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Tips for Rewriting Your Screenplay

Does this look familiar?

Congratulations! You're balls deep in the writing process!

So you’ve just finished a draft, or you’re getting near to that anyway, and you’re starting to think about rewrites. Before going back to the beginning and trying to fix every little problem over and over again ad nauseum, here are some tips to help guide you through this next phase in the writing process.

Tip #1

Finish your draft!

Be fearless.

My writing mentor, Fred Strype, used to say, “At some point you need to just cut the shit, and do the thing.” Inspiring stuff, right? I mean, nobody is going to read your script unless it is complete. And nobody wants to read what you, the writer, are dissatisfied with, so why not just allow yourself to write a shitty first draft, take some time off, then come back to it with a fresh perspective?

Tip #2

Stick it in a drawer.

Don't worry if your drawers aren't as cool as these Leman ones.

Putting your work down for a while is essential to the rewriting process, because you need time for your thoughts to marinate, and for your draft to stand a lone as a completed project. That’s the old. You’re focus now is on the new. The what will be. And if you’re anything like me, you won’t be able to stop thinking about it, even while the pages are tucked neatly away in a drawer.

Here’s how to think about it while you’re trying not to think about it: if character, structure, and theme are your foundation elements, you should have those in place. That’s awesome. Pat yourself on the back. That done, focus on laying “pipe” (expository information) next. How will you get out the information across in interesting and cinematic ways? Once you lay your pipe you can put up the walls. Those are your individual scenes. Paint and decor is imagery and dialogue.

Tip #3

Put a bow on it.

Treat your screenplay to something pretty.

Once I finish a first draft I make a few extra copies and send them (via snail mail – yes, the old fashioned way) to some of my closest and most trusted friends. These are people who value and respect my work, but still able to see the flaws in it and offer constructive criticism. I try to do this as soon as I finish because it usually takes a while for people, even those who love you, to make time in their busy lives to read your fledgling script.

Waiting and being patient with them is good practice for when you start sending your screenplays out to agents, managers, and production companies. Even if someone says they’ll read it as a favor, don’t expect that favor to happen on your time. That’s okay. Remember, these people aren’t going to fix your screenplay for you. And the only thing you should be concerned with is producing a piece of work that you are proud of and satisfied with.

Tip #4

Work it out.

That's what she said.

Writing should be an Olympic sport for all the stamina, and mental gymnastics it requires. Writers often find themselves hitting the wall somewhere in the rewriting process. One way to avoid this is to know exactly what your doing. Run the route several times in your mind before sitting down to bang it all out.

Here are questions you should have pretty concrete and concise answers to before starting a new draft. This list is borrowed from John Truby, and is the one I use to help sort out general character, structure, and thematic elements. I like it because it mixes Act Structure with Mythological Structure.

Try printing out this page and answering each question as economically as possible. The more you can crystalize your story idea down to it’s very essence, the better off you’ll be when trying to work out the specific cinematic elements that will help you weave all your thoughts and intentions together. I suggest focusing on the questions you have a more difficult time answering, but don’t let those minor road blockages stand in the way of making changes you know need to be made.

REWRITE CHECKLIST

(from John Truby)

The End: self-revelation

What does the hero learn about himself/herself at the end of the story?

What beliefs are challenged during the course of the story?

How is the hero wrong about himself/herself at the beginning?

The Ghost

What is the event in the past still haunting the hero?

The Predicament

What is the difficulty that the hero finds himself/herself in at the beginning of the story?

What are the weaknesses of the hero?

The Need

What is the psychological need of the hero?

What must the hero fulfill to have a better life?

The Inciting Event

What event from the outside forces the hero to take action?

The Desire

What particular goal does the hero have in the story?

What motivates the hero?

What are the stakes?

What values are at stake?

The Ally (-ies)

Who is helping the hero reach his/her goal?

How is the ally helping the hero overcome the opponent?

Is there a false ally working “under cover” for the opponent?

The Opponent

How is the opponent blocking the hero from reaching his/her goal?

Does the opponent want the same thing as the hero?

How does the opponent attack the greatest weakness of the hero?

What values come in conflict between the opponent and the hero?

The First Revelation

What information forces the hero to decide on a new course of action?

