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TPG Week 17: Artists Need Info To Draw

| April 22, 2011 | 14 Comments
Hello, all and sundry! Welcome back to The Proving Grounds! This week, we have Taj Gunn. Let’s see how he does, shall we? 

THE KNIGHT

A BARE-BONES SCRIPT

WRITER: TAJ GUNN

PAGE 1-

1-CLOSE ON THE KNIGHT, A BLACK-HAIRED MAN HOLDING HIS HELMET UNDER HIS ARM, LOOKING ON IN HORROR. HE IS WEARING A STANDARD CHAINMAIL AND STEEL ARMOR. (Immediately, I’m in a white void. I don’t know where I’m at, and I don’t know what time of day it is. Unless you’re right up on his face in an extreme close-up, you’re going to see something of his surroundings. So, where’s he at, Taj?)

2-PAN BACK TO SEE THE RAVAGED VILLAGE. DEAD MEN, WOMEN, AND CHILDREN SURROUND HIM ON THE GRASS, BLOOD EVERYWHERE. FIRE HAS CINDERED THE HUTS AND THE PEOPLE’S CORPSES. HE CRIES. (A little better. Still hasn’t answered all the questions to make it a true establishing shot, though. What are the questions that need to be answered that make an establishing shot, Jamie?)

3-THE KNIGHT WALKING TOWARD HIS HUT. PARTIALLY DESTROYED IN THE RAID, THE HUT STORES HIS BELONGINGS. (How is the reader supposed to know this is the knight’s hut? Couldn’t it be any hut? How important is it that you have to expand on the fact that the hut stores his belongings. Remember that episode of The Tick cartoon, when the Galactus-like being comes to eat the earth? The Tick says, “You can’t eat the Earth! That’s where I keep all my stuff!” It’s funny there, but here, the line is useless. We just need to know the state of the hut.)

4-INSIDE THE HUT, OVER THE KNIGHT’S SHOULDER, HIS SHADOW LOOMS OVER A WEAPONS CHEST. THE KNIGHT HOLDS A KEYCHAIN NECKLACE, READY TO OPEN.

5-THE KNIGHT IN A FOREST RIDING ON HIS BLACK HORSE. (Oh, WOW! John Lees: what just happened here? Ask everything I would ask if you wrote something like this and handed it to me.)

PAGE 2- (Page break)

1-THE KNIGHT YIELDS HIS HORSE. HE IS IN DANGER. HE IS SURROUNDED BY ORCS, ABOUT FIVE OF THEM. SOME OF ARMED WITH BOWS AND ARROWS. THE REST HAVE PLUNDERED, BLOODY SWORDS. (Okay, I kinda understand the first sentence. The second sentence goes into the “unnecessary” column. Now, is he surrounded by “about” five orcs, or is he surrounded by five orcs? Is it three? Is it eight? That’s all about five, right? How many have bows and arrows? “Some” is not a number. And why surround him if there are bows and arrows? You’ve seen enough bad television to know what happens when one inevitably misses the mark. Now, the fact that the swords have been plundered have no bearing whatsoever on anything. The fact that they’re bloody is something the artist can use. Overall, this is just a bad panel description.)

2-THE LEAD ORC. A GRIZZLED, ONE-EYED, MOTHERF–KER OF AN URIKAI. HE ORDERS HIS BOWS TO SHOOT THE KNIGHT. (Where did this orc come from? Know what he is? Magically delicious, because he appeared out of nowhere. What is his action? Is he just standing there?)

LEAD ORC (GREEN AND CRAGGY): FIRE!

3-THE KNIGHT AND HIS HORSE ARE SHOOT BY THE ORCS’ ARROWS. THE HORSE DIES QUICKLY, WHILE THE KNIGHT IS GRAZED BY THEM. (Okay, so, what’s happening in the panel. You haven’t said anything about that. How can you show a horse dying quickly? Kyle, would you call this an effective panel description? Why or Why Not?)

4-THE KNIGHT, FALLEN HARD OFF HIS HORSE. AN ORC COME CLOSER TO THE KNIGHT. (Is the knight just getting to the ground, and has fallen hard? Or, is he already on the ground as an orc approaches? See the difference in time?)

SFX:THUD

PAGE 3- (Page break)

1-AN ORC RAISES HIS SWORD TO KILL THE KNIGHT. FOR DRAMATIC EFFECT, SWITCH TO KNIGHT POV.

2-A DAGGER STABS THE ORC’S CHEST, THE HAND BELONGING TO THE KNIGHT.

ORC: HYUK.

