,

An arm grabbed Brooke, pulling her close. Ernie had his arm around her neck, the other pointing a pistol at Stephen.

“How you gonna shoot me, with your girl in front of me?” Ernie grinned.

“Ernie, you’re going to pay for this.” Stephen said.

“Oh, no.” Ernie grinned. “I won this. Me, I’m not starving. Only supplies enough for two.”

“You know, I’m going to shoot you.” Stephen said. His gun was pointed right at Ernie.

Ernie shifted so that Brooke was in front of him as a shield.

“What ya gonna do now, cop?” Ernie hissed. “Arrest me for being a drunk?”

Brooke slowly was pulling her arm up inside the sleeve of her coat. Stephen saw it, and stepped to the side slowly. His gun remained pointed at Ernie’s face.

“I’m going to put cuffs on you, put you in a cell, and see that you’re tried for seven murders.” Stephen said.

“How you gonna stop me?” Ernie asked. “Because only two can leave here.”

“You’re right.” Stephen said.

Brooke’s arm dropped out of the sleeve, the ice pick clutched in her hand. She stabbed Ernie in the groin, then in the stomach as she broke free. Ernie roared, the gun in his hand drifting down to point at the floor. She dodged to the side.

Stephen fired. Ernie staggered back, and Stephen shot twice more. Ernie dropped to the ground, and rolled over. The gun dropped from his fingers.

Stephen shot once more, then kicked Ernie’s gun away.

“We’re safe.” He said to Brooke. She looked at him shaking, and dropped the ice pick.

“Is there anyone else?” She asked fearfully.

“We’re the last ones alive.” Stephen said.

Brooke began to cry, and Stephen hugged her.

“For how long?” She asked. Stephen kept holding her, trying to think of an answer.

* * * * * * *

The red glow on the horizon was gone.

“Crazy.” The fireman said. “Hit the transformer, and everything went. Police dispatch down, radio station down, Cell tower out, all of the town out.” He said.

The cop looked inside at the smoking body. “Car must have blown up when the transformer blew.

“Who was it.” The fireman asked.

“Josiah Brown.” The cop said. “I know his car anywhere. Second best boat captain in Maine.” He sighed. “But a classic DUI fatality.”

“Man.” The fireman said. “Looked like an atomic bomb went off when the transformer blew. Must have scared the willies out of the Island people.”

The cop looked up. “I’m sure Stephen Gagnon has his hands full.” He said.

* * * * * * *

Colin Wilson wheezed as he sat in the bed, thermometer in his mouth. His wife fretted. She hated to see a strong, confident man like Colin laid out with the flu. He looked at her, and she took the thermometer out of his mouth.

“Ninety nine.” She said.

“I have to go. The Island people are going to panic without their supplies.” He said.

“No worries.” She soothed him. “I called Josiah Brown to deliver the shipment to the Island.”

Colin lay back, and the lights flickered, and came back on. His wife blew out the candle.

“That’s a relief.” He said. “I bet they thought it was the end of the world”

Copyright 2017 Nicholas Reicher – All Rights Reserved

The “Vomit” Draft

There’s a phrase among screenwriters – I think Jeannie Bowerman came up with it. Novelists have adopted it as well.
The “Vomit” draft.

What in the world?

The concept is that in my first draft – whether novel or screenwriting – I’m not going to worry about rules, structure, correct format, etc.

The entire idea of your first draft is to vomit words on the white space on your screen in Scrivener or in Final Draft.

Then later, during the edit process, you can worry about Dave Trottier standing behind you with a large wooden ruler, saying “The correct formatting for a scene without sound is MOS.”

SMACK!

Is this scene a sequel to the previous scene?

I don’t care.

Does this scene promise something I’ve got to deliver on later?

I don’t care.

I’ll care about all that in the first re-write. For now… I’m getting this scene down before I lose it.

