Craft: Writing

Y-Writer and Chinatown

One bit of advice Regina Brooks gives in her YA guide book Writing Great Books for Young Adults: Everything You Need to Know, from Crafting the Idea to Landing a Publishing Deal, is to imitate the things you like from other authors (no plagiarizing, though). After replotting my manuscript, I realized I wanted to combine my two stories into one twisted noir. I could have turned to the masters:  Hammett, Cain or Highsmith, but I decided to look elsewhere for inspiration.

Robert Towne’s Chinatown is one of my favorite movies. While the characters are stereotypical (the private eye, the feme fatal) it’s the story that’s unique. Towne, with Roman Polanski’s vision, takes what appears to be simple matrimonial work for PI Jake Gittes and turns it into a case overflowing with corruption, greed and murder.

I’ve been using Y-writer5 to replot my novel. This program doesn’t have all the bells and whistles of Scrivener, but I can’t complain too much, Y-writer is free. In this post I’m going to show you how I used Y-writer in conjunction with the movie Chinatown to break down a novel scene by scene. I’m also doing this because I love the twisty, turvy plot that’s both intricate and satisfying and I want to see how Towne did it. If you haven’t seen Chinatown, I suggest you STOP reading this post and go watch it (if you have Netflicks it’s streamable). It’s defiantly worth two hours of your time.

Quotes that I love:

Politicians, ugly buildings, and whores all get respectable if they last long enough.

Noah Cross – Chinatown

Forget it, Jake. It’s Chinatown.

Walsh – Chinatown

Y-Writer & Chinatown:

1)Create a project

2)Create your characters (descriptions, back stories, ect)

3)Create a chapter (there were twelve so I went ahead and selected multiple chapter creation)

4)Create a scene


Scene 1: Curly/husband/client is distraught over the dirty pictures taken of his wife committing adultery . Jake drinking and irritated that he has to do this yet again. Shows Curly out agreeing not to take his last dime to pay for his services. Secretary tells Jake he has another client waiting. Mrs. Evelyn Mulwray with her lawyer. She wants Jake to look into her husband, Hollis Mulwray, believing he’s having an affair. Jake suggests that if she loves her husband to go home and forget about it. Mrs. Mulwray insists she must know. Jake agrees to take the case but hesitant since her husband is a high official. He’s chief engineer for Water and Power.


Scene 1: Mayor is in favor of building a dam for more water to be available. Council calls on Chief Engineer Mulgrave who states he won’t build it because it’s too dangerous. The crowd erupts in boos. An angry farmer brings his sheep to the meeting to protest the damn and it drying up grazing for his livestock. There’s no water.

Scene 2: Jack follows Mulgrave out to desert valley where damn is sees Mulgrave meet Indian boy. Checks ground and pulls out map and lays it on car.

Scene 3: Jake follows Mulwray watches him from rear view. Gets out and watches as Mulgrave strolls the beach. Stays until dark when water comes gushing out and dumps into the ocean. Follows Mulgrave back. Picks watch out of box. Puts it beneath Mulgrave’s tire.

Scene 4: Ops tell Jake that Mulgrave stayed their all night. Tells Jake the man’s got water on the brain not dames. Photographer shows Jake pictures of Mulgrave and another man and how they got into a huge argument outside a restaurant. Noisy traffic and all the could manage was ‘applecore’. Doesn’t like what he hears. Phone rings and Duff says he found Mulgrave with a lady.


Scene 1: Taking pictures of Duffy so he can get ones of Mulwray with young girl. Location: Echo park on pond.

Scene 2: Follows Mulwray. Inside is a courtyard. Mulwray is meeting a pretty blonde girl who speaks Spanish.

Scene 3: Reading paper and getting a shave. Jake and mortgage broker get into it regarding Jake’s profession.

Scene 4: J. tells Sophie to leave for a moment so he can tell a crass joke. Opps are trying to say something but he’s more interested in telling his joke. Door opens behind him and a sharp dressed woman and another man steps out. Strange woman introduces herself as the real Mrs. Mulwray and that she’s never met him or hired him to spy on her husband. Mrs. Mulwray threatens him with her attorney.


Scene 1: Goes to Gittes office and his secretary tells him he’s not in. Invites himself into Mulwray’s office to look around. Looks around and sees pictures of real Mrs. Mulwray. Finds a plat map but is interrupted by the assistant who escorts him into his office. Jake takes one of his cards. Runs into some competition who is guarding the building because of the threats.

