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TPG Week 6: Pacing & Padding

| February 4, 2011 | 10 Comments
Hello, one and all! Welcome back to The Proving Grounds! This week brings us John Lees again. John’s brought us a Western tale, entitled The Hollow Men. There’s a lot of red here. Let’s see how it stands up in The Proving Grounds!

The Hollow Men
PAGE ONE (4 panels)

Panel 1.  We’re in a darkened house at night.  The exact setting and timeframe of this opening page in relation to the wider story should remain unclear at this stage, so right now we don’t get too wide a sense of our surroundings.  But the general period setting of the story would indicate that no architecture be more modern than 19th Century.  This particular panel is a POV shot from the perspective of somebody walking up a staircase.  It is an old-fashioned staircase, with wooden steps.  An ornate, hand-carved wooden banister runs alongside the left side of the staircase, while the right side is against a wall.  We’re about halfway up the stairway, and from our point of view we are looking up at the landing above.  Our light source is dim (our POV figure is holding an old gas lamp, here unseen) so we can’t see too far in front of us.  But beyond the landing is a doorway into a bedroom, with the wooden door – directly facing the top of the stairway – currently closed.  Whether or not we see that door in this panel is up to you.  (I like this setup. It could use some help, though. Since this is POV, we can get some sense of who’s POV it is. Male or female can be gleaned from a hand or something, and the oil lamp can possibly be seen, too. This will give the reader something to identify with. They’ll then know it’s from the person’s POV. And if you’re talking about a banister for the stairs, you’d probably do well to describe something of what can be seen through the rungs.)

Panel 2.  Another POV shot, but now we’re at the top of the stairway, in front of the wooden door.  The hand of our POV figure – wearing a black leather glove – is reaching out for the door’s handle. (Ah! Black gloved! No gleaning, then. Good! Other than putting that info in the first panel, I have nothing against this one.)

Panel 3.  Here we have a shot from the POV of a different character, one inside the bedroom.  The angle would suggest the perspective of someone sitting up in bed (maybe with the foot of the bed in the foreground) looking at the door at the far side of the room as it swings open.  Standing in the doorway is a shadowy figure, wearing a long coat and a cowboy hat.  They are holding the lamp at waist level, which might partly illuminate their clothing, but their face should remain completely in silhouette.   (I’m not the biggest fan of this panel. First, I think you’re switching personal POV’s too fast. The first two panels are from one individual, and then the third is from someone else’s? No. Instead of changing pov’s, why not just use a more omniscient view, which will then allow you to place the camera anywhere? You can go low, be close, pull away, and have all kinds of weird camera angles. Second, what kind of lamp are we talking about? Let the artist know, and then there won’t be any confusion or question asking when the Graeme McFreelancer goes to start drawing.)

SFX (door): EEEEEEEE…

Panel 4.  Medium shot of the shadowy figure in the doorway, their face still totally in silhouette. (See the shot you just called for? This would be the third point of view on this page. Too much switching up. You’ll confuse the reader.)

VOICE (O.P.): YOU’RE HERE TO KILL ME, AREN’T YOU?
(This stopped it from being a silent page. Kudos. Because I’ll tell you what, folks: I hates a silent opening page for a new series. As a writer, you have WAY too much work to do than to waste time and space in having a silent opening page. That goes doubly for silent opening splash pages. John pulled it out, which is good. I was a little worried.)

PAGE TWO (5 panels)

Panel 1.  Establishing shot of a Great Plains landscape on a sunny morning.  We’re somewhere around New Mexico now, so the geology is arid desert, perhaps with a mountain range in the distant background.  Running through the centre of this shot is a railroad, with a 19th century steam-powered locomotive running along it.  This is quite a high-angle shot, giving us a classical, romanticised view of the surroundings. (John, if you really loved your artist, you’d throw in some links or something to a pic of at least the locomotive. That’s first. Second, how long is the train? Third, are we talking passenger or is it cargo? Fourth, is it running north and south or east and west? Questions that bear answering.)

CAP: YEAR OF OUR LORD 1899.

CAP: NEW MEXICO.

Panel 2.  Interior establishing shot of a train carriage.  It is densely-packed, with many families and groups of people crowded into the seats, which run along the carriage in two rows.  Most of these people seem to be rural types, farmers and ranchers, and are dressed as such, with most also wearing light colors.  At one of the seats nearest the foreground of the panel is an old woman, leaning forward inquisitively towards the man sitting on the seat facing her.  From this angle we can’t see this man – William Phoenix – since he’s sitting with his back to us.  Here, we can only see the back of his head, and his jet black hair. (Interesting. I didn’t get a good visual of where to place the camera until we were pretty late in the panel. Not a mistake, per se, but interesting. However, I’m gonna hit you on the old lady. What is she wearing? And any other people that can be seen. Are you slapping your forehead right now?)

