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TPG Week 154: Writing Challenge Submission

| December 6, 2013

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Welcome again to another installment of The Proving Grounds! This week, we have Paul LaPorte, with a last name that sounds like he’s from a Louisiana bayou somewhere… Just saying. Anyway, we have Steve Colle back in the calming blue, I’m forever in the fiery red, and let’s see how well Paul handles a writing challenge script whose only parameters were that there had to be a monkey in it somewhere, and someone had to say “creamed corn” in the dialogue. That said, here’s

Monkeys

 

Page One

Panel One: Wide, establishing shot of a high school lunch room. (If it’s the only panel on the page, the “wide” aspect of the panel description is off. That is, unless you plan on having black space on the top and bottom portions of the page. Cut the “wide” comment and you simply have an establishing splash page.) Round tables surrounded by plastic chairs. The lunch room is filled with monkeys dressed in modern clothing, sitting with each other according to their fashion, in their monkey-cliques. (What kinds of monkeys are there? Are they all of the same species, like chimpanzees exclusively, or are there baboons, spider monkeys, etc.? When you’re talking about monkey cliques, having the types staying amongst themselves is a perfect way of representing that.) Two monkeys are conversing at a table in the center of the room…

  1. MONKEY ONE: SoHow do you think you did on your foraging test?
  2. MONKEY TWO: Eh, (Use ellipsis instead of a comma. That would be my suggestion.) I probably bombed it. (I’d also change the word “Eh” to “Meh”, as Eh sounds more like a hard letter A as we Canadians pronounce it.)(There’s something to be said for regional diction, but there is also something to be said for knowing that where you are or where you’re from is not the center of the universe. Flexibility. That being said, I agree with the suggestion.)
  3. MONKEY TWO: Whatever.

Very little text for such a large page, don’t you think? We’ll see on the next page if you could have combined Page One and Two together. Right now, it seems needless to have this panel by itself as a splash, especially as a first page intro to the story. There’s no hook to speak of.

This page is a waste of space, the way that it is. This needs more that a single panel, or dialogue that actually moved the story. This doesn’t do any of that. It is barely a setup, and that’s a shame.

Steve is also right when it comes to types of monkeys. Here’s the thing: even though it’s a writing challenge, the term “monkey” is extremely generic. It was that way on purpose. (I was the one who chose the topic/theme for the challenge, folks.) If you want to show cliques, it’s very easy to do so within different types of monkeys. A movie that did this well was the original Planet of the Apes.

In the end, what does this page do? Nothing. Could it be cut and not be missed? Quite possibly. Let’s see what P2 looks like.

Page Two

Panel One: Close shot of the two monkeys as they talk at their lunch table, flanked by monkeys on either side of them carrying on their own conversations. (When I think of the word “flanked”, I think of them being in very close proximity like they’re about to attack. Then you say that they’re on either side of them, making me think that they aren’t surrounded, but stuck in the middle of two sides. Is that what you were trying to convey?) Monkey One is wearing glasses with thick black frames and a smart sweater/vest combo. Monkey Two is wearing blue skinny jeans, a dark grey t-shirt and a baseball cap, tilted slightly to the side, with the word “SWAG” written across the front. He has a kind of slumped over posture, the picture of apathy. (Why weren’t these details of what they look like included in the panel description on Page One? This would have helped the artist immensely.)

  1. MONKEY ONE: You need to take these tests more seriously. The last thing you need when we get out into the wild is to go on a snack run and scarf down some nightshade.
  2. MONKEY ONE: It’s not like you’ll be able to just go to a cafeteria and get food like you do here.

Panel Two: Monkey Two leaning over, examining Monkey One’s lunch tray.(Can we see what’s in the tray?)

  1. MONKEY TWO: Speaking of which…
  2. MONKEY TWO: You gonna eat your creamed corn? (What does creamed corn have to do with the story? Is this an advertisement for creamed corn?)(Okay, folks: This script came from a writing challenge over at Digital Webbing. Again, the only things that had to be in the script were the monkeys and creamed corn in the dialogue. Steve didn’t know this. That said, I like how the requirement was worked very organically into the dialogue. It works very well. Nicely done.)

Panel Three: Monkey One; an exacerbated look on his face, slides his tray over to Monkey Two.(Well, here’s the thing: that facial expression you asked for? Impossible. Time for someone to go to a dictionary.)

Panel Four: Close shot of Monkey Two, a handful (Is he using his hand or a utensil?) of creamed corn, as he continues the conversation.

