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Into the Numinous Moon by John McCarthy - Sci fi, Fantasy - At the end of the 19th century, a recently jilted young woman sets out to write a novel about love and loss, but instead finds herself drawn into the ambitious adventures of an eccentric scientist. 96 pages - pdf format
- Based on “The First Men in the Moon” by H. G. Wells.
New writer interested in feedback on this work, please be nice
Read the whole thing straight through, hopefully, I can decipher my own notes.
Disclaimer: I have not read "The First Men In The Moon" and I am not familiar with it, in preparation for reading this I checked out the plot and reviews of the novel. I'm still not familiar with the novel but at least I know a little more now
First off, you are a great writer and storyteller - not a great scriptwriter - but a great writer.
There are a lot of positives to this... I'm just going to waffle on a bit now. Although I fear I can't be that helpful, so you should seriously consider getting some professional scriptwriter eyes on this.
Your descriptions of the world and what's in it are very vivid and evocative. Your word choices and the way you put everything across paint a wonderful picture. It makes it a joy to read, easy to follow and visualise and made me feel like I was actually in the world! But here's the rub... I think you may have to do it with fewer words.
Your descriptions and actions would seem to be more at home in a novel than a screenplay. Considering the opening post says you are new to this, I think you have done a brilliant job - changing your writing habits to fit more into a screenplay is just a case of practice.
Again, this is beyond my ability - I'm really not a great writer and have a poor grasp of the written language, but I'll try and help anyway...
Remove the superfluous...
CAPTAIN MALCOLM RAWLINGS (mid 50s), a handsome and educated ï¿½ if somewhat scruffy ï¿½ sea dog, mans the bridge with his SECOND MATE. Both of them have seen the object.
The steamer veers to the right and toward the object, which has resurfaced and now bobs lazily in the water. It remains ablaze with sunlight. As the ship draws nearer to it the Captain calls down to his crew
I have scored through what I beleive to be superfluous - they are obvious from the dialogue that follows or because of other descriptors. (NB: I have also scored through the word "educated" as this cannot be shown on screen - but more on that later)
The writing appears to be too passive (if that's the correct word) - try to write more active, more immediate and more urgency - this is a blueprint for a script, so everything is happening now...
A lifeboat has been lowered with four CREWMEN aboard. They row to the side of the object and begin to secure ropes to the outer framework
I'm better with an example, so take the above - make it more active, so...
Four CREWMEN row a lifeboat to the side of the sphere, latch ropes to its framework.
Hope that makes sense. So when you see/use words ending in "-ing" or "-ed" it may signify that the writing is too passive. (not always, the general rule of thumb)
another example in the passage that follows...
One of the deck hands tosses her a life ring and begins towings her to the lifeboat.
Again, hope it makes sense - words such as "begins" and "starts" cause the action to lose its urgency. I'll move on...
A lifeboat has been lowered with four CREWMEN aboard. They row to the side of the object and begin to secure ropes to the outer framework. But suddenly the sphere lists sharply and the hatch flings open. As water gushes in, the woman struggles out of the hatch and into open water.
This is the full passage. When writing your action blocks try and break it up by starting a new block whenever new action (or chain of actions) occurs, so it would go something like this...
Four CREWMEN row a lifeboat to the side of the sphere, latch ropes to its framework.
The sphere lists sharply. The woman flings open a hatch, struggles through the gushing water and drops into the sea.
I mean, you can word it better than I have - But hopefully you see what I mean.
Doing it like this helps to pace the screenplay better (As a rule of thumb, 1 page = 1 minute on screen) if we bunch together all the action, that rule of thumb goes out of the window. It also helps make the read easier and less laborious.
I mentioned earlier about cutting the "educated" word - I was going to elaborate but you actually don't have that many unfilmables in the script - so that is good.
Another suggestion for you to make the writing more succinct is to keep only what is necessary - cut the rest.
I beleive the following to be the biggest culprit for what I mean...
...Where sits a jewelry box, a pewter bud vase holding a single daisy, a tiny white porcelain dish and a photo of a very handsome young man with a very self-satisfied smile. The photo is set in an elegant black frame with golden accents.
