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, 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

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.


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.


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.




(loud, agitated)



Jake! Where are you?

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



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.


I… better not say.


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


Is Scooter there with you?


Of course he’s —


(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.


That’s my boy!


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


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.


(under his breath)

Hurry up, hurry up…


Yeah, well, she doesn’t like it.


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


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.


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.


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.


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


What? Why?


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


He’s not a problem, he’s a dog!


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


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

The prostitute leans in even closer.


Blow. Job.


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.


It’s no one! Jesus!


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


Scooter loves kids!


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.


Go away!



Blow job!


I heard that! Who’s there?


I don’t know. Some crazy lady.

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


Go away! Please!

(into phone)

Honey, that’s just how Scooter is.


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


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.


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


Why’s he barking?


Why is he ever barking? I don’t know.

She looks out the window.






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


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.


Holy shit they have guns!

She turns and runs toward the back of the house.


Scooter! Come!

Scooter gallops after her, tongue flopping in the wind.




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


I love you.

She hesitates a moment.


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.


So they gonna chop his balls off or not?


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.


Cyberspace Open: What they Really Want

The Cyberspace Open is a pretty cool contest, but there seems to be a gap between what they say they want, and what they actually want. The rules are evolving as the organizers have been moving from rewarding high-speed output to giving writers the time they need to create something more memorable (and marketable).

I’ve done the contest a couple of times now, and I’ve seen what wins and where I consistently fall short.

Four categories of scoring? Not… so much.
One of the things emphasized is that you are scored in four different categories. “Originality is 25% of your score,” they say. When you get your scene back, you get a breakdown of how many points you get in each category. Last time, out of hundreds of scores I checked, NONE had a difference of more than two points between categories. You would expect some entries to be wildly creative but very poorly executed, and for the scores to reflect that. Instead, it seems the judges arrive at a gut-feeling score and then divvy up the points fairly evenly between categories.

Don’t worry so much about the one-scene rule.
According to the rules, you’re supposed to submit a single scene. Part of the difficulty with this edict is that a “scene” is a technical movie-making unit, not a storytelling unit. They soften the rule to say that if your “scene” continues between rooms of a house during the course of a conversation, that’s ok. (Technically, every time the scenery changes, it’s a new scene. Changing rooms is a new scene.)

I’m all for this relaxed interpretation. How I would write the rule is, ‘continuous action that cannot be interrupted by cutting to another scene with different characters’. That lets you move your action, but keeps the “scene” as a fundamental storytelling unit.

However, even by that definition, two of the three top finalists last time had multiple scenes. One of the finalists used a brief scene at the start to establish the story, while another jumped scenes (and skipped ahead a couple of hours) halfway through the action. So it would seem the one-scene rule is not enforced at all.

Tell the Whole Story
The contest clearly states that they want a single scene that is part of a larger story. They don’t want a short film. The prompt they give is for a key moment in the arc of a story already under way. The thing is, judges can appreciate the scene more if they have an understanding of the context. Last year’s winner had an extra, short scene at the start with no other purpose than to supply context. One of the first-round winners last year included an extra little scene at the end that provided closure. In both cases the judges rewarded writers for breaking the letter of the law. Both of the other finalists last year had as-you-know-Bob-style dialog to provide context. fuego was specifically chided for not including more backstory in his scene.

You know? That’s OK with me. I think of my first (losing) entry and the really cool car stunt that happened immediately after the scene I submitted. I should have included it, even though it was technically another scene. My most recent (losing) entry could have benefitted from more context as well, but it also needed…

This is my mantra this time: make every moment crackle. I honestly thought I had that last time, but it was a verbal confrontation (they said they wanted dialog) and without a better understanding of the characters it failed to sparkle. If my dialog had been combined with bloodshed, things might have been much different.

Make every phrase one that could go into the movie trailer, every motion filled with peril. All the other rules and guidelines above take a backseat to this simple axiom. Whatever they say they want, whatever restrictions they impose, all will be forgiven if you write a taut scene with intensity – and it has to stand on its own. Of course the judges couldn’t see the tension between my characters since much of it was based on things that had come before.

