Cyberspace Open: My results

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.

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17 thoughts on “Cyberspace Open: My results

  1. I have a lot of the same judgments on their judgment. How can you write a scene in 5 pages, for a movie that theoretically is already in production (aka: everyone already knows what the hell is going on when they get to scene 86 in the script, so scene A87 is going to make sense without a lot of explanation) and get points deducted for not filling in the readers as to the situation?

    “This pirate scene has a nice relationship between Moab and Jimmy. I think the scene could use some more practical exposition off the bat, with character introductions capitalized and general explanation of the scenario. For example, let’s look at the first line. Instead of Moab sits apart from the rest of the pirates”

    I wrote a scene for a group of characters, in a film already written, but a new scene not in the script. I purposefully didn’t do any expose on the film as a whole since the parameters of the contest are beyond that. Maybe I have worked on too many films and know too much about how movies are really made, to do well in a contest such as this. Also, maybe I should have spent more than four hours writing the scene…I at least wish the reviewer could have finished his last sentence!

    • Hej, pL, maybe you could get a gig as a speaker at the Screenwriting Expo. There’s a list of topics they’re hoping to cover, and your IMDB listing would probably get you the cred if you found a topic on the list you could present. I haven’t looked that hard at the list; I’m certainly not someone they would want to hear from.

      Then while you’re on this continent we could get that ADR done.

  2. Next year they will give a set up – always generically easy to hypothesize – that will be something like, “The protagonist has to do something important. But there are unforeseen obstacles. And one game changing, momentous incident…”
    Then you write, “Bob entered a one scene screen-writing contest. Little did he know, the judges would be petty, late, indifferent, and frustratingly unaware of the rules. While Bob was counting on an objective and point by point rating scale, the entirely too-subjective judges were still being coerced into volunteering by the contest organizers…”

  3. Hey, I looked over your scene and the judge’s comments. I think the judge was too harsh, especially with the score, but I had the same general reaction. Let me elaborate. The coordinators did say they wanted snappy dialogue, but I think they wanted the scenes to move more and for the dialogue to help speed things along. (As the axiom goes, dialogue *is* action, especially in the movies.) Your scene has fine writing and you’ve obviously thought about the deeper context of this conversation. But it doesn’t move much — not until the end. As I was reading it, I found myself thinking “Hmmm, he could probably trim a little bit of this out.” It’s very stagey, not inherently visual. What are the “montageable” elements that will connect together to make the scene flow? You can winnow down the dialogue to just the snappy or subtle lines if you can identify them. I’m not saying this is organically bad work, just that it didn’t quite fit what they were looking for, which was a snappy scene with snappy dialogue. (Not to pile on, but by choosing vampires you’re going down a much-traveled road, so even more reversals and surprises would probably be helpful.)

    And again, the scoring was way too low. I don’t know what your number-breakdown was (nor am I asking), but I could see them dinging you for Originality and maybe a little bit on Structure. On Dialogue and Style, no major complaints, at least from me (not that I matter here, but just to give you more reasonable feedback :->).

    I would love to see the top entries; some of the judges’ comments sounded awestruck.

    Cheers,
    Kevin

    • Thanks, Kevin!

      Your feedback makes the exercise worth it. “Montageable” may become a new word in my vocabulary.

      I’m interested in seeing the winners also. Not just from an educational standpoint, but as you say some of them sound pretty dang cool.

  4. Jerry,

    Sorry to hear you didn’t make the finals. I read your entry a couple weeks ago when I first found your blog, and I did enjoy reading it.

    By some miracle, I managed to squeak into the top 100 with a score of 93.

    You might be interested to know that I did not take my scene from an existing screenplay. In fact, I’ve only written two screenplays so far (one adapted, one original, and nothing sold), and neither of them are anything like the scene I wrote for the contest. I started totally from scratch, brainstorming potentially interesting characters (I ended up using squirrels!) as well as brainstorming possible goals characters may have wanted.

    I wrote a whole mini movie (about ten pages worth) and then had to scratch the first few pages because I realized they were just back story. Then I went back and read the prompt again and realized I really needed to focus on the scene in which the friend rallies the protagonist. There was lots of revising, rewriting, and editing.

    Since you were kind enough to share your scene with us, please feel free to check out my scene. You can find a link to it on my blog (just click on my name on this post).

    P.S. Good for you for writing this weekend, too! I remind myself all the time how much practice it really takes to become good at something. J.K. Rowling wrote two novels that were never published before she wrote Harry Potter. Every script we write, every story we tell, brings us one step closer to being the kind of writers we dream of becoming! :)

    • Thanks for sharing your process. Very interesting. Also congratulations on making it to round two! I’ll go over and read your entry shortly. Thanks for sharing.

      Good luck in the next round as well – please come by and tell us all how you did.

