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TPG Week 232: The Story To Nowhere

| June 5, 2015

TPGFeatured_08

Welcome back, one and all, to The Proving Grounds! This week, we have a returning Brave One in Greg Thayer. We also have Liam Hayes in blue, and I’m the outrageous one in red, and we’ll all see what Greg has done with

The EPA

Note–this script was part of a writing challenge. Here were the rules:

Cannot be longer than 5 pages

Must have an alien (take that as you wish)

One page must have 2 panels or less on it

There must be at least 200 words of spoken dialogue

Bacon must be an object

Chainsaw must be in the spoken dialogue

Also note that this script came in at a font size of 10. You’re all welcome.

PAGE ONE (four panels)

Panel 1. Daytime. Establishing shot of an average office building in a small city. There is a sign in front of the building.

TEXT(sign):
Environmental Protection Agency

Panel 2. Inside a large office. There is a desk in the middle of the room. The desk has a few neat piles of papers on it. At the front of the desk is a nameplate. There is a chair on the opposite side of the desk. There is poster of wetlands on the wall at the back of the room. Mr. Amp (Swamp Thing) is sitting at the desk, hunched forward, sorting through the papers. He is wearing glasses and a tie and is holding a pen in one hand and looks bored. (While technically correct, and all this can be drawn, your short sharp sentences make for a disjointed, irritating read.)

TEXT(Poster):
Keep the wetlands clean.

TEXT(nameplate):
S. W. Amp

SFX(knocking on a door, should be quick and frantic): (I presume this door is off-panel?)
Knockknockknocknockknock

AMP:
Come in.

Panel 3. Over Amp’s shoulder. Across the room is a glass wall with a door in the middle. Kevin Bacon has hurried (Hurried is hard to show. This’ll have to come through expression or dialogue.)through the door. He is glancing over his shoulder, a panicked expression on his face. (Nope. If we’re looking over Amp’s shoulder at Bacon, we’re not going to be able to see Bacon’s expression as he’ll be looking away from the camera.) The cubicle-filled office can be seen through the glass. (And open door, presumably.) The cubicles contain various movie monsters (have fun with it), all of whom are wearing business attire. (Incidental, but this going to be hard to see with cubicles, as they’re walled off. Go for desks instead, or just have two monsters chatting at a water cooler.)

AMP:
Ah, Mr. Bacon. I’ve been expecting you.

Panel 4. Side view of Amp’s office. Amp is writing on the papers. Kevin Bacon, startled, has pressed his back against the now-closed door.

SFX(door):
Slam (See this here, folks? I have no problem at all with the sound effect. However, if Greg had told the artist that the door would be slammed closed, then the artist could have drawn a burst on the door where it slammed, or some motion lines. This isn’t wrong, it just isn’t thought all the way through.)

AMP:
Please, have a seat.

(This panel would be more effective if it were split into two. One of Bacon’s hastiness, another contrasting it with Amp’s nonchalance. That’ll create a good comedy beat, and also bump up your panel count, which is a little too low for the pacing on this page.)

Page one down. I’m not bored, but I’m not grabbed just yet. I’m not actively put off, but I’m not put on. If this were a date, my focus would be mostly on the bread.
P1 is on the books!

This isn’t a bad start. It has almost everything it needs. If there were a mention of that door slamming and that added panel that Liam spoke of, this would have been perfect. I like the use of Kevin Bacon as the “bacon” that the challenge required. Inventive. Let’s hope Greg follows through.

(Page breaks! You get a gold star. Hang onto it. It can be pried away…)

PAGE TWO (five panels)

Panel 1. Over Amp’s shoulder. (We’ve already had this shot, and only a page ago. Vary it up.) Amp has picked up some of the papers and is looking at them. Kevin is nervously moving to the chair opposite Amp.

AMP:
I had a brief chat with you’re (Your.) agent the other day. You’re here in order to research a role, correct? (A bit wordy. The “in order” could be jettisoned and not affect the clarity.)

KEVIN:
Y-yes. Yes, that’s right.

Panel 2. Amp is leaning back in his chair. He has put the papers down with one hand and is removing his glasses with the other. Kevin is starting to sit down in the chair. (Starting to sit down? Just have him in the process of sitting down. Starting to sit down is redundant.)

AMP:
I must say, I admire your passion. Not many would be willing to go through such lengths.

KEVIN:
T-thank you.