OLD LADY: I HAVE TO ASK, SON…

OLD LADY: THOSE SCARS, ON YOUR HANDS.  WHAT ARE THEY? (I both like and dislike that comma. I like the pause, but it looks a little weird. It’s not a mistake, because you want it to read a certain way, and I get that. I’m just torn about it.)

Panel 3.  An over-the-shoulder shot from behind Phoenix, as he holds out his hands – palms up – and looks down at them.  Running along the centre of each palm, in a rigidly straight horizontal line, is an old, hardened mass of scar tissue. (What’s he wearing?)

PHOENIX: OH, THESE?  I GOT THESE A LONG TIME AGO.  ANOTHER LIFE. (Cut the “oh.” I’d rather see the entire first sentence go, but I can live with the first word. The last sentence needs a little more kick, though.)

PHOENIX: I LIKE TO THINK OF THEM AS A REMINDER, OF BUSINESS THAT NEEDS ATTENDING. (There’s that comma again. That’s first. Second, if we’re talking about the Old West, then it needs to sound like the Old West. You’re doing okay with slowing it down some with the commas, but you also need to start carving syllables. This is the same problem with the Misty script.)

(more)

PAGE TWO (continued)

Panel 4.  Medium shot in profile of the old lady and William Phoenix, sitting across from each other.  The old lady is leaning forward, a concerned expression on her face.  We can get a clearer look at Phoenix now, and can see he’s a fresh-faced, clean-shaven young man in his late 20s.  He is very neatly dressed in a black tailored suit, with a black waistcoat underneath, and black polished shoes.  He should instantly stand apart from the others in the carriage, both in terms of wearing very dark clothes while everyone else is dressed in light clothes, and also being attired like someone from a city out east.  A black leather suitcase sits on the floor of the carriage by his feet.  Phoenix is sitting rigidly upright in his seat, hands still resting palms-up in his lap, a thin smile on his face. (See this? The bulk of this information should have been in the establishing shot for the carriage. Right here is two panels too late.)
OLD LADY: WELL, I DON’T KNOW WHAT BUSINESS A NICE YOUNG MAN LIKE YOU WOULD WANT TO SEEK OUT IN TOLLSTON’S HOLLOW.

PHOENIX: YOU’D BE SURPRISED, MA’AM.  A PLACE LIKE THAT CAN OFFER MANY AN OPPORTUNITY FOR AN ENTERPRISING MIND.

Panel 5.  Another exterior shot of the train.  This time, however, we are at a much lower angle than the establishing shot of Panel 1.  We’re at ground-level, looking up at the passing train from a worm’s-eye view.  In the foreground, on the desert ground in front of the railroad, a vulture is tugging at the entrails of a dead coyote.  In the train, meanwhile, we can see Phoenix looking out the window, a grim expression on his face.

PHOENIX: MAYBE I’M NOT SO NICE AFTER ALL. (This line comes too fast. You’re barely in the train before pulling back out to show it again? What for? I get that you’re going for a character moment, but it’s going by too fast. Looking ahead to P3, and I see you could cut this entire page and not hurt the integrity of the story. Know what that makes this page? Padding.)

PAGE THREE (4 panels)

Panel 1.  Long shot of William Phoenix standing at a train station platform, having just stepped off the train.  There is a sense of bustle all around him, with a crowd of people getting on and off the train, but he exudes a sense of stillness, standing rigidly upright, staring straight ahead with a blank expression on his face, suitcase clutched in his hand.  This, along with his dark attire, once again makes him feel like an odd one out.  In the background, we can see Charlie Gardner stepping off the train, looking down at Phoenix with a sense of curiosity.  Charlie is a scruffy, wild-haired boy in his late teens, dressed in a cowboy hat and duster coat that look too big for him. (You could have started P2 just about right here. Do an establishing shot of the train station from overhead, and then have this be panel 2. However, he has to be further away from the train in order for Charlie to get off in the background.)

Panel 2.  Medium shot of Charlie and Phoenix.  Charlie has an arm around Phoenix’s shoulder, and is shaking Phoenix hand with the other arm.  He has a big, friendly grin on his face.  Phoenix is returning the handshake and the smile, but his body language remains very tense.

CHARLIE: HEY, THERE!  DIDN’T EXPECT TO SEE NO CITY SLICKER LIKE YOU GET OFF AT THE HOLLOW! (Comma. And you have to work on your dialects.)

CHARLIE: NAME’S CHARLIE GARDNER.

