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TPG Week 218: Writing Challenge Entry 3

| February 27, 2015

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Welcome back, one and all, to another installment of The Proving Grounds! This week, we have Brave One Paul DeBerry! We also have Liam Hayes in blue, and I’m the bald-pated one in red.

Again, I ran a writng challenge a few weeks ago over at Digital Webbing. The rules were simple:

The story cannot be longer than 5 pages

The story cannot be a tragedy

There must be an artificial intelligence involved

There must be at least 50 words of spoken dialogue

The word “enlightenment” must be in the dialogue

String cheese must be an object, not just mentioned

Pretty simple, no?

Well, let’s see what Paul does with

ENLIGHTENMENT

One point of order before I start: this was in a font size of 10. You’re all welcome.

Page One

Three teenagers two boys (brothers) one girl are standing in front of Double Dragon. An old school stand up arcade console. (A reference would be helpful here.) (Have we really reached the point where we don’t know what a stand-up video game looks like anymore? Am I that old?) The boy to the left is the tallest, the middle kid is the smallest and the kid to the left (You mean right, right?) (she’s the main character). (What’s the angle here? Are we looking at them from the perspective of the machine, or over them and at the machine? And what’re these kids doing? You’ve placed them but forgot to act them. Are they staring at the machine, for instance? Wait. I just realized this isn’t a panel description. What is it? Why is it here?)

(Where is this? In an arcade? A mall? A sauna?)

Leave room for balloons. (That kind of goes without saying. Unless your artist has never worked on a comic before.)

THE KIDS: TO THE LEFT IS #1 MIDDLE IS #2 AND RIGHT IS #3 (HOPE) (That, with the panel description numbering, makes this an incredibly unclear and obnoxious naming system. Name them instead. It’ll make your script easier to follow.)

1.1 Pulled back a little on a trio of kids. They are standing in front of a classic stand up arcade game from the 90’s Double Dragon. (Isn’t this the same as panel one? Your lack of calling out angles is hurting you here.)

#2 DAMN! SOMEONE HAS BEEN PRACTICING. (Had to stop myself from anglicizing. Technically speaking, it should be ‘Practising’ since ‘Practise’ is the verb form of ‘Practice’. But let’s refrain from an international incident.)

(Who’s been practising? Nobody’s playing the machine.)

#3 YEAH, I CAUGHT HIM JERKING OFF TO PHOTOS OF YOUR MOM TO STRENGTHEN HIS WRIST.

1.2 Tighter on #1 as he looks over to the right. (Expression? Amused? Annoyed?)

#1 FUCK YOU.

1.3 Same shot. Just #1 is looking at the arcade console panel. His fighter (Jimmy) just died. (You’ve named the videogame character but not your actual characters? Okay.)

#1 DAMN IT! YOU GUYS ARE ASSHOLES. (Since we can’t see the screen, we’re going to have no idea why he’s saying this. Also, you never specified he was playing. Is the artist supposed to read between the lines? How about making their job a little easier?)

1.4 #2 pushes #1 out of the way. (Thin. Anemic, even.) (This could be a moving panel, actually.)

#2 LET ME IN HERE AND (Cut everything before this.) I’LL SHOW YOU HOW THIS SHIT IS DONE.

First page down. So far your biggest issue is a lack of information. I have no idea where this is or what any of these characters are doing and expressing. As for content, this is just kids fighting over an arcade machine. Beyond that, there’s not much conflict or interest. Some kid boasting about his Double Dragon skills isn’t that much of a hook, in fact it makes me want to rage in the streets.

Ham-fisted videogame references aside, this is only the first page.

Okay, P1 is on the books!

Paul and I come from two very different schools of thought when it comes to scripting. My school says that you should give the artist enough information to do their job. This means you they should be able to see in their head something of what you’re seeing. Paul’s school is that you just slap words on the page and let the artist figure it out. To me, Paul’s way is extremely lazy, and causes the artist to ask more questions than necessary in the name of writer expediency.

So, for me, P1 is a disaster.

There’s no setting. We’re in a white void where there’s this console and 3 kids. Is this in an arcade? Dunno. My local comic shop has a couple of consoles in it (it’s also bright and airy and friendly and inviting!), so it could take place in a comic shop. Does it? Dunno. Because there’s no setting. Hell, this could be on the moon for all we know. Not good.

Except for one panel, the characters aren’t doing anything besides standing around. The one panel that has them doing something could be a moving panel. Not good.

As for the story, the setup here isn’t that exciting. Kids being kids. Nothing original in unnamed kids putting each other down. Let’s move on to P2.