Panel 3. Amp is wiping his glasses with his tie. (Expression?)

AMP:
However, while I admire your work ethic, you must understand that this is a place of business.

AMP:
I can’t have your presence here become a distraction.

Panel 4. Amp is putting his glasses back on. Kevin Bacon is sitting rigidly in his chair. (What’s the shot here?)

KEVIN:
D-don’t worry. I’ll do my best not to get in your way.

AMP:
I’m glad to here it. (GAH! Hear, not here.)

Panel 5. Over Amp’s shoulder. Kevin, startled, has jumped in his chair. (This will be hard to show. Unless you want him hanging in mid-air as Mary stands at the door. You might need another beat to get that across clearly. Two distinct actions down tend to come across well in static panels.) Mary has opened the door to the office. Mary is Bloody Mary, so make her look like whatever you think Bloody Mary would look like. (Worth putting in a link to some information on Bloody Mary. Help your artist help you.)

MARY:
I have that report you asked for, Mr. Amp.

AMP:
Ah, yes. Very good.

Hmm… Still not feeling it. I’m starting to flirt with the service staff instead.

P2.

This is a bit long-winded. I understand that I asked for a certain amount of spoken dialogue, but that doesn’t mean you have to be nearly boring with it. (Notice, I said “nearly” boring. This isn’t boring, but it’s close.)

Watch your spelling, Greg. While spellcheck can be your friend, it can also be your enemy. Just because you spelled the word correctly doesn’t mean you’ve used the correct word. This is where an editor will save you. The letterer’s job is just to put the letters on the page. Their job isn’t to correct your spelling. If you don’t have an editor, this could possibly go out with the spelling mistakes intact, and that’s never a good look.

PAGE THREE (four panels)

Panel 1. Side view of the office. Amp is hunched over his desk looking down at some papers on his desk. Mary is walking over to Amp, holding a manila folder. Kevin is watching Mary in disbelief. (Why are you wasting time with people stuck between actions? Instead of Bacon starting to sit, have him sat. Instead of Mary walking to the desk, have her at the desk, handing the folder over. Skip the boring half-action stuff.)

AMP:
Now, I’m sure you’re wondering what it is we do here.

Panel 2. Mary is handing the folder to Amp. Amp is reaching out to take the folder as he is writing something with his other hand. (On what?)

AMP:
As you may have guessed–thank you, Mary–we work here to establish regulations with the intent to protect our environment.

Panel 3. Kevin is looking over his shoulder at Mary. Mary is walking past Kevin, giving him a warm smile as she passes by.

AMP(OP):
However, our methods of enforcement have changed slightly since the old days. (There is a different, better way to say this. Who has suggestions?)

Panel 4. Amp is looking through the papers in the folder. He is adjusted his glasses and is holding the folder at arms length, as if he is having trouble reading it. Kevin is leaning back in his chair, a bit uneasy. (No. He can’t look through the papers, adjust his glasses and hold the folder at arms length. That’s three actions, and can only happen if he has at least three arms.)

AMP:
Instead of relying on inefficient methods, such as fines and the like, we’ve adopted more effective practices. (So Liam talks about half-actions, I’m going to talk about half-statements. You should have put this in the previous panel.)

KEVIN(OP): (You put him on-panel.)
What kind of practices?

This page needs more panels. Good thing that Bacon’s last line could do with its own beat. It’s not much of a page turner, but its halfway there.

Our starters have arrived. You’re regaling me with some patter about your investment successes. I’m sifting through my soup for something of interest.

We’re three pages into a five page story, and remember, at least one of these pages has to be two panels or less… And while we’ve reached the spoken dialogue count, we have yet to see the chainsaw. Or the alien. It’s going to be tight.

Most of this is padding. This is padded out in order to reach that spoken dialogue count. Like Liam, I’m now bored. The novelty has worn off, which is terrible. With what’s here, something new, different, and at least surprising should be happening every panel. Something should be happening in the panels to make the reader look beyond what’s being said. None of that’s happening.

You’re talking about the Environmental Protection Agency. What does Bloody Mary have to do with that? Sure, Swamp Thing has a vested interest, but Bloody Mary? What does she have to do with the environment? See my problem?

Basically, it seems like you had an idea of what you wanted to do, and then found you didn’t have enough story to tell when you started to write, so you just kept going until you got to the end. I understand that this one was a bit more random, but you’ve still got to think things through. This doesn’t feel like it was thought through.