PHOENIX: PHOENIX.  WILLIAM PHOENIX.

Panel 3.  Long shot of Charlie and Phoenix walking out of the station together.  Charlie is adjusting his hat on his head, while Phoenix casts him a sideways glance, a knowing smirk on his face.
CHARLIE: HERE WE ARE, HUH?  THE HOME OF ARTHUR DAGHAM, THE FAMOUS BOUNTY HUNTER!
CHARLIE: I’M HERE TO KILL ‘IM, Y’ KNOW.  DAGHAM. (Finally! Some dialect work! Too bad it looks inconsistent now.)

PHOENIX: ARE YOU, NOW?

(more)

PAGE THREE (continued)

Panel 4.  Medium shot of Charlie and Phoenix standing in the street.  Charlie is starting to walk away, but is looking over his shoulder at Phoenix, a big, dumb grin on his face.  Phoenix maintains a thin, robotic smile in response.
CHARLIE: AW, YEAH.  THEY SAY NOBODY CAN OUTGUN HIM, BUT I’M THE FASTEST SHOT THIS SIDE OF THE MISSISSIPPI.
CHARLIE: I PUT ‘IM DOWN, AND EVERYONE’S GONNA KNOW MY NAME.

PHOENIX: SO YOU TRAVELLED ALL THE WAY HERE JUST TO KILL SOMEBODY?

CHARLIE: HEH, HEH…

PAGES 4 & 5 (1 panel)

Panel 1.  A double-page spread, serving as an establishing shot of Tollston’s Hollow.  In the foreground, to the left of the frame, we can see William Phoenix looking out at the settlement, his back to us, and Charlie Gardner striding away from him, waving goodbye as he goes.  Now, as far as the town itself goes, I’m not going to get too specific in describing the layout of everything, as that’s your domain, and I want to give you some freedom in designing the look of the place.  But I figured I’d give you a basic sense of what I’d like included here, and the general effect I hope to convey.  The town centre here (if you can call Tollston’s Hollow a town) is just a collection of buildings, the ones you might expect to find in a Wild West settlement: the saloon, the general store, the sheriff’s office, the blacksmith’s, the undertaker’s, and anything else you think would fit.  There’s also a small schoolhouse placed awkwardly amidst these taller buildings, a withered tree planted next to it.  At the far end of this collection of buildings is the town hall.  All these buildings have in common a sense of decay and stagnation, as if they’ve seen better days.  They all seem like they might have been impressive structures in their time, but are now showing signs of disrepair.  The street (a dirt path rather than a road of any real description) is teeming with people of all sorts – some on foot, others on horseback – with a roughly 50/50 of whites and Hispanics. (And this is padding, too. There’s no need for this to take up two pages. I’d possibly give it half a page, and then keep it moving from there.)
CHARLIE: WELCOME TO TOLLSTON’S HOLLOW!
Title.  THE HOLLOW MEN………….. ACT I: A GHOST STORY

WRITTEN BY JOHN LEES

ART BY PIERRE DE VONDEVILLE

LETTERS BY OTTO VON FALAFFELBOTTOM

EDITED BY STEVEN FORBES

And that’s where I’m going to stop.

Let’s run this down.

Format: Perfect. ‘Nuff said.

Panel descriptions: I’m decently happy with the descriptions themselves. I’m not happy with the timing of the information presented, nor with some of the views called for. Also, there were times when you didn’t describe something you should have. Always remember to give the artist enough info to do their job.

Dialogue: I don’t get the sense of place from reading just the dialogue alone. No one really “sounds” southern/country/western. That’s a real problem, and causing you to lose half the battle. You have to sell it to your audience more than you are. You don’t have to go over the top with it, but you don’t have to be too subtle with it, either.

Content: Here’s where you get to be unhappy.

The first five pages of this were pretty uninteresting. You could have fit everything you have here in two pages, meaning you have 3 pages that aren’t doing  anything besides hanging out and doing nothing. That’s really a shame.

Here are questions you should ask yourself whenever you think about doing a double-page splash, folks: is it a powerful enough moment? what am I really trying to say here? is it coming across well? can I cut it and still have the same impact? can i cut it without hurting the integrity of the story?

With that two page spread, I can cut it, and not lose one iota of the story. That is padding in its most heinous form. Now, if this were something like Iron Man saving a busload of puppies from going over a bridge made of nitro, that would be cause for a double page spread. If there was something going on in the town that warranted it, I’d have no problem with it. As it stands, though, there is nothing going on that warrants the double-splash. The only good thing about it is that you went even-odd.

