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TPG Week 252: First Writing Challenge Failure

| October 24, 2015

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Welcome back, one and all, to another installment of The Proving Grounds! This week, we have someon who’s no stranger here, Joshua Crowther! We also have Liam Hayes in blue, Ryan Kroboth with pencil assists, and I’m the guy dancing a jig in red. Together, we’re all going to see how Josh handles a writing challenge about a food argument.

Here are the rules to the challenge:

-A hose must be an object (take that as you will)
-The argument must be over food (very broad subject)
-The word “famine” cannot be used; the word “udder” must be uttered
-There cannot be any physical violence between those involved in the argument

Let’s see how he does!

CHARACTER DESCRIPTION

Both the man and woman are in their early twenties. Everything else is up to you!

(I am not a fan of your format at all. There’s no way for the eye to quick distinguish between panel description and dialogue. It’s all bunched together. This offends the visual cortex.)

PAGE ONE – SIX PANELS

1. We are outside a mid-sized diner looking through the window at a profile view of MAN and WOMAN sitting in a booth opposite from each other. We probably aren’t close enough to see their faces, but body language wise, the man looks kind of pissed off, and the woman looks embarrassed. (None of those will come across without an expression.) I imagine it looking something like the diner from Pulp Fiction, and it’s fairly busy inside. It’s about afternoon outside. (Where is this? City? Small town? Space?)

MAN: Where the fuck is the waiter? She said she’d be back soon. (This gets across “pissed” so the body language is redundant anyway.)
WOMAN: Look around, it’s busy she said she’d get to us soon. (Strange punctuation. The comma is used incorrectly and you’re missing a stop between “busy” and “she”.)
MAN: I just think when you say you (Intention typo? I can’t tell.) going to do something you should actually fucking do it.

2. Switch to inside the diner from any angle. Their expressions remain fairly similar to the last panel. (We couldn’t see them in the last panel.)

WOMAN: Maybe we shouldn’t (That should be “should have”, surely?) have picked someplace with less people. They always get busy on Saturdays.
MAN: Well, maybe you should have mentioned something before we got a seat.
WOMAN: I just figured we were already close by.

3. The woman puts on a weak, fake smile.

WOMAN: Do you remember the first time we came here? Senior prom?
MAN: Ya, I remember spending more money than I probably should have. The tux and limo cost a fortune. (Is this shot only on the woman? Can the man be seen from here? If not, then his dialogue is OP.)

4. A female WAITER is now next to their booth. She is holding a pen and pad to take orders. She is smiling politely. (Hm. It’s almost teleportation.)

MAN: God, finally! (Can we see him and his expression?)
WAITER: Sorry, I had to get another table their order. We’re a little short staffed today. One of our servers got sick.
WAITER: Are we ready to order?
MAN: Yes, I’d like–

5. WOMAN timidly looks at WAITER. MAN looks overly annoyed.

WOMAN: –Actually, I’m going to need another moment. I thought I wanted the halibut, but now I’m not sure.
MAN: Seriously?! You had the last 15 minutes to decide.
WOMAN: It’s okay…You can go ahead and order first.

6. MAN is pointing at his menu, but looking at at WAITER. WOMAN is looking down at her menu. She still looks awkward and embarrassed.

MAN: Fine. Can I get the Chicken Fried Steak with French Fries and a Ceaser Salad?
MAN: And don’t forget to bring ketchup. You guys always forget.
WAITER: Alright. And do you still need a moment ma’am?
WOMAN: Yes, just give me a moment. Can you come back?
WAITER: Of course.

Page one down and this is just two people in a restaurant ordering food and one of them is getting annoyed about it. That is how you have chosen to begin you story. It helps, I find, to summarize each page to get a better understanding of how well you are telling your story. If the summary is a boring as this page is, cut it or rework it. Also, why aren’t any of these characters named? If they’re not reoccurring, you’re wasting an awful amount of time on them.

P1 is down!

Writing challenges are hard. They’re supposed to be. However, they are supposed to be challenging for a reason.

I’m not seeing this as a good start. The characters are coming across as unlikable, and if that’s what the objective is, then great. But really, something in me wants to punch the guy in the face. That’s saying something. (It also means that I’m having a visceral reaction to the writing, which is always good.)

However, I’m not overly interested in what’s going on. Not grabbed in the slightest. This is often the problem with shorts: they don’t start late enough. This seems to suffer from that malady. It’s late, just not late enough. This page feels a bit like padding.

PAGE TWO – FIVE PANELS

1. MAN is looking out the window with the back of his head towards the reader. His hand is clenched in a fist against the top of the table. WOMAN is looking down at her menu nervously.