3-THE ORC DROPPING DEAD WHILE THE KNIGHT GRABS HIS SWORD. (Hm. Calvin, let’s say you got this script. What is your question for this panel?)

4-THE KNIGHT SWINGING THE SWORD ON AN ORC, BEHEADING HIM. GREEN BLOOD SPRAYS.

5-THE LEAD ORC. ORDER THE KNIGHT’S DEATH. FROM THE DARKNESS, TWO ORCS EMERGE OUT OF THE FOREST, BIGGER AND MORE HEAVILY ARMED. (Darkness? What darkness? When did we suddenly get darkness? Where did the darkness come from? Or, if it was already dark, where is the light source that allows everyone to see to fight? See what happens when you fail to establish things? And the lead orc is ordering the knights death? Really? How is that being shown as an action?)

LEAD ORC: QUICK! KILL HIM QUICK!

PAGE 4- (page break)

1-THE KNIGHT HOLDING AN AXE AND A SWORD. HE BOASTS HIS SURRIVAL. HE HAS STRIPPED DOWN MOST OF HIS ARMOR. (Someone. Just jump right on in here.)

KNIGHT: YOU BETTER.

2-THE KNIGHT AND THE REMAINING ORCS CHARGES TOWARD EACH OTHER. THE (You’ve got a dangly. What was supposed to be here?)

3- KNIGHT’S FACE, DETERMINED AND ANGRY.

4-THE LEAD ORC’S FACE, CALM BUT LOUD. (WHAT? What does this even mean? Calvin, Jules, Tyler: can you draw this?)

PAGE 5- (page break)

1- AN ORC SLASHING THOUGH THE KNIGHT’S ARMOR WITH A MACE. (What part of the body? What part of the knight’s body is still armored? What is the knight’s reaction? Is there any blood? Important question to be answered.)

2- SAME SHOT. THE ORC’S HEAD SPLIT BY THE AXE LIKE A BLOCK OF WOOD BY THE KNIGHT. (Same shot. That’s nice. What shot was it? I have no idea, because you didn’t call for one. So, I’m lost, as is your artist.)

3- ANOTHER FIVE ORCS AND THE KNIGHT. WIELDING TWO SWORDS, THE KNIGHT SLASHES THEM IN MULTI-SHOT. (Where did the second sword come from? What are the orcs doing? Just standing around, getting cut up? Where’s the lead orc?)

4-THE FIVE ORCS FALL DEAD AS THE KNIGHT STANDS. (This isn’t a still image. What’s the still image? Ruiz, what’s a good still image here?)

PAGE 6- (page break)

1-THE LEAD ORC, ALONE, TAKING HIS ARMOR AWAY TO A SHIRTLESS GREEN MUSCLE MAN. HE DARES TO CHALLENGE THE KNIGHT. (I take it he’s taking his armor off? Is that what that is supposed to mean? Because that is NOT what you said. Clarity is your friend, Taj.)

LEAD ORC: MAY MY MEN SEE ME IN HIGH HEAVEN WHILE I DRINK FROM YOUR SKULL. (All of a sudden he has more to say than just “get him/kill him”? Interesting.)

2-THE KNIGHT IS ANGRY AT THE GESTURE. (What gesture? And how is the anger being shown? How about throwing the artist a bone?)

KNIGHT: YOU WON’T BE SEEING THAT HIGH HEAVEN.

3-SILHOUETTES OF THE COMBATANTS, RUSHING EATCH OTHER.

4-SWORDS CLASH AS THE LEAD ORC OVERPOWERS HIM. (Overpowers him how? What is being shown?)

PAGE 7- (page break)

1-THE KNIGHT KICKED BY THE LEAD ORC.

2-THE KNIGHT ON THE GROUND, STRUGGLING TO FIND A WEAPON. (Why? I thought he had not one, but two swords? What happened to them?)

3- THE KNIGHT’S HAND REACHING A DAGGER FROM A DEAD ORC’S CHEST.

4-THE LEAD ORC BOAST THE KNIGHT TO GET UP. (I think you stopped caring. Because this makes absolutely no sense. And why do you keep repeating yourself in the panel description and the little bit of dialogue you have here?)

LEAD ORC: GET UP. GET UP, YOU PINK FILTH.

KNIGHT: I’M NOT FILTH… (Is the knight even in this panel? I don’t know. You didn’t say.)

5-THE KNIGHT GRABS THE DAGGER. ONLY HIS HAND IS SEEN. (I thought he already grabbed the dagger?)

PAGE 8- (page break)

1-THE KNIGHT THROWS THE DAGGER–

2-TO THE LEAD ORC’S LEG.

LEAD ORC: HNN!