Carpenter watched through the binoculars. The quads had stopped, and the men dismounted. The man working the radio equipment was so close, it looked like they could just reach out and touch him. He looked annoyed, fiddling with earphones. Carpenter slowly moved his binoculars, and saw one of the troopers looking intently down. The trooper motioned to another trooper, who walked casually over to him. The first one said something, and the body of the second one stiffened a little.
“Are they looking?” McKinney whispered. Carpenter paused.
“They’re looking.” He said finally. There was no mistaking the actions Of the UN troops. They were actively looking. Two or three were speaking on radios while scanning with binoculars. McKinney was nervous as he watched through his own as one seemed to stare right at him.
“What do we do?” McKinney asked.
Carpenter was silent. “That depends on if they go away or not.” he answered grimly. “If not, then we fight. We take out as many as we can, and then the rest of you start the retreat to the boats. Load the boats, and head towards Greenland. I’ll cover the retreat while you get everyone to safety. If they go away, that was our close call. We pack up and move today. It was time to move, anyway.”
“You’re gonna need help if it turns to shooting.” McKinney said. Carpenter shook his head.
“We’ve already discussed this. Your job is important. You have to get everyone to safety.” McKinney nodded, and pushed the radio earpiece back in his ear. Carpenter caught his arm.
“If I don’t make it… Be sure to tell Alison I love her.” He said. There was deadly seriousness in his eyes. McKinney nodded.
They watched. One of the soldiers was wandering down the trail. His eyes were down, as if he was following the trail. He stopped, staring at something. Then he turned and motioned to one of the watching Sergeants. The Commanding Officer strode over to him, as the soldier pointed at something. His hand swept back and forth. The Commanding Officer nodded.
“Show time.” Carpenter said grimly. He placed his eye to the scope of his rifle as the soldiers began walking down the trail. McKinney took the safety off his rifle, and moved slowly through the bush in slow, random movements as they’d practiced. He headed towards the shooting spot they’d practiced from.

See? I worried about who (first word!) what (second word) where (established in previous action snippet), and if there’s any other W words, I tossed them over my shoulder as I and Carpenter crawled through the undergrowth to approach the men on the quad!
This is writing. Get your vomit draft down. On the re-write you can get this all formatted nicely. You can make sure this snippet is the sequel to the previous snippet, if this scene promises something (oh, boy it does!) and if it delivers on previous promises (oh, yes… it does).

Conclusion

Get the raw words on paper. I tend to call my first draft a “Raw draft”, not a “first draft”. Edit later! You’ve got 1667 words to write today!

Meet A Character – Rolf Offenstath

From my first book…

Rolf.

Rolf Offenstath sat down wearily in the wreckage of what used to be a house, he guessed. He’d never lived in Berlin, but had attended one or two May Day celebrations in his time with the Hitler Youth. Rolf shivered, his breath visible as he exhaled with a shaky sound.. It was cold and wet for May. He saw Scharführer Esserholtz, the equivalent rank of a Sergeant moving towards him. “Esserholtz.” He called. The older man sat with him, shivering in the cold. “What’s the news?” Rolf asked. Eseerholtz glanced over at Rolf, his eyes taking in the SS insignia on his collar, the single pip on his epaulet, designating him as a First Lieutenant. The gleaming black pistol holster that held the Luger. The older man reflected he’d been in the army almost as many years as this boy had been alive. And here this boy was in charge of a Company in the ReichsKrieg, the German army.

“Herr Obersturmführer, the word is that The Fuhrer is dead.” The Sergeant told him. “Admiral Doenitz is in charge of the Reich. Boorman has succeeded the Führer as head of the party.” He knew that would be important to Rolf. He was so dedicated to the idealogy, Esserholts knew. “Goebbels has killed himself and his family.” He cradled his rifle, shrugging. “Alles ist kaput.” All is lost.

All is lost. Rolf looked down at his feet. He’d risen quickly in the 6th SS Panzer division, his Hitler Youth background helping him to Officer Rank. He could recall trading in his brown uniform Youth for the all black Waffen SS uniform, and the feeling of pride. His rank was as a 1st Lieutenant, in the division that would take part in the Battle of the Bulge. It had not been too long ago that Rolf had gotten the news from his Hitler Youth leader that he was being shipped to battle. “You will have the chance you’ve dreamed about, to take up arms against the invading English and Americans.” He’d been told. “You will report to 6th SS Panzer as a First Lieutenant.” The man, Herr Axmann, had looked at him with pity. “Remember, the men you will command have been fighting for years. Be firm, polite, respectful… but remember that you are an officer in the Waffen SS.”

For those of you who read this kind of stuff, you now know i’m ready to play in Forsyth’s playground. I’m all set to link the Third Reich to Odessa to the Vatican… and tie that into the Organization.

Rolf will be the Engineer of the first book, cold calculating, ruthless. He’ll tap into his experience from Bastogne to make him the most effective Engineer the Organization has ever seen.

This book will set the stage that my apocalyptic series will stage in.

How My Writing is Done pt. 2

Okay, what I’ve done up until now was to open Dramatica first. I may write a few scenes first, and then do Dramatica, but I like to know  – where am I going? It all goes back to a kung fu movie with James Caan in it. A character announced in that movie that Caan’s character used the 5P principle – Proper Planning Prevents Poor Performance.

