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TPG Week 33: Writing A Well-Known Superhero

| August 12, 2011 | 9 Comments

Hello, one and all, and welcome back to The Proving Grounds! This week, we have another new Brave One in Carlos Parra. He’s provided a rarity for us here: a well-known superhero! Let’s see who it is, shall we?

PAge 1

1- New York city Downtown MANHATTAN – Day

Spiderman hanging upside down from the bottom of a eagles beak high above NY city (Easy enough to picture. We’ve all seen something similar, yes? However, what’s Spidey doing? Just hanging out? Eating a sammich? What? I’m not even going to address the punctuation or lack thereof in the panel description.)

Spiderman

Man, I can’t believe the day I had — had to miss class… because of nutso Doc. Oc. I swear all these psychos need to be on prozac — like 24/7. I’d better call MJ and find out what I need to make-up. (43 words here, and the punctuation is terrible. Okay, let’s see… Punctuation first. It isn’t Doc. Oc. It’s Doc Ock. Looks weird, but there it is. I’m not going to harp much on the capitalization. The letterer will more than likely pick a font that is all caps. What I DO like, though, is that you started pretty late. Not at the end of a scene, but pretty late. Let’s see how you continue it.)

2-SAME SceNe DIFFEReNT VIEW (This? This is screenplay formatting. The only problem I have with screenplay formatting is that it lends to lazy panel descriptions.)

Tighter shot moving closer on spidy’s face (See? Lazy. Why is it lazy? Spidey wears a full mask. That means it is VERY hard to show any type of facial expression. That means there’s no need to go in close to his face. Get him off the beak and have him slinging some webs. Talking heads are boring, especially when the talkers aren’t doing anything at all.)

SPIDERMAN

I just don’t know how I can continue doing school, homework and do this hero thing… Uncle Ben I do wish you were here — even if you were here, it’s not like I could talk to you about this new life I have, I can’t even tell Aunt May. I just thank you — uncle, for your words of wisdom… With great power comes great responsibility. I’m trying my best Uncle Ben, but trying to fight these nut-jobs and do my homework is just crazy. I wonder if Daredevil ever had to do homework after taking on Kingpin…nnaaaa — can’t believe the heat today. (Wow. 105 words here. Not only is it extremely wordy, it isn’t doing anything to either push the story forward or to reveal character. Simply terrible. Add that to the fact that he’s actually talking out loud, and you have a recipe for a really bad comic. This isn’t a play. Characters don’t need to speak out loud in a soliloquy for the benefit of the audience. That’s what thought balloons and captions are for. And then, moderation, Carlos. This is way too much. And what’s that last sentence about? What does it have to do with anything going on in the panel?)

3-

Tighter shot of spiderman, with his mask pulled over his nose with sweat running down his neck (down to his face) (Bored. It’s panel 3 on P1, and I’m bored already. That’s terrible for a superhero comic. Okay, how did his mask get pulled up? There’s a big jump in Border Time here. One moment, the mask is in place, and in the next, the mask is up.)

SpIDERMAN (CONT’D)

I hate summers in the Big Apple. I really need something to drink. I wonder if I can drop in at mickey D’s and say… Hi, I’m your friendly neighborhood spiderman, can you possibly hook a hero up with a mclarge drink — I’m loving it. Wwoohh… Where do I come up with this stuff! Even on a day like this I still have the funny. (66 words here. First, too wordy. Second, not funny. Third, this entire page is nothing but padding, because in three panels and just over 200 words, not one thing has happened. Not one. And Spider-Man has a hyphen in it.)

Page 2 (Page break.)

1-

Spiderman digging through his web-bag an EXPRESSION of intense concentration as he’s EAGERLY searching for coins (Oh, no. Magically delicious. Where did the web bag come from? Now, how are you going to show an expression of concentration through a mask? Well, maybe. Because the mask is still pulled up partway, yes?)

SpIDERMAN

Come-on — come — aaa.. There you are (I’m sorry, Carlos. This would have been in the trash, based on punctuation alone. Punctuation is important. Without mastering something as simple as the period and the comma, you’re not going to be able to find much work. Letterers cut and paste, which means, without an editor, all of your mistakes are going to show up.)

