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TPG Week 52: Dialogue Is Dependent On Punctuation

| December 23, 2011 | 17 Comments


Hello, and welcome to another installment of The Proving Grounds!

Even though it says Week 52, we haven’t yet crossed the threshold of the year. Next week, though, we hit it.

I want to thank everyone for your support. As I’ve said time and again, this could not be done without you. Literally, YOU make this column tick. YOU are its lifeblood. Thank you.

More gushing next week. This week, We have Josue Monserrat, a new Brave One. Let’s see what Josue brings in

Just A Cup Of Water

Page 1

Int. Mini Cooper. Messy and depressing. (My screenwriting/moving panel sense is tingling! Here’s hoping Josue doesn’t fall into the trap!)

Panel 1

Art (See this? This is unnecessary. You’ve already said “art” when you said “panel 1”, because Panel 1 is nothing more than a description of the art. I’m not going to ding you for format, because there’s no such thing as a “right” way to do this. Plenty of wrong ways, but no right one. You’re being clear, which is always a good thing. You just don’t need it, because the entire reason for the panel description is to describe the art in the panel.): We see Matthew, a middle aged man, who has just lost everything, well, everything material for he lost his passion for God a long time ago. He is wearing a nice white dress shirt that is unbuttoned, he has a white v-neck underneath. His sleeves are cuffed and in his right hand he is holding a beer can. We can’t see his lower body because he is in his car, a small green mini cooper. He has an Angry/Confused look on his face, and he is speaking but there’s no one around. He is crying, although he is trying to hold the tears back. He has a haircut and no facial hair. You basically see the windshield of the car. The Passenger Seat is littered with Beer Cans. Matthew looks Drunk, the back seat of the car has a variety of things, Cloth, food, papers. He lives in his car. (Way to be roundabout with the description, without giving anything really useful to the artist. I don’t care about his sleeves, I don’t care that he lost his passion for God. It doesn’t matter. What matters is the camera. Where is it? You said we basically see the windshield. Why is the windshield important that that’s all we see? Why is the windshield more important than the occupant of the car? Why go through describing what doesn’t need to be described if we can’t see it in this panel? See how that works? If you mean that we can see THROUGH the windshield, that’s a different matter. You should say that, instead. Okay, so we have a first panel, but it isn’t an establishing shot. An establishing shot gives Who, Where, When, and What. We have a good portion of that, but not all of it, and all of it is needed to be considered a panel description.)

Dialouge (I’m not going to ding you for the misspelling, nor for being Captain Obvious in stating this is dialogue. Like “Art” above, this isn’t needed.)

Matthew: I Can’t Believe Her. After.. All… ( Burp! )… I’ve done for our marrige. (I will, however, call you bad names about the misspelling here. You, sir, are a chipperdoodle. See? Bad name. You saw the line under marrige, but didn’t do anything about it. It isn’t the letterer’s job to fix your spelling mistakes, and if you were to hand this in to an editor cold, it would be thrown into the round file immediately, without the benefit of a rejection letter. Folks, let me be perfectly clear and honest here: RED LINES ARE YOUR MORTAL ENEMIES! KILL THEM ALL BEFORE THEY KILL YOU! Clearing up ALL of your red lines is the easiest, simplest thing you can do for yourself. The only ones that don’t get fixed are when you’re absolutely sure that the word is correct—meaning you looked it up using two different dictionaries and compared it letter for letter on the screen—or that you’re making up a word like chipperdoodle and you know the program won’t recognize it. I won’t harp on the capitalizations, although I should. Just recognize that they’re wrong if this were prose, but since the letterer is more than likely going to use an all-caps font, this is fine. Fine for ME. This would NOT be fine if you were to send this to an editor at a company.)

