TPG Week 222: Writing Challenge Entry 7

| March 27, 2015


Welcome back, one and all, to another installment of The Proving Grounds! This week, we have a new Brave One in Greg Thayer!

We also have Liam Hayes back in blue, while I’m the jerk in red.

This is also the last entry of the writing challenge. Normally, I’d go over the rules of it, but as you’ll soon see, Greg did it for me.

So, let’s all see how he did this week!

Writing Challenge

By Greg Thayer

PAGE ONE (two panels)

Panel 1. Daytime. Close-up of a computer screen. On the screen is a forum post from Digital Webbing. (A link to the post would be great.)


Okay, folks.

It’s been a while since we’ve done any challenges in here, and since one of our alumni needs help, I figured we’d start doing some.

Here are the rules:

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.

The challenge ends on 1/10/15.

Post all stories in this thread.

Let’s have some fun!


This really isn’t my kinda thing…


I’m not asking you to do it for me.

Panel 2. A small bedroom. Mike (early twenties, short, curly brown hair, polo shirt) is sitting in a computer chair at a desk, his right hand on the mouse. He is looking at the computer monitor in front of him. Matt (early twenties, long brown hair, band teeshirt and jeans) is sitting on the bed next to the computer desk. He is holding a piece of string cheese in his right hand. (Expressions? Body language? Act these guys.)


I just need a little direction. Get the creative juices flowin, ya know?

This page has left me underwhelmed. Why only two panels? Two uninteresting ones at that? This page needs more.

P1 is down, and on the whole, while it isn’t bad, it still needs something to push it over the edge into good.

Like Liam, I think this page needs something more at the end in order to get the reader to turn the page. Right now, it’s relying on the reader’s habit to turn the page instead of giving them a reason to do it. It’s lazy, especially since there are only two panels here, and the first panel is nothing more but a screenshot of the rules to the challenge.

I’m happy about one thing, though, that doesn’t get talked about very much: panel 2 is described from left-to-right. This is important, because if you look at the description, you won’t see any camera angle. It isn’t necessary. There’s really only one place to have the camera and still get in all the info. I like panel 2 for that reason alone. However, this page still needs something to get it over the hump.

At least the string cheese is there, front and center on the first page.

PAGE TWO (six panels)

Panel 1. Close-up of Mike. He is leaning back casually in the chair. (Expression? You’re missing storytelling opportunities here.)


Let’s see…Five pages…No tragedies… (Spaces after your ellipses.) (Yes. The ellipsis serves a dual purpose, and that purpose is revealed in the spacing. Punctuation isn’t too difficult, folks.)

Panel 2. Mike is leaning back in the computer chair, still looking at the screen. Mike’s head is cocked slightly to the side, as if he is calling for Matt. Matt has stood up from the bed. (And is doing what? Looking at Mike?)


Why no tragedies?



Panel 3. Close-up of Matt. He has taken a bite out of the string cheese.


Tragedies are stupid, anyway.


No they aren’t.


Name one good tragedy.

Panel 4. Close-up of the computer screen. The original post is still on the screen. (We already saw this. Why are we seeing it again?)


Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth, Hamlet…


Like I said. Stupid.

Panel 5. Mike is leaning back in the computer chair, facing the monitor. His right hand is on the mouse. Matt holds the string cheese in front of his face, as if it were a trophy. (In front of his own face or Mike’s?)


Matt one, Mike zero. (So, we have the names here, and they’re organic. Nice.)


There must be at least fifty words of spoken dialogue.

Panel 6. Mike is leaning back in the computer chair. His right hand is on the mouse. (You said that.) Matt has turned to face Mike. He has slightly lowered the string cheese.


That sounds like a lot.


What does?


Fifty words.

None of these guys are expressing anything. They’re placed but not acted. Expressions and body language are key tools in giving us internal insight. Use them. As for the story, this is boring so far.

P2, and I concur with Liam: this is boring.