2-

We see a hand full of change 94 cents to be exact (How do we know it’s 94 cents?)

SPIDERMAN (CONT’D)

HHHmmmm… Just shy (Punctuation, Carlos. Punctuation.)

3-

Same shot but off to the side we see a shiney coin on the sidewalk.(shine to be done with Photoshop) (No, we don’t. Why? Because the last time we saw Spidey, he was perched upside down under an eagle. That means we’re pretty high up. Now, if we moved, you neglected to tell the artist, and that is something that will be very important. If they don’t have the info, the art you get won’t make sense.)

SPIDERMAN (CONT’D)

Oh, Hallooooo my little friend (Punctuation, Carlos.)

4-

Peter shoots his web to snatch the coin. At the moment the webbing reaches the coin we hear a scream. (This is a moving panel the way it is described. That is the second thing I dislike about screenplay format. It can sometimes lead to this. Can this be shown visually? Yes. Show the closeup of the web snagging the coin, and put the scream right next to it. Will it come off the way it is described here? No, not really. But that is the closest it will come.)

WomAn

AAAAAAAAAAAAaaaaaaaaaaaaa…….

5-

Spiderman turns to the SOURCE of the yell and sees a purse snatcher running into the street. (Where is the camera? It won’t really matter because we’re still too high up, but at least we have some action. Now, is the purse snatcher actually holding a purse? I don’t think so, because you haven’t said he is.)

6-

Same shot as panel 4 except the coin is gone. (This panel right here shows that you don’t know Peter Parker or Spider-Man, Carlos. Peter always has to be presented with two choices, and those choices have to be diametrically opposed to one another. Here, the choices are simple: get the coin, or go save the day. Peter will always try to do both, but botch up the first while succeeding with the second. That is the “Parker luck.” So, here you’ve presented Peter with a choice, and you seemingly decided to have him get the coin first. That’s not something Peter would do.)

7-

The thief is running away from the camera (Any clue what the theif looks like? Or are you just going to leave that up to the artist? And where is the camera? Up high, or down low?)

8-

Camera is closer to the punk’s back (Eight panels on this page. Here’s something I want you to keep in mind, Carlos: the more panels per page, the smaller each panel has to be. A nice panel count is in the four to six range. More than that and things get small. If you’re going for a nine-panel grid, then have nine panels, and make sure each panel has something to say. We’re at the end of P2, and I’m still waiting for the story to start. As it is, 8 panels for this page is about two panels too much.)

Page 3 (Page break.)

1-

Side shot

The snatcher is now falling face First, his face smashes in to the sidewalk, the purse flying up, and the CROWD is surrounding and laughing at the Snatcher. (If his face is hitting the pavement, then I highly doubt the purse has flown up. It’s not made of rubber, so I doubt the purse hit the ground and bounced up. So, this panel, while able to be drawn, is not realistic [as superhero comics go.] And finally, where’s the camera?)

2-

A worms eye view looking up at Spidey, as he’s catching the purse (And where is Spidey? Is he on the ground, or is he swinging in on a webline? You don’t say, and the artist is going to need to know. At least there’s a camera angle here.)

SpIDERMAN

You should know by nowÉ this city is crawling with heros. Fantastic Four, Daredevil, and the number one hero, who can kick butt and take namesÉ yours truly. But instead of getting a job like everyone else you have to try to make your money by stealing ladies’ purses and get punk’d in front of all these people (58. Spelling and punctuation, Carlos. And while Spidey is talkative, he’s not as boastful as you make him here. You cut down on some of the boasting, and you can cut down on some of the wordiness. Here’s something else I want you to remember: the more words you stuff into a panel, the harder it is to letter, and the more art you cover. Words inside word balloons should have about a letter’s worth of negative space all around them in order to not feel cramped. The more words you stuff in there, the harder you make it on your letterer to create a decent diamond shape with the amount of words given. Letterers worry about covering up art, and the more dialogue you have, the more art you cover. Remember that.)