  1. MONKEY TWO: Besides, I’m not planning on going out into the wild. Once I’m outta here (Missing comma) I’m gonna go into show business.
  2. MONKEY TWO: Commercials… The Circus… (I’d go for a comma instead of an ellipsis.)
  3. MONKEY TWO: Maybe chill out with a crazy rich pop star for a while. (And as a bonus, a Michael Jackson reference!)

I’m not seeing any reason why this couldn’t have been included on the first page. There wasn’t a hook on that first page to lead to this and there isn’t anything here to lead to the next page. And still, I’d love to learn what kind of monkeys they are, whether different or the same as one another.

P2 down, and I’m still with Steve. This should have been all on one page. Between the two pages, there are five panels, and this last panel here is enough to carry a page turn. There’s no page turn on P2, you just slide your eyes over to the next page.

So, as of now, the pacing is off.

The dialogue is serviceable. The character personalities are coming through. I like that. The pacing is starting to hurt you, though.

Page Three

Panel One: Monkey One waves a celery stick (Should we maybe see this celery stick in a previous image instead of it magically popping up?) in the direction of Monkey Two as he interrupts.

  1. MONKEY ONE: Well, considering Michael Jackson has been dead for four years, your chances of the last one have dropped dramatically.

Panel Two: Close shot of Monkey Two, looking bummed out…

  1. MONKEY TWO: Yeah…
  2. MONKEY TWO: Still sucks he’s gone. (I’d switch the ellipsis from the first balloon to this one. And as a personal aside, I still miss Mike, too. I think he had one more monster album in him.)

Panel Three: The two monkeys, looking sullen, in remembrance of Michael Jackson. (There is no reason to have this silent panel. You’ve already taken care of the Michael Jackson tribute in the previous panel and its dialogue.)

Panel Four: Monkey One picking the conversation back up. His face indicating he’s trying to reason with his friend.

  1. MONKEY ONE: Look, man (He should be saying something like “dude” here, especially given they aren’t human like the people coming through the door in the next panel.), I’m not trying to crap on your dreams.
  2. MONKEY ONE: I’m just saying you should be pre–

Panel Five: The doors to the cafeteria are kicked in by a group of four humans, dressed in body armor, carrying large tranquilizer rifles. (Where are the doors in relation to the conversing monkeys?)

  1. SFX: THWACK

Panel Six: Close up of a monkey, dressed in a security guard’s outfit, yelling out in panic.(Where did these monkeys appear from?)

  1. SECURITY MONKEY (BURST): Everybody (Missing comma) run! (No need for a comma here.)
  2. SECURITY MONKEY (BURST): Zookeepers!

In my opinion, your Panels Five and Six should have been on a new page to show a sudden change in the pace of the story. Even if this were your new Page Two (because the happenings of your current Page Two could be combined with Page One), you could still use these last two panels to create proper jumping into action and the effective hook you were trying to set out, staying as your Page Three.

As it stands right now, the pacing is slow, that silent panel made it slower, and the dialogue, though pretty natural, is banter back and forth with no substance. What is the dialogue leading up to besides just being there to fill space until the humans burst in? Give me something to care about, something to grab onto.

It’s P3, and once again, I have to agree with Steve.

The dialogue isn’t doing its job. It’s just marking time. There isn’t much here that’s pulling the reader in to get them to continue to read, and that’s a terrible thing to say.

The establishing shot you had in the beginning should have also established the doors that are being kicked in. Since it didn’t, I’m now looking for where things are, and I shouldn’t have to. That’s the entire reason for an “establishing shot.” You missed it, and that’s terrible thing.

I want to like this more. I want this to do more. It isn’t doing enough. There’s low energy here, due to the dialogue. You pick it up at the end of the page, but I don’t think it’s enough to overcome the dialogue. The good news is that the dialogue doesn’t ramble, but it isn’t doing enough.

Again, the problem is the pacing.

Page Four

Panel One: Shot stays on the security guard as a tranquilizer dart slams into his neck. The guard winces in pain.

  1. SECURITY MONKEY (BURST): Eek!

Panel Two: The Security Monkey falls to the ground

  1. SFX: THUD

Panel Three: Wide shot of the cafeteria as all hell break loose. Tables are being overturned, monkeys are running, ducking, covering, and falling to the ground.

Give us some sound here. All hell breaking loose isn’t silent. Would they sound like monkeys or, seeing as how they speak human English, would they be screaming in panic? You decide.(I disagree. Sound effects would clutter up the panel, because there is so much going on. Silent works better.)