Kathryn places the note on the table next to the picture frame. Then, quietly SOBBING, she drops her engagement ring into the porcelain dish.
Do we really need all that information? sometimes you have to be brutal with your own work and cut stuff out. In this case, the photo is important but the style of the frame it is in is not (the jewellery box doesn't come into it at all, so again, I think this is unneeded description) I also find it better to describe props/objects as they are being used (or as they become the focus on screen) In this case, the porcelain dish becomes the focus when she drops her ring into it.
she drops her engagement ring into a white porcelain dish.
Simply introducing the prop during the action negates the need to introduce it earlier - and reducing our word count.
A quick word about your sluglines - These are not visible to the audience, so when you include things such place names and passage of time - this will not be shown on screen. If you want the audience to know the information, put it in a SUPER, eg.
SUPER: 2 Hours Later SUPER: Lympne, England
But ask yourself if it is needed at all, sometimes it is obvious it is later - or is it really important if the audience knows it is 2 hours later?
I think that is all for the actual writing...
As I say, you are a very good writer and storyteller, you just now need to practice making it more of a script than a novel. We want to tell as much as we can, in as few words as possible, keep the action present and active.
I shall return later to talk about the actual story...
As I said before, I'm not familiar with the source material, so I'm not sure if my next comments will be critiquing you or H. G. Wells (there's a thought!)
NB. I am no script doctor, I am simply trying to pass on what I have learned from others - so take all of the following with a pinch of salt.
The first thing I do notice is that Mr Bedford is now Miss Bedford - wise choice.
The opening scene is nicely done. Very cinematic, interesting, and sets us up nicely for what is to come - all too often I see dull opening scenes so again, kudos to you.
This is quite a talkie script - Which I think is fitting, but I believe there is a lot of dialogue that can be sent to the chopping board. Take the opening between Kathyrn, Captain Rawlings and Lottie - it goes on for over 4 pages... First, I think Lottie's dialogue can be cut altogether - it adds nothing other than another actor to the budget. And I think the exchange between Rawlings and Kathryn can get to the heart of it a little quicker. It's more reminiscent of the old "talkie" movies from the '20s/30s.
I'm gonna drop a quote now because I am cool...
"When your story is ready for rewrite, cut it to the bone. Get rid of every ounce of excess fat. This is going to hurt; revising a story down to the bare essentials is always a little like murdering children, but it must be done" - Stephen King
The true art in scriptwriting (other than a fantastic story) is telling a much as you can, in as few words as possible. Less is more. A picture says a thousand words - which is just a poetic way of saying don't tell us when you can show us (With screenplays, you should always have in the back of your mind "how can I show this information, rather than telling?" Trust your audience. Time for examples, I suppose...
Some things are simple and minute, but (I think) better than reading in dialogue
KATHRYN Thank you. And thank you for that wonderful breakfast. I really needed that.
Captain Rawlings places a plate of food and mug of tea in front of Kathryn. They barely leave his hand before Kathryn dives in.
With a mouthful of food, Kathryn locks eyes with a shocked Rawlings, they exchange smiles.
Probably a poor example - but, instead of telling us (through dialogue) that she was hungry and grateful - show us.
A bigger example comes later in the script...
CAVOR But there is a good deal more to the moon itself than we could have guessed. And these humble beings are not alone in their world. Living beneath our new friends, and separated from them forever, is another – more advanced – society, whom I call The Others and, from what I could gather, they are creatures of intense antisocial demeanor.
Another painting depicts the so-called OTHERS. They resemble the Selenites except that they are totally drained of color, and seem to radiate an air of malevolence. The little ones in the group recoil at the sight of the Others and gather behind Cavor and Kathryn trembling and frightened.
CAVOR (cont.) They are of the same species, I suspect, but differ dramatically in many ways.
KATHRYN How so?
CAVOR Well, for one thing, they are almost entirely subterranean, and rarely set foot upon the surface. And, unlike the communal world of the Selenites, their society is structured around a strict inverted hierarchy, with the ruling class at the very center of the moon, and the other classes radiating outward, separated according to function. Kathryn reaches back to comfort the Selenite children.
KATHRYN My God, they’re terrified!
