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TPG Week 12: Dialogue Has To Make Sense

| March 18, 2011 | 4 Comments

Welcome back to another installment of The Proving Grounds!  This week’s Brave One is Marcus Thompson, who brings us the story of Phoenix! Let’s see how he does!

Page 1 (six panels)

Panel 1
A half moon hangs in the night sky over a wide alley between two large brick buildings.

No dialogue

Caption: Solemn Dove City (Okay. Which is it? No dialogue, or a caption? By “dialogue,” I’m assuming you mean “copy.” All text that you can read in a book is called “copy,” and comics are no different in this respect. For my purposes–see the B&N on Dialogue–everything you can read is dialogue/copy. Now, if you don’t want to have any spoken dialogue, you don’t have to say “No dialogue.” You just leave it the way it is, and keep on moving with your caption. It’s just faster and isn’t redundant. However, if you don’t want any text in the panel at all, put “No Copy.”  Make up my mind for me.)

SFX:
Baaang!  Baaangg! (If these are gunshots, they are VERY slow.)

Panel 2
A panicked young African American man, about 18 years old, runs down the alley.  His brown skin is bruised and the corner of his mouth is running with fresh blood. He wears an open plaid button-up shirt with a bloodstained white t-shirt showing and torn black designer jeans and sneakers.  His hair is braided.  He clutches a cell phone in his right hand.  Two bullets fly past; one narrowly missing his shoulder and the other hitting the wall, close to his head.  This young man is ROWAN PHOENIX. (If this is the main character, you can get rid of most of the description.)

ROWAN PHOENIX:
Ha…. Ha… (panting) (This isn’t wrong. This just sounds strange to me. More like a slow laugh than panting. Personally, I’d go with more of a pant sound. Huh… (gasp) huh… Like that. Like I said, it isn’t wrong. Just my personal preference.)

SFX:
Ping!  Pssshoww! (Okay. What’s the first sound effect for? I get the second one. That’s the ricochet. But the first?)

Panel 3
The young man is still running and looks over his shoulder at the four men pursuing him.  The figures are silhouetted in the dim light of the alley and they are at a fair distance from their quarry but they are obviously larger men with guns.  The light from one discharging weapon is seen down the alleyway in the center of the small group.

THUG 1:
Get ‘em! Get ‘em before he makes it across the next street! (Where is the speaker? If you gave the info in the panel description, I wouldn’t have to ask. That’s first. Second, the ” ’em” gives a sense of there being more than one, because it sounds like you shortened “them.” The more correct term would be ” ‘im,” which is the shortened version of “him.”)

Panel 4
The young man is now facing straight ahead where an open street is has come into view with light flooding the end of the alleyway; apparently headlights of an oncoming vehicle. (Where is the camera supposed to be? Is it headlights from a car, or isn’t it? The artist is going to need to know how many points of light to have.)

No dialogue

SFX:
Hrrrrrooomm

Panel 5
A long burgundy car comes to a screeching to a halt directly in front of the alley as the young man approaches. (What? I think my head just ‘sploded. Time to pick on someone new: Kyle Raios. You’ve been studying. Why did my head just explode?)

No Dialogue

SFX:
Scccreeeech!

Panel 6
The passenger side door pops open.  A handsome, slightly older black man (early 20s) is seen at the wheel inside the vehicle, leaning over passenger’s seat and beckoning the other young man forward.  This man wears a red jacket and blue jeans, his hair is cut low but he shares some resemblance to the young man being pursued.  The driver is JOSIAH ANASTAS PHOENIX. (Something of a moving panel. Calvin?)

JOSIAH PHOENIX:
Hurry! Get in!

Page 2 (six panels) (Page break.)

Panel 1
Rowan ducks into the car pulling the door closed behind him.  Bullets bounce off of the top of the door and off of the rear door and hood.

No dialogue

SFX:
Ping! Punk! Ping!