3-

Thief’s mouth dripping with blood, looking up at Spider-man

Thief

Shud–shud-up

4-

A Long panel shot separated with two lines. The first part of the panel takes up about 75% of the area. We see two Hispanic male kids about 13-15 wearing hip-hop clothes and a hot looking woman about twenty years of age dressed in a short white Chopped T Shirt (says MARVEL) and low rise baggy jeans looking like Ghetto Jennifer Anniston (I don’t know what a “long panel shot” is, and I have no idea why you have two panels described in this single panel.)

Kid1

You got Punk’d sick Yo!(Comma.)

The second kid is Pointing his thumb to the girl in the other Panel. (Why are you separating the panel description this way? It makes no sense. You’re making more work for the artist.)

Kid2

HahaÉand in front of this fine lookin’ Hina! (I get the term, but I’ve never heard of a “Hina.” Not saying you’re wrong, but I’ve never heard it before. Time to go to the cloud! Hmm. Looks like it literally means “girl,” and is the name of several different women and goddesses in Polynesian mythology. So the question becomes, are you Polynesian, Carlos? It doesn’t matter at all. I’m just curious.)

5-

Spider-man’s talking to the kids. We see the thief at his feet, hands & Mouth are bound by webs, one of the kids is poking the guy with a stick. (Stick? Not only is it magically delicious, but where are you going to get a stick in the middle of downtown NY? You never said anything about them being close to Central Park. So, where did the stick come from?)

SPIDERMAN

Thanks for keeping an eye out on this Guy while the P.D. Arrives. (Okay, so when did this agreement happen? You’ve got a more-than-comfortable jump in Border Time here.)

KID1

No Problem S-Man. (Comma.)

THIEF

MMmmrrÉHhmmppprrrÉ

SPIDERMAN

And take it easy on himÉ Just kidding. Terrorize him to your heart’s content. (This is another example of you not knowing the character. This is not something Spider-Man would say. You have a lot of work ahead of you, Carlos, if you’re looking to write for Marvel. [No, I’m not going to hit you with a punctuation comment. Your format did something funky with the conversion, and it seems to be getting worse. I’m giving you the benefit of the doubt for the period.])

6-

Spider-man now swinging back into the Thick of the city. (What is this panel doing to push the story forward? He could have been doing this in the previous panel. This is padding.)

Page 4 (Page break)

1-

Spiderman landing on a crowded sidewalk. We see the woman who was mugged with a Police Officer. The woman has tuned to see spider-man returning with her purse. (Really? It wasn’t mentioned he was still holding the purse when you had him swinging away.)

WoMaN

Émy check book, credit car–Oh Thank you,Thank You,Thank You. (This? THIS is done right. You have her talking to the policeman, and then she’s thanking Spidey, all in the same balloon. Nice work! Just put an exclamation point at the end, instead of a period.

487-4212)

Police Man

She said you were on the guy. So- How Far did he get. (Punctuation. Pretty important. And how does this question push the story forward any?)

2-Same Scean differant view

Spiderman’s stance is differant, peter is playing the part his chest sticking out, Looking like a superman pose. (Why? Why pose him? How is this pushing the story forward, Carlos? Pacing is extremely important, and it is a lesson you haven’t learned yet.)

SPIDERMAN

About a half a block. I have some kids poking at him with a stick as he’s webbed up. (Awkwardly said. This needs a small rewrite.)

3- same shot but Cop is turning away from the camera (Why is he turning away from the camera? Why is Spidey’s chest still puffed out?)

POLICE MAN

Great — Thanks — Excuse me while I call this in. (Why the double-dashes? There’s absolutely no need for them.)

4-Same Shot, except spidey’s body langage is more teen age like, lazy and slumped over. (Why lazy and slumped over? That doesn’t give the air of uncertainty. Him seeming to scratch the back of his head while he looks down and away? That shows uncertainty. And what has the woman been doing all this time?)

SPIDERMAN

Um– I don’t know — Know how to go about this.

WOMaN

Thank you again Spiderman. My Whole life was in that bag. So what is it you don’t know how to go about? (Comma.)

SPIDERMAN

Um– I need — Can I have — can I have a couple of Bucks? (This needs a small rewrite. He needs to get to the point a little quicker, and you need to choose your words better.)