The other thing about the opening is that it wasn’t particularly gripping. There’s no real reason for anyone to keep reading. You haven’t given enough info for anyone to care. Here’s what you gave:

A person goes up to someone’s room. That “someone” believes the other is there to kill them.

A guy is on a train, and has scars on his hands. He’s going to attend to that bidnes. (Yes, I said bidness.)

Charlie is there to compete in a shootout.

That’s what we have in five pages. The big question is, “So?” You have the minor mystery on the first page, but that’s not enough to carry through the rest of your opening. You jumped from one scene to another, performing what I call a “fast cut”: you had a single page scene, and then left it before the reader could get comfortable. I’m not a fan of fast cuts, and definitely not for the opening of a book. (There are times when they’re warranted.)

Looking at this strictly from a “this is a beginning” point of view, I have to say that this is extremely weak. There are a lot of ways to put flesh on the bones of this first five pages. I suggest turning that first page into 3 pages, and then cut to the train. While you’re on the train, BE INTERESTING! Cut that double-splash down to half a page (a full page if totally necessary), and introduce Charlie just a tad earlier. Perhaps while being on the train.

And that concludes this week. See the calendar for who’s up next!

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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.

Comments (10)

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  1. John Lees says:

    YOU EGOTISTICAL MONSTER! GO BACK TO YOUR CAAAAVE!!!

    Ahem…

    I’m a wee bit disappointed the script didn’t go down well, but I can understand why, and it’s a problem I was worried about going in. The gun-fighting, horse-riding, actiony stuff doesn’t kick in until page 8. But all the things that comes before that – the opening sequence, Phoenix’s scars on page 2, Charlie Gardner on page 3, the set-up of the reputation and most prominent citizen of Tollston’s Hollow, and the stuff on pages 6 and 7 – are important plot points, largely required to be established upfront to give the subsequent action and plot developments context.

    So I found myself thinking, “I hope Steven makes it through that opening sequence and gets to the more dynamic part of the story, maybe then he’ll get an idea of where it’s going.” And that brings up the “interesting VS exciting” argument. How far can interest carry a reader before you need a bout of excitement to hook them? I tried to be interesting with the panel descriptions and character beats, but I was aware there was a lack of excitement until later on. As you touched on, perhaps the key is to make the “interesting” bit MORE “interesting”.

    The awareness that not much was happening as I tried to convey these “it’ll be important later” plot points was a big factor in the shortness of the opening scenes. There’s quite a bit of jumping around at first, but it does settle down after that – pages 6-7 and 11-15 are all a single scene, in a single setting.

    I’ll admit the double-page spread was probably too big an indulgence on my part. I’m not a fan of them myself, but here I felt it was necessary. See, the original plan was to make this a title page, which I always use a splash for. But with the amount of space I was asking the artist to cover, and the level of detail I was asking them to go into, I feared that the shape of a single page was too long and narrow to allow it to be drawn effectively without looking misshapen or crushed. Hence me widening it out from “portrait” to “landscape”, if you will, by making it a double. But you’re right. If hooking the reader in the early going is a big issue as it is, there’s an extraneous page I can cut right away. I’ll see how it works as a single page spread.

    You’re also right about the dialogue. In the time between submitting this and it being edited today, I’ve actually gone back and given the script a general once-over, trying to “authenticate” the dialogue a bit to make it sound more convincingly Old West. Watching a lot of “Deadwood” lately has helped a bit!

    Reading this back, I see the recurring point I keep on making is, “I do that later”. “Stuff happens later.” “I stop jumping around later.” “That is explained later.” But the problem is that, if a skim through the first couple of pages doesn’t grab the reader, then there isn’t going to be a later. And that’s possibly the biggest shortcoming with the script: it’s not until the last scene, arguably not even until literally the last page, that the point of the whole thing becomes clear, and the actual story of the series as a whole comes into view. I do the same thing with “The Standard #1”, but at least that has giant robots to keep people occupied in the intervening time.

    I designed “The Hollow Men” so that a second read with the knowledge of how it ends could be radically different to how it appears first time round, but I evidently need to do more to ensure a first read – put more “giant robots” in there to catch people’s eye, if you will.

    Thanks for the edit, Steven. It’s given me a sense of how I need to tighten up. If I could, I’d like to get in touch with you about possibly editing the rest of the script. I do believe in this story, and I want to work on it to convey what’s in my head better onto the page.

    • Heh…

      See, I only came out of the cave in order to throw this carcass back outside. Didn’t want it stinkin’ up the joint…

      (We’re kidding, folks! It’s called having fun. Loosen up some.)

      Anyway, the problem with the setup, John, is twofold:

      -the jumps in time are too big
      -it feels like a setup

      Those two things right there are going against you. The way it is, this will keep it on the shelf, instead of in a reader’s hands.