Panel 2
Rowan’s pursuers come into view, running to the end of the alley and still firing as the car speeds off.  The four men can now be seen more clearly.  All of them wear dark suits and carry variant automatic and semiautomatic pistols. (Moving panel. This is a still image, not film. What is the still image here? And do you know what I hates? I hates people with guns who don’t know how to shoot them. Now, if all of them are carrying guns, and all of them have been shooting at the guy, then they are terrible shots. At least 4 guns, and he may have gotten hit only once, before we see him. If they don’t know how to shoot, they should put them down. Okay, rant over. Now, if they’re dressed in suits, that should have been brought up the first time we saw them in silhouette.)

No dialogue

SFX:
Vrrroooom!

Panel 3
The four men are now standing in the middle of the street, watching the red lights from the car’s taillights fade off into the night.  The two men standing at the head of the group are glaring sideways at each other.  All four men appear to be strong in stature and broad shouldered.  The largest man at the rear of the group is bronzed skinned with a thick connecting beard and mustache.  His face is more rounded than the others, his eyes are dark and his braided dark hair is tied back.

THUG 1: Where’d you learn how to shoot?!

THUG 2: From icing punks like you!  Obviously, you missed too! (I have no idea who these people are who are talking. That’s because you failed to label them in the panel descriptions.)

Panel 4

The larger man, named ARMAND, is pulling a cell phone from his inner suit jacket pocket.  His eyes glower ahead and his brow is creased into a deep frown.  His finger is still set on the trigger of his automatic pistol, which rests in his hand hanging at his side.

ARMAND:  Shut up!  The both of you!

Panel 5

Armand now has the phone pressed to his ear.  His face still twisted with annoyance and rage.

ARMAND:  Sir, the scab got away, but we’ll continue our pursuit shor— (Comma.)

Panel 6

The other three men are facing the larger man, Armand, who appears to be the leader of the group as he speaks on the phone.  A blinking street lamp is seen hanging from above casting an odd glare on the men in the street below. (Somebody. Please.)

VOICE ON THE PHONE:  Don’t bother, Armand.  Return to me.  I’ll deal with Phoenix myself. (This line of dialogue reminds me of a bad 80s movie. This will need to be rewritten.)

Page 3 (five panels) (Page break.)

Panel 1
Josiah’s burgundy car is seen making a sharp turn, speeding around a street corner.  The streets appear empty.  Only the light from the street lamps and shadows from the windows of the passing structures may be seen. (Kinder. Gentler. See, Jamie? Because this caused my head to explode again. Here’s the problem, Marcus: this is prose writing, not comic scripting. You went and changed camera angles. The first has us outside the car, looking at it. The next has us inside the car, looking out. You have to stay consistent.)

JOSIAH (from within the vehicle):
What were you thinking, Rowan?!

SFX:
Scrrreeeeiiik!

Panel 2
Josiah is at the wheel with his eyes straight ahead, clearly annoyed.  Rowan sits on the passenger’s side.  His arms are folded across his chest and his jaw is clenched, mirroring his brother’s annoyance. (I take it the camera is on the hood of the car.)

JOSIAH:
What did you think you were going to accomplish by going to those guys on your own?

ROWAN:
I was thinking I would go directly to the man himself and tell him I was done working for him…  It’s not like you would have been there to hold my hand, anyway…  (Comma. And like I said in the Dialogue B&N, I’m not a fan of italics in dialogue. I prefer underlining. But that’s just me. But, here’s the thing: if Rowan’s jaw is clenched, how can he talk?)

Panel 3

Josiah now has his head turned toward his brother, slightly angrier.  Copy Panel 2. (What does that mean? Copy panel 2?)

ROWAN:
You’re too busy sitting on your knees at that church! (Can you really sit on your knees? Isn’t that physically impossible?)

JOSIAH:
Well, with Mom gone and Dad never around, God is the only one looking out for us!

ROWAN:
It should be you looking out for us!!  And if there were a God, then Mom would still be alive!

