Pretty Sure the Cyberspace Open is Dead

It’s too bad; the contest had a lot going for it. One of those things that worked great in theory but not in practice. It’s easy to calculate the cash the organizers reaped (rather a lot), but even though the contest was about meeting deadlines, they could not hit their own.

I once ran a contest at writing.com, and as with Cyberspace Open, I promised a thoughtful review to each entrant. Let me tell you, that’s not trivial. Though my reviews were much more detailed, I still only had to do a few of them, and it took forever.

I bitched about the contest even as I participated, but I’m sorry to see it gone. It really was a fun challenge that helped me develop as a writer.

Cyberspace Open had a good run for a few years, before getting crushed by its own popularity. The organizers then added a new marketing element—they got mediocre actors to read the top three entries and let the public vote. Perhaps the contest was already doomed, but that killed it sure. That, and a failure to enforce adherence to their own rules.

I miss the contest. It was right for me. Should it come back, I’d jump in in a heartbeat.

Feedback for God’s Entry in the Hyperspace Open

Score:
Structure: 21
Life Forms: 16
Style: 21
Originality: 23
Total score: 81

A very interesting universe. Your concepts of ‘gravity’ and ‘light’ really added a fresh twist to the old Big Bang style of universe. Generally universes unfold better without direct intervention from the creator, but in this case the miracles are done with a delicate touch and seem to work. But to what purpose? To create a whole ‘planet’ full of beings that seem to serve no purpose other than to slaughter each other comes off as cruel. The ending feels anticlimatic, with the entire universe slowly dispersing into nothingness. Increasing the ‘gravitational constant’ so the universe collapses back into itself at the end would have provided a good feeling of closure.

Holy Hell what does it take to get a competent judge around here? Were they even looking at the same universe?

Cruel? I guarantee that no one else in this contest came up with a natural order that gave rise to an intelligence like that. Their struggle to overcome their animal instincts is the whole point. I don’t know how I could have made that any more obvious. How could the judges not get that?

And not everyone wants their universe to end with an explosion. I mean, come on, aren’t we tired of that by now? As the energy-people fade away one by one, until the last intelligence in the universe drifts into a dreamless sleep — that’s gold right there. Or maybe they thought that was cruel, too.

I’d like to see any of these so-called judges make a universe even half as good at this one. I guess I should have known what to expect, though; after all if they were as talented as I am they wouldn’t need a job judging a contest.

My universe is perfect! Flawless! I mean, for starters, just look at the way the physical laws work together. All my friends agree with me! Anyone who can’t see that is obviously not worthy to view my masterpiece in the first place.

2

Cyberspace Open: My Feedback

Although the organizers never sent me my final score and feedback, I was able to go hunt it down on their Web site.

First reaction: My score is higher this time! Hooray!
Second reaction: The average score is higher this time, too. Awww…

Still, I think I moved up in comparison to the average, so that’s nice. The prompt this time was to write dialog with subtext – the characters seem to be talking about one thing, but actually they were discussing something else altogether. My entry is here.

This is the feedback I got:

Very interesting take on the scene prompt. Tons of energy, strong tension level. Good job of putting us on edge and keeping us there. Dialogue could have used a little more punch though, as it really seemed to be the characters talking about the wrong things more so than talking about the right things through subtext. But still, a pretty solid bit of work with great energy.

Overall, I’ll take that. I can see ways to improve the scene now; Mrs. Simms should be there yammering into Helen’s ear about Scooter’s sins just to make her even more frazzled, and to get the conversation onto Scooter’s behavior more naturally. I considered and discarded a couple of lines intended solely to leave absolutely no doubt that it was not Scooter’s behavior that angered Helen, but in the end I thought it was pretty obvious. Reading back now, maybe a line about Scooter running off and getting in trouble would have tied things together nicely without being too overt. Something like “How do I know he won’t be off chasing rabbits when I need him?” after which Jake struggles to apologize for his own misdeeds while keeping the conversation about Scooter. It could have anchored the subtext, and might even have been funny.

Overall, then, I think the criticism is fair, and “Tons of engery” is the kind of phrase I can live with.

The prompt for round two is already out but I’ve only glanced at it. Not getting my score for round one kind of pushed the whole event onto the back burner, and this has been a crazy-busy weekend already. I’ll still take a shot at it, probably pulling characters from Quest for the Important Thing to Defeat the Evil Guy to get it done with less time devoted to character development.

Cyberspace Open Winner List is In!

And… once more I’m on the outside looking in.

I do recognize at least one name on the list of winners, however: Congratulations, fuego! 96 points! Not too shabby at all. Later I’ll be scanning the list more carefully for other names I might recognize from the comments here.