      Do things NOW. Why not give away a good part first, so that readers can get interested, but when the reasoning behind certain actions are revealed, they’ll then slap their head and go, “OHHH!” I believe you’re capable of that.

      And you know where to find me. (In the cave…)

    • Tyler James says:

      John it’s clear you’ve got something to work with here. I think Steven’s notes will help you push it further. I agree, there’s not enough of a hook to grab us by the short and curlies here. I too want that opening scene to go on just a bit longer.

      As for the DPS, one thing you might do is keep the spread aspect, but have it just be the top half of the two pages. That’ll get your widescreen establishing shot of the city that you’re looking for, with plenty of room for the title and credits. And then you still have room to put 4-5 panels on the bottom of the spread that can actually move the story along.

      As far as tone and dialect, definitely give the Cohen Bros. TRUE GRIT screenplay a thorough read. It’ll probably help you out there.

      Good luck!

  2. John Lees says:

    Thanks for the advice, Steve and Tyler. I definitely want to push it further if I can.

  3. Calvin Camp says:

    (Ah! Black gloved! No gleaning, then. Good! Other than putting that info in the first panel, I have nothing against this one.)

    — I still have something against it. A gloved hand is fine, but there’s still no indication of identity. Is the character a male or female? Is it a lacy, feminine glove or a weathered, leather work glove?

    And even if the artist reads ahead (which he shouldn’t have to do – skipping around to find all the information is a nuisance), there’s still nothing on this page to even tell the artist if the character is male or female.

    If this is a character that will be seen again, I would advise simply identifying the character and noting that they should hide the features from the reader. Hiding things from the reader is fine, but hiding them from the artist is just foolish.

    Second, what kind of lamp are we talking about?

    — Very good question. It was identified as a gas lamp earlier, but an oil lamp seems more likely for the period. That still leaves the question of what kind of lamp – a fancy glass-chimney household lamp? A metal lantern?

    Fourth, is it running north and south or east and west?

    — I’d be less concerned with the compass direction than whether the train should be coming toward the camera or heading away, or going across the page in profile. There’s really nothing here to set up the shot with.

    Second, if we’re talking about the Old West, then it needs to sound like the Old West.

    — Hmm. Maybe. Personally, I’d need to know more about the character before I made that call. Not everyone in the Old West would speak like poorly-educated rural folk – maybe this guy is a relocated Harvard grad. I think the speech patterns should match the characters. If it does, and the characters fit the setting (or obviously don’t fit, like Pheonix), then the setting should sell itself.

    As an aside of no import: Lady’s a nosy old bitty, ain’t she? 🙂

    Panel 4.  Medium shot in profile of the old lady and William Phoenix, sitting across from each other.  The old lady is leaning forward, a concerned expression on her face.  We can get a clearer look at Phoenix now, [snip]

    — Yeah, like Steven said… This should have come earlier. I think a character should be described completely at their first appearance, even if not every detail will be seen in that particular shot – it saves that skipping around looking for descriptions.

    But now, having seen it, I’m entirely convinced that this back-east aristocrat isn’t going to talk like a hick cowboy. Which is, of course, not to say everyone else shouldn’t.

    (This line comes too fast. You’re barely in the train before pulling back out to show it again? What for? I get that you’re going for a character moment, but it’s going by too fast. Looking ahead to P3, and I see you could cut this entire page and not hurt the integrity of the story. Know what that makes this page? Padding.)

    — I’m with Steven on the padding. I also have to ask myself why the line (too early or not) is there at all. Why is the polite young man telling the nosy lady that he’s not nice? That doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. And nothing else in the conversation seems to have any real importance.

    So the guy has scars. What of it? We aren’t told anything about them, and we don’t even see much of a reaction, so it doesn’t really mean anything yet.

    So he’s nattily dressed compared to those around him. We can see that anywhere.

    So he’s going to Tollston’s Hollow. You could show that with some signage at the station platform on the next page. Or with Charlie’s dialogue.

    CHARLIE: I’M HERE TO KILL ‘IM, Y’ KNOW.  DAGHAM. (Finally! Some dialect work! Too bad it looks inconsistent now.)
    PHOENIX: ARE YOU, NOW?

    — Oh, come on. I know this is the lawless wild west, but folks just walking up to a complete stranger, acting like they’re old buddies, and confiding that they’re planning a killing… I’m finding that a little hard to swallow. I guess I can write Charlie off as too stupid to live, and keep going, but it does put me off the story a bit. Maybe if there was more set-up – Charlie and Pheonix talking on the train maybe? Something more than, “Hey, how ya doin? I’m gonna kill a guy!”