(Somebody send out a call for missing page breaks.)

Page Two (No page break? No Flawless Victory for you!)

No changes from the first page. Kids still talking. (What? Aren’t the panel descriptions self-explanatory enough?

2.1 Kid #1 is chewing on string cheese. (Where did this come from? What’s it look like? Is it in a packet? Also, what’s his expression? What’s the angle? Lazy writing, this.)

#1 DUDE, I CAN’T BELIEVE YOU WERE ABLE TO FIND THIS STUFF.

2.2 Kid #2 turns and looks at his brother chewing down the last pack of string cheese on Earth. (Expressions? No? This shot would work best with the brother in the background, staring forlorn at the kid in the foreground eating the string cheese. I just did your job for you. You’re welcome.) (This could be a moving panel.)

#2 WHAT THE F — (Break.) I WAS SAVING THAT? (Why is this a question? Is the kid unsure about whether or not he was saving it. He seems pretty sure about it.)

2.3 Kid #3 is frantically slamming the kick and punch buttons. After his partner just bailed on her. (What? This is so vague. What’s the action? What’re we seeing? I wasn’t even aware that No. 3 was playing. You’re not acting any of these characters.)

#3 HEY, GET BACK IN HERE (Comma.) WE’RE GONNA LOSE OUR LAST TOKEN?! (Why is this a question? Doesn’t seem like it should be.)

2.4 The taller kid #1 is holding the string cheese over his younger brothers head. Forcing him to jump for it. (What’s up with the fragments? One in this panel description, one in the previous. I’m not a fan of unnecessary fragments.)

#2 GIVE. ME. THAT!

2.5 Kid #3 slams her hands down angry on the console.

#3 SON-OF-A–

2.6 Kid #3 reaches next to the console and grabs her baseball bat that’s spiked out with nails and other things. (Where did this baseball bat come from? You must set the scene better?)

#3 I’M GOING TO FIND MORE TOKENS.

Your panel descriptions are hungry – starving to be exact. Give them some meat. Add expressions, camera angles and background info etc.. The artist will be asking questions as you have this. As for story, this is just more of the same.

P2.

So, we have the string cheese, and over the two pages, we have at least 50 words. I’m good with that, so far.

Now, as for the actual writing… I think I see the Line of Demarcation on the horizon.

What’s really going on here? The kids are fighting. So what? That’s what kids do. What does any of this have to do with anything?

With short stories, you have to get in and get out very, very fast. Generally, there’s no time for meandering. You have to set up the world and the conflict as soon as possible, so you can have a resolution at the end. I’m not seeing that here. What’s the conflict? It’s hiding.

Then, there are things that are just magically delicious. The string cheese, which is one of the objectives in the rules, and the bat. Both of them appear out of nowhere, considering we should have seen both somewhere on P1.

This is lazy. The artist needs to know what’s going on as soon as possible. It’s doubly bad, considering Paul takes the time to set up the page before actually getting to the panel descriptions. Makes me want to hang up puppies by their tails to use as windchimes.

I have a co-worker. I hate hearing this co-worker speak, because they don’t make statements, they ask questions. Everything they say sounds like they’re asking a question, and it drives me up a friggin wall. I want to side-kick them in the throat, or get my friend Blunt Force Trauma to operate on their vocal cords. I’m polite—I acknowledge them when they speak, and I make sure that I am cordial enough to do my job—but I don’t engage them in random conversation. I enjoy my sanity too much.

So, the statements that sound like questions here? I can dig it. It’s naturalistic. Kids don’t know much about sarcasm, so they do what they can in the form of questions. I can live with it.

But, really, this isn’t looking good for the home team.

(Page break.)

Page Three

Standing in the front of the busted up old arcade room (Three pages in and the scene is set. It’s still vague though. Exactly what condition is this room/building in? Also, where is the front? What do you even mean by that? In front of the room as in outside it? I don’t know.) is a robot, something the kids managed to hack and cobble together. (From what? Other robot parts? Egg shells?) The girl named it BUTLER, the AI was used back in the day against the onslaught of an alien invasion. Now Butler helps them defend themselves against the Orde. A nasty alien race of insects that came and consumed half the Earth several years earlier. (That’s all story and doesn’t in any way help us visualize the robot.) There should be war graffiti, dents (Dents? How does one equip dents?) and buncha other odd assortments of things a trio of kids would equip to a war machine. (It’s your job to come up with these things.) (This information about the robot and the invasion and so forth? I’m hoping it actually comes through in the story. Otherwise, the reader won’t know about it. If the reader doesn’t know about it, no one will care.)