Scene 2: Goes looking for Mulgrave at his house. Only finds Mrs. Mulwray. She agrees to drop the lawsuit. She doesn’t know where her husband is and seems like she’s hiding something.

Scene 3: Jake uses Mulgrave’s assistant’s card to get through guards at dam. Meets old friend name Louis Escabar whom he used to work with in China town that is now a lieutenant who’s a lieutenant. The cops are there because Mulgrave is dead.


Scene 1: Mrs. Mulgrave comes down to id the body. Louis/lieutenant asking her questions about Melgrave taking his own life. Admits that her husband was seeing girl and they quarreled over. Came as a surprise. Lieutenant things it’s odd since she hired Jake. Jake walks her to her car amid the press. Mrs. Mulwray says she’ll send him a check to make it official that she hired him.

Scene 2: Coroner states Mulwray died of drowning in a the middle of a drought. Asks about other guy. Homeless. Also drowned in LA river. Jake says that’s strange because there’s absolutely no water.


Scene 1: Jake visits the L.A. riverbed mostly rocks and very little water. A Mexican boy tells him the river comes but on different parts.

Scene 2: Jake visits the dam at night where Mulwray’s body was found. Scales a fence. There’s gun shots then water rushes down the damn taking Jake with it. He climbs the fence again to escape it. Runs into some shady fellas that cut his nose and tell him to stop being so nosy.

Scene 3: Discussing what happened to him at the dam. Gets a mysterious call from the woman that was pretending to be Mrs. Mulwray. She says she never intended for anything nasty to happen. Tells him to look in the obits for ‘one of those people’.

Scene 4: Jake at diner checking out obits in newspaper. Sees that the bond for the new dam passed. Mrs. Mulwray shows up. Jake is asking questions about her and her relationship with her husband. She gets defensive about asking him questions about her past. Jake thinks it’s strange that she was glad about the affair. It goes contrary to what he’s seen. Still thinks she’s hiding something even more so that she won’t tell him where she was on the night her husband was killed. Outside he wants her to come with him get more info out of her. He tells her all the things that he believes why her husband was murdered. And he makes a point to tell her again that she’s hiding something. Jake gets in his car. Mrs. Mulwray is almost close to tears. She shouts out Jake’s name but he has already squealed away.


Scene 1: Visits assistant engineer’s office. See’s Noah Cross’ photo on wall. Wonders if it’s a relation to Mrs. Mulwray’s. Sits and waits for assistant engineer. Learns that Hollis and Cross worked together and that Cross once owned the entire water supply to the city. Learned that Hollis and Cross were partners. In assistant’s office, accuses him of hiring chip to hire him to frame Hollis for a scandal so they could get rid of the opposition to build the new dam. Assistant engineer states that they’ve been diverging water to orange groves up north hoping to help the farmers out. This doesn’t sit right with Jake.

Scene 2: Jake return to find Mrs. Mulwray in his office. She offers him a huge advance if she finds out who killed her husband and who’s behind it. When Jake mentions Noah Cross, Mrs. Mulwray is physically agitated. She says Hollis and her father had a falling out regarding the dam that broke. She stated that Hollis and her father never spoke again after that. Jake knows that’s not true because his ops got pictures of the two of them talking.

Scene 3: Arranges a meeting with Noah Cross. He’s asking him questions about his daughter and warns Jake that his daughter is disturbed and he shouldn’t be getting involved with her. Offers Jake double what his daughter is offering if he finds Hollis’ girlfriend. Noah avoids discussing what Hollis and him were meeting. Arguing over their daughter. Insistent on finding Hollis’ girl.


Scene 1: Visits the hall of records. Discovers that most of the land in the valley has been sold in a couple of months. Steals plot map out of book.

Scene 2: Visits one of the lots that was sold. It’s try with a dried up river running through it. Makes his way to the orange groves where he was told the water had been diverged. There’s a big no trespassing sign posted, but Jake goes on the property anyway. Get’s caught by the proprietor who tells him that Mulwray is the the one who’s been poisoning his wells and trying to get him to sell, which he won’t. Jake and the hired hands get into it and they end up knocking Jake out.

Scene 3: Jake wakes. The proprietor and his wife look at him while Mrs. Mulwray looks over him. She gives him a ride back to town because his car is wrecked. Tells Mrs. Mulwray that the dam is a con job. It’s not going to go to L.A. it’s going to the valley. Learns that dead people in the obits are the one’s buying up the land.