Panel 4
The tires of the vehicle are shown coming to sudden halt. (Are they really far enough away and feeling safe in order to stop and argue? I’m not seeing that.)

No dialogue

SFX:
Ssssccreeeeeech!

Panel 5
Josiah is glaring and screaming right into his brother’s face now and gripping the collar of his white t-shirt with one hand.  Rowan stares back defiantly but shows no sign of moving to defend himself. (Think dramatically. Where should the camera be?)

JOSIAH:
You shut up right now!  If Mom could hear you talking like this…

ROWAN:
Mom is dead and I made good on my word to leave the streets tonight, but what about you?

Page 4 (six panels) (page break)

Panel 1
A close-up of Rowan’s angered face now as he looks into his brother’s eyes, matching his rage.

ROWAN:
You try to make yourself look like a saint, but the only thing you want in that church is the pastor’s daughter! (Comma.)

Panel 2
Josiah’s brown eyes are burning now with an orange light.  Small flames are sprouting on the hand that grips his brother’s shirt (Interesting. And the good news is that you got here by P4. I was getting bored.)

JOSIAH:
I said SHUT UP!  You don’t know anything! That’s why you’re a blasphemous fool who almost got killed tonight!

Panel 3
Rowan stares down at the flames that have now enveloped his brother’s hand like a gauntlet but appear to not even burn his own skin or clothes.  He seems a bit more resigned but still angry. (In order to get what you want, this almost has to be a POV shot, but doing a POV would be wrong here. It would need to go lower. It’s just very tight in the car.)

ROWAN:
So what? Are you going to be the one to finish it then?

Panel 4
Copy Panel 3.  Rowan has fixed his gaze back on his brother’s face. (Again, what does that mean? Because if you’re copying the panel, you can’t ask for changes.)

ROWAN:
You’ve always been scared to use those powers before, but now you’re going to use them on the only family you have left,? Tthat you promised to protect? (It works better if you break it up into two questions.)

Panel 5
The flames around Josiah’s hand have receded to small sparks now.  The glare in his eyes has faded and he appears more irritated than infuriated now.  He shoves his brother back into his seat. (Moving panel. What’s the still image here?)

JOSIAH:
Just because I’m cursed doesn’t make me a monster.  And I’m your keeper, you idiot, not your executioner…

SFX:
Fwwoosh (Wait. Where did this SXF come from? It wasn’t in the previous panel.)

Panel 6
The car is shown driving off again, leaving the empty street behind. (I’m thinking there is a better way to move the story forward than with this silent panel. As it stands, this is something you’d see in a mediocre movie.)

Page 5 (five panels) (page break)

Panel 1
Midnight.  The outside of a one-story tan house is shown.  It is surrounded by trees on either side.  Only the single door, two windows and a small porch can be seen. (Where are we? Suburb? City? Kandor? This is not a good establishing shot. The location will say a lot about the kind of building it is.)

Caption:
The Phoenix Residence (This is not a mistake. You’re making a conscious decision to not have ending punctuation for your place-setting captions. I like it.)

ROWAN (OP, from within the house):  If you’d been with me when I called you the first time, you could have used your powers to help me before those guys tried to kick my face in. (This is not off panel dialogue. This is dialogue that is coming from inside the house. If this was OP, then that means that the camera just can’t see him, and if we shifted it some, we would. That isn’t the case here. See Part 2 of the Dialogue B&N. That’s first. Second, his dialogue again doesn‘t make sense. Nothing before the comma makes sense. )

Panel 2
Josiah stands at the center of a living room with a duffle bag hanging over one shoulder.  He is looking off down a hallway.  The only light in the hallway comes from a single open doorway off to the side (which side?).  The living room is barely decorated, mostly just pictures hanging on the walls.  A single couch sits up against the wall behind Josiah.  A small table with a few framed pictures sits right beside the couch.  A large television is positioned across the room directly across from the couch. (I applaud the effort, but I can’t see this. I don’t know where any thing or any person is positioned. You didn’t give any direction about left, right, up or down. Not good. Throw the artist a bone.)