NO COPY

2. MAN looks angrily at WOMAN.

MAN: Why can’t you ever just make up your mind?
MAN: I take a day off work. We drive all the way down here.
MAN: What a fucking waste of time.

3. WOMAN looks up at man wearing a sad expression.

NO COPY

4. WOMAN has pulled up her menu so it is covering her face.

WOMAN: I just want to take sometime to think before–
MAN(OP): Ya, ya. I’ve heard it before.

5. A mother, father, and their two kids are walking into the diner. The man is holding the door open for his wife. His wife is holding a small boy who is about two-years-old. Their other son, about seven-years-old is running ahead of his mother, rather enthusiastically. The seven-year-old’s clothes are slightly wet.

FATHER: Chris, don’t run.
WIFE: I think he’s just hungry.

More bore. When is that story staring? When is something interesting going to happen? Why are we watching this diner? Who cares?

P2, and really, the story hasn’t started yet.

More padding. There isn’t even a reason given yet as to why this guy’s such an asshole. That’s not a mystery anyone cares about.

PAGE THREE – FIVE PANELS

1. The WAITER is standing in front of the family that just walked in. They are in the waiting area at the front of the diner. The father has grabbed his older son by the arm to stop him from running.

WAITER: Four?
WIFE: Yes. And you wouldn’t happen to have a small towel or anything would you?
WIFE: Our son, Tanner, (Wait, I thought he was called Chris?) decided to run through the hose while we were leaving the house. (Is the explanation necessary? You didn’t go back inside the house and dry him off? Was it necessary to leave right then? It doesn’t seem like a reservation was needed. This part just doesn’t seem like it was thought through.)

2. The waiter is walking the family towards the booth next to MAN and WOMAN. TANNER now looks grumpy and upset.

WAITER: Are we going to need two kids menus?
WIFE: Yes.
TANNER(shout):No! I don’t want the kid’s menu.

3. The family is beginning to sit down at the booth (You know better than this, Josh.). The waiter is grabbing a high chair for the younger son. TANNER still looks grumpy, and WIFE is looking crossly at him.

WIFE: Tanner, don’t yell.
WIFE: And you don’t need the grown-up menu, you never finish all your food.
FATHER: Tanner, listen to your mom and we’ll get you a milkshake (Comma.) alright?

4. MAN now has his elbow against the back of his seat and is sneering over at the family. WOMAN looks saddened by MAN’s reaction.

MAN: Oh, just fucking fantastic.

5. The family is now fully seated, except for the younger son. The waiter is helping him into the high chair. (Is that really the waiter’s job?) (I’ve never seen it. Then again, I’ve never seen a lot of things. But I don’t think I’d let the wait staff handle my children.) FATHER is chuckling and WIFE looks a little embarrassed.

WAITER: Okay, what kind of shake do you want?
FATHER: Let’s get Oreo.
FATHER: Or, on second thought, let’s get two. I may want an udder (A what what?) one for myself. (I like the use of the necessary word.)

P3, and I really don’t know what to say.

On the one hand, it feels like it’s just marking time. It doesn’t feel like this was thought out very much, what with the parents still going to the restaurant without changing the child’s clothes.

On the other hand, there’s the feeling like this is really the start of the story, as though the first two pages could have been cut and the story starts here.

Feels strange.

If this were the start of the story, we could then have a reason for the guy to be an asshole. Or at least foreshadow him a bit.

I like the use of the mandatory word, though. Terrible, but it was supposed to be, so it made me smile.

We also have a hose mentioned. I’d rather have had it be an actual object that needed to be drawn, but I also left it rather vague, so I can’t complain about it at all.


PAGE FOUR – SIX PANELS

1. The waiter is struggling to get the younger son into the high chair, and the younger son starts wailing. (Again, that’s not really the waiters job, me thinks.)

YOUNGER SON(sfx): WAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!

2. MAN looks very angry and has both of his fists clenched.

NO COPY

3. WOMAN puts her hand on his arm and looks like she is trying to calm him down.

WOMAN: It looks like he may have just bumped his foot, he’ll stop in a moment.

YOUNGER SON(OP,sfx, smaller): WAAAAAAH!

4. MAN jerks his hand away from WOMAN and is beginning to stand up (Oh, Josh… Mr. Kroboth, would you please visualize this with that wonderful pencil of yours?). WOMAN is finely starting to sit up a bit straighter and look a bit angry herself. (Finely? Or Finally? There’s a difference. And yeah, this panel is a couple of kinds of “can’t be drawn.”)