CAVOR Yes, the fear. Well evidently it’s well founded. The Others, it seems, have always looked upon the Selenites as inferior and unclean by virtue of their color, their primitive lifestyle and their daytime excursions on the surface. So the Selenites are strictly forbidden to enter the lower regions and are punished severely should they ever try.
Cavor comes upon and points to another painting, this one showing a massacre of the Selenites by the Others. At the sight of it, the terrified little ones break away from Kathryn and race back down to the central cavern.
Now, you inject some visuals with the cave paintings - but, this is the first time we are aware of the "others" (who are now our antagonists) - but we are just told about them in a straightforward way.
Now, you could use more flashbacks to show the previous interactions between selenites and others (the slayings) to show us their malevolence visually - or you can try and think outside of the box and employ other techniques - be creative. For example, one idea that came to my mind is that while Cavor is explaining what they are, the cave paintings sort of - come to life - and show us the scenes (come to life for the audience, not for the characters) - and we can see the violence and society of them that way, playing out on the cave wall.
I hope that makes sense.
Pulling myself back to dialogue, and cutting it down. ask yourself some questions - is it needed? does it move the plot or character forward? does it reveal anything? does it build emotion or tension? - As Stephen King said, it's not easy.
On the subject of dialogue - I really like yours. Your Victorian dialogue is (to me) spot on... so much so that it may come across as satirical, but this is actually how they talked - you can even spot the difference in societal class (the lower-class characters are distinguishable from the upper)
I am wondering now, what the sub-genre of this is, or indeed, should be.
I get a hint of a slightly comedic tone - not a parody or slapstick, but more subtle, wittier - kind of in the vein of the Coen Brothers.
Apologies if that is not what you were going for - But the Victorian politeness and wonder in the characters in contrast with what they are going through really complemented each other. My favourite example would be when they are being attacked by killer plants on the surface of the moon - how does Cavor respond?
CAVOR Miss Bedford, I’m afraid we may be doomed!
Which I thought was brilliant and highlights exactly what I am talking about - you inject just enough comedy to make it work. Given the subject matter, you are working with, I think it would have been a mistake to try and make this a completely serious Sci-Fi Drama. You balance it all really well. The "science" in this cannot be taken seriously because of everything we know - and it's not trying to be serious, it's trying to be fun, adventurous and witty - as soon as we suspend our disbelief we can really get into this and enjoy it for what it is. The slight comedic tone you have injected helps us to achieve it.
I'm going to stop there for now, for fear of losing everything I have written.
I've been out-of-town, off-line, and basically incommunicado the last 5 days (Yes, Thanksgiving and all that jazz). I'm so glad to be back home, and utterly ecstatic to no longer be driving! The romance of the open road and the Great American Road Trip lost its cache for me about 40 years ago!
Thank you SO much for your excellent and thorough analysis of my script. I can't tell you how much I appreciate it! It was just what I was hoping for!
I know I can string nouns and verbs together with reasonable coherence, but I also know that screenwriting requires a streamlining that I simply haven't gotten the hang of yet. Your "for instances" should help me a lot. I also really appreciated the heads-up on "SUPERs." Never really knew how to show text on the screen.
A couple questions/clarifications. The scene with the cave paintings. I actually DID envision this to be animated like some old Disney educational things you're probably too young to have seen (Two great minds with but a single thought). But I had no clue as how to write it into the script. Any thoughts? Finally, the tone. Well, I'm certainly no Coen Brother, but I WAS trying for a dryly humorous British tone in some of the dialog. The one of which I was most proud comes after Cavor tells Kathryn that his experiment might've instantly depopulated the entire globe, and Kathryn responds by saying: "Yes, that would've been something of an inconvenience."
A couple questions/clarifications. The scene with the cave paintings. I actually DID envision this to be animated like some old Disney educational things you're probably too young to have seen (Two great minds with but a single thought). But I had no clue as how to write it into the script. Any thoughts?
Hi John - I have finally recovered enough to get back into this, although I have now lost my train of thought so I'll try and decipher the notes I scribbled down whilst reading.
