The Race: A Celtic Legend (sort of)

Two great chieftains stand at odds, menacingly snarling at each other, mighty armies at their backs. The only thing separating them is a simple Celtic druid.

“I am the first son of Glamorgan, who was first son of Dafydd, who was first son of Griffold, so the kingdom is mine to rule,” bellows Dafydd of the Mountain, raising his might sword above his head in challenge.

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Llewellyn of the Glen merely spits at Dafydd’s feet in disgust.

“Dogs, every one of you,” he snarls. “I am the first son of Blundewey, who was first son of Varus, who was first son of Glendoch. I am the rightful ruler!”

Dafydd drops into a fighting stance, causing Llewellyn to swing his axe.

“Enough,” cries the druid, slowly rising to his feet. “We cannot have our lands torn apart by yet another war.”

The two chieftains slowly lower their weapons as the druid passes between them and walks to the edge of a cliff. With great ceremony, he points across the waters toward a small island on which stands a great castle.

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“The sea brings us great wealth, but it also makes us vulnerable to attacks from across the waves,” the druid intones. “The great ruler of this land must therefore not only be a mighty warrior on land, but also a true master of the seas.”

“That is I,” spouts Dafydd.

“I am the master of the sea,” scoffs Llewellyn.

“The sea shall decide who is best,” replies the druid. “The succession shall be decided with a race. The first to touch the shores of that island shall rule over all.”

The two chieftains grunt their ascent and turn their armies in opposite directions toward the pebbled beach at the base of the cliff.

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Resting against the shore, two great ships swallow up the dwindling sunlight. One ship is jet black and sports a great dragon that snarls at the waves. The other is blood red with a horse that flails its anxious hooves into the surf.

The clansmen climb into their great ships, taking up their oars, brethren at their sterns ready to push them into the raging waters.

All noise stops, even the breeze, as the druid takes up his position and raises his arms to the sky.

“Let the gods of sea and air bless your efforts and deliver this land its rightful king,” the druid declares before violently dropping his arms to his sides.

With a mighty grunt and the hiss of resistant pebbles, the two teams push against the ships, forcing them into and over the arguing waves.

In each ship, the warriors pull mightily at the oars, the whine of the oar locks providing counter stroke to the rhythmic grunts of the rowers. The sea fights back, but the dragon and horse cannot be denied and slice their way through the offending currents.

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At first, the race is even, both armies in deadly earnest to claim the crown for their sovereign, but bit by bit, Llewellyn’s boat begins to pull ahead.

“Harder, you demons,” Dafydd cries to his men. “Pull harder or suffer the fires that Llewellyn has planned for your wives and children.”

Dafydd’s men strain harder against the oars, but the dragon continues to press onward, seeming to clip the tops of the waves sent against it.

“Give me your sword,” Dafydd orders one of his warriors.

“You cannot reach him with a sword,” the warrior cries, handing over his weapon.

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“I don’t have to reach Llewellyn,” Dafydd bellows, raising the sword above his head. “I have to reach the island.”

With that, he brings the sword crashing down onto the railing next to him, where but moments ago, his hand rested. CHOP!

Dafydd roars as his life blood spews across the deck and his severed hand cartwheels around his feet.

Stabbing the sword into the floor between him and his warrior, Dafydd quickly snatches up his hand and cocks his arm for a mighty throw.

“The druid said it,” he yells into the wind. “The first to touch the shores of that island shall rule over all.”

With all of his might, Dafydd throws his severed hand forward, watching it arc over Llewellyn’s boat on which it rains blood, toward the island. Everyone behind him rises to their feet to see the fleshy ballista arc…arc…arc…and…

SPLASH! Into the water a good 30 feet from shore.

Everyone on Dafydd’s boat is crest-fallen, as blood gushes from his open wrist onto the deck. Clenching his remaining fist in anger, Dafydd turns to his warrior.

“The other hand!”

“What?” the warrior cocks his head.

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“Cut off my other hand and throw it,” Dafydd commands.

“I’m not going to cut off your other hand,” the warrior complains. “How will you hold a sword or feed yourself?”

“When I am king, others will defend and feed me.”

“I don’t know,” the warrior whines. “Should we put it to a vote? Everybody raise a hand-”

Dafydd grasps at the warrior’s vest but really only knocks him to one side.

“Cut off my other hand or I will cut you in half right here!”

The warrior looks at him as if asking “really”. Dafydd just holds his fist against the railing and nods at the sword.

The warrior raises the sword above his head and…

“Nothing will stop me,” Dafydd declares through gritted teeth.

CHOP!

Dafydd screams into the night as the warrior grabs the hand and throws it for all he’s worth.

SPLASH! It doesn’t even travel 30 feet from the boat.

Dafydd stares at the warrior, eyes unbelieving what has just happened.

“Nothing will stop me,” he repeats, “except a warrior that throws like a girl!”

Resigned to his fate and starting to feel the effects of the blood loss, Dafydd slumps against the deck.

“I guess that’s it then,” he sighs to no one. “Llewellyn will be-“

“You could touch the island with your foot,” the warrior thinks out loud, slowly reaching for the sword.

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“I am not giving up my-“

CHOP!

“Aaaaaaaah!”