Not only is it boring, it’s cheating somewhat as it tries to get things in, such as the dialogue requirement. I don’t mind overmuch—there’s nothing in the rules against it—but I find it distasteful in that it’s an easy way to go about things. I don’t like easy. It’s just one of those things.

Characters have to act, Greg. They have to emote. There’s no sense of emotion here, except idle boredom. If you want the characters to be bored, go for it. That’s okay. However, the artist needs to know it.

This page doesn’t really do all that much except fulfill the dialogue requirement. (No, I didn’t count the words between these two pages. 50 words of spoken dialogue really isn’t a lot.) But I’m bored. I tell stories about my past in order to combat that, and really, who wants that?

PAGE THREE (five panels)

Panel 1. Mike is leaning back in the computer chair. He is looking up at Matt. Matt is leaning on the desk just next to Mike. He is looking at the monitor.


You think so?


You don’t?


I dunno. I’ve never counted. (Counted what? The words in a sentence? Who would? I don’t get this.)

Panel 2. Mike is leaning back in the chair, a look of disbelief on his face.. He is holding his right arm out in front of him. (That’s a bit vague. What is he actually doing?) Matt is standing just behind Mike. He is looking down at his hands. It looks like he is counting with his fingers.


Who the hell says enlightenment?


I dunno. Jerks?

Panel 3. Mike is leaning back in the chair. (He’s always doing this. You don’t have to keep telling the artist unless you change his position/action.) He is resting his head on his left arm. (With his right arm still out? Why? What? Huh?) Matt is standing behind Mike. He is looking at Mike. His hands are held out in front of him, as if he is using them to count. Eight fingers are held up, with his right thumb and pinky being used to hold the string cheese.


Seriously. That or religious freaks.


That was eight words just now. (Was it? From when? The last panel? Why wasn’t Mike’s line counted from this panel?)

Panel 4. Mike is leaning back in the computer chair, looking annoyed. He is pointing at the monitor. Matt is next to Mike, leaning on the computer desk. He is pointing at computer.


String cheese? What kind of stupid–


Don’t worry about that. Here’s the part I’m having trouble with.

Panel 5. Close-up of the monitor. Matt’s finger is pointing at the line referring to artificial intelligence.


Artificial intelligence…? (Is he unaware of the concept?)

This is still going nowhere.

P3, and this is basically a rendition of two people hashing out the rules.

About as interesting as watching paint dry.

At least we finally have some emoting.

I’m not a fan of Superman. I haven’t been for a very long time.

As a child, I had a set of Superman sheets. I loved those. And I loved watching the Superfriends, as well as the Fleischer Superman cartoons, and the George Reeves Superman show (both in re-runs, of course—I’m not that old). Of course, I watched and loved the Superman movies. I didn’t collect Superman comics, though. I didn’t start collecting comics until I was about 9, and when I did, I was drawn to Marvel comics. I’d had a few DC comics, but once I found out just how powerful Superman was, I was no longer interested in him. I was basically no longer interested in DC in general.

I collected Marvel comics exclusively for the next 10 years. I’d pick up the odd DC, but it was something like Batman. My older cousin Clifton helped to kill Jason Todd by calling in the number for A Death in the Family. I didn’t get the comic. I wasn’t that interested in Batman, although I had more respect for him than I did Superman.

It wasn’t until I had joined the Marines that I started to collect DC. It was for a couple of reasons: the first was a report on nightly news that DC was killing Superman. I was incredulous, and I didn’t know how they were going to get out of it. I was actually a little excited, because I thought Superman was overpowered. The other reason was because while I was in Japan, there weren’t many comics to be had that weren’t DC. I’m not into manga, so I got what I could. Superman was already dead, so I missed that issue, and started with Rise of the Supermen.

Of course, Superman came back, and I again lost interest in him as a character. He just didn’t hold my interest.