Three to Five Pages
While the text on the Web site sounds flexible, they’re really hardcore about this now. Five pages and one line was not acceptable last time around.

Don’t lose on a technicality
As much as it sucks to get a low score, it would suck even more to get zero points because you didn’t submit your work correctly. There are things you can do before the contest that will allow you to save time and worry when submission time comes around.

You must submit your entry in a document named in a particular way, with specific formatting and a cover page with the proper information. Why wait until the last minute, when you’re tweaking the last few words as the clock ticks down? Go ahead and make the document now. Set up the formatting. Name it according to the submission rules. Write the cover page. Check it all twice. Now you’ve got all the ticky-tack stuff out of the way and when minutes count you can focus on the work, not the submission.

Have Fun!
I don’t participate in this contest with dreams of megabucks movie producers knocking on my door, I do it because it’s a challenge that appeals to me on a fundamental level and I’ve learned a lot from my previous failures. I like sharing my output here and getting feedback.

There’s another reason to have fun: It shows in the work. If you’re smiling while you’re typing, chances are the judge will be smiling while reading. Give it your best go, but have a good time and let your own quirks show through.

Just so long as you don’t push me out of the second round!


Cyberspace Winter 2011 Early Registration Deadline Tonight

This is just a reminder to those out there who enjoy the Cyberspace Open that registration closes tonight. It’s a fun contest, and a good way to spend a weekend. In a nutshell, you are given a prompt and you have a weekend to write a scene that would fit in a a feature-length screenplay that fits the prompt.

CORRECTION: Originally in this episode I said tonight was the deadline for entering. It turns out tonight is the deadline for early entry, which is cheaper. You can still register after today.

Even if you don’t pay to participate officially, I encourage the writerly types out there to play along. Just because you won’t be judged doesn’t mean you can’t have fun writing to the prompt.

As usual, I’ll be posting my round-one entry here. Even if I don’t make it to round two, I’ll write to that prompt as well, and post that here for the amusement of all.

See you in the winners’ circle!


Return of the Cyberspace Open

Time keeps passing, turning on mighty gears toward the future, and like clockwork with a tired mainspring the Cyberspace open has returned once again. The “fall” iteration of the contest has become the “fall/winter 2010-2011” version, with “fall” and “2010” being more of a marketing thing, since the contest is actually in January and February, with the final round running through late April.

I’ll be participating again as well; I haven’t done that well in my previous attempts, but I still have fun and I still learn a lot. Not a bad deal for eleven bucks. One of my favorite parts about the Cyberspace Open is hearing from other participants here on the pages of Muddled Ramblings. I’m looking forward to hearing back from a few of the folks who graced these pages last time around.

The format for the contest will be similar to last time: Participants are given a weekend to write a scene. The top 100 scorers from that round move on to round two, roughly six weeks later. (The delay is because the judges have to read and score a lot of entries, and provide meaningful feedback for each. Not a small job.)

Round two is different than in previous incarnations, and reflects a shifting emphasis for the competition as a whole. In the past, writers only had twelve hours to complete their second scene. (In the distant past, when there was a third round of writing, it was ninety minutes!) The competition has moved from being a test of writing under pressure to writing the best possible scene, and this year round two is an entire weekend, just like round one. I don’t think that works in my favor – more on that later.

Round three, like last “spring” (um… summer), is a competition between the top three scripts of round two. The scripts are read on video by aspiring actors, and folks are then able to vote on them. I’m not sold on this part of the competition, as the performance of the actors can make a big difference when people are supposed to be judging the script. I think it worked out pretty well last time, though, so I’m probably worrying too much. It’s what I do.

My own participation in the contest is a little different, as I have never made it out of round one. (You can see my earlier entries elsewhere in this blog.) Getting knocked out early hasn’t stopped me from participating in round two as a shadow contestant, however, and posting my work here as well. Interestingly, I think the scenes I’ve written with less time available have been better. We’ll see if I can break out of that this year.

I’ve made a few observations about what the organizers say they want, and what actually wins. As we get closer to the actual contest I’ll post some musings on that subject here.