Panel 2

Art: Matthew still sitting, but his head is hanging forward, he passed out. His whole body is leaning forward, the only thing stopping it from hitting the ground is the Wheel, where Matthew is leaning on. It started to rain, and you see Raindrops on the windshield. (I’m confused. No, I’m not. You’re a storyteller, not a writer. Okay, let’s get some terms straight. First, the ground is outside. Just about anything else that is on the bottom but not ground is either called a deck or a floor. Unless he’s in a golf cart or something similar, he has no chance of hitting the ground. Words are IMPORTANT. The right word at the right time will make sure that no one is confused later. Now, again, where is the camera? And you’ve got a pretty big jump in Border Time here. He’s awake and complaining in one panel, and then passed out the next, with nothing really to show for it. The beer cans next to him may not be seen in the previous panel, depending on how the camera is angled. Then there’s the fact that it’s raining. So…where’s the car? If you had a proper establishing shot, this wouldn’t have been a problem.)

Ext. Cave, lifeless feel to it. (That’s nice. Where is the cave? That would be nice. A lifeless feel is only part of the information the artist needs. I’m willing to bet anyone a free issue’s worth of editing that you didn’t give the artist enough information to make this place “real” in the panel description. Anyone wanna bet me? Promise I won’t peek.)

Panel 3

Art: We see Matthew, he is lying on the ground, but he’s different then from before, his hair looks like the hair of a wild man, he has a beard, he looks skinny and dehydrated, he also looks hungry you can see his ribs. His lips look chapped, and his face expression is tired. He is lying on rocks, it’s actually the floor of a cave. It’s pretty empty, the rocks surrounding him are dirty, they have stains, ( his blood ). There are no signs of life surrounding him. (So, let’s see: We’ve changed locations, but don’t have enough information to go on. First, the man: is he dressed? Obviously not, since he’s so skinny you can see his ribs (skinny equals seeing ribs. Hungry does not equal seeing ribs. Watch your logic.). Is he wearing a loincloth? Don’t know. Is he lying face up or down [just like Elvis]? Don’t know. Is he awake, or is he asleep? Don’t know. How rocks can be dirty is something I’m trying to wrap my head around. Stained is a different thing entirely from dirty. Is the ground itself made of dirt, or is it rock? Don’t know. Are there any implements at all to show how long he’s been there? Don’t know. Is there any indication of a fire? Don’t know. What time of day is it? Where’s the camera? Light source? Don’t know, don’t know, and don’t know. Lots of don’t knows in here, Josue. I don’t think anyone would have taken me up on the bet, though. Not even Yannick.)

Caption ( Bottom right ): The Spirit Realm. (Okay, finally, something I like. See the note of where he wants the caption placed? I like that! It shows he’s thinking! Nice work. Now, what is a personal thing, and definitely not wrong, is the period. Because this caption is telling us we’re in a place, I wouldn’t make it a “sentence” per se. I’d remove the period and just make it a label. This is a personal thing, though. It isn’t wrong the way it is.)

Dialouge

Matthew: When’s this storm going to end? (What storm? The problem with statements like this is that you immediately ask the What question—a question that could have been easily answered if you had done a proper establishing shot. Now you’ve got people wondering, and they shouldn’t be. You don’t want them wondering about things that should be obvious, you want them wondering about the story.)

Panel 4

Art: We See Matthew in the forground, he has his back to the reader, we see the roof of the cave, the cave is more like a hole though. Through the hole we see sand flying all over the place, there is a sandstorm going on. We only see Matthew from the shoulders on up. Sand is falling into the cave from above. (This could be magically delicious. But here’s the thing that gets me: if the cave is literally a hole in the ground, how did he get down there, and how does he propose to get back out? At least there’s the indication for a light source, although it’s going to be useless because of the storm outside.)

Matthew: It’s been going on for three days! LET ME OUT OF HERE! (You don’t give the impression he’s been there for three days. You give the impression he’s been there much longer. Is he there seeking sanctuary from the storm? Or is there something else going on here? Now, for the yelling part: you haven’t described his posture or body language, which leads me to believe he’s just standing there, arms down. The yelling doesn’t jibe with the assumed body language. That has to be fixed. Also, I don’t suggest using all caps in order to yell in a script. It’s better than bolding, but it could also get lost when the letterer goes to put it in a different font, because more than likely, that font is going to be in all caps. I suggest underlining.)

Panel 5

Ext. Top of the Cave. There is the sandstorm going on so this panel going to be blurry.