3-THE KNIGHT GETS UP AND HOLDS A SWORD. (Moving panel, and I absolutely love how that sword came out of thin air. Where was it before, when he was needing a weapon?)

4-THE ORC HAS REMOVED THE DAGGER. GREEN BLOOD FLOWS FROM HIS KNEECAP. (The dagger was in his kneecap? That’s not what you said before. What if the artist wanted in in the thigh, or the shin/calf area? Now it just suddenly jumps to the kneecap. Where it sticks!)

PAGE 9 (page break)

1-THE KNIGHT THROWS THE SWORD TO THE ORC’S MOUTH. (No. He just throws the sword. Every word after “sword” is wasted.)

2-A GORY SILHOUETTE OF THE ORC’S HEAD PENETRATED BY A SWORD THOUGH HIS MOUTH. (Silhouette? Why? You’ve already shown one of the orc’s head getting split. Why be shy, now?)

3-THE KNIGHT, SNIDE AND UNCARING. (This is not a panel description. It is a prose description of the dialogue.)

KNIGHT: FOR MY VILLAGE.

4- THE KNIGHT WALKING AWAY ON A LONELY DIRT ROAD, HOLDING A SWORD AND A BAG OF SUPPLIES. ABOVE THE FOREST, WE SEE A BRIGHT CASTLE, PROBABLY HIS DESTINATION. (I take it that the supplies came from the horse, but I could be wrong. Why? Because you didn’t say anything about the supplies when you described the horse. And a bright castle? Illuminated by spotlights, is it? And the castle is above the forest? How does that work, exactly? Clarity.)

THE END.

Okay, let’s see what we have here.

Format: Not the best. It is consistent, which is always good, but after that, it takes a tumble. Page breaks are your friend, Taj. That, and there is absolutely no need to put everything in all caps. IT MAKES EVERYTHING SEEM LOUD. That’s not what you want. It makes it more difficult to read. Sentence capitalization for the panel descriptions, and all caps for the dialougue, if you must. Again, it’s all about consistency, and you’re consistent with it, but I’d like to not have such a hard time reading it, as well.

Panel descriptions: Terrible. There’s no other way to put it. You are unclear, your use of words is definitely puzzling at times, and I had a difficult time following you from time to time.

You consistently didn’t give enough information for the artist to draw. There were also times when I felt like I was in an echo chamber, because you’d say the same thing in the panel description and the dialogue.

There isn’t a single establishing shot in the entire piece, which will cause a lot of questions to be asked. Then there are the weapons that appear and disappear at will, the removal of unknown parts of armor, the vagueness about the inital number of orcs… The panel descriptions don’t do enough justice.

Pacing: Almost as bad as the panel descriptions. There’s that absolutely HUGE gap from him in the village to him being on a horse in a forest. You can do that with a page turn, you can do that with a caption, but you can’t do it on a page without some sort of explanation.

Dialogue: There isn’t much. We’ll say it’s fine.

Content: Editorially, this isn’t good. I’ve written more in notes than you have in script. That is never a good thing. As a reader, this isn’t good. I don’t care about anything going on. There’s little frame of reference here. How does the nameless knight know it was the orcs that destroyed his village? There was nothing there except an assumption.

In the end, the story doesn’t work, either editorially, or from a reader standpoint.

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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 (14)

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  1. John Lees says:

    5-THE KNIGHT IN A FOREST RIDING ON HIS BLACK HORSE. (Oh, WOW! John Lees: what just happened here? Ask everything I would ask if you wrote something like this and handed it to me.)

    Where did the forest come from? For that matter, where did the horse come from? With the panel transition, we might think he got the horse from that trunk he was about to open in the previous panel.

    This is one of these situations where it might make perfect sense in your head, but to a reader it would be baffling. I’ve been there. Ideally, you’d have a whole series of panels in between panel 4 (him about to open the weapons chest) and panel 5 (him riding in the forest). You’d have a panel with the weapons chest being opened. Maybe a panel with him taking a weapon. A panel of him leaving the hut, where you could establish the horse (though a more detailed establishing shot earlier might have let you introduce the horse before now). Then a panel with the knight riding from his hut on the horse, heading towards the forest. THEN you could have him in the forest, preferably on a new page.

    Or, if you don’t want all that stuff in the middle, make a new page after panel 4, and have a panel describing the passage of time. Not the ideal option, only to be done if you’re short on space. But it’s better than having him teleport.

    • and its a silent opening page 😉

    • Thanks, John. Exactly what I was looking for.

    • “For that matter, where did the horse come from? With the panel transition, we might think he got the horse from that trunk he was about to open in the previous panel.”