    And, personally, I’m not too sure about the dialect stuff. The shortened, apostrophe’d words (‘im, etc) can become a pain to read awfully fast. The contractions (like y’know or gonna) are fine, but outside of those, I’d be more inclined to work on the speech patterns and word choice than start randomly chopping letters off words. If you do chop letters off, I suggest not using apostrophe’s (even if using apostrophes is “correct”) as they’re distracting and make it harder to read. “I’m fixin ta do me some killin,” rather than “I’m fixin’ t’ do me some killin’.” But maybe that’s just me.

    The other thing about the opening is that it wasn’t particularly gripping. There’s no real reason for anyone to keep reading. You haven’t given enough info for anyone to care. Here’s what you gave:
    A person goes up to someone’s room. That “someone” believes the other is there to kill them.

    — The first page had some decent story. I kind of liked the first page. The only thing I didn’t like was all the POV stuff. It sucked all the drama out of it.

    I’d liked to have seen something more like a side or ¾ rear shot of the guy (I’m assuming it was a guy) going up the stairs. Have him holding the lamp/lantern on the wall side, so it keeps him in silhouette. An over-the-shoulder shot of him outside the room, opening the door. Then a ¾ rear shot from behind the guy in the bed showing lamp-guy coming in the door. Then a nice close-up or medium shot showing the bed-guy’s fear. And close with the medium shot of the guy with the lamp, now inside the room, with the OP, “YOU’RE HERE TO KILL ME, AREN’T YOU? (Or, “You’re here ta kill me, ain’t ya?” if you want the dialect). Course, at’s jest how ah’d do her, y’know?

    Dern it, now ah can’t stop writin in dialect.

    A guy is on a train, and has scars on his hands. He’s going to attend to that bidnes. (Yes, I said bidness.)

    — “I’m’a here tendin to some bidness?”

  4. Calvin Camp says:

    Darn, I miss the ability to edit posts and set text colors, from the old TPG. 🙁

    Anyway…

    Phoenix’s scars on page 2, Charlie Gardner on page 3, the set-up of the reputation and most prominent citizen of Tollston’s Hollow, and the stuff on pages 6 and 7 – are important plot points, largely required to be established upfront to give the subsequent action and plot developments context.

    — Sure, but you could have established all that in a page or two. That’s the problem.

    My advice: Skip the old lady. Have charlie and Pheonix on the train together in that scene. Have Charlie be nosy about the scars. Have Charlie be nosy about Pheonix’s business. That gives an excuse for Charlie to be too sharing (Yeah, well, I got me some bidness in Tollston’s Holler, too. I’m fixen ta kill a man. Ya’ll ever heard ah Dagham, the famous bounty hunter?)

    How far can interest carry a reader before you need a bout of excitement to hook them?

    — Interest will carry a reader anywhere. You can have a whole comic that isn’t exciting (in the gun-fighting, giant robots sense), if it’s consistently interesting. But most of this wasn’t interesting, because you didn’t make it interesting. So it just an info-dump.

    “it’ll be important later”

    — It doesn’t matter if it’s important later. If you’re going to show it now, it needs to be important NOW. We don’t need to know why it’s important, we just need to know that it is. “Oh, these scars? Just a reminder of some old business,” doesn’t cut it. If you want us to know those scars mean something, you need to show us that the MEANS SOMETHING to the character. And If you want to drop a bomb like, “I’m here to shoot it out with a famous bounty hunter,” you need some build-up, not just, “Hi, I’m a killer. HyukHyuk.” You’ve got to give the stuff some impact.

    There’s quite a bit of jumping around at first, but it does settle down after that – pages 6-7 and 11-15 are all a single scene, in a single setting.

    — Pages 6-7 and 11-15 don’t matter when you’re reading the first five pages. But, still… the fast cut could work if you went from, “You’re here to kill me, aren’t you?” on page one to Charlie talking about killing someone on page two. Now there’s at least a recurring theme to tie the two together (and the reader is wondering if the guy with the lamp is Charlie – so now you’ve given the reader something to read further to find out).

    I’ll see how it works as a single page spread.

    — A single page spread is too much, too. It’s nothing but an establishing shot. Steven is dead on about the half-page layout – it’ll give you the same wide, panoramic shot as the double-page spread would. And, as there’s not that much you really need to show, beyond general “run-down old west town” flavor, you could still fit the title in if you wanted to. But… if you absolutely “have” to have a huge panel for that shot, you might consider treating the double-page as a single page – spread the town panoramic across the upper half of both pages and run additional panels across both pages below it.