What adjustments of desire and motivation are involved?

The Plan

What is the set of guidelines that the hero will use to reach the goal?

How and why does the plan go wrong?

How is the plan altered during the course of the story?

The Opponent’s Plan

What plan will the opponent use to prevent the hero to reach his/her own goal?

What is the main counter-attack?

How and why does the plan go wrong?

How is the plan altered during the course of the story?

The Drive

What are the specific actions that the hero takes to defeat the opponent?

How do the actions of the hero change when the conflict intensifies?

Does the hero take immoral action to defeat the opponent?

Does the ally attack the hero on the issue of “immoral action”?

The Apparent Defeat

Is there a moment when the hero feels he/she has lost to the opponent?

In what way is that a devastating experience to the hero?

How does the second revelation prevent the hero from giving up the goal?

The Second Revelation

What information restores belief that the goal can still be reached?

What decision does the hero take because of that new information?

In what way does the hero become obsessed to reach the goal?

Does this obsession mean a continued moral decline?

How does the motivation change?

The Audience Rvelation

Does the audience learn something that the hero is unaware of?

Is there an “ally” working for the opposition?

The Third Revelation

What important information makes the hero equipped for the final battle?

What decision does the hero make because of that new information?

Why is this a “point of no return.”

“Visit to Death”

How does a feeling of morality motivate the hero to enter the final battle?

How is the pressure on the hero reaching its peak?

The Battle

What values are the conflicting characters representing and fighting about?

In what ways are the opposing characters similar?

In what ways are they different?

The Self-revelation

How does the life-shattering experience of the battle change the hero?

What does the hero learn about the world?

What does the hero learn about himself/herself?

What does the hero learn about what it is to be human?

What does the hero learn about how to behave towards others?

What does the hero learn about how to live “the rest of his/her life”?

Happy rewriting!


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11:11 Make a Wish!

Everyone should dream and dream big. Here’s my list of Top 10 11:11 Wishes.

(Note: I imagine myself as Jennifer Lawrence in my dreams.)

10. I wish ya’ll would read more of my writing samples. Feel free to print them out and share them with your friends. It isn’t copyright infringement if it’s good publicity for me. If you read my blog you know I’m actually a screenwriter just trying to make her own way in this chaotic mess known as the film industry. I strongly believe that I can cultivate a fan base around my writing before getting an agent and getting produced. If you believe in that to, or maybe just in me, I invite you to take a look at my work.

Jennifer Lawrence reads, even when her peers are training to killer her.

9. I wish my heart would stop aching over a dead and beaten relationship.

This is not Jennifer Lawrence, but wouldn't that be nice.

8. I wish I had that body and didn’t have to do anything for it.

Damn, gurl.

7. I wish feminists would loosen up.

See what I mean. Not even a hint of a smile. Yeah, I know I'm objectifying Jennifer Lawrence for my own personal gain, but I do it with love.

6. I wouldn’t mind having something like this hanging around while I knit scarves, and practice my archery.

5. I wish I could dress up like it was the 40’s.

Three words: winter minx pelt.

4. I wish my old boss will invest several hundred thousand dollars into a small my small business schemes so that I can have a day job doing something I actually enjoy.

I'm going to open my own consignment and resale shop, and from the looks of that outfit, Jennifer Lawrence might shop there if she's ever in Philly. (And I ever get my shop.)

3. I wish to sell my first screenplay within 2 years out of grad school at Northwestern.

I sure won't look that glum about it, though.

2. I wish to win $5,000 a week on a scratch off lottery ticket today.

May luck always be in your favor. Riiight.

1. I wish to win an Oscar while I’m still young and hot.

Yup. Just like that. Except actually win.

What are your Top 10 11:11 Wishes?

Happy writing!


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Emotion Fueled Writing

Following up with my You Feel Me? post, I think you’ll understand me when I tell you that I am currently sublimating like it’s my job. Some things in my personal life are really…dramatic. And sometimes those things make me angry. I’d like to think, as a pacifist, that I could come up with something more productive than stewing, but sometimes I witness or experience something so unnerving that I ball my fists up and mutter like I’m stricken with Turrets. It looks something like this…

Waaaah! Mother shit, mother cunt, mother fucker asshole dickwad shit eatin' --

I am lucky to be an artist, as I have many creative ways of expressing my, well, less attractive emotions in a productive way. Sometimes I even come up with something beautiful while trying to sort through the chaos. Example: I made this drawing of a baby elephant by scratching the hell out of a black board.