      In fact, since neither the trunk’s contents nor its significance ever comes back, believing he just retrieved his inflatable horse* is actually a pretty logical assumption.

      *That would explain why it dies so quickly from the arrows later on.

      Maybe he got his weapons from the trunk. I know it’s a “weapons chest” according to the script, but unless the artist helpfully places a Looney Tunes sign that says “WEAPONS” on it, there’s no way for the reader to know it.

      Bottom line: panels are expensive real estate. If you’re going to use them to show something, make sure it’s significant in some way, either right now or later in the story. I kept hoping that “keychain nexklace” would return in an interesting plot twist. As it stands right now, this element adds nothing to the story. You could do away with it altogether to no ill effect. The fact that the nameless knight would have his weapons on him at the start or had them stowed away for future use is irrelevant.

      What if he was an old retired warrior who hadn’t been to war since his youth? What if he’s a young man taking up his father’s weapons? What if he’s a pacifist monk who must relinquish his peaceful meditations to take up war once more? All of these possibilities would have helped in establishing an engaging protagonist.

  2. “2-PAN BACK TO SEE THE RAVAGED VILLAGE. DEAD MEN, WOMEN, AND CHILDREN SURROUND HIM ON THE GRASS, BLOOD EVERYWHERE. FIRE HAS CINDERED THE HUTS AND THE PEOPLE’S CORPSES. HE CRIES. (A little better. Still hasn’t answered all the questions to make it a true establishing shot, though. What are the questions that need to be answered that make an establishing shot, Jamie?)”

    Scott McCloud describes establishing shots as being “those big long-shot panels that tell you where you are, usually before zooming into the protagonist.” In order to do this properly you need to have Who is there, What is going on, Where this is taking place and When it is happening. Who, What and Where are just about covered here (although if I were being nit-picky I would say that ‘him’ isn’t really a Who), however When has been completely left out, in both a large and small scale sense.

    In the large scale sense there is no description of the era this is set in. From the context I would guess that this is a swards and sorcery, LOTR, Hawk the Slayer type thing, but it could just as easily be some sort of post-apocalyptic setting where everything is made out of the rusted remains of old chevvies. This isn’t a big deal though, as you would probably have mentioned the setting to the artist earlier.

    What is important though it the small scale time, i.e, what time of day it is. There is no information about this at all. A few pages on it states that someone comes out of the darkness, implying that it is night time, but a sufficient amount of time has passed before this happens to mean that this information is not strictly relevant for this panel.

    • Thanks, Jamie. You hit the nail right on the head with “when.” For the setup, both micro and macro, there is no “when” being depicted.

      I say this all the time, folks: if you do a proper establishing shot every time, then you can do scripting shorthand for the rest of the panels in that scene/location. But, you have to set it up correctly.

  3. “PAGE 5- (page break)

    1- AN ORC SLASHING THOUGH THE KNIGHT’S ARMOR WITH A MACE. (What part of the body? What part of the knight’s body is still armored? What is the knight’s reaction? Is there any blood? Important question to be answered.)”

    Another question: how can a mace – a blunt weapon – *slash* through armor? Even a flanged mace could do nothing more than dent armor, but not cut it open like it’s implied here.

    But now I’m just getting petty technical… 😛

    • No, technicalities are the lifeblood of good storytelling, Yannick.

      When I was going through this, and saw the wordage, I went looking at maces, just to make sure that I wasn’t crazy. I wasn’t (about that, in both senses), but there were much bigger problems with the script than that. But you’re right to point it out.

  4. “PAGE 4- (page break)

    1-THE KNIGHT HOLDING AN AXE AND A SWORD. HE BOASTS HIS SURRIVAL. HE HAS STRIPPED DOWN MOST OF HIS ARMOR. (Someone. Just jump right on in here.)

    KNIGHT: YOU BETTER.”

    “THE KNIGHT HOLDING AN AXE AND A SWORD.”: Where does the axe come from? If he had it with him (at his belt? strapped to his back? hanging from the saddle?), when did he draw it? Did he take it from one of the orcs? According to the script, “SOME OF ARMED WITH BOWS AND ARROWS. THE REST HAVE PLUNDERED, BLOODY SWORDS.” So no one brought an axe to this fight. And while I’m at it, SOME orcs have bows and THE REST have swords. That means that the attack plan was for SOME orcs to just go back to camp after the initial volley of arrows because it’s the only weapon they have. Either that or they stand around watching the rest of the fight. Or, according to page 4, panel 2, they charge into melee armed with nothing but a bow. Either way, they only brought one arrow each since they only shot once.