    I evidently need to do more to ensure a first read – put more “giant robots” in there to catch people’s eye, if you will.

    — Nah, you don’t need more giant robots (metaphorical, or otherwise), you just need to convince us of the importance of what you’re showing us with some better story-telling. It can’t seem important to us, if it doesn’t seem important to the characters.

  5. John Lees says:

    Thanks for the contribution, Calvin.

    Once again, you note a lot of visual stuff from an artist’s perspective that I overlooked. Things like specifying a certain brand of old-style lamp, or that the train is travelling in profile across the page rather than driving straight towards us, these are the kind of things I had in my head as given – “how else would you draw it?” – but it’s always best to specify.

    I do stand by the lack of identification of the mystery assailant on the first page, however. I think the whole “is it a lady’s leather glove or is it a male worker’s leather glove?” is just being facetious: if you say “all that can be seen is a black leather glove,” then the vast majority of artists would read that as just a BLACK LEATHER GLOVE, not a frilly ladies’ glove with flowers sprinkled on it.

    I do agree that the artist is not the reader, and you shouldn’t keep stuff that they need to know from them. On that front, I do need to alter when I insert costume descriptions and the like here. But if the script specifically notifies that there should be no indication of this person’s identity, male or female, and all we see is a black leather glove, then there’s no reason there to share the character’s identity in the panel descriptions.

    I think I’ll take that idea of replacing the old lady with Charlie Gardner on the train. The old lady never appears again, Charlie does: so this can give him a bit more panel-time. And this way it’s less of a jump and more of a continuation of a single scene, having the conversation carry over. I can still mention the scars, and have Charlie talk about his reasons for going to The Hollow, and the conversation has more room to breathe rather than being a one-page info dump.

    As for your comment about how Charlie would have to be a total idiot wiith no sense of what he’s doing to walk around saying he’s going to kill Dagham… well, in his next appearance it’s established that he IS a total idiot with no sense of what he’s doing.

    As for the scars and them not coming across as important enough, I disagree with your stance. While yes, Tyler and Steve are right that there needs to be more of a hook for readers, at the same time I think you have to have some respect for their intelligence and ability to remember something rather than spoonfeeding them. I put that conversation-opener in there, and it’s almost an offhand remark (no pun intended), with the first shot we see of Phoenix being of his scarred hands more than enough of an abandonment of subtlety for my tastes. I think that makes it clear enough the scars are notable, so that later in the story when the matter resurfaces it’ll have impact, without needing to have Phoenix burst into tears at their mention and immediately go on a big monologue about how he got the scars to batter people over the head with how IMPORTANT they are IMMEDIATELY before they forget about it.

    I think that’s a bit of a contradiction there, where Charlie is being too forthcoming about his motivations and purpose in the story, whereas Phoenix isn’t being forthcoming enough. I think it’s something addressed in that certain characters are more likely to be forthcoming about things than others, regardless of the importance of those things. If I can do more to indicate that Phoenix is a character who plays things close to the chest, and that Charlie is a character prone to speaking before he thinks, that would be more of an improvement than having them tell us more/less respectively.

    But thanks for the feedback, Calvin. You’ve given me some ideas for adjustments and improvements I can make come redrafting time.

    • Calvin Camp says:

      “how else would you draw it?”

      –Asking that question will get you in trouble. There is ALWAYS another way to draw it than the way you might have envisioned. Now sometimes you might not have envisioned anything in particular and don’t care – you want to leave it entirely up to the artist. That’s okay, I guess. But if you have envisioned something specific, and didn’t describe it, then you’re setting yourself up for a surprise (and possibly disappointment) when you get back someone else’s vision.

      “I do stand by the lack of identification of the mystery assailant on the first page, however. I think the whole “is it a lady’s leather glove or is it a male worker’s leather glove?” is just being facetious: if you say “all that can be seen is a black leather glove,” then the vast majority of artists would read that as just a BLACK LEATHER GLOVE, not a frilly ladies’ glove with flowers sprinkled on it.”

      –I wasn’t being facetious at all. I was pointing out (what I thought was) an opportunity. A lace glove (or slender hand clad in close-fitting leather if you prefer) would have been a clue that the character was female. A chunky hand in a work glove would more likely suggest a male. Honestly, I didn’t really care about the glove except as an opportunity to establish some level of identify – male or female. And I do think you need to specify the sex. If the reader can’t tell whether the silhouette is male or female, in a medium shot, it’s not a silhouette; it’s a shapeless blob. And yes, I know the person is in a long coat, but still – general build, shape of the face & neck, style of hair… there’s too many telling clues you’re just hand-waving away. Personally I think even trying to show the hand without specifying the sex of the person it’s attached to is a cop-out. Could an artist draw a completely androgynous figure? Sure. But what happens when that conflicts with the revealed character later?