5-Same Shot, Now the lady is raging. her LEGS are SHOULDER LENGTH and her finger is in S-man’s face and spidey is holding his head with both hands wishing he could turn back time, In the Background the officer has turned around to see what she is yelling about (Clarity. I understand what you mean, but you’re not that clear. Clarity in storytelling is your first and last job, Carlos. Without clarity, you don’t have a story. If her legs are shoulder width (not length) apart (which you forgot to add), and one finger is pointing in Spidey’s face, what’s her other arm/hand doing? And again, you have Spidey in an unrealistic pose.)

WOMaN

I — a — I caÉ Money! – I can’t believe this. You want Money? What is thisÉ Save the girl and charge her for your services? (Wordy.)

SPIDERMAN

N-No it’s not like that I-just (Punctuation.)

WOMaN

Your a superhero for God’s sake, doing good for all of humanity. Why don’t you just take my bag and leave. Better yet you should go and split the cash and go partying with your purse snatcher friend! (Punctuation, and contractions.)

6- Same Shot, now the woman is walking off the panel and the Officer now has his hand on spidey’s shoulder and peter is looking at him (Okay, let’s try to keep some things straight. While we all know that Spider-Man is Peter Parker, let’s keep it straight in the script. When he’s in uniform, he’s Spidey, and when he’s not, he’s Peter. This will keep everything straight for the artist.)

POLICE MAN

ManÉ She really laid it in to ya.

SPIDERMAN

It’s not what is seems — I — I Just wanted to get something to drink. It’s freekin’ hot is these tights.(Spelling. And cut out the stammer.)

POLICE MAN

Yah and it doesn’t look like you have any pockets, or room for a wallet. (Just a little wordy. However, that’s not the big thing. The big thing is that this line of dialogue doesn’t match the action of the cop. They should match.)

7- Same Shot This time the Police man has money in his hand (Magically delicious. How about having the cop actually dig in his pocket for the money first? Another big jump in Border time.)

SPIDERMAN

ManÉ Being a broke hero bites.

POLICE MAN

Here ya go Spider-manÉ I got your Washingtons’. (Punctuation.)

8- same Shot, Spiderman is Gone and the officer is looking up and off the panel.

SPIDERMAN

NYPD ROCKS!!

Page 5-6 DT SPREAD

Spidey swinging in the air web TOWARD us. Web in one hand and 2 BUCKS in the other. We see that peter is looking at a corner deli. The Sign at the ENTRANCE of the Deli says “Soda for sale.” Across the street we see a tourist FAMILY looking up at spider-man The Father is snapping a picture of our hero. (This is criminal. This is a complete waste of space. I’m assuming that this is a double page spread. So, first and foremost, before we even get to the criminality, this is done wrong. Double page spreads go even-odd, not odd-even. Remember, P1 is a right handed page, so P2 is on the left, causing your eyes to slide over to the right for P3. That means that all even pages are on the right, and all odd pages are on the left. So, you cannot have this double page spread. Not here. Not without it being broken by a page turn. Okay, second, there is absolutely NOTHING on this page that calls for a double anything. There isn’t even need for a splash page. Large panel, sure, but not a splash, and definitely not a double.)

SPIDERMAN

Good one Petey! You were once hated by the people of New York, the cops were trying to pin you as a villain. Now, I can see the headlines now: Down and out hero begs for money or better yet, Spiderman charges New Yorkers for heroic actions. I should really look into hero endorsements. It is the big thing to do, I mean the Fantastic Four are endorsed by the Government and Johnny Cage is doing commercials for iTunes. (79. Way too much for one balloon. Comma-fail, too. You also need a conjunction. Oh, this entire passage is just not good. And unless Marvel or Disney owns the rights to Mortal Kombat, you’re not going to be able to use his name. And lastly, there isn’t anything about this passage (or the entire excerpt, really) that says “funny” or “fun.”)

And that’s where I’m going to stop. Time to run this down.

Format: Not bad. Again, there were some obvious conversion problems, but nothing too terrible. However, you need to put in page breaks.

Also, do not separate panel descriptions by characters that are speaking. You’re just causing more work for yourself and your artist.