Scene 4: Use a fake reason to look around rest home. Find all the names that are on the deeds. None of the elderly know they’re rich people. Jake talks to one of the ladies that owns the land. They’re making a quilt. A piece of it catches Jake’s eye. The lady says its from the Albecore club. They treat everyone very nice. Mr. Palmer interrupts and says there’s someone there to talk to him. Jake beats up the goon and gets in Mrs. Mulwray’s car and drives away.


Scene 1: Tensions are high from the chase. Jake and Mrs. Mulwray end up in bed together. Pillow talk until the telephone rings. Mrs. Mulwray says she has to leave. Right now. She confesses that her father owns the club. She gets very agitated when he speaks of her father. They quarrel over her father and the girlfriend. Mrs. Mulwray warns him about her father. He agrees to wait for her, but it’s a lie. Jake decides to follow her.

Scene 2: Jake follows her to two story house in L.A. At the back of the house sees her with the butler from the house arguing over a newspaper. Hears a girl crying. It’s Hollis’ girlfriend. She’s speaking Spanish. Distraught and Mrs. Mulwray is trying to comfort her. Jake is there waiting for her in her car. She confesses that girl is her sister and that she really did care for Hollis. She asks him to come back to the house with her. Jake says he’s had enough for one evening.

Scene 3: Jake is cleaning up and going to bed. Get’s a phone call from a guy that tells him the fake Mrs. Mulwray wants too meet him in Echo Park. Jake tells the guy Ida Session can call him at the office. The man calls again, but Jake doesn’t go.


Scene 1: Apartment guy told him about the previous night. Finds Ida Sessions murdered. The kitchen in a mess. Finds Louis in the bathroom with another cop. Ida has the photo’s he took of Hollis and the girl. Louis thinks he’s an accessory after the fact and that he and Mrs. Mulwray are in it together. Jake says no. Hollis was killed because of the valley/water/dam.

Scene 2: Go to ocean front where Hollis’ body was found. The police interview assistant engineer and they said they’re only dumping run off. Gittes says they’re lying. Louis tells him he’s lying. Louis gives Jake two hours to get Mrs. Mulwray to his office.

Scene 3: The servants are packing up the house and no one seems to know where Mrs. Mulwray is. Jake takes a look around. Gardner tells him salt water is bad for grass. Pound is full of salt water. Discover Hollis’ glasses in the pond.


Scene 1: Finds Mrs. Mulwray, butler and girl at the house getting ready to leave. Jake confronts her with the glasses of Hollis’ he found. Wants her to tell him the truth before cops get there. Jake beats the truth out of her. Hollis’ girl’s name is Kathrine. She’s Mrs. Mulwray’s daughter/sister. She ran away to Mexico to have her at fifteen. Hollis followed her to help her. Mrs. Mulwray tells him now she wants to protect her daughter. Jake tells her she need to leave. She also tells him the glasses weren’t Hollis’. He didn’t wear bi-focal. Butler takes both of them to his place. Calls opps at office and tells them to meet at Kahn’s place in two hours. Jake tells Louis that Mrs. Mulwray flew the coop. The maid should know where she is and lives in San Pedro. Louis says he has to go with him to the maid’s house.

Scene 2: Maid’s house happens to be Curly’s. Cheating wife has a shiner. Jake asks Curly to give him a ride somewhere to get away from the cops.Curly agrees to take the Mulwray’s to his boat and get them out of town. Jake calls Cross and tells him he has the girl. Cross agrees to meet him in an hour.


Scene 1: Cross comes. Insistent on knowing where the girl is. Jake confronts him and accuses Cross of killing Hollis.  Cross tells him that he plans on annexing all the land into the city. Bring L.A. to the water. cross says at the right place and the right time people are capable of anything. Takes the glasses from Jake and depends they take him to the girl who he says is the only daughter he has left.

Scene 2: Driving toward China town. Louis is there. Jake is trying to tell him that Cross is the one that killed Hollis. He’s an evil man and should be the one they’re after. Cross goes after Kathrine. Evelyn tells Cross to stay away from her. Evelyn shoots cross and speeds away. The cops fire at the car. Evelyn is hit and killed. Cross takes Katherine. Louis orders Jake’s ops to take him home. Jake stops to protest but his ops tell him to forget it.

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