Art: EVIL KATE and FEAR, are standing, They look like silouehettes becuase of the storm though, we see only a little of their skin, but the rest is shadows. Mainly what we see is their eyes. They are looking down on Matthew, they look bored. Kate has her hands on her hips, and Fear has his arms crossed. This panel is a worm’s eye point of view. They both look mean harm. (This makes absolutely no sense at all. None. Yannick, you’re up.)

Fear: What do you want me to do with him?

Evil Kate: Put him to sleep, I’ll do the rest.

Page 2 (Page break.)

Panel 1

Art: You see an extreme close up of Matthews eyes, they look stressed and red, and frightened. His forhead reveals that he is getting old. There are specks of sand near his eyes. (If this is an extreme close-up of his eyes, you can’t see his forehead. That’s kind of the meaning of an extreme close-up.)

Dialogue

Matthew: Oh, it was just a dream…. Thank Goodness, it’s not them. Don’t worry Matthew, it’s not them. (An ellipsis has three periods. Any more than that, and you’re wrong. Now, we’re on P2. I see you tried to get his name in there and be organic about it, and I applaud the effort. However, It’s wrong. How is the reader supposed to know he’s talking to himself? Why would he be? And really, the only thing you’re doing is confusing the reader more than necessary.)

Caption: Days later.

Panel 2

Art: Matthew is sitting down with his back towards the reader in the for ground, and in the background you see Evil Kate. Matthew’s wife, she is beautiful and she is smiling, but it’s not a loving smile, it’s a creepy smile, full of hate and spite, she has her eyes closed. She is about 5’7 and she is blond. She is waiving at Matthew. She has a white dress with many flowers on it, and her dress goes to her knees. Matthew’s posture ( even though he is sitting down ) should suggest that he is surprised. The reader now see’s a little bit of what the rest of the cave looks like. It’s pretty much the same, empty except for stains, and a part of the wall ( the reader should be able to see this. ) are tally marks that Matthew made, he’s counting the days he’s been in that cave. There should be quite a few tally marks but don’t over do it. (GAH! Okay, we start with the first sentence. Why are Evil Kate’s eyes closed? I don’t care about her character design, because it’s irrelevant here, as is the dress, unless she changes clothes a lot. Showing surprise with a seated person who’s back is to us is relatively easy, so that’s fine. However, how is the artist supposed to show more of the cave? Where’s the extra light coming from?)

Kate: It’s not who Matt? Who’s out to get you? (Comma-fail. But this, at least, is a better way to use the name organically. I’ll take this over the previous attempt.)

Matthew: Oh, Kate it’s you! You don’t know how glad I am to see you! I was talking about “Them”, these fiendish monsters that come every now and then and torment me! You haven’t seen one around have you? (38 words in this balloon. Going to be pretty large. And then you have that torturous explanation. Don’t do that. Don’t “I was talking about them…” It’s terrible. Now, this passage is at least two balloons long, but it’s also filled with a lot of crap, and doesn’t push the story forward as efficiently as it could. Now, you have him being surprised, but here’s the thing: the last thing said in the dialogue should reflect the action of the panel description. This could be condensed to one balloon, but should really be two. The panel description should be changed somewhat to fit, getting rid of the surprise. Oh, who am I kidding. This needs a total re-think from top to bottom in order to clear up the confusion. It’s P2, and it’s going back on the shelf pretty soon.)

Panel 3

Art: A close up of Kate’s face. She looks evil and Angry, yet putting on a smile to mask it. She still has her eyes closed. (No. Clean emotions. Evil, angry, and smiling? Not going to work. Think visually. Emotions can give things color only in prose. The “cleaner” the emotion, the easier it is to draw. Remember, the script is little more than a set of instructions to the creative team for what to draw for the story.)

Kate:Oh, don’t worry babe, everything’s gonna be alright (Punctuation. You’ve got a comma-fail, and two different kinds of period-fail. The comma after “babe” should be a period, not a comma. You want a hard stop, not a soft pause.)