SPLASH! The foot quickly sinks and resurfaces to float against the nearby hand.

Through a haze of agony, Dafydd looks up to find the warrior approaching with the sword. With his arm stumps and one good leg, he backs toward the rowers.

“No, no, no!”

CHOP!

“Aaaaaah!”

SPLASH! Another foot.

The night is filled with the cacophony of CHOP! Screams! SPLASH! as shins, legs, forearms take flight one after another, only to fall short.

In the distance, Llewellyn’s men puke over the side of their boat as it slowly fills up with blood and human tissue, their puke coursing streams between the severed body parts.

A soldier on the battlements of the castle, however, sees a fuzzy round ballista finally strike the shore, rolling up the beach and coming to rest against a bolder.

Face contorted in perpetual agony, a small rivulet of blood makes its way from the hairline of Dafydd’s decapitated head. As the blood reaches his right eye, the eyes suddenly fling open and look around.

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“I did it!” Dafydd cries into the night. “I won! I won! I am the king of-“

He is suddenly distracted.

“Oh, shit.”

A raccoon grabs Dafydd’s head and drags it down the beach.

And thus began the reign of Llewellyn the Fully Assembled.

(Images are property of owners and are used here without permission because the druid said it was okay.)

Water course

Despite our best efforts to stage life with garden ponds, nature has a way of making them her own in very short order.

I find myself enraptured by the epic stories told in such confined spaces, losing hours of my life in these mythic displays.

(These photos were taken in Montreal; Volcan Arenal, Costa Rica; Kona Kailua, Hawaii)

Book larnin’

Last week, one of my fellow bloggers expressed interest in screenwriting and wondered if I could recommend any good books to help him navigate this format of storytelling, and I promised to do it in a future blog post…well, guess what?

To be honest, my first piece of advice to anyone interested in getting into screenwriting would be to simply tell your story in whatever format comes easiest to you. Because, as I’ve said in a previous post, the most important thing is story. No matter how well formatted your screenplay, if your story doesn’t work, it doesn’t work.

Okay, that soap box being out of the way, my next advice is to take a class in screenwriting, because no matter how much you think you’ll write, there is nothing like the pressure of a deadline for 10 more pages to keep you motivated. And ultimately, until you’ve heard your pages read out loud, you have no idea if you’re getting your thoughts across or using the right words.

So now, on to books. There are few really good books to tell you what a script should look like, so I recommend you simply try to get your hands on several different scripts, whether film or television (although pick your preferred medium, because there are differences in presentation). There are several places on the Internet where you can get free scripts (and when I remember what they are, I will tell you), but for those with a couple of bucks to spare, I highly recommend Planet MegaMall for their breadth of scripts that you can purchase rather cheaply.

No one book will give you everything you need, so I recommend sitting in a bookstore and perusing as many books as possible to see which one fulfills some unconscious need today. Then, repeat the process several weeks later, because your unconscious needs will have changed.

For the best understanding of story as a whole, you can’t go wrong with Chris Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey. Using mythic structure, Vogler breaks down story into its key components and then contextualizes those concepts using popular movies. Knowing almost nothing about screenwriting, I wrote my first screenplay using these elements as a template.

To get more into the structure and execution of screenplays and plots, then Linda Cowgill’s The Art of Plotting is very good. Written very approachably, Cowgill goes through the fundamentals of a good plot (e.g., conflict, character, action) and helps you understand where your story may be faltering or be improved.

A little more into character and how character changes through the screenplay, Dara Marks’ Inside Story helps you understand the concept of theme, which will lead you to better understand the motivations of your characters. In a similar vein is Stanley Williams’ The Moral Premise, which examines how opposing forces within and between your characters will move them forward in your story and more importantly, make them much richer.

Somewhere between individual scenes and broader acts of a screenplay are sequences, which one of my instructors described as being equivalent to book chapters where a single idea is explored before moving to the next one. Paul Joseph Gulino’s Screenwriting: The Sequence Approach is your guide here, helping you pull your scenes together into the right order.

And the chief poobah of screenwriting books is Robert McKee’s Story. I was actually afraid of getting this book for quite some time as people warned me that reading it too early would make me too intimidated to keep writing. I can see where they were going, but it’s not that McKee’s writing is difficult to follow, it’s more that he talks about a huge variety of topics. Suddenly, you realize how many balls you’re juggling when you’re writing a screenplay.

Ellen Sandler’s The TV Writer’s Handbook is a great step-by-step, but you have to do the exercises to make it worth it. Pamela Douglas’s Writing The TV Drama Series is a little dated but still gives a fantastic overview of hour-long programs, spending the bulk of its time on how to break down and analyze a program, before it gets into actually writing an episode.

Scott Sedita’s The Eight Characters of Comedy is an interesting analysis of comedic archetypes in sitcoms. Written more from an actor’s perspective, it still offers valuable insights to the writer trying to understand or create characters. And finally, Peter Desberg and Jeffrey Davis’s Show Me The Funny offers amazing insights into how the minds of comedy writers work, but even more importantly, shows you that no two people will develop the same story from the same premise…so don’t sweat starting with cliché ideas.

That’s a lot for a first kick…I hope you find something in here to get you started.