Well, I got my score at the Cyberspace Open and I won’t be going on to the next round. I have mixed emotions about my score; some things I think could have been better aren’t even mentioned; other things I got dinged for are somewhat annoying.
I’ll start with the original assignment, for review (emphasis added by me):
Your protagonist is crushed. His or her plans have been dashed; his objective now appears impossible. And yet if he throws in the towel, bad things will happen. Write a scene in which a mentor, friend, love interest or enemy rallies or provokes your protagonist in an unexpected way. Be sure to give us your best dialogue here as your protagonist comes around and rises – or falls — to the occasion.
It’s a good prompt – it has specific goals but is a crucial moment in almost any plot.
Here’s the feedback for my entry:
Good basic concept behind this scene, though it’s a little tough to find rooting interest in Deek, simply because he’s such a downer. Igon’s appearance is a good turn, but it would have been great to see a little action at that point, if this bargain were to happen in the middle of a battle between the two as the bar gets trashed, ending in them making a pact but leaving total destruction in their wake. In other words, great setup but bigger visuals and movement would have made this scene much stronger.
My score: 83. One difference between this year’s contest and the previous is that we can see all the other scores and attendant feedback. 83 is… not very good. Below average; not sure about the median. So, how did my baby miss? I think in the end I was trying to squeeze a seven-minute scene into five minutes. Every tweak I made that added a line to the screenplay pushed the result over the five-page limit. Something else had to go.
Annoying thing #1: When faced with a decision of what to cut, I kept dialogue. I spent my time honing the words, revealing character through word choice, and so forth, at the expense of action. They said they wanted dialogue.
In retrospect, I should have ignored that bit of the prompt. They always want good dialogue. They also always want action. In the larger context of the story, big action would not work here. It’s not that moment in the story, and Igon works through guile. If I could have added another page to the scene, there would have been more action anyway; not bar-trashing action but more personal. Just… more visual. It was the visual stuff that didn’t make the cut to five pages.
Also, dialogue takes more time to judge properly. I doubt the judges read the entries out loud, for instance.
Many of the actions I chose to remove were smaller things, mannerisms and body language that help reveal character and motivation. Novels are full of that stuff. With a screenplay, that’s what the actor brings to the table. Putting too much of that stuff in the screenplay is called ‘directing from the script’ and is at best a waste of everyone’s time. Yet, for this contest, where we don’t have the history that comes before the scene, perhaps some of those actions would help the judge to get the feel for the characters. Pretty much all that was left was blocking.
Then again, it might have been as simple as having Deek trying to smash his bottle to use as a weapon, spewing beer all over the place, and maybe cutting himself in the process. Then there’d be blood…
So, yeah, I have to admit that more action would help the scene, perhaps a lot. Some of that was in there but fell to the ‘dialogue priority’. Back to Annoying thing #1. Next time…
The comment about it being “a little tough to find rooting interest in Deek” is a valid one. In the context of the story, we’ve had a long time to bond with him, to watch him pay the consequences for decisions that have gone wrong. In the scene, we just see him at the bottom, and the fact he’s not a very likable guy at that moment is important. But someone reading just this one scene won’t get any of that.
I have been a bit slow, I think, to recognize that writing for this contest and writing an actual movie scene are fundamentally different. For all the organizers say not to put in extra stuff that would normally be established earlier, they can’t judge the scene well without it. Writing a successful entry in this contest is more like writing a short film than the judges would care to admit – it’s just one with no resolution. Also, you need snappy dialog and action in your submission, whether or not your overall story wants it at that point or not.
On another tangent, remember what I said about the prompt being a crucial point in almost any plot? As I was working on my entry this time I began to wonder, “How many people will submit scenes they’ve already written?” Most of the entrants in this contest are aspiring screenwriters; almost all of those will have finished screenplays with a scene much like this in them. I was feeling a little guilty for writing a scene for a story I was already working on, though I did this scene from scratch. I was worried that some of my competition would be starting with works that they’ve been honing for a long time. I’m still not sure how I feel about this aspect of the contest. Is the honor system working? No way to tell, until the winner says “and I have the whole movie ready for an agent!”
I plan to write a scene this weekend for the second prompt, just for fun. Heck, why not? At the very least I can use it the way I did this one, to spur me to fill a hole in one of my other works in progress. I’ll post the result here as well, just for giggles.
If I decide to participate in the contest next time, I might use the characters from The Quest for the Important Thing to Defeat the Evil Guy. Since those characters appear in every fantasy novel ever written, I can avoid the catch-22 of having to establish the characters without establishing the characters.