Monday, October 30, 2017

TODAY'S NUGGET: All the Pretty Horses (2000) - What a Good Vertical Read Looks Like

[Quick Summary: In 1949, two young Texans ride to Mexico to work as ranch hands, which is complicated when one falls in love with the owner's daughter.]

***WARNING***: Advanced skills ahead. Not for the impatient new writer.

I normally don't read first drafts, but this is the only version that I could get.

So why am I reading a first draft at all?

First, it's Ted Tally adapting author Cormac McCarthy.

Second, it reads like greased lightning,* despite being an early draft.

How does he make the pages fly by? Why did I gobble up pages and forget time?!

One answer is the ease of vertical reading, which I blogged about earlier.  In brief:
-It's easier to read down the page when there's less black print.
-It's easier to read faster with short sentences.

However, this script reads quickly EVEN WITH:
- Paragraphs of narrative
- Occasionally long dialogue

Why does it work here?  The truth is I don't know, but I suspect the following helps:
-This is an adventure in a foreign land (Mexico).
-This is a test for these young boys (16-17 y.o.) to graduate into manhood.
-In the scene below, note that it's all movement and action verbs.
-Note the ease of grasping a paragraph, i.e., a shot, with one eye sweep (L-->R).
-Also note the unusual ease of eye sweeping diagonally and down.**


Rawlins and John Grady approach the corral carrying forty-foot maguey catchropes coiled over their shoulders, saddle blankets, a riding hackamore with a metal noseband, and John Grady's Hamley saddle with its stirrups shortened. Two or three vaqueros are drifting along after them, sipping their morning coffee, ready to be entertained. Rawlins mutters.

RAWLINS: We mess this up, bud, its goin to be a long ride back to Texas.

JOHN GRADY: Ride, hell.

When the boys reach the gate, we see stacked on the ground there are more coils of rope, of assorted sizes and materials, along with a pile of hand-fashioned rope hackamores. Rawlins lifts the wire loop and opens the gate and the two of them go inside, closing the gate behind them.

The mustangs shift and stir at the far end of the corral, eyeing the boys suspiciously...

John Grady sets down his saddle and catchrope then squats to adjust the hackamore. Rawlins stands building his catchloop. He has a pile of sideropes slung around his neck.

RAWLINS: We goin to bust these varmints twice?

JOHN GRADY: What for?

RAWLINS: Cause I never seen one yet that completely believed it the first time. Or ever doubted it the second.

JOHN GRADY: I'll make em believe. You'll see.

RAWLINS: I'm goin to tell you right now, cousin. This is a heathenish bunch.

JOHN GRADY: Then let her rip.

Rawlins steps forward with his catchloop. At his approach the horses move skittishly along the fence. As the first one breaks away from the herd, Rawlins rolls his loop and forefoots the colt, which hits the ground with a tremendous thump. The other horses flare and bunch wildly.

Before it can struggle up, John Grady has run to the animal, squatting on its neck. He pulls its head up and to one side, holding the horse by its muzzle with its face against his chest, its nostrils flaring. The huge wet eyes roll in terror, staring into his from inches away. He cups his hand, stroking over the eyes, and all the while murmuring into the horse's ear in a low, steady, comforting voice.

JOHN GRADY: Esta bien. Esta bien...No hay peligro, entiende...? Esta bien. De acuerdo. Eresmuy guapo. Muy fuerte y valiente...

Working swiftly, as John Grady continues to murmur, Rawlins has dropped a slipnoose around the pastern of a hind leg, then halfhitched that to a foreleg. Now he frees the catchrope, tosses it away, then takes the hackamore and slips it over the horse's muzzle and ears. John Grady runs his thumb into the animal's mouth and Rawlins fits the mouthrope, then slipnooses a second siderope to the other rear leg. Then he clips both sideropes to the hackamore. He looks up.

RAWLINS: You all set?

JOHN GRADY: All set.

John Grady lets go of the horse's head and both boys step quickly away. The horse struggles up, turns, shoots out a hind foot, snatches itself in a half circle, then falls down. It gets up, kicks again, falls down again...

The vaqueros exchange glances at this curious procedure...

The colt gets up again, snorting, hopping up and down in a furious dance, snatching its head about, then finally pausing to glare at the boys.

RAWLINS: These sumbucks are as crazy as a shithouse rat.

JOHN GRADY: You pick out the one you think is craziest and I'll give you a finished horse this time Sunday week.

RAWLINS (grins): Bullshit.

                                                                                            FADE TO:

By now there are a dozen vaqueros standing along the fence, all watching with keen interest as...

John Grady jumps away from another horse's neck; the colt lurches to his feet, tries to kick him, falls down. Half of the horses are now hobbled, while the other half race and scatter in a rising sea of dust...

                                                                                           FADE TO:


The crowd of spectators has swelled to thirty or more, and now includes women and children as well. More people are drifting up from the direction of the hacienda's gate, some of them even carrying blankets and picnic supplies..."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: I often forget the importance of movement and action verbs.

All the Pretty Horses (2000)(1st draft revisions, dated 11/1/93)
by Ted Tally
Based on the novel by Cormac McCarthy

*This is one of Tally's trademark skills that also defies genre. ex. This is a Western. His other scripts: Thriller. Procedural/Thriller. Crime/Thriller.

**As noted in my previous post, readers will skim vertically to read as fast as possible. What can you do to help them read faster?

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