The pair not realising they have taken off - although amusing - doesn't quite sit right with me, unless I am misunderstanding. Wouldn't they have noticed they are floating earlier? Wouldn't the sudden acceleration subject them to G-force? I may be overthinking, this is a fantasy after all - but I don't think to inject it with realistic physics would hurt it as long as the tone is the same - maybe it's this strange sphere that is messing with the physics... I think I have talked myself around.
Personally I would heighten the tension slightly once they touch down - They land further into the dark than planned, the cold creeps in, frost builds, will they freeze to death? maybe, then BOOM, the sun hits them in the nick of time.
The floor of the crater is exploding with all manner of flora: exotic succulents, flowers, seedpods, lichens, fungi, fruits, mosses, spores, tubers, ferns, fronds, vines, gourds and melons in wild unearthly colours and bizarre patterns. The growth rate is spectacular. Cavor and Kathryn are giddy with amazement.
This is a wonderfully cinematic moment - the prize after the tense landing - but it feels a little rushed, I would milk it a little more - at the moment it's a botanical shopping list.
Large exotic stems erupt from the crater floor, bursting with succulent leaves in all manner of colours.
Thorny vines follow in their wake, like a serpent they slide around fast emerging trees and ferns.
In quick succession, flora erupts to life all around. Lichen spreads across tree bark, purple mushrooms pop open, melons hand from the vines and multi-coloured flowers burst from their buds.
The above is a very quick example (and I think i used the verb burst too many times) but I hope you see the point in expanding on the moment, delving a little deeper into the visuals.
Another moment that felt rushed was the below...
It’s the OTHERS, bearing firearms that discharge bursts of concentrated energy rather than projectiles. Many of the Selenites scatter. Some huddle together to protect one another and their young. And some try to engage the marauders in self-defence. It is a scene of utter bedlam, and many Selenites are killed or wounded.
Again, I would see if you can expand on this - really get us into the battle.
I've run out of time again - The only thing left that I want to comment on is the ending. Will hopefully have time this week.
I am sure you are sick of me by now - so I'm just going to make a quick comment on the ending and I'll leave you alone.
Obviously this is personal preference, but I really did not like the ending.
After being taken on such an adventure, the revelation that she had made the whole thing up made it feel pointless, like I had been taken on a wild goose chase. It crashed me back down to earth way too soon, the magic and fantasy snatched from me before I have even left the theatre when in reality I should be feeling that magic long after I have finished watching the film. I was waiting, and hoping, for another little twist that would show that it really did happen, she is just pretending it was made up story (communication from Cavor is what I was expecting, like in the novel), or some ambiguity that would leave me with the "did it, or did it not happen?"
But the ending is very neatly tied up with a little bow, too neatly - Borderline spoon-feeding.
Others may love this ending - I'm just one uneducated reviewer after all - but personally I would have liked a bit more ambiguity in this one (See The Shape of Water for how to do that brilliantly) - Did this adventure happen? did it not? what happened to Cavor? still, up there looking down on us? If you wanted the non-ambigous ending - I would have preferred the adventure to have been real, rather than made up, personally.
Either way, I think the ending at the moment is also too long - It's about 17/18 minutes of Kathryn explaining the truth, some of which is similar to what we have already seen - this is the only part in my whole read that dragged.
Overall I loved the story, the imagery and the way you pulled me in with your vivid descriptions and actions. If this was on at the cinema, I would go and see it.
Best of luck with it - I hope you pursue this and hopefully get some much better eyes on it than mine.
I am so appreciative of the work you put into the review of my script. You really went the distance on this. And, trust me, I am not at all sick of your comments. Everyone in the Simply Scripts universe should be so lucky to get that level of feedback.
I think your notes regarding format, pacing and the excessive wordiness of my descriptive passages were very helpful. But rather than apply your suggestions to a rewrite of “Numinous,” I think I’ll incorporate them into whatever comes next. This script was written for fun, and just to see if I could actually finish a feature length piece at all. I’m sort of anxious to move on to something else altogether.