3.1 The tall kid #1 is suckered punched in the nuts. (By who or what? Does it even hurt him? Lazy.)

#1 OOF

3.2 Kid #2 grabs the last sting of cheese. (From where? How? What?)

#2 THANK YOU.

3.3 Kid #3 walks to the front of the arcade room. (Moving panel.) Dozen of arcade consoles (still active thanks to their hacking skills.) Out of view boys #2 and #1 are fighting. (Why mention them then, if they’re off-panel?)

#1 (OP) I’M GONNA KILL YOU.

3.4 #3 walks up behind Butler right shoulder, (Moving panel.) (spray painted on Butler back are the words “kick me!”) he’s taller than boy #1, he’s mostly a mixed bag of pieces from other AI, the main torso and head are from an actually service AI the rest are combat in nature.

BUTLER – TTELL ME (Comma.) HOPE, DID YOU SSUCCEED IN YOUR OBJECTTIVE OF NNEW HIGH SSCORE? (I’d put dashes on your stutters i.e. “T-TELL ME, HOPE, DID YOU S-SUCCEED IN YOUR OBJECT-T-IVE OF N-NEW HIGH S-SCORE.” Looks much cleaner, no?) (Know what’s hilarious? Paul is a letterer. And Liam just did his job for him in making this an easier read. Now, we finally have a name! It only took 3 pages to do it, too. The sad part is this: if the girl is coming up behind the robot, how does it know that it’s her?)

HOPE – NAH, NOT THIS TIME.

BUTLER – TTHAT IS TTOO BAD.

3.5 Butler turns his head and looks at Hope. His robotic head dented and painted with various symbols. (Moving panel. Seems like a lot of turning and looking going on here.)

BUTLER – II HAVE SSCANNED TTHE AREA. WWE ARE FREE TTO LEAVE IF YOU SSO CHOOSSE.

Hmm… Still underwhelmed. There’s no conflict here. What’s the point of this? What do the characters want?

P3 down, and I’m bored.

Like Liam said, there’s no conflict. None of the information given at the top of the page is filtered down to the reader, who needs it most.

Let’s look at the the lowly Jawa. Yes, I’m talking about Star Wars. Here’s what we know from watching the movies: Jawas are short, have glowing eyes, don’t speak English but seem to understand it, and they’re desert scavengers, seemingly willing to do trade with anyone. That’s what we know from watching the movies.

Did you know that Jawas are rodent-like creatures? They don’t like to bathe, and they have a peculiar odor that tells a lot about them as individuals? Did you know their glowing eyes are actually gems embedded in a mask to protect their eyes from the environment?

Did you know any of that? No. Because it wasn’t important to the film. None of that information was necessary to get across. The information at the top of this page? It could be important to the story. However, the reader doesn’t get any of it.

It’s P3, and there’s still no story here. Could the story just be starting at the end of this page? It’s possible. But then, the first two pages could be cut, without sacrificing much at all, if that’s the case. You should be starting as late as possible in a story, and when you have a low page limit, you have to be even more extreme. The first two pages don’t seem necessary at all. Sure, you get in the string cheese and the dialogue, but that could have been gotten another way.

Right now, this is just bad writing.

Oh, and you do understand that, while you’ve named Hope in a place where the reader can see it, you haven’t named the robot—but you’ve done so in the script.

Again, bad writing.

(Page Break.)

Page Four

4.1 Hope (Hope now? Why didn’t you just call her that from the start. Why make things purposelessly perplexing.) (still on the right side.) stands next to Butler. Hope is holding her bat. SHe stares out into the wreckage of the unseen city.

BUTLER – II HAVE BEEN TTHINKING ABOUTT WHATT TTHE PREACCHER SSAID BEFORE TTHE ORDE KKILLED HHIM. (The reader has no idea what the Orde is.)

HOPE – IS THIS ABOUT THAT ENLIGHTENMENT CRAP. (Question mark.)

4.2 Butler lowers it’s head. (Moving panel.)

BUTLER – YYESS.

4.3 Hope looks at Butler. The AI has been through a lot of fights and has saved her life and the brothers tons of times. (Storytelling in a panel description. No no no.) (Know what? Right here. This is the Line of Demarcation. This is crap.)

HOPE – I DON’T CLAIM TO UNDERSTAND ANY OF THE GARAGE (Garbage?) THAT CAME OUT OF THAT MAN’S FACE.