    I hate writing fight scenes because it’s just so much planning and choreography. I have one coming up in the script I’m writing. It’s only two combatants and I’m dreading it already. I can’t imagine the nightmare of setting up a scenario like the one Taj imagined.

    “HE BOASTS HIS SURRIVAL.”: You can’t draw boasting. You can draw smiling, spitting in defiance, thumping your chest, but boasting per se, it’s a dialogue thing. Since the boast in question is already in place below the panel description, it makes this sentence unnecessary.

    “HE HAS STRIPPED DOWN MOST OF HIS ARMOR.”: According to the script, “HE IS WEARING A STANDARD CHAINMAIL AND STEEL ARMOR.”. What is “STANDARD CHAINMAIL”. Ignoring matters of armorer style, chain mail standards varied greatly in history. As James aptly pointed out, we don’t know when this is taking place. Is it a mail shirt? Is it full mail that goes down to his knees? is it Mad Max underwear made out of soda can rings and paperclips? As for the “STEEL ARMOR”, are we talking about a simple breastplate or full plate mail? Either way, there is no way that armor is coming off in the moment the script allows. The last time we saw the knight, he was swinging his sword, beheading an orc. The orc leader sends in his two super-sized henchmen and – all of a sudden – the knight has “STRIPPED DOWN MOST OF HIS ARMOR”. No way. I call Charlie-Sheenanigans.

    The knight has – at best – ten seconds to recover from his sword swing, take off most of his armor and find that infamous axe. I’ve just spent a minute repeating the phrase “QUICK! KILL HIM QUICK!” in various orcish voices and I can barely take off my socks in that time. Unless his armor was already in tatters – and that would mean it’s incredibly flimsy chain mail and steel since he only fell from his horse and was “grazed” by arrows” – there’s no way this can happen.

    Moving away from the Scott-McCloudesque consideration of what happens between panels, there’s the simple question of WHY? His horse was just killed, stripping him of a considerable advantage over his opponents. He still has several orcs to defeat PLUS the leader PLUS the two extras PLUS whatever an URIKAI is. Why relinquish an obvious advantage? That’s like Bear Grylls resorting to more biological means of drinking when his water bottle is still full. If you wanted him bare-chested in all of his Conanical glory, why put him in armor in the first place? The orc leader does the same thing two pages later. Is it a question of honor? Is it a custom in this world? Without any information on the setting there’s no way of knowing if it’s par for the course or just a plot hole. You can’t have a consistent world without a description of this world.

  5. Kyle Raios says:

    3-THE KNIGHT AND HIS HORSE ARE SHOOT BY THE ORCS’ ARROWS. THE HORSE DIES QUICKLY, WHILE THE KNIGHT IS GRAZED BY THEM. (Okay, so, what’s happening in the panel. You haven’t said anything about that. How can you show a horse dying quickly? Kyle, would you call this an effective panel description? Why or Why Not?)

    I would think that if you want to show all this action, it should definitely be in two panels, rather than one. You can’t show a horse in the action of getting shot by arrows, and dying quickly in the same panel, cause its not a static image. Since the next action would be the orc approaching the knight as he is on the ground, you could try a sequence like: (condensed descriptions) 1st panel – Knight and horse haves arrows shot into them. 2nd panel – Horse falls forward dead, and as it crashes into the ground, the knight is flung from the horse. 3rd panel – Knight on the ground as the orc approaches.
    Separate, static images that convey the same scene, and do it in a way that is possible in comics.

  6. Ruiz Moreno says:

    “4-THE FIVE ORCS FALL DEAD AS THE KNIGHT STANDS. (This isn’t a still image. What’s the still image? Ruiz, what’s a good still image here?)”

    In my head, I would convey this from a ground up angle in front of four of the Orcs already down on the ground and one suspended mid-air to appear as if he is in the process of falling. The Knight, behind the Orc suspended (from our view) with swords in hands, having his arms extended outward and pointing towards the ground in front of him to give off the visual of a completed swing of the swords.

    What that would translate to me is that the Knight moves so fast as to already have four out of the five on the ground, the fifth on his way to the ground. That would also be a good way to show a motion in a still image. In showing the arms extended in front of him with the swords towards the ground also would convey the speed of the Knight considering that the fifth Orc is still in the process of falling. I also picture this as a silhouette just for my own reasoning. Call it an emotional reaction, I don’t know exactly. 🙂

    • I’m here! I’m here! I swear! (My internet at home should be fixed by Tues! I’m hoping, at least. And an iPhone doesn’t help when you’ve got no signal!)

      Ruiz, that’s a pretty decent still image. I like it! Good work!

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