      “But if the script specifically notifies that there should be no indication of this person’s identity, male or female, and all we see is a black leather glove, then there’s no reason there to share the character’s identity in the panel descriptions.”

      Two things…

      1) You didn’t specify that we couldn’t tell whether the person was male or female. You didn’t mention it at all. You simply said the person was in silhouette and we couldn’t see their face. If you had called for an androgynous figure, we wouldn’t be debating whether you should have specified a male or female in the first place, because you would have addressed the question and the artist wouldn’t have to wonder what you wanted.

      2) There’s a very good reason to identify the character to the artist. If he knows who it is, he can make the person’s general build and shape match that character, so when you reveal who it was later, it’s believable that it was that person. If the artist has no clue who it is (and the artist doesn’t read far enough ahead to figure it out on his own), you could end up with a silhouette that looks like someone else entirely.

      “As for your comment about how Charlie would have to be a total idiot wiith no sense of what he’s doing to walk around saying he’s going to kill Dagham… well, in his next appearance it’s established that he IS a total idiot with no sense of what he’s doing.”

      Well, I have no problem with Charlie being stupid. I probably didn’t explain myself well. I think what bothered me was not actually that he would tell someone what he was there for (which is dumb, but might be believable in the right circumstances), but rather the abrupt way he just ran up to Phoenix and blurted out his plans – it wasn’t believable for me. If it came up as part of an ongoing conversation, it probably wouldn’t have seemed so strange.

      “As for the scars and them not coming across as important enough, I disagree with your stance. While yes, Tyler and Steve are right that there needs to be more of a hook for readers, at the same time I think you have to have some respect for their intelligence and ability to remember something rather than spoonfeeding them. I put that conversation-opener in there, and it’s almost an offhand remark (no pun intended), with the first shot we see of Phoenix being of his scarred hands more than enough of an abandonment of subtlety for my tastes. I think that makes it clear enough the scars are notable, so that later in the story when the matter resurfaces it’ll have impact, without needing to have Phoenix burst into tears at their mention and immediately go on a big monologue about how he got the scars to batter people over the head with how IMPORTANT they are IMMEDIATELY before they forget about it.”

      –Who said anything about bursting into tears and giving a monologue? You’re twisting my comments here. I said you have to give us reason to think the information is important to the characters if you want the information to feel important to the reader. It’s got nothing to do with spoon-feeding the reader so they don’t forget, it’s about making them give a crap. Why should the reader care about the scars if Phoenix doesn’t (and there’s nothing to indicate he does)? That doesn’t mean he needs to freak out – an irritated frown, a shifty expression and some evasive dialogue, a sudden change from polite conversation to dismissive rudeness, an expressive silent beat between the question and answer, a refusal to comment on the scars at all – it could be almost anything. But right now there’s nothing but a casual mention of “business” – they could be talking about the weather. I’m sure you meant the exchange to be meaningful, but it’s not carrying through that way.

      Oddly enough, if you’d shown the scars, visually, without drawing attention to them by having a conversation about them, I’d have been okay with that. It would have been a clear message of, “Look at this. But I’m not going to tell you anything about it.” That’ll have me wondering what’s up with those. But the way you did it, made it seem important to a nosy old lady (for no reason other than her being nosy) and relatively unimportant to the guy who had them (because he had no reaction beyond a polite response). It basically said, “Look at this. The character doesn’t care about it, but you should because I said so.” It was pure exposition – too much, “I’m giving you information about the story,” rather than just presenting the story itself.

      It’s hard to explain (and not easy to write) but it’s important that, when you’re giving the reader information, the information flows naturally as part of the story and doesn’t just seem like information presented solely for the benefit of the reader. Because Pheonix has no reaction to it, the thing with the scars seems like information presented solely for the reader – “You should care about this because I showed it to you, not because anyone else does.” Am I making ANY sense, yet?

      “I think that’s a bit of a contradiction there, where Charlie is being too forthcoming about his motivations and purpose in the story, whereas Phoenix isn’t being forthcoming enough.”

      –There’s no contradiction. As I mentioned above, Phoenix doesn’t have to TELL us anything at all. He just needs to react in some way the reader can see. He can be as close-to-the-chest as you want him to be. We don’t need a life story from him, when the scars are brought up, just some sort of reaction that shows they have some importance to him and his story.

      “But thanks for the feedback, Calvin. You’ve given me some ideas for adjustments and improvements I can make come redrafting time. “
      You’re welcome. I’m glad at least some of it could help.

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