I’m something of a historian, and also something of a completist, though. I have the two Superman serial movies, as well as the Fleischer Superman cartoons, as well the first four Superman movies. (I don’t have the Donner cut, although I’ve seen it.) I didn’t watch Lois & Clark, I didn’t watch Smallville, and while I saw Superman Returns, it was a very big disappointment to me. I don’t own it yet. (Trying to wait for it to hit the $5 bin.) I did see Man of Steel, though, and liked that.

If you ask anyone about me, they’ll swear up and down that I love Spider-Man. It’s untrue. I like him, but I don’t love him. He’s just the character that I’d wear before most others, simply because he’s got cooler apparel than most. I won’t wear anything Superman, though. But people seem to go out of their way to get me Spider-Man stuff. I don’t mind. It’s not Superman, so I’m good with it.

(And yes, I’m also a Spider-Man snob. I had to teach my wife about the difference between the movie [Tobey Maguire] Spider-Man and the comic version, so she wouldn’t get me the movie version by accident.)

This past Christmas, my job had a secret Santa gift exchange. It was simple: put down what you liked and what you disliked, with a limit of $20.

I put down my like as superheroes , and my dislike as Superman. Simple enough.

Christmas rolls around, and I get my gift. It’s a box, and inside the box are a couple of gifts. They were moving around inside. I open the box, and I see there are two wrapped packages. The first package is thinnish, about the size of a blu-ray case, and has a note attached that says open me first. So I do.

It’s a blu-ray copy Man of Steel.

I laughed my ass off! It was hilarious, and I belly-laughed for a good ten minutes. I couldn’t help it. Every time I looked at it, I started laughing all over again. My co-workers looked at me strangely, until I told them what I put down as my dislike. They joined me in laughter.

The other package was marked Open me last. It was also blu-ray sized, but a little larger. It was a boxed set of the X-Men and Wolverine movies, as well as Days of Future Past, all on blu-ray. I laughed a little more, and was very grateful. (I didn’t own the Wolverine movies, and hadn’t gotten around to buying Days of Future Past.)

(Yes, the $20 limit was blown away, but it was a gift from one of the few people I call friend there, and she had gotten them on sale, so I didn’t mind if she didn’t. How did she get my name? Either she traded for it, or it was luck.)

That story? Much more interesting than what’s going on in this story.

PAGE FOUR (five panels)

Panel 1. Mike is looking up at Matt. Matt has stood up. He is looking down at Mike.


That’s easy. Just do some sci-fi shit.


Everyone’s gonna do sci-fi. I wanna do somethin (Apostrophe.) different. (This is different, all right.)

Panel 2. Close-up of Mike looking forward. He looks annoyed. He is holding his right arm out in front of him. (He’s doing that again. What, specifically, is that?) (Yeah, I don’t get it, either.)


And what are you gonna do with string cheese?


I dunno. Probably just have a character eating it.

Panel 3. Mike is looking up at Matt, an annoyed look on his face. Matt has turned towards to bed.


That’s lazy. (This line works. It’s the only thing that has for me so far. Self-deprecation is my favorite form of humor. I will say that this would work better if he said this as he’s eating the string cheese. That gives the line some more punch.)


The rules say that there needs to be string cheese. It doesn’t say it has to be important. (Someone who read and understood the rules!)

Panel 4. Matt is seen from the side. The front half of him is cut off. (Huh? I don’t know what you mean by the front half of him is cut off.) Mike has spun around in his chair to face Matt. He looks angry.


Then why can’t you just put a robot in?


(Apostrophe.)Cuz that’s stupid.

Panel 5. Matt has turned to face Mike. He looks unamused. Mike is facing Matt. He looks angry. (Lots of. Sharp. Short. Sentences. Make for. An irritating. Read. Trust me. On this.)


What’s the difference? You’re already just randomly tossing in string cheese. Might as well randomly throw in a robot.


In fact, the robot could made of string cheese. That takes care of them both.


Very funny.

A good line, at last! It’s way too late though. Get it in earlier to keep interest.

P4, and I’m still bored.

