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TPG Week 1: Writing Your Intro

| December 31, 2010 | 26 Comments

Hello, and welcome to the inaugural post of The Proving Grounds at ComixTribeTPG is a weekly column where I’ll edit reader submitted comic book scripts, and share those edits with you so that we can all learn something.  As an editor, I think you’ll find I’m tough but fair.

David Herbert is up first for this inaugural column of The Proving Grounds! Let’s see what he’s brought for us. Let’s see what his script for Life On Earth is like. (And just and an FYI, David also sent along a blurb about what the story was about. I’ve cut it from the script.)

Page One
(Five Panels) (This isn’t a mistake. There are few guidelines to writing comics. However, if you’re going to use this in your format, I’d like to see it up one line. Personal preference, and not something you’d have to listen to.)

Panel One: We open to a dark alley in the middle of a grimy city late at night. It is empty, except for the silhouettes of two men. One, who is more muscular, is punching the other. (Okay. Now the fun starts. Where’s the camera? Are we looking down on this action? Are we behind one of the men? Are we at one end of the alley? Where’s the light source? Lots of questions, because you didn’t do an establishing shot.)

Panel Two: We see the other silhouette is a young man in business attire. He lies on the ground, a bruise on his right cheek, holding his mouth. Standing over him is the more muscular man, who we see is a common street thug. (Methinks there’s going to be a lot of red seen today. Okay, if this is a silhouette, we’re not going to be able to see details. What details? That he’s a young man, that he has a bruise on his right cheek, that the guy standing over him is a common street thug. Those are details that the artist isn’t going to be able to portray, because this is a silhouette. Part of your job as a writer is to know what can and cannot be drawn. This means you also need to know the meaning of the words you’re using.)
Man: Grr…

Panel Three: The thug holds out his hand, expecting something to be handed to him. The young man just looks up at the thug defiantly. (Have we pulled out so that we can see them? Or are we in close, able just to see the hand as the man looks up defiantly. The artist is going to need to know.)
Thug: Wallet. Now.
Man: Go to hell.

Panel Four: The thug draws a gun with an evil grin on his face. (I take it we’re no longer looking at silhouettes? Or, are we into more of a Frank Miller doing Sin City type of thing?)
Thug: Ladies first. (This line? Cliche. A lot.)

Panel Five: Close up on the gun as it fires.
SFX: BLAM

Page Two (Know what I’m very happy about? That you started a P2 on a new page. Good.)
(Five Panels) (I’m also happy that you kept up the consistency with your panel numbering for the page.)

Panel One: We see the bullet hit the young man’s chest and bounce off, not penetrating. (Bounce, or ricochet? There’s a difference.)
Man: OOH! (I get it, but this doesn’t sound like it hurts at all. It sounds more like he’s about to tell his mommy. Dialogue is the hardest, most subjective part of scriptwriting.)

Panel Two: The thug falls backwards as the ricochet hits him in the forehead and also bounces away. (Again, bounce or ricochet?)
Thug: GRAH!

Panel Three: Both men lie on the ground in agony; clutching the spot they were hit.
Both: Urgh… (Really? They’re both going to say the same thing at the same time? I don’t think so.)

Panel Four: The young man moves his hand away and we can see that there is no blood. (Where’s the light coming from in order to have us see the blood? Are we looking at his hand, or are we looking at the place where the bullet struck? Clarity, David, is job one.)
Man: What the?

Panel Five: We zoom out to see a surveillance camera mounted on one of the walls was catching the whole thing. Man and thug are still in view.

Page Three
(Six Panels)

Panel One: We change scene now to a news program reporting the scene in the alleyway. The anchorwoman sits just below a small screen, which shows the last panel, with the camera cut out, with the blur that comes from a camera. (Okay, you just changed locations. I’ve got nothing against that. I’d like it better, though, if we could also see the frame of the tv. This lets the reader know that we’ve changed locations. Now, for construction of this panel: why is the screen above the anchor’s head? Usually, they’re off to one side. Putting it above her head makes it look VERY strange. I’d rethink this. And I take it you don’t care what the anchorwoman looks like.)
Anchor: … Is the latest in reports we are getting of people surviving situations that would normally result in death…

Panel Two: Another news program, with a different anchor reporting on a story related to a picture displaying a man being arrested. (Again, I’d like you to show the tv frame.)
Anchor: …Attempted to slit open a man’s throat, but says the blade would not break the victim’s skin…

Panel Three: Another program showing a hand bursting out of a grave. (Is this a real picture, or is it something that a graphic designer made? The artist is going to need to know this, in order to draw appropriately. If it’s not a graphic, the next obvious question is, is it a photo, or someone from the news, and how did they get the picture? You have to make sure your story carries an internal logic, thinking ahead of your readers. You don’t want to do anything to take them out of the story.)
Anchor: …Funeral goers report that for the past few hours, corpses have been breaking out of their graves…