When I get my individual feedback I’ll share it here, of course, and I’ll still write to the round two prompt on Road Trip Day.

Congratulations to all the finalists!

And the winner is…

Were it not for a recent comment, I would have forgotten that today is the deadline for the organizers of the Cyberspace Open to announce the entrants who proved with grace and skill that they deserve to move on to the second round.

So when an email from them arrived today, I was excited. There are certainly things to improve about my entry, but overall I think it’s pretty solid (I felt that way before, too, so grains of salt are called for). I looked forward to getting some feedback, even if it was just a rushed paragraph. I opened the email and found… advertising. They wanted me to subscribe to their magazine. Note to Creative Screenwriting: That’s not how you win friends.

Once more the contestants, who hit their deadline or were disqualified, wait for the organizers, who have had a hell of a time returning the favor. You know what would be a total win-win? Creative Screenwriting should outsource the contest to people who could give it the attention it deserves.

Whether or not the judges say I have earned round two, I’ll be writing to the prompt. Theoretically, round two is the first weekend in April. I hope it is; I have a good feeling about writing a scene on Road Trip Day.

Cyberspace Open Spring 2011: Scooter’s Balls

As usual, I’m posting the work I entered in this iteration of the Cyberspace Open. This time around my process was a little different — not by design, but by sloth. In the past I’ve tried to spend the first day playing with several ideas that touch on the prompt in very different ways, then take my favorite rough draft and polish it on Sunday.

This year I mulled things over quite a bit on Saturday, but didn’t start typing until Sunday afternoon. I only ever came up with one idea, which my home consulting service improved dramatically.

I tried to follow my own advice and keep the scene dynamic and flowing; hopefully it’s not too confused. I thought over ways to sneak a little more of the broader story context into the scene, but in the end I just managed to work a few clues in. After that the as-you-know-Bobishness started to grate on me.

Anyway, without further ado, I bring you: Scooter’s Balls.

INT. LIVING ROOM – DAY

HELEN (28, pretty, several locks of hair escaping from her pony tail) jumps when the phone rings. She scans the disrupted living room and locates the phone on the couch.

SCOOTER (dog, big, a mix of Labrador Retriever, Rottweiler, and god knows what else) takes the play position and barks with excitement. Crossing to the couch Helen steps on a squeaky toy, which just excites him more.

HELEN

Hello?

JAKE (OVER PHONE)

(loud, agitated)

Helen?

HELEN

Jake! Where are you?

Scooter perks up at the mention of Jake’s name and watches the phone intently.

INTERCUT PHONE CONVERSATION

EXT. LAS VEGAS BACK STREET – DAY

JAKE (30, wiry, disheveled) is in his car, the convertible top down and obviously damaged. The windshield has a spider web of cracks centered in front of the passenger seat, where it appears someone’s forehead hit the glass very hard.

JAKE

I… better not say.

HELEN

Jake, what the hell is going on? The FBI was here, for Christ’s sake.

JAKE

Is Scooter there with you?

HELEN

Of course he’s —

JAKE

(shouting into the phone)

Hey! Scooter! How’s my buddy?

Jake whistles over the phone, low, high, then medium pitch. A prostitute leaning against a lamp post nearby looks up.

Scooter hears the whistle over the phone and goes ballistic, simultaneously running in circles and jumping into the air, barking madly. He slams into a coffee table but Helen drops the phone and catches the lamp before it hits the floor, then dives to recover the phone before Scooter can grab it. She puts it to her ear to hear Jake laughing.

JAKE (CONT’D)

That’s my boy!

HELEN

Jake, Mrs. Simms came by. Scooter’s been peeing on her stupid lawn gnomes again.

JAKE

He’s just marking his territory. That’s what dogs do.

The prostitute approaches Jake’s car, her cheap blonde wig askew. Twenty years of meth have taken their toll. Jake looks at the hooker, then back at the traffic light.

JAKE (CONT’D)

(under his breath)

Hurry up, hurry up…

HELEN

Yeah, well, she doesn’t like it.

JAKE

She should be glad. That means he’ll protect her yard too.

PROSTITUTE

Hi, honey. You want to have a little fun?

Jake looks back at the light. Still red. He shakes his head quickly and returns the phone to his ear.

HELEN

Oh, yeah, I’m sure she sleeps better at night knowing her urine-stained statuary is protected by Scooter’s unwavering vigilance.

The prostitute leans over Jake’s car door, showing withered cleavage.

PROSTITUTE

You know what you need? A blowjob.

The light has changed, but the car in front of him is not moving. Jake honks his horn.

HELEN

Listen, Jake — I made an appointment with the vet.