MAN: No! I’m fucking done. I’ve lost my appetite. Let’s go!
WOMAN: No. I’m still hungry. I’m staying.
MAN: Well, I’m not. (I’m trying to visualize the dialogue along with the panel description, and the two don’t seem to go well together.)

5. WOMAN is looking more confident and indignant. (What does this look like?)

WOMAN: Fine. Go.
MAN(OP): Well, how are you planning on getting home?
WOMAN: I think I can make it on my own. I’ll find a way.

6. MAN has stood up all the way, and is sneering down at woman.

NO COPY (Why no dialogue here? It’s missing something.)

This is something I could go to my local cafe to see. (The food sucks, but the coffee is great. That tends to be the trend in my local town, actually: decent coffee, suckish food. It doesn’t help that the main street consists of five outlets that sell coffee. Damn… Now I see why Steven often fills the boring scripts with his stories. Anything to stave off the boredom.

And now my secret is out!

Anyway, we’re near the end, and I’m not getting the sense that there’s an argument over food. I’m not getting a sense of an argument at all.

Argument: an exchange of diverging or opposing views, typically a heated or angry one. This is how Google defines the word. I’m not seeing any opposing views. I’m not seeing much of anything. I’m seeing the argument here. Angry words apropos of nothing do not an argument make.

This might be the first writing challenge that fails. We’ll see. One page left.

PAGE FIVE – FOUR PANELS

1. From outside the diner. MAN is walking out of the diner angrily, running one hand hand (Typo.) through his hair and pushing open the front door with the other.

MAN(whisper): Fine. Whatever. I don’t care. She made up her own mind.
MAN(whisper): It’s not my problem.

2. The waiter, looking a little flustered, has walked back up to WOMAN. WOMAN is smiling.

WAITER: Sorry about that. Are we ready?
WOMAN: Oh (Comma.) don’t worry about it.
WOMAN: And yes, I’m ready. I think I’ll have your single prime rib. It’s been a while since I last had it.
WAITER: Alright. You sure?

3. From outside close up on the window where WOMAN is sitting. WOMAN looks very relaxed with a smile on her face. She has her hand softly against her belly.

WOMAN: Yes, I’m sure.

4. Zoom out to show the diner from the outside. We see that’s it’s in a small commercial district with single story stores flanking the diner. One of them is a clinic that reads “Healthy Futures for Women”.

Uhh… Huh? Is this the end, or only what you submitted? Hopefully it isn’t the end, else there is no story here. I get the idea that there’s something trying to be said, but I’m unsure of what it is.

Regardless, your panel descriptions are serviceable, but you’re not doing anything with them. I would also suggest you name the characters.

Oh, wow. It failed.

Let’s run it down.

Format: Flawless Victory! However, I would have been extremely disappointed if Josh had screwed this up.

Panel Descriptions: Not bad at all. A couple of wobbles, but decent overall. We’ll see what Ryan is able to do with that one panel. (Watch out for the word “and”, folks. It will almost always steer you wrong.)

Pacing: I’ve seen ¾ starved three-toed sloths move faster than this. One-limbed. In cryogenic suspension.

The first few pages don’t do much of anything. They’re just padding. Angry guy being angry for no reason.

Then a family of four walks in, and angry guy continues to be angry (possibly because of the family’s stupidity, but I doubt it).

Then angry guy leaves. Why? Who knows. We never really find out why he’s angry. We get the intimation that the woman he’s with is pregnant and wants to keep the child and he doesn’t, but that’s an intimation. Maybe part of it was stated earlier, before the story started, but I don’t get the sense that the conversation would have led to where it did.

In all, I’d call the pacing uneven. P3 was especially strange, because it felt like the real start of the story as well as like it was just marking time.

The pacing just wasn’t good here.

Dialogue: The dialogue did not do it’s job. The challenge was supposed to be an argument over food.

Now, while some would take this to be an argument about food, Josh tried to make it an argument over food. The failure comes in that there was no argument. And that’s a shame.

I like that there’s an undercurrent that kind of bubbles up at the end, but that wasn’t the challenge.

If it wasn’t for the objective not being made, the dialogue would have been okay. Not great, but okay.

Content: As a reader, I’m not the biggest fan of this piece. It moved strangely, was a bit awkward in the middle, and then the end doesn’t really drive anything home. It could have been better.

Editorially, this failed to meet the challenge. That’s the biggest thing right there. The pacing and the moving panel can be fixed, but the only way to overcome the lack of an argument is to totally rewrite the piece. That’s the only way to fix it.

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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