PAGE FOUR (four panels)

Panel 1. Over Amp’s shoulder. Kevin has jumped in his chair. Jason Voorhees has entered the office. (Again, this is two panels. One of Jason entering, another of Bacon’s reaction.) (It’s the same reaction. How about something new?)

JASON:
Yo, boss. I just got a call from the people down at the lake.

JASON:
They’re sayin’ there’re a bunch’a teens tryin’ to make a camp or somethin’ (GRAAAAHHHHH!!!!! ENDING PUNCTUATION!!!! FORBES SMASH!!!!)

Panel 2. Close-up of Kevin looking over his shoulder, confused.

AMP(OP):
Again?

JASON: (Jason is also off-panel.)
Guess so.

Panel 3. Amp has placed the open folder on his desk and is writing in it.

JASON(OP):
Anyway, I’m headin’ out to go take care of it.

AMP:
Very well.

Panel 4. Side shot of the office. Amp is moving the folder with one hand and is grabbing another pile of papers with the other. Kevin, alarmed, has quickly turned to face Amp. Use motion lines. The back half of Jason can be seen leaving the office. (Again, this isn’t going to come off the way you want it too. Reaction should come after action. In a still image, reaction happens at the same time as action. You need the psychological break of another panel to achieve the sequential effect you want here. That or a close up of Bacon reacting with the chainsaw line coming from off-panel.)

AMP:
Make sure you take the chainsaw this time.

Dinner arrives. The chicken is dry. Your attempts at courtship more so.

PAGE FIVE (one panel)

Panel 1. Kevin is in a typical office break room. There are a few round tables, vending machines against the right wall, and a a (Typo.) water cooler in the back of the room. He is huddled over and is holding his cellphone close to his ear, as if he is trying to hide it. In the background, Freddy Krueger, Predator, and Frankenstein. (Where exactly is Bacon, and where and what are the monsters doing? What, did you get lazy here?)

KEVIN(hushed):
I don’t care what you tell them! I don’t want it anymore!

FREDDY:
…and she’s all “why are you doing this?!”

SFX(laughter): (From the monsters I presume? You didn’t say they were laughing.)
Ha ha ha ha ha

This script really didn’t do much. I’m not sure what you were trying to achieve with it to be honest. What was the goal? To make us laugh? I don’t think it achieved that. I like idea that monsters are actually defenders of nature, whose killings are actually for the good of the environment, but I don’t think you went far enough. I’d be much more interested in following one of these guys on protection duty. The whole Kevin Bacon thing just seemed contrived too. Why was here there? To research a role? What for? Dunno.

This is a good idea. It just needs work. You also need to work on your pacing. Split distinct actions into their own panels. Multiple actions in a static image doesn’t come off very well. It can be done, sure, but it’s almost already better in sequence. They don’t call this a sequential medium for nothing.

As for our date; I’ve just gone to the bathroom. You’ll be waiting a while.

And we’re done! Time to run it down.

Format: Flawless Victory! I love it!

Panel Descriptions: Not bad. I have no real problem with them. Just watch what you’re doing a little bit closer. You’re almost there.

Pacing: Here is the real problem with this story. It’s horribly, horribly paced. The story has no reason for being, and it’s terrible because of that. Nothing done here has any point to it. You had more than enough space to tell this particular story. It just wasn’t used well at all. The pacing here, to be technical about it, is totally screwed.

You were given the elements of the story by some jerk, but you weren’t told what story to tell. The story is told through pacing. There’s no pacing here, because there’s no story.

Dialogue: It’s drawn out. There’s a purpose to the dialogue, but it gets lost in itself because it never really points to anything. It seems to, but at the end, it gets fuzzy around the edges.

Every piece of dialogue needs to do one of two things: reveal character or move the plot. This started to do a bit of both, but never really fully did either. You didn’t know where you were going, and it shows. So you dragged it out. Don’t.

Content: As a reader, there isn’t a story here. That means you haven’t done your job as a writer. That’s terrible. I don’t walk away feeling like I learned anything about anything. It was a waste of time.

Editorially, this needs a rethink. You can have this story, but it just needs to do something. If you think about a strong ending, then the rest of the story can point there. Everything has to work toward that ending. Nothing here works toward the ending. You change that, you change the way the work will be perceived.

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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