Recently here at DSD we published our second anthology, Collateral Damage (and chances are as soon as we can come up with another clever title with the word, “damage” in it we’ll publish another one) and all the stories had some reference to Father’s Day.
Well, all the stories except mine.
I’m going to use the lame excuse of, “too busy.” The story I did submit, Pulp Life was an adaptation of a TV script I wrote, the pilot episode for a show I was trying to sell last year that didn’t sell. But I still like the characters – the poor-selling crime fiction writer Danny and the ex-con, but still active criminal, Angelo, and I like some of the other episode ideas I had so I’m going to write them up as short stories.
Lately I’ve been spending more time working on TV writing than on novels or short stories and, of course, there are similarities and differences. One of the differences that at first seems a little stifling but turned out to be quite liberating is the structure of the TV show. We’ve been asked to use the “teaser/4 act structure.” We have a 3-5 page opening, the “find the body” scene from Law and Order right up to the clever quip from the cop and off to the credits. Then four acts of about equal length.
The other common structure for TV shows these days seems to be The Good Wife approach of the teaser and first act combined so the opening credits don’t show up till about the 10-15 minute mark.
So, I’ve been looking at TV shows and trying to break then down and analyze them by structure and plotting and that has inevitably led to breaking them down by theme and that gave me something for Danny from Pulp Life to try and explain to Angelo.
If you haven’t read episode one in Collateral Damage (and really, it’s a buck, come on, for the whole collection) the set up is pretty simple; Danny has had three crime novels published to okay reviews and very poor sales so his agent sets him up as a ghostwriter for Angelo who’s just gotten out of prison and is writing a memoir. Except Angelo isn’t finished with his life of crime and Danny is helping him more with that than with the book.
So, here’s a little piece of episode #2 of Pulp Life.
Danny got to Angelo’s apartment, the top floor of a house just off College Street, had to be sixteen hundred a month, pushed the doorbell, heard Angelo say, come on in and climbed the steps thinking how does a guy get out of jail and right away have a better place to live than I’ve been able to find in this city in ten years?
And walking into the living room and seeing Angelo on the big leather recliner looking at the 63-inch flatscreen Danny remembered, oh yeah, life o’ crime. Just like he was watching, Christopher Moltisano’s nose looking crazy big on the huge TV and Danny said, “D-Girl, a good one.”
Angelo said, yeah, “Have a seat,” and Danny did on the other recliner, and then he said, “Shit gets real.”
Angelo said, “What?”
“The first scene in this episode, in the bar in Manhatten, the D Girl, the redhead, and Christopher’s cousin, Christopher and Adrianna show up?”
“So, the guys at the next table bump into her, the redhead, almost spills her drink, Christopher looks pissed off.”
“He wants to bang her, the redhead, the whattayacallit?”
“D Girl, development, all the movie companies have them, they’re all great looking, sexy glasses.”
“The way you like ‘em.”
Danny said, yeah, and then he said, “Then it happens again, the guy bumps her again and Christopher gets up.”
“Yeah, Ade is pissed he’s going to make a scene.”
“Right,” Danny said, “but he doesn’t, even after the guy says something about why doesn’t he go back through the tunnel to Jersey.”
Angelo said, “Yeah, but Christopher just says something to the guy, quiet, just him and the guy,” Angelo nodding, knowing what that’s like.
“And it goes from just talking in a bar, joking around,” Danny said, “to being real.”
“Yeah,” Angelo said, “this shit is real.”
“Then that’s what every scene in this episode is about.”
Danny was watching the TV but Angelo was looking at him and he said, “I thought it was about Christopher fucking the very, very hot redhead.”
“Yeah, and it’s all fun and games in that scene,” Danny said, “a good scene in the hotel, she’s wearing the towel, very hot, until they remember she’s dating Christopher’s cousin and then this shit gets real.”
Angelo let out a sound, a kind of a loud huh, like he was suprised and then he said, “Yeah, that’s right.”
Danny said, yup, “That’s the theme of the episode, crossing over from shit we talk about to this shit is real.”
“The whole episode?”
“Yeah, of course. Look, you’ve got the stuf about making the mob movie, for the D Girl and Jon Favreau it’s just shit they talk about but when they want to put in the story Christopher told them about the guy taking the transvestite out to the parking lot to make out—“
“That was a funny story and that shit happens a lot more than you think.”