JAKE

What? Why?

HELEN

You know why. Maybe if he’s neutered he won’t be so much of a… problem.

JAKE

He’s not a problem, he’s a dog!

HELEN

We’re supposed to be a family now. How can we be a family if I can’t trust him?

JAKE

You can trust him, honey! Scooter would die for you!

The prostitute leans in even closer.

PROSTITUTE

Blow. Job.

HELEN

Who is that? Did someone say blowjob? Where are you?

Finally the car in front moves and Jake lurches forward in the convertible — about ten feet. The car in front of him stalls again.

JAKE

It’s no one! Jesus!

HELEN

What about when we have children? What’s he going to do then?

JAKE

Scooter loves kids!

HELEN

That doesn’t mean he should have any of his own.

The prostitute is back, standing by the car with a bony hip cocked, smiling with yellow teeth. Jake honks his horn. He puts his hand over the phone.

JAKE

Go away!

PROSTITUTE

(cackling)

Blow job!

HELEN

I heard that! Who’s there?

JAKE

I don’t know. Some crazy lady.

He takes the phone from his ear but doesn’t cover it.

JAKE (CONT’D)

Go away! Please!

(into phone)

Honey, that’s just how Scooter is.

HELEN

Well, that’s not good enough. He’s going to have to shape up if we’re going to have a family.

JAKE

He’ll be better. I swear. Give him a chance before you chop his balls off.

Scooter is up on the sofa now, pushing his head through the blinds, barking madly, coating the glass with slobber.

HELEN

I don’t — You hear that? I can’t take any more of this.

JAKE

Why’s he barking?

HELEN

Why is he ever barking? I don’t know.

She looks out the window.

HELEN (CONT’D)

Huh.

JAKE

What?

HELEN

It’s your friend with the limp. It looks like his nose is broken.

JAKE

Shit! Helen! Get out of the house! Go out the back RIGHT NOW. Take Scooter with you. Do it!

Helen is still looking out the window.

HELEN

Holy shit they have guns!

She turns and runs toward the back of the house.

HELEN (CONT’D)

Scooter! Come!

Scooter gallops after her, tongue flopping in the wind.

JAKE

Helen!

HELEN

What?! What else have you done? Set the house on fire?

JAKE

I love you.

She hesitates a moment.

HELEN

I love you too. And… I have something to tell you, so get home safe, OK?

Helen throws down the phone and dashes out the back door.

Jake flips his phone closed. A horn honks. He’s blocking traffic. He hits the gas but just then the light turns red. He pounds his head on the steering wheel.

PROSTITUTE

So they gonna chop his balls off or not?

4

Cyberspace Open 2011 Under Way!

Here we go, writing a pivotal scene over the weekend! My history in the contest isn’t great but I keep doing it for two reasons: first, it’s good practice for the crucial moments in a story, and second, because it’s damn fun. This is a habit I enjoy.

As always, I encourage everyone to play along, even if they’re not formally registered. It’s good practice dealing with the moments that the audience will always remember. In previous contests I’ve given more advance warning, but this time, there were so many “This is the deadline for registering! We really mean it!” followed by “Deadline extended! But this time it’s the absolute last deadline!” that I wasn’t really confident the contest would actually happen even at the revised time.

But it has. It’s on, baby!

For those who aren’t paid participants, there’s nothing stopping you from using this as a writing exercise. As usual, the prompt is for one of those key moments in a drama that will make a story float in the starry heavens of genius or wash up on the shore of mediocrity, where it will be used as kindling by natives. The natives on the island of mediocrity have no shortage of fuel.

So, here’s the prompt:

Your PROTAGONIST and his or her LOVE INTEREST are at odds. One of the protagonist’s schemes has gone terribly awry, and the love interest has had it. Write a scene in which they have it out – but in an unconventional way. Their words seem measured and reasonable; but the subtext says another thing entirely. You may use additional characters other than the ones specified.

The prompt also comes with this note:

This is going to take some crafty, non-on the nose writing here. For example, they can talk about boiling water, but it’s clear they’re really talking about something else. Use sarcasm or body language or timing or other means to convey your true meaning.

If past history is any guide, I’d not get too caught up in the note. What they say they want and what wins are not the same thing. What wins is a scene that kicks ass. If you can kick ass and achieve the secondary challenge, great. But it is better to never have been crafty at all, than to be crafty and not kick ass.

So, go forth, nascent screenwriters, and kick ass! I shall endeavor to do the same. As always, I will post my effort here. As always, I will write to the round 2 prompt even if I’m not officially a contender any longer. This whole exercise is about recognizing the key turning points in a story and rendering them well. You can’t practice that too often.