Panel Four: Another program shows a man in a tuxedo covered in wood chips and dirt.(That’s nice. Where is this at? What does he look like? How long has he been in the ground? You can do that by putting age and decay on the clothing, and by the style of clothing being worn. Or is the guy recently dead? Before you answer, here’s the thing you have to remember: embalming. One word that can derail an entire thought. Stupid realism!)
Anchor: …Doctors are confirming the rising dead are completely healthy, both mentally and physically…

Panel Five: A display of people digging up a cemetery. (Is it day or night?)
Anchor: …With this new development, people are digging up coffins to rescue…

Panel Six: Last program has a shot of the White House. (Is it day or night? One trend I’ve noticed, and we’re only 3 pages in, is that you’re not giving the artist enough info for them to do their job.)
Anchor: …Rumours are circling that a man claiming to be Abraham Lincoln is requesting an audience with the President… (Watch your spelling, or your terms. In America, we don’t use a “u” in “rumors.” If you want to give the illusion that this is taking place in America, then your editor should catch things like this. If you want it to look more international [which is something I suggest, because of the name of the story], then I suggest using the term “American President.” Remember that other countries have presidents, too.)

Page Four
(Five Panels)

Panel One: Death stands on top of a skyscraper, looking down at the people in the street.(Oh, come on. This, Dave, is just lazy. There’s no real attempt to give the artist any usable info. What time of day is it? Where’s the camera? What are the people on the street doing? Are there any cars? For the location, the bulk of them should be taxi’s. How is the reader supposed to know this is Death? Sure, the character design should be worked out beforehand with the artist, but the dialogue below gives a different impression. But anyway, you changed locations. When you do that, give Who, Where, What, and When. You answer all of those questions, and you’re golden. Artists will love you.
Caption: Manhattan New York, New York. (Manhattan is the island, New York is the city.)

Panel Two: He swings his head to look at Lucifer, who calls at him from off screen. (Left or right?)
Lucifer: Azrael. You mind tell me what the hell is going on? (Here’s the first format mistake I’ve seen. When someone’s speaking from off panel, you let the artist and letterer know by making the notation (OP) by their name.)

Panel Three: Death faces Lucifer, who has his arms crossed and looks at the angel of death with suspicion. (Again, I’m hoping you have a conversation with your artist about the character designs. Because these are important characters, I’m not going to ask about their appearance, because that should be decided before the artist puts pencil to paper. How far are apart are they, though?)
Lucifer: Over the past four days, Hell has been emptying.
Death: It’s not just your domain, Lou.(Comma. One of the biggest things I’ve seen with writers is that they don’t know syntax. It’s just one of those things that I don’t understand. The other thing I want to bring up is the dialogue. Your characters are sounding EXTREMELY modern. If they have a classic look, modern speech is going to seem incongruous. If they don’t have classic looks, then how is the reader going to know that one is Death and one is the Devil?)

Panel Four: Death moves toward Lucifer, who is shocked by the news.
Death: Every soul that has passed through the gates of Heaven or Hell has returned to flesh. (This goes against the earlier statement that Hell has been emptying. This is stating that Hell is now empty. See the difference? You can’t have both. Which one is it?)
Lucifer: Impossible.

Panel Five: Death bows his head as the two look back into the street. (This is a moving panel. Why is he bowing his head, anyway?)
Death: I thought so, too, but it appears we were wrong. (Comma. Gotta learn it.)

Page Five
(One Panel)

Panel One: We are now down in the street Death and Lucifer are looking down on. It is crowded with people of all ages, all confused and worried, in clothes from different eras and different classes, including soldiers, businessmen, musicians, beggars, servants and many more. Some have their clothes in perfect condition, while others have theirs rotting away. This would be a good spot to put the title and credits. (Where are the people of the current era? Are they anywhere around in this mess? If they are, what is their reaction?)
Cap (Death): “Humans have Humanity has finally gained immortality.” (I changed this around a little. By making it a caption, you no longer have to worry about having the character speak off panel, and having a balloon that trails up awkwardly on the page. I also corrected the awkward phrasing.)

I’m not overly pleased with the placement of this splash page. If this is going to be printed, then this page is going to be on the right side of the book. That means that the reader only has to slide their eyes over to the right in order to see the page, and it loses its impact because there’s no turning the page to get to it. Splash pages should go on the left hand side. That means even-numbered pages. It gets to “hide” in the book, and has more impact when you turn the page to get to it.

I’m going to stop there. Just when it starts to get interesting, I know.

Okay, let’s run it down.

Format-wise, this is relatively good to go. You have every page with a page-break, you have all of your elements in their correct place, and you only had a couple of miscues, the biggest of which is the part where Lucifer spoke off panel. So, you’re good to go there. Good work.