Panel 4

Art: This is an extreme close up of Kate’s eyes ( this is the first time reader See’s her eyes ). They are completely red, with a yellow pupil, she has an angry and hateful stare. Contrary to Matthew’s her forhead shows no worry lines, and her skin shows that she is young. (No. There’s absolutely no reason for another extreme of eyes, unless they’re bracketing panels between them. There isn’t anything going on in the panels between these to call for another extreme close-up.)

Kate: Nobody is going to hurt you! (I have no idea what this even means, in context or out of it. To put it in context: no one thinks of “monsters” as a body, or a person. People think of monsters as “things.” So, it isn’t noBODY is going to hurt you, it’s noTHING is going to hurt you. See how that works?)

Panel 5

Art: We look at a wall in the cave and we see silhouettes, one of Matthew lying on the floor on his back, he is holding one hand up as if begging, we see another silhouette, this one of a Kate but she has now become a demon, we see that the creature has wings, and horns, and is holding a whip. You see it has his mouth open, and it’s laughing. (No. Rich, why isn’t this working?)

Dialogue

Matthew: Arrrgh! Huff Puff… Ngh

Kate: Don’t worry Matt, no one’s going to hurt you.

End of Page 2 (This means nothing at all. If you’re going to do it, then do it for every page. Consistency will get you far. If you aren’t consistent, it’s just one more thing to ding you on. Know how an artist knows when they’ve reached the end of a page? The see the heading for the next one.)

Page 3 (Page break.)

Panel 1

Art: We see Matthew lying face down, his shirt has been ripped, and we see his back, it’s full of red stripes, a product of the whip. He’s unconscious. There’s sand on his back, that the demon put there to increase the pain he felt. (This is crap. You make mention that he’s dirty and hungry and so skinny that we can see his ribs. If we can see his ribs, that means he’s not wearing a shirt. Where did this shirt come from? And then, there’s the sand. How is the reader supposed to know that the demon put them there to heighten pain? He could have gotten the sand on his back while he was being whipped. Think, Josue. Think it through. Make sure the dots connect. Right now, they aren’t.)

Panel 2

Art: We see Jesus, with nothing on except his underwear in the exact same position as we see Matthew. With the exact same wounds. You see he is lying on a stone like tiles. You can’t see his face but everyone should be able to tell who this is. (How? How? How is someone supposed to tell this is Jesus? Is it the hair? We may not be able to see his face, because of the way you positioned the body. And then, the next question is why. WHY is Jesus here? What purpose is he serving here? None. This is going back on the shelf soon. Right now, you’ve done nothing to connect anything. Everyone is confused. Confusion leaves readers with more money in their pockets, because they’re not going to buy your book.)

Panel 3

Art: We see Matthew, he is standing up, he has a rock in his hand which he has been throwing up and down to entertain himself. He has a lonely look on his face, and he is looking down. Tears are running down his cheek. He still has no shirt from last time, and he is sweating because of all the heat. In the background we see an Angel, he is looking towards Matthew. He is smiling, and looks full of Joy. He has a long white gown, and a sword. He has long brown hair, and looks young. He is extremely clean compared to Matthew, not a speck of dirt is on him. Matthew has his back to the Angel. (Oh, goodness. Lisa! You’re up. Where, why, and how is this not just wrong?)

Caption: Two days later.

Angel: You know, you should really drink some water, you’ve been here for days. (He’d been there for days already. Where is he supposed to get the water from, anyway?)

End of Page 3 (Again, unnecessary.)

Page 4 (Page break.)

Panel 1

Art: We see Matthew, he is the only one in the shot, he is dropping the rock that he had. He looks angry, he thinks the Angel is a demon in disguised. He has Blood Shot Eyes and he looks like a Mad man. He seems like he has no reason. He looks like he doesn’t think. He looks tormented. (I think I’m being tormented. Cut it short. Get in and get out. The closer you cut it, the faster you can get to more important things. Like the story. You’re on P4, and I’m still looking for signs of the story. Not good, Josue. Not good.)