Panel Four: Monkeys One and Two, taking cover behind a table. A couple darts hit the wooden surface. Both of them look panicked.

  1. MONKEY ONE: What are we going to do!? (This doesn’t sound panicked to me. “WHAT DO WE DO?!”, on the other hand, does.)(This is a personal preference. This sounds fine to me.)
  2. MONKEY TWO: I don’t kn–
  3. MONKEY TWO: Wait a minute… (Now, here’s the problem: this monkey has an idea. That’s what the dialogue tells us. This isn’t reflected in the panel description. The panel description needs to reflect the last thing said. You can have one character with multiple balloons in panel, and their facial expression still has to reflect the last thing said. That has to be done every time. If the character’s facial expression doesn’t reflect the last thing being said by that character, then something needs to be fixed.)

Panel Five: Close up shot of a circuit breaker box(Ending punctuation. Now, that circuit breaker… It’s magically delicious. Where did it come from? NO idea. Not good. If it were in the establishing shot…)

  1. MONKEY TWO (OFF PAGE PANEL): The power box!
  2. MONKEY TWO (OFF PAGE PANEL): If I can get there (Missing comma) we can shut the lights off and escape! (The “and escape” is pretty self explanatory. It also sounds cliché, which isn’t good. That’s why I took it out.)(Sometimes, spelling things out is what’s necessary. The “escape” thing…meh. I’m not bowled over by it. “Sneak out of here,” “Slip out of here,” something along those lines, methinks, would have worked better. I agree that “escape” should be taken out, but it needs to be replaced with different phrasing.)

Panel Six: Tight shot of Monkey One, looking over at his friend with a “You can’t be serious.” expression.

  1. MONKEY ONE: Are you crazy!? You’ll never make it!

P4 down, and again, I’m not overly impressed.

It’s the sudden appearance of the circuit breaker box that’s killing me.

Here’s the thing: everywhere I go, the circuit breaker box is hidden away somewhere. It isn’t out in plain view. It makes little sense. One of the reasons why: safety. If this is a high-school like environment, especially with “teenage monkeys”, then there will be curiosity about the panel, and I can just see the power going out because someone decided it would be funny.

That’s what you have to contend with. Even though it’s fantasy, there still has to be a base in reality, and that’s something that just takes it over the edge. (Silly, considering the circumstances, but true.)

And what time is this? Here’s what I know (and, granted, I don’t know a lot): cafeterias are filled with light. There are windows, because people like to see outside as they eat. And I’m willing to bet it’s daytime. Because of that, I don’t think that turning the lights out would help overmuch. I’ve been in cafeterias when the lights were out, and there was still more than enough light to see by.

So, the big plan doesn’t make much sense to me. Not considering what I know.

That’s taking some of the fun out of this for me. Now, hopefully, we’ll get a reason for the “attack.”

Page Five

Panel One: Monkey Two darts from behind cover. Monkey One reaches out to him, as though he’s trying to grab and stop him, but it’s too late.

  1. MONKEY TWO: I have to try!
  2. MONKEY ONE: No! Don’t!

This particular set of dialogue is bad. You had a somewhat-good thing going, but this really sounds cliché.

Panel Two: Monkey two runs across the cafeteria, leaping off a table, the chaos of the attack still going on around him.(Meh. This could be a moving panel. There’s a way to make it work, though. Anyone wanna give it a shot?)

Panels Three, Four, Five: Monkey Two jumps up into the rafters and uses them as monkey bars, swinging across the cafeteria. Tranquilizer darts whiz by him as he makes his way to the circuit breaker.

Panel Six: Monkey Two, reaching out with his feet, opening the cover of the circuit breaker panel.

  1. MONKEY TWO: Here we go… (Is he saying something here for the sake of saying something here?)

Panel Seven: Tight shot of the circuit breaker switch. Monkey Two’s toe just an inch from it, ready to flick the switch.

Panel Eight: Shot of one of the Zookeepers, firing his rifle.

  1. SFX: CRACK

Panel Nine: Monkey Two, grimacing in pair as the tranquilizer dart hits his shoulder.(Pain, not pair. Spelling is important.)

  1. MONKEY TWO (BURST): Eep!

Panel Ten: Tight shot of the circuit breaker switch as Monkey Two flicks it off with his toe.

  1. SFX: click

Why ten panels instead of a nine-panel grid? Why not end the story with a completely black panel, which would make more sense than having the light turned off, but not being dark? Why end the story so abruptly?