The biggest trend is that you’re not giving your artist enough to go on. The first thing to do is to learn how to write an establishing shot. Again, you have to answer Who, Where, What, and When. If you don’t answer all of those, you don’t have an establishing shot.

Next, put down what you see in your head in a manner that makes sense. Describe things from left to right. That’s how we read comics (in English speaking countries), so that’s how you have to write them. Left to right. Left to right.

Once you write a good establishing shot, you generally don’t have to do it again UNTIL you change locations. Every time you change locations, you have to do another establishing shot. Every time. There are no exceptions. And again, if you don’t answer all the questions, you don’t have a proper establishing shot.

Finally, make sure that your panel descriptions can actually be drawn. You have a small issue with that.
As for your moving panel, just make sure you remember these are still moments in time. Your can’t have your character bowing their head or things like that. Still moments.

Dialogue. I’m not going to say that it’s terrible, but it definitely needs work.

The best passages are the reporters. The most awkward? Where Lucifer and Death are talking. Because I don’t know what they look like, I’m picturing them as being classically drawn. Hell, even Lucifer can look angelic. Modern dialogue with classical figures threw me right out of the story. That’s never a good thing.

I’m VERY happy to say that you got to the meat of the story, the hook, within a reasonable amount of time. It’s my contention that newer writers NEED to get to something important or some relevant action within the first five pages. If you haven’t done that, and been interesting the entire time, then you’ve lost your audience. They’ll put it back on the shelves and never look back.

That’s the biggest trick new writers have to learn. You don’t have a name (yet!), you more than likely don’t have a character that people are going to know right off the bat, and then you write this slow, drawn out opening. This is NOT the Field of Dreams. They will not come just because you built it. You have to give them a reason not just to come, but to STAY. If you haven’t done that in five pages (which is VERY generous–I’d rather see it done in three, if not by the first page), then you haven’t done your job. Without a name behind you, or a company (Marvel/DC), then you really can’t afford a slow burn. Not when you’re just starting out.

Just something I want you all to keep in mind.

Overall, not bad, David. Not bad at all. Just some things to shore up here and there, but you’re definitely on the right road. Keep it up!

Next week, we have John Lees!

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Category: 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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  1. Living With Insanity - Of Like Minds | January 14, 2011
  1. John Lees says:

    Hooray, The Proving Grounds is back!

    I largely agree with Steven’s assessment on David’s script. I think it’s a very valid point that, with unfamiliar writers or stories, readers can have a short attention span. Just looking at the first page of the comic if it was sitting on a shelf, I might not be inclined to read further. But that would be a mistake, because if I kept on reading, I’d see that the idea is actually a real grower, and by page 3 or 4 I was really intrigued by the concept you’d set up, and would be likely to buy the comic to read more about the story. It’s a shame that a lot of people don’t have the budget or attention span to stick with a story that doesn’t grab them by the balls right away.

    As for Death and Lucifer, when reading the script I was actually imagining both to be presented as enigmatic figures in suits, with it being left to the dialogue to allude to who these mysterious individuals were. Which goes to show you that, when scripts are so open-ended, that leaves room for a number of wildly divergent interpretations. I would venture to say this isn’t necessarily a mistake. It could be that you’ve left your panel descriptions deliberately vague, and you’re planning to place a lot of trust in your artist in terms of establishing the look and layout of your world. That’s a perfectly valid approach, but it comes with a warning that the artist might return with a page that looks VERY different to the page you had in your head, and if he does, you don’t really have any ground to say that he’s “wrong”. Not when you didn’t tell him what “right” was.

    Overall though, I’d say “Life on Earth” sets up a really interesting premise, and it’s one I’d be interested to learn more about. Good job, David!

    • John, you don’t know how it it feels to be back. When I stepped down from doing it back at PFB, it was something of a heartbreak. The good news, though, was that it was going to live on with Calvin doing it. When HE stopped, I was shocked. I took a look around, and saw that no one else had really stepped into that void. It was heartbreaking. I wanted to do something about it, because I feel that something like this column is needed. How many scripts go uncommented on at DW? How many get comments that you can learn from? And that’s the point not just of the column, but of the site, itself. A place creators can go to learn and hone their craft.

      This is just the start. We have plans to do more and different things as the tribe grows. But at its core, this is what it’s about: creators helping creators make better comics.

      As for this script, it was decently interesting. There were its problems, but it’s something that can be overcome. I’m interested to see how the writer learns and grows after this.

      • Calvin Camp says:

        I just stumbled across this, and it’s darn nice to see it back.

        I had hoped my run with it (over on PFB) would be longer, but I guess I just didn’t have the same flair for it – after having no scripts to edit for something like six weeks, I figured it was time to let go. But I’ve always thought that The Proving Grounds was a really great thing. Too great to stay dead, apparently.

