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The Writing Process part 1: Notes

The writing process for me begins even before my research is complete. It starts as soon as I start writing notes in the notebooks I use for such purposes. For “The Three Princes” I made nine pages of notes, the majority of those made before I started writing the script. A few of the latter notes were made during script writing when ideas would pop suddenly into my head. (You can learn more about the actual script writing here.)

Note-making, for me, is a form of brainstorming. I’ll think about a particular story for days. It will occupy my mind when I’m at work, in the shower, at the supper table, wherever and whenever. That’s where it all begins. That mental work, however, has to be recorded because I cannot rely on the information to stick in my conscious mind. For instance, I do my best to NOT think about a story while I’m trying to fall asleep because I’ll wake up the next day with no recollection of the details of the idea. I will, however, remember that I did have a good idea!

The notes are where “The Three Princes” began to take shape. I write quickly, my handwriting a scribbled mess– a shorthand of sorts I created when I was a journalist and had to take down information quickly. Rarely is a complete sentence found. I write in short points that run together in clusters that resemble paragraphs. Dialogue always stands alone so I can find it quickly. Ideas will often contradict one another. I’ll write something down, not like it, and take another crack at it. Some failed ideas are scratched out entirely, but the majority of the scratched out text are words I’ve written so poorly that I know I won’t be able to read them in the future. So, I scratch them out and write the word tidier.

Notes such as these are not a formal plot outline, but there is often a resemblance, with items being written down in a sort of chronological order. That was the case for “The Three Princes”. Truth be told, I don’t do plot outlines. I’ve tried in the past and found it locked me down to a particular way of thinking about my story. I like having the majority of the ideas captured in my notes, but I don’t require all the beats to be outlined in advance.

Over to the right, you see an image that is a scan of the first page of my notes for “The Three Princes”. If you click on that image, you’ll see I’ve numbered a few sections. Below is some information about each of the numbered items.

1. “Growing Up”. Giving a story a title is often the last thing I do because, frankly, I’m terrible at coming up with titles. This time though the first note I made was a title: “Growing Up”, which is the result of me knowing I wanted to tell a story about boys growing up among gangsters. Obviously, the title didn’t survive.

2. “Leon (?)”. My first attempt at naming my main character. At this point I’d not yet settled on a nationality for the boys. (See, I told you the writing started before my research was finished!) The fact I’ve included a question mark means I wasn’t too happy with the name.

3. “dockside neighborhood”. Early on I knew I wanted the setting to be a neighborhood near the docks. I figured a port neighborhood would be ripe ground for criminal activity.

4. “Monday down at the ice house playing kick”. One of my original concepts was that the story would follow the boys through a typical week in their young lives. This idea was abandoned, though what did survive was the idea of showing some of the things these boys did on an average day.

The game of “kick” at the ice house is something of my own making. An ice house is what the name implies– a business that makes ice. This ice would be loaded onto trucks for delivery. The boys would head down to the ice house early in the morning, and would kick around the broken bits of ice, playing a soccer-type game until the sun melted the ice away. I wrote this into my first draft of the script, but it was ultimately jettisoned. I felt it was too slow a start to the story. I’m still fond of the concept. Perhaps it will make its way into another story of mine someday.

5. “Tuesday. Steal a few papers and sell them for a nickel”. My dad once told me that when he was a kid he’d sell newspapers in the morning and would use the money to go to an afternoon matinee. He’d even have enough money for popcorn and a pop! I loved that idea. I wanted my characters to do that. When I decided to set my tale in the 1920s the idea of the boys going to a matinee was scrapped. In learning about newsies of that era, though, I learned the young boys bought the papers from the publishers and that every sale was money in the kids’ pockets. That’s when I came up with the idea of the boys stealing papers from the newsies in order to line their own pockets.

6. “Tim got caught once”. Tim was the first name I chose for the character that eventually became Doherty in the finished script. Him getting “caught” is a reference to an idea I had in which a newsboy the boys robbed gets his two brothers to get his newspapers back. There was a scene in my first draft that showed Doherty (Tim) getting beaten by these two older boys. That scene didn’t survive when I edited my first draft.

7. “Wednesday sold booze and or cigarettes”. I had thought the boys could sell stolen booze and cigarettes for the gang. The idea was that the boys would be one of many boys and men who would gather at an abandoned warehouse and receive booze and cigarettes stolen by the gangsters. The boys would then sell the goods, with a majority of the money going back to the gang. This idea had taken shape before I had decided to set the story in the 1920s. The idea is inspired by a similar scene in the movie Goodfellas.

8. “Twitch”. Twitch is a character that eventually became “Twitchy” in the final script, though the two characters are different in all ways except for the similarity of their names. Twitch was to be one of the men who sold the stolen booze and cigarettes. He was a junkie. He held back some of the money he made to feed his habit. The gangsters found out and Twitch was killed. This idea didn’t make it into any version of the script.

The above examples, hopefully, provide you with insight into how “The Three Princes” started to take shape in my notes. Not all the ideas in the notes were used in the finished script, but many of them did make it in even if they were modified. (I decided not show ideas that made it into the finished script because I don’t want to spoil the story for you!)

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