To tell the truth, I’m a bit lost as to who’s doing what, and why. Matt and Mike are getting confused in my head because their names are very similar. Their names have also only been said once. Nothing saying that they have to be repeated, but it would help the reader to keep up with who’s who. This naming reminds me of Ed, Edd, n Eddy.

But, yes, I’m still bored.

PAGE FIVE (five panels)

Panel 1. Matt is walking over to Mike. Mike looks angry. (He’s been angry for a while now. The artist isn’t going to change his expression unless you state otherwise.)


Seriously. You can finally do that story about the misunderstood super-villain you’ve always dreamed of.

Panel 2. Matt has reached over to the back of Mike’s neck. Mike is looking up at Matt. He looks angry. (Why is Mike angry, anyway? Seems like an overreaction. Especially here.)


Just don’t forget to put Cheesetron in it somewhere.


Yeah, yeah. Whatever.

Panel 3. Close-up of the back of Mike’s neck. Matt has flipped a switch on the back of Mike’s neck. (I think we’d have seen this switch way beforehand. Me thinks you’ll need to rework this.) The switch looks like a standard light switch, (Rogue comma there.)

Panel 4. Close-up of Mike. Mike has slumped forward. He almost looks like a doll.

Panel 5. Matt is standing over Mike, looking a little annoyed. Mike is slumped forward in the computer chair. His body looks lifeless.


Piece’a junk.

I like the whole meta fourth wall breaking thing you’re going for. I also like the irony. Still, this isn’t as good as it could be. No way near. It needs more work. There’s a lot of boring stuff. You need to work on your expressions and actions too. Act these guys. Get more emotion in there. Get us more involved and it’ll be less tedious.

Okay! Let’s run this down!

Format: Flawless Victory!

Panel Descriptions: These are generally good. Just don’t forget to add emotion to the panel descriptions, and don’t forget to be specific. That arm extended out thing? I have no idea what that’s about. If it were explained better, then there’d be a better idea as to what it’s for. As it stands now, though, that’s the only really vague thing.

I also want you to understand that this is taking place in a very limited area. You’ve got one character leaned back in a chair at a computer desk for most of the story. We don’t see much camera movement. In order to see expressions, the camera is going to have to be near the computer monitor, looking out. Otherwise, one of the characters will have their back to the reader for most of the story.

And Liam is very correct in that the switch in the back of the neck would be very, very visible, especially since Mike has short hair.

Pacing: Boring. Oh. Em. Gee. I watched Amadeus (and took a short nap) as I wrote a comic book review, then I watched Black Sunday as I went through this script. Now I’m watching Rosemary’s Baby as I write this up. I didn’t want things that would interest me too much as I did my work, and it doesn’t come more boring (and wrong-headed) than Rosemary’s Baby. However, I’m finding this to be more interesting than the script.

No real movement of the camera, nothing to really draw the eye after the first page until we get to the last panel of the last page, nothing really to hold interest. Lots of panels on the pages, but without moving the camera too much, it’s very, very slow. Ooh, look! Rosemary’s neighbor died! Did she jump out the window, or was she thrown? More interesting and faster movement than this story.

Dialogue: Here’s what happened—I feel cheated. Part of the dialogue was nothing more than reading the rules. It’s cheap.

Now, leaving that aside, I liked the dialogue. It seemed realistic. It’s a conversation that I could see being held, boring as it is. Nothing seemed forced. I just feel cheated.

Content: From a reader’s perspective, this was just okay. It was definitely different from the others, which had a blatant sci-fi flavor to them. This one comes in late. It works, except that it’s so slow.

Editorially, this got in all the rules of the contest, which was good. It was also different, which was good. It was just boring. How do you spruce it up? More dialogue. Have them putting each other down or something. Have them move through the space. Break up the camera angles and locations. You could have done a Calvin & Hobbes Spaceman Spiff type of thing, which could have been interesting. Something has to be done in order to get and keep reader interest. This doesn’t cut it for me.

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!

Related Posts:

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

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 for rate inquiries.

Comments are closed.