        • Calvin! Good to see you here!

          I don’t know if it was “too great to stay dead” or not, but I know that I’m happy to have it back.

          The real question is this: are you gonna submit? 😉

        • John Lees says:

          Hey Calvin!

          I was sorry to see your Proving Grounds have to close its doors. I don’t think you were to blame – you did a commendable job on it, and with an artist’s viewpoint brought a whole new perspective to the edits, going into detail with stuff like light sources and such that I found really useful.

          I hope you stick around here on ComixTribe. You could always be trusted to bring good insight and discussion into threads. And yes, like Steve says, submit something!

        • Calvin Camp says:

          Thanks, guys.

          As for submitting… probably at some point. I’m afraid I haven’t been doing much writing lately. Too much real life getting in the way. I really need to get back to it again, though.

  2. Ruiz Moreno says:

    I can tell I’m really going to enjoy this. Breakdowns of scripts with editor insight and proper techniques, I’ll be reading this every time there’s a new one. Thank you Steve and keep up the great work!

  3. Thanks Steven. I wrote that over a year ago, so hopefully I’ve improved since then, but I always liked that story and wanted to know what to focus on when I gave it the re-write.

    For the art, I always like to let the artist give their own interpretation, like John said. In the past I’ve had complaints that too much detail made the artist feel like they had too little say, so I guess I need to find the right balance. And for character description, I always do that separate to the script, getting the concept art ready before the interiors are started.

    But yeah, thanks for the help and I’ll definitely use your suggestions when I make a new draft of this.

    • Cool, David! Send it back in if you have a hankering to. I’m interested in seeing what decisions you made in a newer draft.

    • Tyler James says:

      David, thanks for volunteering your script for The Proving Grounds! Always tough having one’s work under the microscope, but we all benefit from it. Thanks for going first, and I look forward to seeing more from you!

  4. mike king says:

    I fear the red text…

  5. Mike King says:

    I will not sleep well tonight 😛
    Joking aside, I know it’s here to help, so I am not too worried…
    Plus since it’s the first script I’ve ever shown to anyone for feedback, I am eager to know what I have to improve on.
    I wont ever accomplish my goals if I hide my work away 😀

    • Exactly the right attitude to have!

      Showing your work, working on improving your craft, writing in order to get better… These are the things that will put you above the rest.

      John Lees: do you mind if I tell a story about you?

  6. John Lees says:

    As long as it’s not the story about those people I killed, by all means!

    • Thanks, John.

      Here’s a quick-ish story about John.

      He was working on a story that he wanted to submit. He wrote to me and asked me if he should just submit it now, or wait and read through the Bolts & Nuts articles I had posted at the time.

      What I told him was thoroughly unhelpful, but it forced him to make a decision as to what he wanted to do. It would also let me know how dedicated he was to his craft.

      I told him that it didn’t matter to me what he did, because I’d take the script either way. He could either read all the articles and then apply what he learned (if anything), or he could send it in the way it was.

      He took the bull by the horns and read everything that I wrote (bless his heart). He then applied what he’d learned to his script, and sent in something that I was pretty confused about, until I GOT it. Once I got it, I totally understood what he was going for, and I did something I don’t often do: I read the entire script.

      There were things to work on, of course, but he HAD me. He took what he learned, applied it, and he HAD me.

      This is what I’m talking about. Work to improve your craft, and do the writing in order to get better.

      It works. John’s proof of it.

      • John Lees says:

        Thanks for the kind words, Steven! In terms of helping with my scripting, reading Bolts & Nuts was invaluable, as was – I should point out – reading other people’s scripts on The Proving Grounds.

        • And this is the reason why I’m doing it, John. When it was first brought up by Sebastian, I was like, “Who the hell wants to read my thoughts on other people’s scripts? And who’s going to submit to it?”

          Then I ran the poll, and there was a decent response to it. And then scripts kept on coming. And they KEPT on coming. It seemed to be a hit! It ran for MUCH longer than I thought it would.

          And if we can get that same kind of response again HERE… I’m all for it.

          Why? Because I’m here to help.

  7. Ah ha, so this is where the Proving Ground is. I’m ready to be blooded and bloodied on January 21, 2011. I expect to see a lot of red ink, which should prove invaluable, insightful, and useful 🙂

    • James! Good to see you!

      Yes, this is where we’re at. I’ve had a chance to look at your script…

      And there are going to be LOTS of questions and lots of red! But it’s not a bad thing. Not at all.

      It’s going to be fun!

      Welcome aboard, and thank you!

      • Thanks Steven,

        I appreciate you taking the time to do this as I’ll be working on revisions in February so any comments, feedback, questions and criticisms will be welcome 🙂

        regards,

        James

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