I do have a couple of explanations regarding moments in the script that drew criticism. The first is the trouble you had with the delayed reaction of Cavor and Kathryn to the sphere lifting off. I did do this for largely comedic reasons, but also because, A) this is simply a flight of fancy by a writer (Kathryn) taking her first stab at science fiction and, thus assuming that anything goes. And B) the “science” in Wells’ story is ludicrous to begin with. Gravity isn’t a “radiant energy,” and without a controlled rotation of the craft through space to balance the extremes of heat and cold (as in the case of the Apollo flights) the occupants of the sphere would either freeze solid or burst into flames. I also imagine that without the proper protection from radiation, Wells’ astronauts would have burst like popcorn in a microwave! (A cool, if somewhat gruesome, visual effect); Finally, the moon is indeed a dead world. No atmosphere, no explosively regenerating biosphere, no Selenites, no Others, no anything.
And this brings me to the ending that disappointed you.
Wells used his speculative fiction (he always preferred the label: Scientific Romances) to make statements about the world around him. In The Time Machine, War of the Worlds, The First Men in the Moon, and all the others, he was offering commentary on the hubris of mankind, our propensity for war and imperialistic conquest, the emerging theories concerning the means of production (Socialism, Communism, etc.), and so on.
In other words, I don’t think it too far-fetched to say that his stories really aren’t about things like time travel, alien invasions or space travel at all.
So in my version, I used Wells' The First Men in the Moon as scaffolding on which to hang a story of a heartbroken young woman who eventually overcomes her slavish belief in the prevailing cultural notions of romance, beauty and love. Because Cavor is not especially handsome, and a bit eccentric she fails to see his beauty and capacity for love until it is too late. Her novel (within the screenplay) represents her longing for catharsis.
At her reception, then, she explains what “really” happened, and what elements of her “real” story were incorporated into the “fictional” one: A flock of butterflies in a British meadow inspire the attacking swarm on the moon; The murderous explosion of Cavor’s estate becomes the triumphantly successful demonstration of Cavorite; Cavor’s rescue of Kathryn from his drunken assistants becomes a gallant rescue from the Others; and so on.
Kathryn also says things in her fictional version that she wishes she had in “real” life: After Cavor protects her from the charging Other (page 68 ) he says that he “wasn’t sure he had it in him,” just as he does after he rescues her from Gibbs And Spargus (page 92). But on the moon, she gratefully calls him “heroic,” while in real life she is too traumatized to speak. On the moon, Kathryn holds Jonathan’s face in her hands and calls him “the most brilliant, courageous, and beautiful man she has ever known,”(page74) but in “real” life it is only after Jonathan has died that she realizes how brilliant, courageous, and beautiful he truly was.
Finally—and this relates to an observation you made earlier—the excessive description of the picture frame (page 9) crops up again at the very end, although now it frames Cavor’s photo instead of the smirking cad who had jilted her. This was simply an attempt to visually prove that Kathryn had grown as a person, tossing out a shallow notion of beauty and replacing it with the real thing.
In the third act I had hoped to convey some ambiguity concerning the trip to the moon. Did it really happen or not? Of course, the big reveal is that it didn’t, but I tried to make it nebulous until the last few pages. Your reaction tells me I didn’t succeed, and that is helpful as well. So if I do ever attempt a comprehensive rewrite, I’ll really have to work on that.
But thanks again, my friend. You truly went above and beyond. And I hope you and your kids are feeling better. This is a lousy time of year to be dealing with illness.
My pleasure, John. I don't finish many features around here but this kept my interest throughout. Top work, especially for your first feature.
Your explanation for the ending is great, there is deffo an audience for it. It's a bit too sophisticated for me, I'm more of a spaceships and laser fights kinda sci-fi guy, things like this are often lost on me as you can tell - I wonder if there needs to be some hints throughout that this is a novel she has written? Moments that are not obvious at first but when we get to the ending we look back and think "oooo yes, the clues were there" - who knows - they are probably there already, I most likely missed them.
I still think it would benefit from an ambiguous ending so people like me can think it really happened and smart people can realise the true ending as you explained - but that's me trying to dumb down your work lol
I missed the picture frame at the end, well played, you were completely right to draw attention to it earlier. I also completely missed that the science is off because it's her own science fiction, it's actually quite brilliant.
I look forward to reading more if your work - especially to see what you come up with, is Sci Fi your preferred genre?