Danny said, I’m sure it does, “But for Christopher that’s when the shit gets real and he freaks out, telling them they can’t use the scene, people will know it came from him.”
“Oh yeah, that’s right.”
“And when Carmela wants to get her neighbour to get her sister to write a letter of recommendation to get Meadow into Georgetown.”
Angelo said, “Yeah,” and Danny could see him paying attention, thinking about this stuff so he kept going, saying, “The sisters get together and the other one says she isn’t going to write a letter to get a gangster’s daughter into her school it’s just shit they talk about, joking around.”
“Yeah,” Angelo said, “but then Carm goes to see the sister.”
“Takes her some kind food she made.”
“And the sister says, you threatening me?”
“And Carmela doesn’t say, no, of course not, she looks right at her and says, what threat?”
Angelo laughed and shook his head and said, yeah, “That’s a fucken threat if I ever heard one,” and Danny didn’t say anything, thinking that Angelo knew threats, but then he said, “And so it goes from shit we talk about to something real.”
“And here,” Angelo said, pointing at the flat screen, “Christopher comes to Tony’s house for AJ’s birthday—“
“Not birthday,” Danny said, “it’s AJ’s confirmation.”
“Whatever, it’s a party.”
“Yeah, but it’s important, confirmation is a big deal, it’s also a crossing over, going from kid’s stuff to this shit being real.”
Angelo leaned way back in the recliner and looked at Danny and said, “Holy shit,” and Danny shrugged.
Then Angelo said, “And Tony gives Christopher the speech.”
“Gives him ten minutes to decide if he’s going to keep fucking around with screenplays and Hollywood—“
“Shit he talks about.”
“Or if he’s going to dedicate himself, every second of every day to this.”
Angelo laughed loud, actually slapped his fucking leg and said, “This shit is real!”
Danny waited a few second and then said, yeah, “And then there’s all the stuff about Christopher proposing to Adrianna, that shit finally getting real.”
Now Angelo was leaning back as far as he could, the recliner practically coming off the floor, and looking at Danny from as much of a distance as he could and he said, “Holy fuck, you’re right, they put all that in there on purpose, didn’t they,” and Danny said, yeah, “Of course.”
“And you saw it all?”
“It’s good writing, it’s the development of the theme, it’s why we love The Sopranos.”
“Yeah, that and the way they kill the rats and all the hot chicks get naked.”
“Yeah,” Danny said, “that, too.”
“So, do all shows have that, the whattayacallit?”
“Development of the theme? The good ones do, Mad Men, it’s why it wins all the Emmys.”
“See,” Angelo said, “again I thought it was cause of the very, very hot redhead.”
“Yeah, that’s a good thing to have, too,” Danny said and he was thinking maybe his books needed more hot redheads. Couldn’t hurt.
Then Angelo said, “Okay, so this book we’re working on, what’s the theme?”
Danny said, “What?”
Angelo was sstill looking right at him and now he just shrugged, waiting for an answer, and Danny said, well, “This book isn’t fiction, it’s a memoir, this is stuff that really happened, it’s your actual life.”
“Yeah, sure, but we’re picking what stories go in, like on The Sopranos they picked the scene in the bar and the scene with Carmela and the sister and Tony and Christopher at the end, at the confirmation like you said, not a birthday, that was for a reason.”
“So, shouldn’t we have a theme, too, wouldn’t that make it a btter book?”
“Yeah, sure, but that would be the theme of your life.”
“So, what’s that?”
Danny said, “I don’t know.”
Angelo was nodding then, thinking about it and then he said, “And it would be the same kind of shit in every scene?”
“Not the same things happening, but the same meaning.”
“Yeah, I got that.”
“Okay,” Danny said, “and yeah, each scene would develop the theme a little more, add to the whole, you know?”
“Yeah,” Angelo said, “Yeah,” and he was still nodding and looking to get lost in thought and he said, “I’m going to think on this theme stuff,” and Danny said, okay good, “You do that, but right now I got us a boat, we can go dump Marco.”
That snapped Angelo out of it and he smiled big and said, “All right, you are getting good at this.”
And they headed out of the apartment with Danny thinking that couldn’t possibly be the theme of his life, could it?