The Screenplay: Day Nine

A minor character is taking over my screenplay.  His name is Renatus.  He is a moody middle-aged magician.  Renatus' niece, Nix, was intended to be the heroine, because people generally find nubile young girls more interesting than moody middle-aged magicians.  (Or so I hear.) I've had this problem before-- a nobody character suddenly sprouts horns or feathers and becomes ten times more interesting than the intended hero.   What does a writer do when a character declares his independence?

Some people  stuff their characters in a box and make them behave.  I don't, since my writing has always been character-driven (i.e. the characters shape the plot, not the other way around).

This is draft three of my opening scene.  (Read the first draft here and the second draft here.)

EXT. MOUNTAINS – NIGHTFALL

A group stands in a circle in a cold mountain crevasse.  One long bundle lies just outside the circle: the shape of a body wrapped in cloth. Snow and ash swirl in the air. By torchlight, two DIGGERS are attempting to cut into the icy ground. RENATUS watches the diggers, shivering. LORENZO stands beside him, with his cloak pulled over his arms and chest.

FIRST DIGGER The ground’s hard as iron, my lord. We can’t get any deeper, not until spring.

SECOND DIGGER It’s deep enough.

LORENZO Aye, it’s deep enough. Let’s be done with it.

RENATUS (huddled inside his cloak) Keep digging.

Lorenzo and the two diggers eye each other. Lorenzo pulls Renatus aside.

LORENZO Perhaps you haven’t noticed, but this is going to be one hellish storm. We’ve got to be moving.

RENATUS I’ll not have him left for the wolves and vultures. He can’t have a proper burial, but I’ll not have anyone disturbing his rest. (loudly) Keep digging!

LORENZO (even more quietly) You don’t owe him anything.

RENATUS I owe him everything.

LORENZO He was a traitor and a coward-

RENATUS Coward. Yes. Coward enough to speak the truth.

The diggers have given up. In spite of their best efforts, they are doing nothing but chipping at the ice at the bottom of their shallow grave.

DIGGER 1 Maybe—if their lordships would use a bit of magic, just a bit of fire to melt the ice—

RENATUS Hell take you all!

Renatus seizes a shovel and hits one of the men with it, then attacks the ground himself. The diggers cower in fear. The torch bearers all take a step back.

LORENZO (quietly giving them a few coins) For your trouble. You did well enough. Start ahead, we’ll be behind you.

He gives directions to the torchbearers and stewards, in the end, leaving only himself, one steward, and Renatus. who is still hacking vainly at the ground.

LORENZO Renatus-Renatus... Come. I’ll help you with him.

Renatus bends over the grave weeping.  After a moment, he stands and together they carry the long bundle and place it into the grave. They take the abandoned shovels and spade dirt and ice over the body.

LORENZO The snow will keep him until spring. We can come back then and give him a proper burial. (reluctantly, glancing at the one steward who remains holding the child) ...What about her? Are you going to finish it?

Renatus turns to the steward, who holds a bundle.  The bundle moves and reveals itself to be a child of two.

RENATUS She knows nothing.

LORENZO Father would—

RENATUS Father is dead. I am head of the house. Give her to me!

The steward hastily hands over the child.

LORENZO But if she knows-

RENATUS I’ll not kill a child! Not for you, not for Father, and not for any man on earth!

He stands by the grave holding the child, who is so wrapped up that only her eyes are visible.

LORENZO But—

RENATUS Get out of my sight!

Renatus seizes a torch with one hand and brandishes it towards his brother and the steward. The child lets out one long wail. Unnaturally bright fire cracks like a whip, singing their cloaks.

LORENZO Hellfire and brimstone—

He seizes the trembling steward and pulls him down the trail. Renatus cradles the child tenderly. He drops the torch onto the grave. Fire blazes up, sparking with gold and blue and purple, until nothing but fire can be seen by the camera.

Screenplay Preparation: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Day One, Two, Three, Four, Five, Six, Seven, Eight.