It all came down to voice.
This has been without a doubt the single toughest contest to adjudicate I’ve ever been a part of. All of our top ten scripts are very good, every single one of them. And there was no consensus. Portia’s picks differed from Joe’s, which differed from mine and on and on. Everyone presented valid arguments as to why their picks should win the day. Some scripts had a cool concept or a great twist. Others had nifty characterizations and heart-wrenching conflict. But at the end of the day...
It all came down to voice.
Eight years of writing the Agent’s Hot Sheet column for Creative Screenwriting has given me, I hope, a pretty good idea of what the industry prizes most of all. What grabs these guys’ attention is “voice”—that elusive, ephemeral quality that is part craft, part attitude, part emotion, part pizzazz and topped off with a dollop of awesome. It’s what keeps you turning pages. Voice can help overcome story weaknesses and buy a lot of reader goodwill. Because when the voice is strong, the reader relaxes, confident he is in the hands of a great storyteller. All three of our top ten scripts exhibit that very quality in proverbial spades.
Which is not to say the rest of our top ten did not! It’s a judgment call, and somebody had to make it. That said, I am extremely proud of all of our entrants for 2009 -- far and away the best batch of scripts Writers on the Storm has ever received. It is amazing to watch everyone’s craft grow exponentially. And in the end...
It all came down to you-know-what.
We humbly present to you the winners of Writers on the Storm 4.
$10,000 GRAND PRIZE WINNER
RIVETER by Kevin Madden
Sci-fi. A new kind of “War of the Worlds”-style invasion. Creepy, gripping. Insane imagery. Lightning-fast read. Awesome style. Big, big things ahead for Mr. Madden. Bravo!
SVENGALI EFFECT by Jeremy Shipp
Action/adventure. WWII-era magician recruited by the CIA as a spy. Pitch perfect throughout. Great pace and flow, snappy action and dialogue. A great read.
WILSHIRE by Laurence Cruz
Dramedy. A new take on “After Hours.” Fantastic, snappy writing with laugh-out loud moments and fabulously quirky characters. A wonderful journey with two mismatched souls on a crazy night of serendipity and discovery. Beautiful.
The rest of the top ten (in alphabetical order):
ARKAN: THE LAST CAMPAIGN by Parrish Griggs
Action/horror. Civil wars re-enactors get more than they bargained for when they stage a little-known battle on the land of a ruthless adversary. Damn cool stuff, great writing.
BORDERLAND by Wyatt Wakeman
Action/buddy. A gay Fed and an Asian Texas cop investigate sniper murders at the US/Mexico border. Solid characters, pacing, dialogue and visuals.
COLDBLOODED by Susan Stritter Russell
Horror. Female horror writer has unexpected ties to a serial killer. In the vein of “Captivity.” Smart, unexpectedly strong characterizations and gobs o’ creative gore.
THE LODGER by June Escalante
Drama/thriller. 1940s drifter kills a rural businessman, then worms his way into the man’s family. Solid writing. Good pacing. Noir-ish “Postman Always Rings Twice” meets “The Hot Spot” vibe.
RAINWASHED by Paul Sargia
Psychological thriller. Private detective at a crossroads searches for a missing woman and, in a clash of dream vs. reality, becomes a changed man. Quirky, fun, truly unique.
SCATTERBRAINS by Richard Hohenrath
Horror. Zombie “Heathers.” Undead females seek revenge on those who wronged them. Great stuff!
SHROVETIDE by Peter Besson
Comedy. American businessman heads to England to claim an inheritance and finds himself embroiled in an age-old football rivalry. Wonderful local color, dialogue and characterizations.