HOPE – (contd) MIGHT BE A GOOD IDEA YOU STOP TRYING TO UNDERSTAND, TOO. (How old are these kids? The robot is probably older than they are. To go back to Star Wars, C3P0 seems to be older and thus, more experienced than Luke. Sure, he may be a prissy protocol droid, but being a robot and programmed, he knows his shit. Basically, this line of dialogue just doesn’t ring true to me.)

4.4 Butler head is raised.

HOPE – (OP) THE WORLD IS FUCKED UP. THAT IS ALL YOU NEED TO KNOW. (Because she’s lived through…what? What experience does she have to draw on in order to make that conclusion?)

4.5 Butler hands her several tokens. (What? From where?) (Moving panel, and magically delicious.)

4.6 Hope kisses Butler on his metal cheek. (How? Is he leaning down?)

So far, the reader has no inclination that this is even a post-apocalyptic world. You’ve given no suggestion of that. This could just be an abandoned arcade for all we know. As with the panel descriptions, your story is dilute.

Like I said before, this is crap.

It’s P4 out of a 5 page story, and the tale still hasn’t started. It looked like it could have, but yeah, there’s no story here.

I met my second wife on the internet.

We were both working for GEICO at the time—I was in the Virginia Beach office, she was in the San Diego office. We were on a dating site, and things moved at a decent pace. We talked every day for months before I went to visit her on Halloween, and then she moved across the country to be with me in December.

We had been together for about a year when I took her home. It wasn’t about her meeting and being accepted by my parents—I’m my own person, and that wasn’t important to me. I wanted her to see where I had grown up. Where I had come from.

She met my mother’s side of the family. It was winter, it was the weekend, and it was snowy. I wasn’t going to take her all over the place to meet both sides, having her head spinning. She met my oldest cousin Wes, and immediately didn’t like him because she saw how women threw themselves at him. (My cousin is tallish, fair complexion, husky without being fat, handsome, deep voiced, intelligent, and funny when he wants to be. This is the same cousin who, as an adult, told me that when we were kids, he never liked me, because I wouldn’t listen to him and do as he said, when all the other cousins did. Guess I’m just stubborn and knew my own mind. I remember one Christmas at my grandmother’s house… We had gotten into an argument over something, and I was growing increasingly upset. He had called me a schnook, as in Foghorn Leghorn calling one of the characters a loud-mouthed schnook, but I had called him a schmuck. Loudly, in front of everyone. There was an uproar as the parents all heard me. Yes, I was crying, and yes, he was laughing, which made me want to punch him in the nuts even more. My father took me aside and calmed me down. I was about 8, and he was about 12.)

We also my my other cousin, Christian, who’s Wesley’s younger brother. Where Wes takes after his mother in complexion and looks, Christian takes after his father: more tan than yellow, shorter, thinner. He’s still handsome, intelligent, and freakin’ hilarious. I mean, when you talk about seeing the world on a slant, and hilarious stuff that just makes sense coming out of the mouth of one person—that’s Christian. We had grown close in my last two years of high school, and we were going to create comics together before he flaked out on me. I love him, but he’s a disappointment to me.

Anyway, while in NY, we went to a tattoo parlor where she got a tattoo like my own, and she considered that her engagement ring. It’s a brand new tattoo, and then we go meet my cousins. Christian’s high, and is very animated, talking with his hands, and even though Lenora shows him the tattoo, he forgets and keeps almost hitting her in the shoulder.

We go out to Applebees, the four of us. Wes is at the bar, and even though he denies it, I literally see two women throwing their panties at him. Okay, fine, not literally, but they may as well have been. He’s cool about it, but I’m looking and laughing on the inside as these two women—two different women, who don’t know each other—are vying for his attention. Lenora’s disgusted, because the women and his reaction to them are reminding her of her ex-husband.

We’re having fun, though. We’re drinking, and while Christian doesn’t get drunk, he becomes even more animated as he talks, and still continues to almost hit Lenora on the shoulder where she’s tattooed. I mean, the thing is barely six hours old! She’s finding the situation hilarious, and as long as she’s happy and dealing with it, I’m happy. Lots of laughter while we were out.

In all, that was a pretty good weekend. Lenora saw where I did my growing up, met some of my family, and we went out and had a good time. Everyone won.

And all of you won, too, because that story I just told was much more interesting than this short piece of crap we’ve been dealing with.

(Page break.)

Page Five

Big splash page.

5.1 Butler (background) watches as Hope takes her spot in front of the console and the two boys jockey for position to play Double Dragon next to her.