For me, my mantra this time around will be ‘montageable’ (a tip given by a reader when critiquing one of my previous entries). Does the scene contain those moments that would go into the preview trailer and make people want to see the whole movie? That’s what I’ll be shooting for this time.

This really is a fun contest, one that is different than most of what you find out there. It costs a bit of money to enter (less if you act soon), but if you need something to kick your butt and get you writing this winter, you could do a lot worse. Check it out!


Winners Announced

Congratulations to Dries Coomans for taking top honors in this spring’s Cyberspace Open. His piece bent the rules a smidge, but was a powerful bit of writing. Personally I preferred the second-place entry by Lisa Scott, but it was a tough call.

With luck maybe we’ll be seeing those names again, on the big screen!


Cyberspace Open Finalists

I was wondering whatever happened in the Cyberspace Open – the organizers seemed happy to find any excuse to email contestants earlier but I hadn’t heard anything in a while. I went over to check things out and found that the finalists have been selected, but so far no mention of the YouTube voting for the big winner.

You can read the top three here, if you want to see what a winning entry looks like. The prompt for this round was to write a scene in which one character has been betrayed by a confidant, and confronts the betrayer.

A hearty congratulations is in order for all three. They made something that sparkled and shone in the eyes of their peers. Not bad for a day’s work.

I considered whether to put my own thoughts on the top three here, but the contest is still going, and I don’t want to come off as a sour-grapes kind of guy, picking at the flaws of writers who scored better than I did in the previous round. I’ll just say that I think one of these scripts is substantially better than the other two, while another had nice moments but seemed fundamentally flawed.

It was a good exercise for me to read them, because there were several places where I could tell that the writer was not getting everything out of their head and onto the page (writing time was very limited, after all). In the future I will try to identify those places in my own writing, before I leave my audience flat.

Edited to add:
If this page is any indication, they have decided to go back to the old format (a ninety-minute period for the finalists to craft a third scene) for the next iteration of the contest. (In fact, that is the same page as last year, just with the dates changed.) This is either to make the contest work better in conjunction with the Screenwriting Expo or it’s an indication that the current format isn’t working out. Or maybe both.

I hope they get the kinks worked out — it’s a cool contest (despite my frustrations). As you will see in the comments, I wasn’t the only one wondering what was going on over there.


Round Two: My Fake Entry

As I thought about this prompt, I thought of the scene in the the classic movie Get Crazy, when Reggie Wanker emerges from a dressing room filled with naked women only to discover that the girlfriend he’s been ignoring (and who saw him in the room filled with naked women) is now with another guy. Said Reggie: “Betrayed! Turn your back for half a second and they stick a knife in it right up t’hilt.” As he goes back on stage (this has all occurred during a drum solo) he says. “I’ve finally found the meaning of the bleedin’ blues. Ol’ Reggie can take the pain… but can they?

Classic stuff. Malcolm McDowell makes a great Mick Jagger.

Anyway, I pondered for a while about what to do for my scene, but because I didn’t want to work too hard at it, I borrowed characters from a story I’ve already been fiddling with, called The Quest for the Important Thing to Defeat the Evil Guy. Tatra is a new addition, and hey, what high fantasy story can’t be improved with a smart-mouth goth chick? Once again I’m heavy on dialog without much physical action.