See. Cute, right?

Just because the result is nice and quaint doesn’t mean the process was. I was fuming. Raving to my friends. Trying to come up with my next move. How to best this person who so royally stepped outside the lines of acceptable behavior. “Cunt” kept slipping out of my mouth.

"That's what she said."

Anyway, back to the real point of this post which is to focus of ways to turn negative emotion into positive energy. I’m not here to give you the Top 10 Things To Do When You’re Mad But Don’t Wanna Be, I’m simply saying that we, people as a whole, need to step back from anger, or at least try to channel it into something productive. I’m not some hippie dippy granola eater here, I’m saying this to you as a philosopher whose motto is “it is what it is.” You can’t fight reality, and when you look at the reality it actually seems silly to try to fight it. As Sarah Lawrence Professor Michael Davis put it:

“Descartes is in general most famous as the founder of modern philosophy and in particular as the author of the sentence, “I think; therefore I am.”  Yet, this, his Archimedean fixed point for moving the world, is initially formulated in a negative way.  Descartes cannot deny that he thinks, because even doubting that he thinks is a form of thinking, but that means that our first awareness of ourselves is as doubting (my emphasis), as fundamentally incomplete and imperfect creatures.  Modern science is the edifice built on this foundation, its goal, ‘to render us like masters and possessors of nature.’  Cartesian science, then, must be a response to this awareness of fundamental imperfection, as an attempt of an essentially incomplete creature to render itself whole.  The goal…is autonomy.

            “The desire for autonomy is at the heart of what it means to be human, and yet the desire for autonomy is not autonomy.  It is perhaps a hatred of being ruled.  The obstacle for any project to attain autonomy is that on the one hand no assistance can be received from without…On the other hand, to attain [it] from within means to be [so] already.  For that reason Nietzsche saw the problem, as how one becomes what one is.

            “To become more than you are means necessarily to turn on yourself.  The obstacle to any willing is always what is already present, the given.  When we turn our wills on ourselves what is given with apparent finality is our past.  We are what we are largely because of what we have been.  As it seems impossible to change what we have been, it seems impossible to control what we are (my emphasis).   Autonomy is therefore limited by the past, and so by time, the nature of which is to pass.  Even a turning against the past, attempting to annihilate it, is a sign of dependence on it.  We become enslaved by what we hate. “

Don’t be that guy enslaved by hate.

It's not sexy like Jennifer Lawrence, not sexy at all.

Anyway, what I really mean to say is next time you’re angry pick up a pen instead of raising your voice.

Happy (if, albeit, sometimes frustrated) writing!


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You Feel Me?

If you haven’t noticed already, being a screenwriter, or professional writer of any kind means always having homework. It never ends. The thinking. The scheming, daydreaming, plotting, twisting, turning. Like Charlie Chaplin said, “Ninety percent of writing is thinking, just thinking.”

"The other 10 percent is part stimulants, part scribble scribble."

Toss in a Hitler mustache and some eyeliner…trailing off, trailing off. Which brings me to my point. While it is true that so much of writing requires one to live in their head, it is also true that to be a good writer requires an awareness of and occassional abandonment to the moment. Yup, it’s about being in the “now.”

With that in mind, let’s talk about a good exercise to do anytime, but especially over the weekend. All you have to do is scan this list (see below)  of common psychological states that people often feel but don’t know the word for, and pick one that interests you. Take a notebook with you and jot down every time you have an incling of this feeling. Doing so will give you the freedom to experience the emotion in the moment without trying to remember exactly what it was. Hopefully you forget that you even wrote it down or felt it as you continue to go from one moment to the next as you enjoy your weekend. Come Sunday morning, try to write a page describing every detail associated with your latest experience(s) with your chosen emotion. When it struck, what it felt like, where you were, what it smelled like, whatever.

Once you’ve given yourself time to process that, go back over the list and try to find the opposite emotion. Congratulations. You now know what a hypothetical protagonist’s high and low points are. Cool how that works right?