The road to enlightenment is long and difficult, and you should try not to forget snacks and magazines.” (Who’s saying this? Why is a better question.)

This isn’t a good story. It isn’t much of a story, to be honest. Your references to enlightenment and string cheese felt contrived and arbitrary. That can work, if done well. This wasn’t. This wasn’t much of anything. It’s just some characters fighting over a game and then a robot saying something that the reader won’t understand. All of the pertinent story information was in the panel descriptions and won’t make it onto the actual page. You need to give us something for this to work. Usually, this is a conflict and a resolution, but it can be as simple as a set-up and a punchline.

On the technical side, your panel descriptions are too thin, almost to the point of being useless. We need a better sense of place, character placement, and character expressions. Beef them up some.

Huh? Crap? Okay. Crap. Got it.

Let’s run it down.

Format: No page breaks, no Flawless Victory. This is also in the Paul DeBerry school of thought, because he doesn’t believe they’re needed.

I took martial arts as a kid. I remember learning a kata, and having to perform it in front of my sensei so he could check it for form and correctness. One of the other students had performed it ahead of me, and had done the courtesy before he performed the kata. I looked, and didn’t understand why he performed the courtesy first. I thought it a waste of time. When it was my turn, I didn’t perform the courtesy, I just started…

And got an instant correction from my sensei. It was a harsh, “No courtesy or nothin’, huh? You’re just going to start like that?” I was instantly ashamed, stopped what I was doing, did the courtesy to open and complete the kata, and never had to learn that lesson again.

Page breaks are important because it lessens the creative team’s need to look all over to see where one page ends and the next begins. Just because they don’t complain about it doesn’t mean it isn’t helpful to them when done.

Panel Descriptions: These are thin, with some moving panels thrown in for flavor, as well as information given that won’t make it to the reader. Not good.

Camera angles aren’t necessary to every panel, and most panel descriptions can be written so that the camera angle itself is implied. However, when two or more angles can be used for a single view, you can give the angle in the panel description to tell the artist what you’re seeing in your head.

Now, some writers believe this takes away the creativity of the artist. I disagree. I tell the artists I work with that the camera angles are suggestions, just something that helps them to see what I’m seeing, and they are free to follow or come up with something better. I also tell them that they’ll know when I need the camera angle to be the one specified in the script. I have yet to have a problem with that.

Characters have to act. A lot of this has them just standing around. That’s no good. The artist can’t read your mind. Give them something to work with. You can call it freedom for the artist, I call it lazy. In some cases, why bother to write a script at all?

What’s the setting? It’s never really mentioned. I think that’s important for the artist to know. How are they going to know what to draw if you don’t tell them?

Finally, you have to mention things as early as possible. The string cheese and the bat should have been mentioned on P1. They appear out of nowhere on P2. Not good.

Pacing: Terrible. There’s no story here. Nothing happens. Can’t say something is well paced if nothing happens. Can’t say there’s a pace at all if nothing happens. I can only say bad things about it.

That splash page at the end? Total waste of space. It’s like you ran out of steam, which is sad to say in a 5 page story.

Dialogue: How old are these kids? It isn’t the cursing that took me out of the story, because I remember having a potty-mouth in my youth, but that discussion at the end sounds advanced for “kids.” When I think of a kid, I think of someone who’s not yet a teenager. Why? Because if I wanted a teenager, I would have said “teenager.” So the dialogue at the end threw me out of what could have been a story.

The stutter.

Having a robot stutter—as opposed to having it do a funnier, more intrusive buzzing sound or something like it—can humanize it some, and I can get behind that. However, what I can’t get behind is the fact that, as a letterer, the editor did your job for you. Adding the dashes? That’s simple, and something you should have known. Something that was your job to know. Multiple s’s in a row only adds sibilance to a word. Multiple t’s only gives the mental illusion of a long tee sound. The dashes add the stutter. How you can be a letterer and not know this is something I don’t understand.

That quote at the end? It doesn’t have anything to do with these pages at all. Adding it only makes you scratch your head. Cutting it doesn’t affect the reader in any way.

Content: There’s no story here. You get to the end, and you’re left wondering what you just wasted your time on. Makes you want to play croquet using gerbils instead of balls. (Ever think I should be a spokesperson for PETA?)

Technically, this meets all the criteria of the challenge. Editorially, this is not a story, because nothing happens. A complete rewrite is on the horizon for this piece.

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

Like what you see? Sam, Liam and I are available for your editing needs. You can email Sam here and Liam 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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