    • Hey AJ…just read your scene…or should I say three scenes. Is that what you submitted? Man, the judges sure don’t care about their rules at all.

      pL

      • PL,

        Yes, what you read is what I submitted.

        After I submitted it, I did worry that my ending might cost me some points, and perhaps they did because I just barely squeaked into the finals.

        However, if you watched Jim C’s video, he did say something about it being O.K. as long as one scene led directly into the next.

        In the comments, my scorer did say that “the scene plays out very nicely and comes to an extremely satisfying conclusion,” so whoever scored it liked the way I ended it and considered it all one “scene.” Who knows if dropping the ending would have helped or hurt my score? All I know is it just didn’t seem right to me NOT to include it, so I threw caution to the wind and kept it.

        I think what they meant when they said “one scene” was that they didn’t want someone to give them an entire movie condensed into five pages or less.

        The whole contest is very tricky.

        You need to come up with a back story (which I did), but then not actually include those scenes in your entry (which I did originally and then had to delete) and then somehow get the basic idea of the back story across without those scenes! Whew!

        You also need to introduce your characters briefly so that the readers know who they are without going into tons of exposition–difficult.

        Finally, you need snappy dialogue while still maintaining action in your scene so that it doesn’t become just a bunch of “talking heads.”

        Yes, they are asking a lot, but to me, that’s what makes writing fun–the challenge of figuring out how to do all that without losing the reader!

        Does anyone know if they ever post the scenes from the “cream of crop” for this competition? It’d be nice to learn from the people who had the tippy top scores.

        • Maybe this will help clear up the “scene” length question . . .

          To prepare for this weekend’s competition, I just went back and listened once again to Jim Cirile’s explanation of the rules (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uOc1CkFHsy0).

          Regarding length, he said, “We are looking for a scene . . . alright? . . . or a scene unit, which is basically like . . . um . . . two characters walking and talking through a series of locations or a group of small scenes all connected by a common thread.”

          I guess my entry fits that last description. Hope that helps, pL.

  5. One of the challenges I have teaching English composition at the community college is that I am asking my students to write for an artificial situation, much as you are being asked to do in this project — we’re supposed to teach writing, and the writing has to be ABOUT. I think you have pegged things when you point out that the people running the contest SAY that they want a scene from a larger work, and they SAY that they are assuming that much of the background has been laid, but then they can’t make a fair evaluation without having that background.

  6. One of the challenges I have teaching English composition at the community college is that I am asking my students to write for an artificial situation, much as you are being asked to do in this project — we’re supposed to teach writing without teaching any other content, but there has to be something for the writing to be ABOUT. My colleagues and I have come up with various strategies to deal with the “about” part.

    I think you have pegged things when you point out that the people running the contest SAY that they want a scene from a larger work, and they SAY that they are assuming that much of the background has been laid, but then they can’t make a fair evaluation without having that background. What you’re really being asked to write is none of the above — it has to be something that stands on its own, no matter what the contest organizers say.

  7. Jerry, sorry yo hear you didn’t make the second round.

    My method was similar to what A.J. used.

    I came up with something brand new so I could craft it right around what the premise asked for. I’d considered trying to retrofit something from one of my existing screenplays, but felt like it’d be too restrictive.

    It wasn’t the most realistic prompt, sure, but I didn’t think it was that outlandish. I mean, if they get too specific they’re going to have 1200 entires that read almost identical. Keeping it a bit generic kept things lively, and left in a large chance for variety.

    AJ’s entry (which I read) was about squirrels. My entry was about two girls at a track meet. Yours a conversation between a Superhero and a Vampire. I mean, that’s three TOTALLY different scenes that all came from the same prompt.

    I basically sat for a good two hours Friday evening and brainstormed out my story. I even split it into three parts, with these goals in mind: Set up (1 page). Provocation (2 pages). Outcome (1 page). I did one draft Friday night, came in at six pages. Two on Saturday and got it to under five. And a final round of polish on Sunday left it right at 4. I just tried to make it as tight and lean as possible.

    I scored a 95.

    • Nice work! Thanks for sharing your approach as well. I enjoyed your description of your morning reading the results over at your blog as well.

      Keep the rest of us deformed as to your progress!

    • I think my problem wasn’t so much with the prompt, as for having been marked down for following directions. In this situation, we are being asked to write a scene for a movie that is already in production, so everyone reading the scene already knows the back story. I wasn’t writing the first scene of the film, so why should I be introducing the characters? Or giving more general explanation of the scenario? Everyone involved in the production knows they just lost a major “sea” battle while heading down route 66, a tragic battle where Moab’s enemies got the map…I don’t need to spell it out here for the readers…if I were to follow directions. Last year I was penalized for spending time on exposition in my scene, and this year the opposite. That’s what bugs me. Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t think I deserved to make the top 100, I didn’t put a lot of effort into it this year, but I don’t like being criticized for following the theme of the contest.

      pL

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