"Cool."

Happy writing!

1. Dysphoria
Often used to describe depression in psychological disorders, dysphoria is general state of sadness that includes restlessness, lack of energy, anxiety, and vague irritation. It is the opposite of euphoria, and is different from typical sadness because it often includes a kind of jumpiness and some anger. You have probably experienced it when coming down from a stimulant like chocolate, coffee, or something stronger. Or you may have felt it in response to a distressing situation, extreme boredom, or depression.

2. Enthrallment
Psychology professor W. Gerrod Parrott has broken down human emotions into subcategories, which themselves have their own subcategories. Most of the emotions he identifies, like joy and anger, are pretty recognizable. But one subset of joy, “enthrallment,” you may not have heard of before. Unlike the perkier subcategories of joy like cheerfulness, zest, and relief, enthrallment is a state of intense rapture. It is not the same as love or lust. You might experience it when you see an incredible spectacle — a concert, a movie, a rocket taking off — that captures all your attention and elevates your mood to tremendous heights.

3. Normopathy
Psychiatric theorist Christopher Bollas invented the idea of normopathy to describe people who are so focused on blending in and conforming to social norms that it becomes a kind of mania. A person who is normotic is often unhealthily fixated on having no personality at all, and only doing exactly what is expected by society. Extreme normopathy is punctuated by breaks from the norm, where normotic person cracks under the pressure of conforming and becomes violent or does something very dangerous. Many people experience mild normopathy at different times in their lives, especially when trying to fit into a new social situation, or when trying to hide behaviors they believe other people would condemn.

4. Abjection
There are a few ways to define abjection, but French philosopher Julia Kristeva (literally) wrote the book on what it means to experience abjection. She suggests that every human goes through a period of abjection as tiny children when we first realize that our bodies are separate from our parents’ bodies — this sense of separation causes a feeling of extreme horror we carry with us throughout our lives. That feeling of abjection gets re-activated when we experience events that, however briefly, cause us to question the boundaries of our sense of self. Often, abjection is what you are feeling when you witness or experience something so horrific that it causes you to throw up. A classic example is seeing a corpse, but abjection can also be caused by seeing shit or open wounds. These visions all remind us, at some level, that our selfhood is contained in what Star Trek aliens would call “ugly bags of mostly water.” The only thing separating you from being a dead body is . . . almost nothing. When you feel the full weight of that sentence, or are confronted by its reality in the form of a corpse, your nausea is abjection.

5. Sublimation
If you’ve ever taken a class where you learned about Sigmund Freud’s theories about sex, you probably have heard of sublimation. Freud believed that human emotions were sort of like a steam engine, and sexual desire was the steam. If you blocked the steam from coming out of one valve, pressure would build up and force it out of another. Sublimation is the process of redirecting your steamy desires from having naughty sex, to doing something socially productive like writing an article about psychology or fixing the lawnmower or developing a software program. If you’ve ever gotten your frustrations out by building something, or gotten a weirdly intense pleasure from creating an art project, you’re sublimating. Other psychiatrists have refined the idea of sublimation, however. Following French theorist Jacques Lacan, they say that sublimation doesn’t have to mean converting sexual desire into another activity like building a house. It could just mean transferring sexual desire from one object to another — moving your affections from your boyfriend to your neighbor, for example.

6. Repetition compulsion
Ah, Freud. You gave us so many new feelings and psychological states to explore! The repetition compulsion is a bit more complicated than Freud’s famous definition — “the desire to return to an earlier state of things.” On the surface, a repetition compulsion is something you experience fairly often. It’s the urge to do something again and again. Maybe you feel compelled to always order the same thing at your favorite restaurant, or always take the same route home, even though there are other yummy foods and other easy ways to get home. Maybe your repetition compulsion is a bit more sinister, and you always feel the urge to date people who treat you like crap, over and over, even though you know in advance it will turn out badly (just like the last ten times). Freud was fascinated by this sinister side of the repetition compulsion, which is why he ultimately decided that the cause of our urge to repeat was directly linked to what he called “the death drive,” or the urge to cease existing. After all, he reasoned, the ultimate “earlier state of things” is a state of non-existence before we were born. With each repetition, we act out our desire to go back to a pre-living state. Maybe that’s why so many people have the urge to repeat actions that are destructive, or unproductive.