Here’s what happened in your story: Monkeys sit in a cafeteria casually bantering back and forth in human English when, suddenly, four humans break in and start shooting up the place with tranquilizer darts (don’t these rifles only shoot one dart at a time, by the way?). One of the two main monkeys decides to be selfishly heroic and manages to reach the breaker panel, opening it and turning off the switch just as he’s been shot in the shoulder. End of story. Wait a minute… was there a story here? Beginning? Yes, but not very effective, leading us around the mulberry bush with dialogue that served no purpose in forwarding the story. Middle? Yeah, but again, very incomplete as it could have gone further into what happens after the lights (supposedly) go out. Ending? Not at all. This does not a story make. It isn’t even a scene break from a larger piece of fiction. If it were, we’d have a hook to carry us (anxiously?) forward.

Forgetting the fact that you’ve continued the numbering system of dialogue through every page instead of keeping it to each page in itself, which is incorrect formatting, your five pages don’t deliver the goods. If there was more to the story, maybe I would have found something better to say, but that isn’t the case. Sorry, Paul.

I’m just going to run this down.

Format: I’m going to give this a Flawless Victory. I don’t like the continuous numbering of the dialogue, but I’m not going to dock you for it. Like Steve, I would rather see a total number of balloons/captions per page, if you must number at all. That’s me. Some formats call for all the dialogue to be continuously numbered, but that depends on what the story itself is doing. Is it necessary here? I don’t think so, but again, I won’t dock you for it.

Panel Descriptions: Some of the problems here go back to the lack of a proper establishing shot. That’s one of the biggest problems with the panel descriptions themselves. Since it all takes place in a single location, everything that was important to the story has to be established as soon as possible. If you don’t do that, then everything is magically delicious, and it shouldn’t be.

Then there’s the possibility of that moving panel. There’s a way around it, but I’m not going to just give it away. I know, I’m evil like that.

Pacing: This is the opposite of good. You have the first page which is a waste of space, you have the dialogue which does extremely little to push the story forward, and then you have a ten panel page at the very end.

I know what happened. You didn’t think the story through, so you ran out of space, because the limit was a 5 page story. You wanted to rush to reach some sort of conclusion, which is why you have the elevated panel count at the end. You tried to cram it in.

So, here’s what happened: you didn’t use your space wisely. You wasted the first page, and then you wasted the second page by having banal conversation. You then began to waste the third page, but got some action in.

However, with that action, you never gave us a reason as to why there was an “attack.” The zookeepers came in and started shooting for no reason, and then you had an ending in mind and decided to rush for it.

Terrible.

That banal conversation could have been about the reason they were wherever they were, and mention the threat of the zookeepers for whatever reason. If you had done that as well as combined the first page with the second, then you wouldn’t have had to rush and fail at the end.

You paced it incorrectly, and the story suffers terribly for it.

Dialogue: Almost useless. The first three pages are useless, at least. That’s terrible. There isn’t anything really interesting to read until the zookeepers show up.

The good thing about the dialogue was the organic use of the necessary phrase of “creamed corn.” I liked that a lot. I also liked that the characters seemed to have their own voices. Both good things. You just need to tighten up the dialogue a LOT. You do that, making sure that the dialogue moves the story forward while revealing character, and you’re on to something.

Content: As a reader, I like the setting. There are lots of uses for it. Then, it starts to go into Sillyland when the antagonists arrive for no reason, and then the placement of the breaker box. And then there’s the extremely abrupt ending. As a reader, I’d be unhappy with this.

Editorially, this needs a rewrite. Less needless dialogue, to be replaced with dialogue that actually matters. A reason for the zookeepers, as well as why they attacked, needs to be stated. Then, there also needs to be a real ending. Complete rewrite, from start to finish. That’s what this needs.

And that’s it for this week! Check the calendar to see who’s next!

Also, we’re still close to running out of scripts. We have only enough scripts to take us through the end of the year! If you want to have your script critiqued and don’t want to wait, now is the perfect time to do so!

Like what you see? Steve and Sam are available for your editing needs. You can email Steve here, and Sam here. My info is below.

Click here to make comments in the forum!

 

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Category: Columns, The Proving Grounds

About the Author ()

Steven is an editor/writer with such credits as Fallen Justice, the award nominated The Standard, and Bullet Time under his belt, as well as work published by DC Comics. Between he and his wife, there are 10 kids (!), so there is a lot of creativity all around him. Steven is also the editor in chief and co-creator of ComixTribe, whose mission statement is Creators Helping Creators Make Better Comics. If you're looking for editing, contact him at stevedforbes@gmail.com for rate inquiries.

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