I’ve only seen that movie once, by the way. I can vividly remember that scene. sitting there watching TV with my dad in the house on Bull Street in Newport. Must have been around 1974.

I also learned (from books on leadership) the fail to plan motto. “If you fail to plan, you have planned to fail.”

So, I like to know – where am I going? I’ve got hero, sidekick, impact character, villain, villain enabler. They all live somewhere, and villain, due to nature of being a villain, is in conflict with hero.

Open Dramatica. Start the interview process and really hate life for the next four or five days. Dramatica insists on all those time wasters. Who is your hero? What are they like? Tell us about them. Tell us about relationship between hero and impact character.

Boring. Necessary. Dramatica really forces you to SLOW DOWN and write about the characters. Sure, I can’t wait to get to gunfire, bone-chilling punches with a meaty dubbed sound and slow motion explosions as hero jumps sideways across the room shooting two guns at the same time as the independent grocer ducks and covers his head.

But see, unless I’m trying to write a Chuck Norris movie, you actually have to make your characters REAL. My first novel was going nowhere until my characters became real to me. Part of that happens when you write.

So, I spend the week going through sheer drudgery, and I copy and paste the results into 30 scenes on my corkboard in Scrivener.

Done.

Start writing. I open a scene in Scrivener. TYPE SOMETHING!

Start with a Character name and an action. “Fred Flintstone” what? “Sat.” “Jumped.” “Drove.”

Ah.

“Controller sat in his private office in Babylon”.

I’ve started. Who what when where why how? I don’t care. I just finish the thought.

“Controller sat in his private office in Babylon, looking at his laptop.”

Why?

“Controller sat in his private office in Babylon, looking at his laptop. Controller held a very unique job, that of coordinating all the myriads of persons working for the shadow governments, the entity that conspiracy theorists called the Illuminati and some called the Bildebergers.”

BOOM. I know who, because I’ve written about Mr. Silver Spoon high society Controller before. Controller keeps all of the Organization’s plans running. minor department heads, called “Movers” all report their plans to him. He keeps them running. When something shows up he doesn’t like… he calls Lynch.

“Controller had to keep track of the activity of hundreds of people, many carefully hidden agendas and plots. He’d had to badger the software people to write a special piece of software for his needs. Whenever Controller had reflected on the old system of cork boards, 3X5 cards and colored push pins, he would wince. How did the past Controllers ever keep track of things that way?

He glanced at the display, his eyes running across it. He preferred to have a giant screen monitor for this, so they’d come up with a docking interface for him that projected his screen onto a giant plasma screen monitor. Or whatever it was. Controller didn’t worry about little things like that.”

Okay. You now have a subtle glance into who Controller is. He is dedicated. He is organized. And he doesn’t worry about minor little details about what kind of screen it is. What’s important is juggling a thousand conflicting plans and priorities.

But he was accustomed to giving orders and having them carried out with delay. He remembered the day he’d moved into this exalted position. His predecessor had told him, “You’ll want to give as few direct commands as possible. Choose the right subordinates, make sure they know how you want it done. Frequent meetings, direct and to the point, are the key.”

Controller had remembered that. A simple phone call was often the only thing he needed to do.

But now one of his subordinates had uncovered a direct threat within the Organization, from within. He stared at the small box, marked “Chad”. It was marked over with an X. But the name attached to it was something that worried Controller.

There were a large number of tags. Names, places. And none of them connected to anything.

Names and places did not end up on that board unconnected. And that worried Controller even more.”

Okay, now you’re aware of a major subplot to the book. Someone else is out there, controlling, moving pieces.

Controller picked up his phone, and hesitated. He was always careful to call those above him. But Lynch… ahhhh, Lynch. His Engineer. Only in the Organization for two years or so… and had the direct ear of Caesar. Lynch had undertaken tasks and assignments nobody had known about. He would disappear for weeks, reappear, and hand Controller the reigns to some other piece of the puzzle.

Lynch had raised both of them to new heights. The office of Controller was always one subordinate to the Inner Circle. But in the last two years, following the hiring of Lynch from a pathetic posting in the US State Department, they had risen in stature to that equivalent of the Inner Circle.

He hit the speed dial number, and heard the phone answer. “This is Six.” He heard.

“Sorry to bother you. This is Controller.” Controller reflected on a simple fact – how powerful a person had to be to lose the necessity for a name.