Panel Descriptions: Not good. Again, I have nothing against the screenplay writing format. However, when writers come from a screenplay or playwriting background, they tend to bring bad habits with them. They tend to not think in still images, and they tend to not describe things adequately. That’s what we have here: things that are not described adequately.

Pacing: There’s no other way to say it, except terrible. Two 8-panel pages that don’t do anything to either reveal character or push the story forward, and what seems to be a double-page splash that was done incorrectly, not to mention dialogue that is all over the map. Couple squeezing in 8 panels on a page with large jumps in Border Time, and you have a recipe for “Needs More Study.”

Dialogue: Again, not good. Too wordy in the extreme, and out of character, as well. You have a lot of studying ahead of you in order to get Peter/Spider-Man’s dialogue down.

Content: Not good, for one, and not funny, for two. So, what needs to happen?

First, this isn’t Spider-Man. It is possibly Spiderman, but it isn’t the Spidey we all know and love. Again, that means more studying for you in order to understand who Peter Parker is. Right now, you’re near there, but you still have a way to go. Second, this is the beginning of the book, but it feels more like the middle to me. A modified/rewritten version of this would fit in the middle of the book—more accurately, as a second scene—which means you need to have a re-start to the book. As it is, it is an uninteresting slow burn. If you add a beginning starting out with a villain, then we’d all wonder how Spidey would be getting into trouble, or dealing with the threat. As it is, it stays on the shelf as a parody of a beloved character.

Editorially, this is a mess. Spelling, some slight grammar, and punctuation are killing you. So is characterization. Again, this is NOT Spider-Man.

If I were an editor at Marvel and this was handed to me, you’d get a nice True Believer letter, telling you to keep on trying. That’s the most that would happen, and believe you me, the sending of the letter is an act of kindness. If this were another company, you probably wouldn’t even get that.

That’s it for this week. Check the calendar to see 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 (9)

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  1. Lance Boone says:

    When first starting out writing comic book scripts, keeping the odd-even page straight in your mind can be somewhat tricky. I remember writing a script that I thought I had the odd-evens formatted correctly but as I proofread it I realized I had an even page reveal on an odd numbered page.

    It wasn’t fun rewriting and shuffling the pages to get it lined up correctly.

    If writing is something that you love to do, Carlos, keep at it and it will all start to come together.

  2. I don’t really have anything to add since Steven has so expertly examined the script already, but I’d still like to take a moment to go more into the narrative aspect of the script.

    Unlike Steven, I don’t get to see the full script; all I get are those 6 pages. I do wonder however what goes on in the remaining 16 pages and is any of it relevant to what we have here. I sure hope so because – in my opinion – it should be so.

    22 pages is not a lot of room to tell a story when you think about it. Let’s say you average 4 panels per page, that only 88 panels in all, that is 88 snapshots in time to get from point A to point B. But moving through your plot isn’t your only goal, you also have to tell a story. Isn’t that the same thing? No, a story is what you get when you use a plot to explore a theme.

    What’s a theme? It’s the underlying idea that you want to explore with your readers. It’s a riddle you ask them to answer and to which you provide clues with the plot. It’s the connection that they can make between what happens to your ficitonal character and what happens to them in real life.

    For example, “Hamlet” isn’t about a young prince avenging his father’s death, it’s about how overthinking challenges can undermine your accomplishments. “The Catcher in the Rye” isn’t about a teenager slacking off school for a rump in the big city, it’s about how growing up means you have to start compromising with yourself.

    Notice I said “your accomplishments” and “compromising with yourself”, not “Hamlet’s accomplishments” and “Holden compromising with himself”. Because if the plot talks about the characters, the theme talks about the reader.

    Yeah, but those are “literature” and we’re just dealing with comics here, right? Wrong. All written works strive for SOME measure of meaning, telling us something about ourselves (theme) by telling us something about the characters (plot). Let’s not demean comics by considering them unworthy of telling a meaningful story.