Tatra (17, Goth - black hair and nails, black dress with metallic accessories) is staring into the campfire flames. She has a blanket wrapped over her shoulders. Nearby she can hear Bixby snoring gently. The rest of the party are arrayed on the ground, all asleep.
Kitty jumps up into Tatra's lap, purring softly.
Hello, Kitty.
Kitty settles into her lap, and Tatra strokes her fur gently. Kitty's purring intensifies.
So pretty...
Tatra's fingers stop at the base of Kitty's skull.
I could snap your neck in half a heartbeat.
The purring stops. Kitty looks up at Tatra in surprise.
Can you talk like that?
Kitty shakes her head but doesn't try to escape.
I should probably just kill you.
Kitty tenses, and Tatra tightens her grip. They freeze that way for a few heartbeats, then Tatra relaxes slightly.
If I let you go, will you kill me?
Kitty shakes her head no.
Can I trust you?
Kitty shakes her head no again. Tatra smiles. She releases Kitty's neck. Kitty jumps down from her lap. Space distorts and standing before Tatra is a woman, slender and lithe, with long black hair poorly protecting her modesty.
They both look around nervously to make sure the others are sleeping.
Crap it's cold.
Where the hell are your clothes?
Which do you think looks better on a cat, an evening gown or a tutu? Of course I'm naked.
Tatra tosses her the blanket.
Put this on. You're grossing me out.
Kitty takes the blanket but hesitates before putting it on, posing, smiling at Tatra's jealousy-fueled discomfort.
There's still time for you. You might still develop a body like this one.
Oh, goody. Then I can be a slut, too.
Kitty wraps the blanket around herself and stares down at Tatra.
Be careful, Tatra.
If I was careful I would have killed you already.
Kitty hesitates, then sits on the log next to Tatra.
I guess I deserved that. So, what is it you want?
What's your real name?
Who do you work for?
What do you mean?
What the hell do you think I mean? Who do you work for?
I work... for The Master.
Tatra stifles a laugh.
The Master. Surely you've heard...
Tatra's face is blank.
How can you be here, now, with us, and never have heard of The Master?
The Master? That's the best he could come up with? Oooo... The Maaaaaaster! Scary!
Kitty looks around in alarm.
Quiet! You'll wake someone up.
Or what? You'll tell the master on me? Oh, no!
She makes her eyes round with mock alarm and puts her hands to her cheeks, then starts to laugh - but quietly.
What are you doing here?
The Master—
Tatra snorts.
My people have a great interest in the outcome of your quest. There are prophecies.
That gets Tatra's interest.
No kidding? Like what?
For instance, in the great tome "Insane Ravings of Hu'upman and other Vague Pronouncements", it says that if the elf marries John the Smith, then The — my master's designs will be thwarted.
Tatra looks stricken. She speaks past a lump in her throat.
Lada and John...?
IF, my dear. I would prefer that not to happen.
Tatra stares at the ground.
I would prefer that not to happen, too.
Kitty sighs and pats Tatra's knee.
You like him.
He doesn't even know I exist.
Kitty begins to say one thing, stops, then says another.
No, I don't think he's capable of seeing anyone not of royal birth.
Like Princess big-boobie bitch-face? Ugh! I just want to strangle her sometimes.
Tatra looks around now, alarmed by her own outburst. Kitty smiles and moves closer to Tatra on the log. She puts her arm around the girl.
I agree. What would you say if Princess Skoda ended up with your friend Bixby instead?
Tatra puts her hands around her throat and makes a gagging noise.
He might become prince...
He'd be better off with Elf-Lady.
Kitty smiles. Her teeth are white and even, her eyes gleam in the firelight.
Then we are in complete agreement. Lada must not mate with John the Smith.
Ewww. Thanks for that image.
Tell me, why did you not kill me?
Because... because I think you want Bixby to live. And I thought maybe you could help me. You know, with magic.
Help you what?
Tatra turns away, suddenly shy.
You know.
Will you help me in return? When we find the Important Thing?
"Sure?" That's all? You're OK with allowing The Master to plunge the world into darkness and despair?
Pf. Welcome to my world, cat-lady.


Round Two Begins!

I was eliminated in round one of the Cyberspace Open (not even a near miss, I’m afraid), but that’s not going to stop me from cranking out a scene for round two! It will just stop me from working very hard on it.

Your PROTAGONIST has been betrayed by his CONFIDANT — someone deep within his (or her) inner circle. This betrayal threatens to destroy everything the protagonist has been working towards. The protagonist’s only ace in the hole: the confidant is not yet aware he’s been found out. Write a crackling scene in which the protagonist confronts the confidant.

I had a thought this morning that might help the one hundred talented folks who are moving on. The top three entries will be produced on video to determine the grand champion. If you think you have a shot, you might consider the produceability of your scene – will it shine in a low-budget video enactment? Zero gravity explosions being an integral part of the action might cost you in the long run.

I wish all of the contestants good luck, but especially the ones who have stopped by here to share advice. You guys rock!


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.