JOSIAH:
We’ve been through this a million times before.  These powers can’t help anyone, Ro.  I can barely create a large enough flame, let alone control it. You might as well drop it. (Large enough for what? To light a match? Start a small kitchen fire? Reach escape velocity? What?)

Panel 3
Rowan stands in front of a bathroom sink looking into the mirror above it as he tends to the cuts on his face with a cotton ball. (Where’s the camera? Is Rowan in profile? Or is the camera behind him, allowing us to see his face? If in profile, is it a low, medium, or high angle shot? Either way, what does his expression say? How big is the bathroom? Lots of questions, and you didn’t provide any answers.)

ROWAN:
You could have roasted them before they had the chance to go Wild West and ape crazy on my a—

JOSIAH (off-panel):
Hurry up so we can get out of here before they catch up to us!  I’m sure they already know where we live.(Period, not an ellipse. You want a hard stop.)

Panel 4
Josiah still stands in the middle of the living room.  His hands are clenched into fists as he stares across the room at a one of the pictures on the small table near the couch.

JOSIAH (thought):
Even if I did use my powers just to fight I wouldn’t be any better than the trash that runs the streets of Solemn Dove now…(There’s this thing I have about though balloons. I don’t like it when they appear out of nowhere. This appears out of nowhere. And I took a look. Except for the next panel, this is the only place where you have thought balloons. Not good. If you’re going to do it, you have to do it. It’s like an internal monologue. I see writers start them at the beginning of their stories all the time, but then they don’t follow through with them throughout the entire tale. I see a few places within just these few pages that you could have used it to better effect. That’s first. Second, I’m not feeling this dialogue. Again, it’s not making much sense. Third, the name Solemn Dove sounds even more forced than Dakota. I’ve always liked the Milestone Universe, but always HATED the name Dakota.)

Panel 5
The picture that Josiah stares at is shown on the polished wood table top.  In the picture a beautiful black woman with long dark hair tied into a bun, Josiah’s mother, stands smiling with her arms around two grinning boys, the young Josiah and Rowan. (Decent, but you didn’t go far enough. First, I take it this is from Josiah’s POV. Second, where was the picture taken? You described the picture, but not the background of it. Pictures are taken somewhere, so where is this?)

JOSIAH (OP, thought):
But you always told me that it was okay to fight for something, as long as it was true to who I was… I just don’t know, though… (This is one of the few, heartfelt pieces of dialogue I’ve seen so far. Nice. It didn’t feel forced, and it didn’t feel like it was just taking up space. I like it.)

And that’s where I’m going to stop.

Let’s run it down.

Format: Not too bad! The biggest thing are the page breaks. Small tweak. Everything else can be sussed out by the creative team. Remember, though, that format is the easiest part of scripting. It can be nearly anything, as long as you stay consistent. This was consistent. Good work. Just remember the page breaks.

Panel Descriptions: I had a problem with these. You’re not doing one thing, which is leading directly to another thing: you’re not seeing this well in your head, which is causing you to not put down what you’re seeing, which will force the artist to do a hell of a lot more work than they should. The letterer may have some trouble, too, because your panel descriptions aren’t clear. I don’t mean that you have to add a billion words to your panel descriptions in order to get across your meaning. What I’m saying is that you have to give enough information for the artist to begin to see what you’re seeing. You’re not doing that here.

Dialogue: Even though words aren’t necessary to tell a story in comics, when you put them in, you have to be conscious of the fact that it is the words that are taking your readers along. They serve to illuminate the story more than the pictures do.

There are times when the words you use don’t make a lot of sense. They may seem that way on the surface, but when you get down to the actual meaning of what was said, you’re going to leave your readers scratching their heads in wonder. You do it a few times, which isn’t good at all.

