The envelope please…
The first Write Club Screenwriting Challenge contest results announced – “Subtext”.
Knowing how to avoid gratuitous exposition and on-the-nose dialogue is so critical to developing characters that have depth and motivations that resonate.
Your task was to write a scene with two characters, at least one of whom wants something from the other, at least one of whom gets what s/he wants from the other, neither of whom ever explicitly states what it is s/he wants.
Your Referee for this round was John Rainey.
AND THE WINNER IS: ALAIN DOMINIC
About Alain: Alain is a serious screenwriter with big aspirations and bigger ideas, who maintains a great blog at Dangerous Screenwriter. Check it out!
“Just wanted to give a big THANK YOU to all for putting on the contest in the first place, and choosing my scene as the winner! Consider this my digital hug to you all.Websites like yours and opportunities for no-nonsense feedback really means a lot to those of us who take our craft and our careers seriously. This kind of stuff must be somewhat of a drain on your already busy schedules, so I just want you to know that your efforts to share your knowledge and inspire those of us who are really trying are appreciated and are having a great impact.” – Alain
What Alain Wins
A copy of SONY Vegas Movie Studio 9 software courtesy of The Business of Show Institute and Sony Creative Software. Congratulations, Dominic, on being the first winner of a Write Club Screenwriter’s Challenge! (Learn more about BOSI and SONY’s support for Write Club here!)
All are born to their function.
A common, but durable, lineage.
Rarest breeds. All are precious, all irreplaceable.
No infection great or small must be allowed to compromise that potential.
Now, THIS is subtle subtext. Trista’s subtext is to get a position for her son in the Royal Academy. But the Queen nails her at every turn. Everything the Queen says keeps Trista in her subservient place without stating it overtly. The scene could have been even more dramatic if Trista (Wife) had continued to pursue her scene objective subtextually. Nevertheless, excellent work! Thumbs up!
RUNNER UP: PAM INGLESE
I think the actions/reactions could be more subtle, and the ending was a touch melodramatic, but the scene fulfills the task. Well done!
Among the others, although they may not have specifically fulfilled the subtext task, we saw some good writing! A cute, well-written scene with snappy dialogue. A powerful scene with an incredible climax that blew me away with its sense of hopelessness as reason debates rage… and loses. From the sublime to the ridiculous, you gave us the whole spectrum.
With an eye toward making the challenge worthwhile for all, and in the spirit of constructive criticism, I’ll share some of the common problems among the entries (not all related to subtext):
- Double entendre was often confused with subtext. It’s not enough that the words have double meanings, but that there is an agenda behind the words. Thus there was some cute dialogue that unfortunately just didn’t fulfill the task.
- Likewise metaphors are not subtext. They’re neat, but they’re not subtext in their own right.
- There was a fair amount of “relationship exposition”… scenes that illustrated a complex relationship, but without subtext and no apparent resolution of an agenda.
- Don’t forget it’s a visual medium. I’m not fond of nonspecific phrases like “uncertain what to do next”. If that’s how your character feels, try to demonstrate that through their actions in a way that lets the viewer know the character is uncertain what to do next.
- And don’t describe your character in ways that a viewer can’t possibly know. Don’t tell me that he’s “dressed as he is every morning” or “cranky like always”. As the viewer, unless I’m familiar with his patterns I won’t know that. If it’s an important character trait, you’ll have to find an interesting visual way to communicate to the viewer that this is a behavioral pattern.
- Watch out for passive verbs and adverbs. Don’t let your characters “walk quietly”, have them tip toe.
- And I’m afraid I saw a few missing commas. It’s an obsession, I know.’
Thank you all for your entries, and for letting me referee the first Write Club Challenge. Keep writing!
John Rainey – Rated the #1 screenwriting analyst in the country by Creative Screenwriting Magazine in 2003, John has been in the industry as an actor, screenwriter, reader, and analyst for more than 20 years. Learn more about John’s consulting and writing services at raineyscriptconsulting.com.
Read The Winning Entry
EXT. ROYAL GARDENS – AFTERNOON
Trista strolls a respectful beat behind her Queen, following her lead through twisted spires and exotic, flowering orbs.
How fares your son?
Spending the evening in a rejuvenation unit, but he’ll pull through. Thank you, My Lady.
My son respects his skill in the cockpit. He claims yours was born with wings.
Alas, his heritage excludes him from the Royal Academy. With the right recommendations --
All are born to their function, even Tovarians. He’ll do fine.
He is blessed to have a friend of such rectitude as our Prince. They’ve become virtually inseparable.
The landscape is broken by a massive, REFLECTIVE DOME STRUCTURE. Trista and the Queen arrive at a sealed entrance.
I hear you tend to a particularly noteworthy garden.
My lineage is of the soil, I suspect I inherited a small amount of talent.
The Queen’s hand glides past a laser scanner and the entrance slides open. It is dark inside.
And your chosen seed?
I suppose I have a reputation with J’ran Firs.
Trista follows the Queen into the mouth of the sleek, shiny black tunnel.
We have several on the outskirts of the north lawns. A common, but durable lineage. Perhaps my lead technician could give you some instruction.
Thank you, my Queen. It would be an honor to learn from such a renowned specialist.
Their footsteps echo through the dark chamber as they approach a curtain of RED GAS, billowing from ceiling to floor. Trista hesitates.
An inoculation cloud. Have you ever seen the Royal Arborium?
That was my first time, thank you, my Lady.
Outside was not the Arborium.
The Queen disappears into the red mist. Trista follows.
Trista emerges from the cloud into a twinkling, bioluminescent ALIEN FOREST.
It is night time here, the Geo-Dome mimicking a perfect, clear nocturne, complete with glimmering stars and constellations in its seemingly endless “sky”.
Indeed. The plants that grow in here are of the rarest breeds from throughout the known biospheres. All are precious, all irreplaceable.
Do you? All this fabrication is nothing less than a grand womb, regulating every atom enveloping us to the slightest degree. Every need is met. Every circumstance regulated, enabling every sprout to reach its fullest potential. Good men have lost lives to ensure that every blade in this forest may flourish. To me, it is the very symbol of the strength and prosperity of our entire race. No infection great or small must be allowed to compromise that potential.
Understood, my Queen.