    Even the most action-packed and seemingly meaningless comic tells a story. Take Spider-Man for example since he’s the hero in your script. The most basic Spider-Man comic has him happening upon some crime in progress and battling some super-powerred villain. But this isn’t the story, that’s just the plot. No, in fact your vanilla Spider-Man comic explores the theme of how you can face the obligations of having unique abilities. That’s at the very least what you write about when you write a Spider-Man story.

    Now, with that out of the way, let’s have a look at your script pages.

    Nowadays for Spidey, stopping purse snatchers is something that happens between page turns. We rarely see it used anymore except as a cold open, just to start a plot with the landing gears already up. Why is that? Because it’s not relevant anymore to telling us something about Spider-Man and – through theme – about us. There’s no underlying theme here on which to hang your plot. Sure, you can have a few free-floating elements, but you need to anchor most of your plot points onto a meaningful idea.

    This isn’t about harrumphing and looking down upon “base meaningless entertainment”. It’s a simple question of structure. Theme wil guide you in building your plot, pointing out what needs to happen next and how it goes down. When critics say a certain comic “has no point” or that you can “safely skip this one, folks”, it’s mostly because it’s nothing but plot and no theme.

    The theme is the metal structure on which you build your plot. The story is the building that the people will see and hopefully want to visit.

    I think that might be where lies the source of your padding and pacing problems. Notice how many times Steven is asking you “how is this pushing the story forward?” Your script seems to lack an underlying current – a theme – to orient your plot. That’s why it comes off as random and – in the better spots – purely chronological. You need to pick a theme and then decide what plot points are relevant to explore it.

    When I started this, I said you had 88 panels in an average comic to tell a story. Not all of those have to either advance the plot or explore the theme, but most of them will have to at least serve one of these goals and – at best – serve both. This leaves precious little space for fluff: stream-of-consciousness dialogue, posturing, non sequiturs…

    But enough lecturing. I know I have a very strong tendancy to pontificate so I’ll stop the theory here and get into some concrete advice about adding a theme to your script.

    The idea of Spider-Man asking for money is actually pretty good. It constitutes a strong image for hooking a reader in and it’s a concept that could lend itself to exploring interesting themes.

    First possibility: Superheroes are usually depicted as selfless types who would never dream of asking for a reward. This is doubly so for an established hero like Spider-Man… unless he’s about to die from dehydration! The comic is then about how far are you willing to stick to ideals when faced with concrete necessities? This theme orients the script towards plot points that have to do with Spidey choosing between upholding his principles and giving in to baser needs… maybe at the risk of passing out in midair! Example plot point: Spidey hesitating in asking for some loose change from a citizen he just rescued.

    Second possibility: Great powers not only lead to great responsabilities, they also lead to self-reliance. You end up having less and less need of people and when you do, you usually look up to individuals who are even more powerful than you are. The comic is then about remembering you can happen to need anybody, no matter how powerful you are. This theme orients the script towards plot points that have to do with Spidey facing challenges that his powers can’t overcome but that simpler folk can help him with. Example plot point: the cop giving him a buck so he can buy himself a drink.

    Third possibility: Spider-Man has been around for a long time, so long in fact that most New Yorkers take him for granted. When he saves someone, he,s apparently “just doing his job”. The comics is then about accepting your duties even though those you serve are thankless. This theme orients the script towards plot points that have to do with Spidey being confronted to people refusing to help him when he’s in need fo “rescuing”. Example plot point: the lady freaking out when she gets asked for some money.

    Notice that in all three cases, it’s the same principle at work:

    1. What the story is about (the theme that appeals to the reader)

    2. How it’s played out in a concrete fashion (the plot that pertains to the characters)

    Three different themes that help shape the same basic plot in different ways, each of them guiding you as a writer in selecting what’s filling each of those 88 panels.

    I do hope all this prattling will come in handy for you and I also hope to see you come back with another script! Come back and have one of your stories tell us something about ourselves. 🙂

    (Hey Steven! See what happens when you don’t have any questions for me? I panic and write an essay! 😛 )

    • I just think you wanted to waste time sonthat you wouldn’t have to write a comic script for me.

      “But, Steven, I was too busy writing a reply to work on the script. You didn’t leave much meat on the bone this time, so I felt like I just had to say something. I’ll get that script to you soon. I just have another few posts to make…” 😉

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