An interesting premise and great art will sell your book, but the dialogue (which is part of your storytelling ability) will get your book talked about and keep readers coming back. Right now, you’re giving them reason to make sure they don’t pick up another book by you. Don’t do that. Make sure your dialogue makes sense.

And learn punctuation in your dialogue.

Pacing: I don’t have an issue with the pacing here. You started out with a chase scene, which will gain a reader’s attention. You started late, which is always a good thing. I’d more than likely cut the scene here, though.

Content: If this were realized well with some good art, I’d be interested in reading this. At least the first issue, to see if the story was worth following. (This is the reason why the first issue of comics generally sell so high, folks. People try it out, and then if they don’t like something, they don’t get the second issue. This is why the second issue drops so much in sales. If you don’t knock ‘em out in the first issue, there’s little reason to come back for the second.) From an editorial view, this needs help. From a reader’s pov, I’m faintly interested. Personally, I’m a sucker for characterization, and this seems like it should be full of what I like.

Anyway, that’s all I have for this week. Check the calendar to see who’s 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 (4)

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  1. Ruiz Moreno says:

    Since I want to be more of a participant I’m going to take a shot at the open one asked.

    “Panel 6

    The other three men are facing the larger man, Armand, who appears to be the leader of the group as he speaks on the phone. A blinking street lamp is seen hanging from above casting an odd glare on the men in the street below. (Somebody. Please.)”

    My take immediately goes to the blinking street lamp. That can’t be conveyed in one panel. That’s a moving panel and from what I’ve learned we have to think in static panels. Have the street lamp on so you can properly display the odd glare from the three men to Armand. I would probably also go with a curious stare from the trio. I don’t think “odd” conveys enough information to the artist. I think since this is the script it should be established that Armand is the leader, no need for him to appear to be. That tidbit doesn’t really help anything out. Of course, where is the camera placed for this shot? I would imagine a medium shot shown from behind the three men with their heads turned to the right as to display their curious stare looking to Armand.

    So yeah, there’s my two cents! Steven? 🙂

    • That’s the way to do it, Ruiz. Want to be more of a participant? Participate!

      And you’re dead-on about what I was calling out! Good work with that, and the follow up questions you asked!

  2. Kyle Raios says:

    Panel 5
    A long burgundy car comes to a screeching to a halt directly in front of the alley as the young man approaches. (What? I think my head just ‘sploded. Time to pick on someone new: Kyle Raios. You’ve been studying. Why did my head just explode?)

    Well, I’ll give it my best shot.
    Where’s the camera positioned that will show both this guy approaching and the car coming to a screeching halt? I would guess the best position would be a “back of head” shot (Getting that from my Wally Wood’s 22 Panels printout), or something similar.
    I’m also wondering how this car is coming to a screeching halt, and at what angle Is it in a turn, the back tires swinging around as the car comes to a stop right in front of the open end of the alley? Or, based on the previous panel’s description of headlights flooding the alleyway in front of this young man, is the car coming to a screeching halt from a straight-on sort of way, the front end leaning forward from the sudden stop as the car seemingly blocks off the young man’s method of escape?
    I’d also put a comma there, changing the beginning of the description into “long, burgundy coloured.” Otherwise, I think long is modifying the colour burgundy, instead of the car. But I’m not an English major anymore, so not 100% on that one.
    I also know it’s implied the young man is approaching the car, at least I think so, but based off the description, I’m not entirely sure. It just says he is approaching.

    I don’t know if I’m way off with this, or right on, or somewhere in between. But thanks for getting me involved. Tis appreciated.

    • See, Kyle? Told you you’ve been studying.

      All great questions that need to be answered. Because the car isn’t correctly placed in relation to the alley the first time we see it (as just headlights), the rest of it becomes something of a jumbled mess.

      Good work, Kyle! (And you’re welcome. I’ll be asking more questions of you in the future.)

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