Now I’ve drawn Lynch into it. Lynch is my version in this series of an Easy button. When I get stuck on something, shove Lynch in, and things get fixed in a hurry. Develop an Easy Button character. Lynch does nasty things like.. set people on fire. Shoot them. Stab them. Throw them from airplanes. Good subplot? Let’s try killing that subplot, and see what happens?

I’ve also given you a glimpse now into the inner circle. If such an Organization really existed and I truly did this, I’d be meeting the real Lynch this evening. Think of the Mailman from “Three Days of the Condor”. Think of Charles Bronson from “The Mechanic.”

Lynch pulled out his phone as he waited, dialing it.

“Six.”

“Remind me to smoke a cigar with you.” Lynch said.

“Who is this? How did you get this number?”

“I’ve got your number.” Lynch said. “Tell me, have you ever been to Dortmund?”

There was silence. “Is this by any chance Lynch?”

“You should then understand the reference to a cigar.” Lynch said.

“You might find your cigar a little.. Bitter.” Six said. “I have some friends ready to make your acquaintance.”

“Really.” Lynch said. “Too many bad movies, Fritz. Tell me, did you hire him because of the fencing scar on his eye, or did you hire him because he used to be a hired killer? Really. And that was the best you could do. And you had to hire a friend of mine. You’ve been reading too many bad spy thrillers.”

“I have other friends. All promised great rewards. I’m afraid the only reading I’ll be doing shortly is your obituary.” Six said.

“So, what was your plan? You were really going to go with the other candidate?” Lynch couldn’t keep the skepticism out of his voice. He could see someone out on the street, moving towards the door. Lynch steadied his rifle, cradling the phone. He pulled the bolt back, then slid it home.

Ready.

“There are some doubts.” Six agreed.

“Silly. What you mean is, you’re not happy with the loss of control, so you’re going with the other Candidate. You think he’ll be more pliable.”

“That is no concern of yours, my friend.” The closest hint of a German accent broke out at last. Lynch knew he’d broken the man. “And it is about to be of no more importance to you my friend.”

“Hold, please… Halten, Bitte.” Lynch pulled the trigger as the door opened. The figure in the raincoat stumbled, and dropped to the floor.

“Thank you for holding.” Lynch said pleasantly. “That was Clubfoot. His poor mother in the nursing home. I’ll send her flowers in his memory.”

Six felt the sweat break out on his forehead. He’d never realized how truly dangerous this Engineer was. How did he ever get so lethal? “I think we need to talk.” Six said.

“Losing your nerve, so soon?” Lynch was incredulous. “Offering a deal already? Are you sure you’re in the right business? We’ll talk tonight, I promise. I have a special cigar saved up for you. This isn’t sanctioned, but I don’t think I’ll be censured by the Inner Circle for acting. Let me tend to your scar-faced thug, and the others first. I’ll be in Dortmund in just about an hour and a half. Enjoy your coffee.”

Cat and Mouse. I decided to move into a cat and mouse scenario. We’ve established a rival organization within the organization, and I went back to one of the first short stories I’d ever read, “The Most Dangerous Game.”

Now, something that’s always bothered me. When you have those scenarios, in every one else’s stories, they’re always in silence. Lynch isn’t one for silence. He’s got that phone. He has your phone number. and he knows where you’re hiding. He’s “They” after all.

So, lynch would not shoot, run, duck, gasp,look around, dive to the next cover spot, turn, shoot someone. Nope.

He’d call them on the phone, and harass them.

So, we don’t so much see Lynch most of the time. You see the body drop.

Josef paused as a stair creaked. He held his breath. There was silence. Josef smiled grimly, and moved up the stairs as stealthily as he could. He made it to the top.

He could make out in the darkness the shell casing lying on the floor. So, this is where the target had stood and waited for Willi to enter. “I will avenge you.” He whispered. He wished for a moment he had some religious beliefs, that perhaps Willi could hear him somewhere. But alas, Josef had no religious beliefs whatsoever.

He gripped the Walther pistol, moving slowly. The Target had either gone downstairs, or was in the office. He headed towards the office door. He paused, listening. There was no sound. No boards creaking, no breathing, no sound of weight shifting. Had the target gone downstairs? Josef was tempted to turn around. He stepped into the office, his gun swinging wildly to cover the empty room.

He paused. Where would I be, if I was The Target? He turned and stepped out of the office, just as the realization spread in him.

If I was the Target, I’d be behind me.

His foot carried him out of the office, as something cold ripped at his neck…

What you don’t show, is sometimes more important than what you show.