7. Repressive desublimation
Political theorist Herbert Marcuse was a big fan of Freud and lived through the social upheavals of the 1960s. He wanted to explain how societies could go through periods of social liberation, like the countercultures and revolutions of the mid-twentieth century, and yet still remain under the (often strict) control of governments and corporations. How could the U.S. have gone through all those protests in the 60s but never actually overthrown the government? The answer, he decided, was a peculiar emotional state known as “repressive desublimation.” Remember, Freud said sublimation is when you route your sexual energies into something non-sexual. But Marcuse lived during a time when people were very much routing their sexual energies into sex — it was the sexual liberation era, when free love reigned. People were desublimating. And yet they continued to be repressed by many other social strictures, coming from corporate life, the military, and the government. Marcuse suggested that desublimation can actually help to solidify repression. It acts as an escape valve for our desires so that we don’t attempt to liberate ourselves from other social restrictions. A good example of repressive desublimation is the intense partying that takes place in college. Often, people in college do a lot of drinking, drugging and hooking up — while at the same time studying very hard and trying to get ready for jobs. Instead of questioning why we have to pay tons of money to engage in rote learning and get corporate jobs, we just obey the rules and have crazy drunken sex every weekend. Repressive desublimation!

8. Aporia
You know that feeling of crazy emptiness you get when you realize that something you believed isn’t actually true? And then things feel even more weird when you realize that actually, the thing you believed might be true and might not — and you’ll never really know? That’s aporia. The term comes from ancient Greek, but is also beloved of post-structuralist theorists like Jacques Derrida and Gayatri Spivak. The reason modern theorists love the idea of aporia is that it helps to describe the feeling people have in a world of information overload, where you are often bombarded with contradictory messages that seem equally true.

9. Compersion
We’ve gotten into some pretty philosophical territory, so now it’s time to return to some good, old-fashioned internet memes. The word compersion was popularized by people in online communites devoted to polyamory and open relationships, in order to describe the opposite of feeling jealous when your partner dates somebody else. Though a monogamous person would feel jealous seeing their partner kiss another person, a non-monogamous person could feel compersion, a sense of joy in seeing their partner happy with another person. But monogamous people can feel compersion, too, if we extend the definition out to mean any situation where you feel the opposite of jealous. If a friend wins an award you hoped to win, you can still feel compersion (though you might be a little jealous too).

10. Group feelings
Some psychologists argue that there are some feelings we can only have as members of a group — these are called intergroup and intragroup feelings. Often you notice them when they are in contradiction with your personal feelings. For example, many people feel intergroup pride and guilt for things that their countries have done, even if they weren’t born when their countries did those things. Though you did not fight in a war, and are therefore not personally responsible for what happened, you share in an intergroup feeling of pride or guilt. Group feelings often cause painful contradictions. A person may have an intragroup feeling (from one group to another) that homosexuality is morally wrong. But that person may personally have homosexual feelings. Likewise, a person may have an intragroup feeling that certain races or religions are inferior to those of their group. And yet they may personally know very honorable, good people from those races and religions whom they consider friends. A group feeling can only come about through membership in a group, and isn’t something that you would ever have on your own. But that doesn’t mean group feelings are any less powerful than personal ones.

*written by Annalee Newitz for io9.


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So You Do Want to Be on the Black List: Cornering the Market

I was pondering the whole to be or not to be on the Black List issue, when I had an epiphany. A plan really. One that I think anyone who is seriously interested in being a writer and wants to make a name for herself can do. It’s a simple idea really. Be a triple threat.

Like this cat this is doing yoga, giving itself a bath, and flashing us a look at his goods all at the same time.

