The Madwoman's Journal
Copyright 1998 New Moon
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  Prev 7 September 98

Life isn't all beer and skittles; but beer and skittles,
or something better of the sort, must form a good part of
every Englishman's education.
-- Thomas Hughes, Tom Brown's Schooldays

Thunderstorms have been moving though slowly since five this morning. At first I couldn't sleep, then I had disturbing dreams. Now I'm up and I've got headache and it's raining hard and gray.

I've been leafing through a book and some notes I keep on screenwriting, trying to get myself back to work. The theory is that reading through the simplistic examples will incite me to improve on said examples, and I'll find myself writing again. Sometimes it works--

Sometimes when I'm very stuck-- like when molasses in January stuck would be a welcome relief-- I concentrate on form. I go back to the very basic basics. Like formatting, for instance.

Depending on what kind of script you're writing-- screen, television, stage, novel, radio, whatever-- you've got to know the current politically correct format. This requires constant perusal of current scripts. Requirements of style change constantly-- the only unchanging requirement is that, in all cases, the pages be typed on, or formatted to print on, white eight-and-a- half-by-eleven twenty-pound press bond. That's basic-- and hasn't changed this century. Oh, sure, one of these days submissions on disk or by modem will become common, but, until a hand-held viewer on which writers, editors, actors, and directors can scribble notes is available, scripts are going to continue to be printed on paper. For now, most writers buy white eight-and-a-half-by-eleven twenty-pound paper by the case.

Today, let's say I'm writing a movie. On the computer-- which I can't use today because of the storms-- I have a page format saved. Page margins are left 1.25 inches; right, top, and bottom 1 inch. Tabs are as follows: for dialogue 1.5 inch (mirrored); for parentheticals 2 inches; for character names 2.5 inches. But, today, I'm writing a movie, so I only have to worry about the basic form elements-- and hope I can read what I write well enough to transcribe it later.

There are four basic format elements needed to write a movie-- there are lots more, actually, but you only need four: 1) the slugline, which identifies the scene location or transition; 2) the action area, which describes action taking place; 3) the character name, which indicates which character is speaking or doing something; 4) the dialogue, which is what's being said.

Sluglines are typed all in caps and flush left, except for transitional sluglines FADE OUT and CUT TO which are typed flush right. The action area is typed flush left on the page, unjustified; dialogue is typed at the first tab, unjustified; parentheticals (which are not currently in vogue) are typed at the second tab; character name is typed at the third tab.

Now, to write something...



The MADWOMAN sits at the kitchen table, leafing not too quickly through a book. Before her on the table occupying the only uncluttered space in the room, are a coffee cup, a pad of paper-- blank-- a pen and her gold-rimmed glasses lying atop it. Around the space on the table are books and papers and kitchen items. To her left, the only light comes through the screen door which opens onto the back porch.

The Madwoman closes the book and slides down in the chair, head back staring at the ceiling. She sighs heavily. The only other sounds are of soft RAIN, and the distant THUNDER that follows the pale flashes of LIGHTNING. After a while she stirs.

(Quietly, but feelingly)            

Putting the book aside and getting up, she takes her coffee cup to the sink and makes a cup of coffee by running tap water over a spoonful of instant. The instant is from a half-empty 12-ounce jar sitting on the edge of the counter next to the sink. There is a plastic measuring spoon resting on the lid.

She stares out the window, sipping her coffee. Then she goes back to the table, sits down, takes pen in hand.

She begins to write.



The Madwoman rips the sheet off the pad, crumples it and tosses it in the general direction of the other crumpled sheets mounting higher around the trash bag by the door. After a moment, she begins writing again.



The Madwoman reads over several sheets she has written. She rips the sheets off the pad, crumples, and tosses them. After a moment, she picks up a book from the table and begins reading.



The Madwoman is writing intently. She stops, reads over what she's written, then goes over it again. Then she rips the sheet off the pad, crumples and tosses it. After a thoughtful moment, she sighs, then begins writing again.



By the flickering LIGHTENING we see the Madwoman leaning back in her chair, arms dangling limply, staring at the ceiling. Only the cardboard backing with the wire spiral remains of the pad on the table. On the floor are balls and balls of crumpled paper. THUNDER rumbles as we



The Madwoman, illuminated by LIGHTNING, sits in the rocking chair drinking a BASS ALE from the bottle, listening to the RAIN and THUNDER. On a table beside her is a SKITTLES GAME.


One of these days maybe we'll talk about what one does when one has a completed script.


Right now, I'm going to go sit on the back porch for a while.




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