I’m careful to notate in my meta tags what characters are in the scene, where, the POV, and the date. Why the date? My series is a time-delineated series. In other words, the clock is ticking, and the end is inevitably coming. I have to know WHEN the scene is. I also use a freeware program called Timeline to notate critical points. I don’t use it much. I think I open it once a month.

And everything you read is raw. It’s still not first draft yet, because you’re going to poke at it to make it rough draft.

There’s five steps – raw, first draft, second draft, third draft, final draft. Apparently, I’m starting to polish my skills to the point where my raw is almost second draft status, and much of it can move directly to final draft.

You’ve read of Controller, how he relies on lynch. Lynch is a force of nature, and his taunting, confident lethal-ness. His contempt for Six when Six turns traitor. And Controller can rely on Lynch to take care of Second, Four and Six while he does what he needs to.

Now I’ve got scenes where Lynch can really shine.

Did I concentrate on my plot? Nope. I wrote of interactions. Controller musing about his ever-present work, noticing something off. Lynch is two steps ahead of him, and taking care of it already. Controller now can act.

I got all this by writing a name, an action, and a second action. The important thing?

Know your characters.

The Lost Battalion Review

I started on this topic the other day.

If you have never seen this movie, expect to have your heart torn out. This is the kind of writing every author should aspire to.

You are introduced to Major Whittlesey in the opening scenes of the movie, and you right away know who and what he is.

You are introduced to two characters from New York, and the way they explain battlefield hazards for the new soldiers tells you EVERYTHING about them.

You know all about Private Yoder from the beginning. You know about Private Lapastie too. You get a glimpse of Krotoschevski, and it hints at greatness.

You understand Major Prinz. you understand General Alexander.

you understand Private Chen, and agonize with him. He’s been ordered to stay behind alone, and you see from his face he knows he’s going to die – yet he stays at his post anyway.

And the characters develop. One of the single greatest movie scenes of all times goes to Private Krotoschevski, with the “I took the test” speech to Private Lapastie. See if it doesn’t make your heart swell with pride! Can YOU write a speech like that?

The friendship between Private Lapastie and Yoder, which at first almost ended up in blows, is astounding. Try to write something like that!

And if you can create a character like Major Charles Whittlesey, you deserve an income rivaling that of any best selling author. Rick Schroeder’s portrayal of Whittlesey deserved awards.

Watching this movie should be required for all writers. The scene where Private Rosen slowly hands a dog tag to Major Whittlesey, who reluctantly accepts it… you should study every second of it. Put it on frame by frame, and FORCE yourself to describe it.

“Rosen stops in front of Whittlesey, tears slowly running down his grimy face. He hesitantly extends his arm, soaked with the blood of his best friend, the encrusted dog tag suspended from his weary fingers. His face becomes set, the slight nod telling Whittelsey everytihng the Major was dreading.”

“Whittelsey, the agony on his face, slowly reaches for the dog tag. The look that passes between them speaks loudly. No word is spoken. none was needed. In that understanding glance, Rosen saw the agony in Whittlesey’s face, the tears beginning to cut through the soot on the Major’s face. For every dog tag in the Major’s hands, he was inwardly dying a thousand deaths.”

“In that moment, Rosen saw who the Major was. And he vowed to himself that if the Major at that moment ordered them all to march to Berlin and hunt down Kaiser Wilhelm and make him pay for this war, make him pay for the deaths of so many fine men… Rosen would not hesitate. He would follow Whittelsey to the grave. It was the same thought he’d though a dozen times in the last four days. ‘I will follow this man, not for duty’s sake. But because he cares.'”

“Whittelsey binds the dog tag to the too-large bundle in his hand. He can put a face to every dog tag. He can recall a conversation with every man who’d had it. He can recall a moment of valor from every one of them And the knowledge haunts Whittelsey. ‘These men are dead because I ordered them to be here.’ Whittelsey, unable to bear it a moment longer, looks down, his chin trembling. ‘These men are better than me.’ He thinks again, for the hundredth time that day.”

“He will never be able to sleep well again. He glances at Captain McMurty and nods. No words need to be said. McMurty nods, and looks away. He is changed by working with Whittlesey. He now is overcome by the knowledge of how great these men who’ve died at their orders were.”

If you’re a writer, watch this movie a dozen times. Force yourself to novel-ize parts of it. the first watching of this movie is traumatic. If you do not cry at least once, you are probably a sociopath. Trust me when I say, literally, this movie should be required watching for every would-be author.

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