Here’s the plan. First, write a YA novel, then get it published, then write the screenplay while you wait for the book to rise to the top of the best sellers list, and finally sell the rights to your book and your screenplay.  This plan is even better if you write a series of YA book, because Hollywood loves a good franchise. Of course all of this will feel so neat and tidy while your in the process, but give yourself, say, 5 years for this plan to come fully into fruition, maybe 10, and you’re outlook will be much brighter.  If you are so inclined to go down this path, as I am, I suggest you sit down tonight and jot down some ideas. As you do, try to keep in mind that you will be translating your own story from one medium into another. Think about what elements of your idea are cinematic and which parts will be better served by the novel. If you do take on this project, make sure you have a true and firm grasp on the major themes, character arcs, and the essential plot points of your story.  If you are lucky enough to get your book published and establish a fan base, those fans are going to hold you to your word. It’s just a fact. Audiences always compare the book and the movie. So fucking pre-empt them. Take responsibility for it. And be happy that you did. If nothing else, you’ll have two strong pieces for your portfolio and will have exercised writing muscles like you wouldn’t believe.

I mean how cool would it have been if Suzanne Collins had written the screenplay for The Hunger Games?

Now at this point your head is probably reeling with swirling thoughts and exploding synapses ‘cause you’re like, “Shhhhh-ugar, how did I not think of this before!” And all these ideas are swarming forward calling out to you, “Write me! Write me!” But before your itchy hands reach for that pen let’s address the fact that I said this plan requires one to be a triple threat, and thus far we’ve only addressed two of the three routs of attack. The last one is simply to really really think about how you want to brand your writing style, your story, and you as a motha’ fuckin’ writing machine.

No, not that kind of writing machine.

Branding yourself and your work is perhaps one of the most important factors to consider when taking on a project of such size. It won’t work if it’s sloppy and all over the place and you don’t really know what you’re doing or why. So, that said, take a moment and think to yourself, “What kind of writer do I want to be? What are the characters that I want to be associated with? What do I want to say to the world above all else?” If you can answer those questions you’ll be off to a bangin’ start. But if you’re itching to write right now, then do it, and worry about this component later. You can always talk about it with Random House.

Anyway, that’s what I’m gonna do to corner the market. And also have a lot of fun along the way.

Happy writing!

No, it’s not 1955, and I’m not talking about that whole terrible calling artists communists thing. The Black List I’m referring to is the one out in Hollywood that people actually want to get on. It’s the list of the years so-called “best” scripts, that have, as of yet, not been produced. Over 300 studio execs read and vote on these scripts so it’s pretty big deal to be one of the few scripts selected.

I recently downloaded a shit-ton of said scripts from MEDIA FIRE (if you’re interested in doing the same, I highly suggest you jump on this link now, as it will be taken down soon), and, as a writer trying to break her way into the bizz, I have mixed feelings about the quality of work that I read. To be frank, I was not impressed by the 3 scripts I read last night (which shall remain nameless). They were okay. Certainly polished, and well-written to an extent. Extremely marketable, for sure. And definitely in keeping with the same kind of dreck that Hollywood has been pooping out for years. So I’m feeling like I’m at an impass. On the one hand, I can write better than these folks (yes, yes, I can, and no, that’s not just ego talking), which is good for me. But on the other hand, I can’t write commercially viable Hollywood dreck (no, no I cannot, and yes, that is ego talking), so that’s bad for moi.

I’d like to open this topic up to the floor, and get your opinions on it. Do you feel that as a screenwriter you have more responsibility to your voice, and your artistic inclinations, or do you feel that the writer simply services the need for entertainment in society? Is it better to be unique and distinct as a writer, or do you feel that to get ahead you need to adopt the same blah blah blah, happily-ever-after tune that Hollywood has been singing since it’s conception?

I reality, there are no right or wring answers to these questions. It all depends on the kind of writer you want to be, and your strategy for breaking into the business. On the bright side, there are some crazy stories as to how people got their movies made, and no one script follows the same path as another. We ask ourselves these questions in an attempt to control the machine, but in reality, we are always at the mercy of fate and luck. My advice? Work hard, keep your ear to the ground, and follow your intuition.


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A Midnight Snack

Here’s one thing that I’ve learned after nearly 10 years of writing. Sometimes you get the best writing done when you’re doing something else. Like walking. Perhaps gardening. Maybe sky-diving. Or, as in my case today, painting. Ya’ll feast your eyes on my latest endeavors into acrylics, while I go edit the next 20 pages of my screenplay.

 

Blue Night in the Forest of Pink Flowers 6 x 6

 

Pink Flowers at Sunset 6 x 12

 

Purple Night Landscape 6 x 6

Nom, nom, nom.

Happy “writing”!