Matthew:Take a Hike, I don’t want you near me, haven’t you caused enough pain? I already know why you’re here. So if you’re here to harm me just do it, and get it over with. (I hate run-on sentences, even with punctuation. Know what I hate more than run-ons? Cringingly bad dialogue. And if he looks like he doesn’t think, if he looks tormented, how can he form coherent sentences, bad as they are? Nothing he’s said here makes sense. I could break it down into the components that clash, but there’s already more red here than black.)

Panel 2

Art: A profile shot of the Angel, he seems happy and care free, his gown kind of droops down, it’s not all that tight, he is holding a silver canteen. You see the Wall, it has more Tallies, and “Help” is written on the Wall. Matthew is now looking at him, you see him in the bottom right corner of the panel, although you just see the back of his head, his neck, and little bit of his shoulders. (The canteen is magically delicious. That’s not too bad, considering the whole angel angle, but still, it should have been in the previous panel. Why is the word help written on the wall? What use is it serving? It isn’t helping anything at all.)

Dialogue

Angel: Come on, you been on this desert for over a year, in this same cave for all this time, and you haven’t even drunk a sip. (Okay. Since we’re talking about the spirit world, I can live with this. This sentence, and the very first one uttered, are the ones written yet. It’s P4, and we finally seem to be getting some story! More than likely, though, this is already back on the shelf. Uninteresting and terrible dialogue have doomed you.)

Matthew: I don’t want any of your polluted water, I already fell for that one. (I guess the angel isn’t infallible. Or just plain stupid. Or wasn’t watching. Or just plain stupid. It’s a toss up. Because if the angel was watching, then he would have known that Matty drank some water and it didn’t agree with him. Why, then, would he offer him some water? If the angel wasn’t watching, then he’s uncaring, because he watched him for a year and didn’t do anything about it.)

Panel 3

Art: The Angel is pointing at the wall, he looks happy and full of Joy, Matthew is now standing next to him, looking in awe. On the wall there is a huge map, and Matthew can’t believe what he’s seeing, and his posture should let the reader know this. (So, the angel is smiling. Matty has his jaw hanging open. Got it. See how simple that is? Learn that, and you’ll have learned a lot. Be simple. Get in and get out.)

Dialogue

Angel: It’s really simple actually, it’s a couple of day’s walk, but once you get there it’ll be worth it I promise. (Storytellers. It’s very obvious that you’re not used to the written word, nor writing dialogue. This can be learned, though. The best way to learn how to write dialogue is to read it. Read books, read comics, read screenplays. Read people talking. While you’re reading, study the punctuation. See how it’s used. See how it affects how you read it. Then, copy it. Emulate it. Apply it to your own dialogue. You should start to see immediate improvement. Writing dialogue, folks, is hard. It’s learning when to use the right words, when to stop, and what sounds natural. You can help yourselves tremendously by learning how punctuation is used. Punctuation will affect your dialogue more than anything else. Learn that, and you’ve won a huge battle.)

Matthew: I honestly thought That turning into my wife was the most impressive trick you had up your sleeve… (Correct ellipsis, and incorrect capitalization. At least this is readable.)

Angel: I’m telling you man, I’m on your side. (Comma-fail.)

Panel 4

Art: The Angel is now facing Matthew, they are face to face, the Angel looks serious but compassionate, Matthew has a mocking Grin on his face. The Angel is taller then Matthew by a few inches. (This is the first eminently drawable panel you’ve written. I’ll remind you of clean emotions, but this is a drawable panel. Nice.)

Dialogue

Matthew: Come on man, do you reall expect me to fall for this one? I know you, you present happiness at first, but then you turn into some monster, and hurt me. You’re no different then the others! Why don’t you go back to Hell where you came from? If I’m not in Hell already. You know what, I’ve thought about this one, but I never accepted it, now I realize this is my situation, I’M DEAD! (76. 76 words in this balloon. I haven’t even read it yet, and I’m going absolutely crazy. This is enough for two panels, and you’ve put it into one balloon. Know what this does? This covers up all the art in this panel. There won’t be any art left to see, so whatever is going on in the panel description doesn’t matter. You finally write a panel that can be drawn, and you cover it from border to border with words. And I haven’t even read this travesty yet! Okay. Wait. I’ll be right back.

(Okay. Done. First, comma-fail. Second, you have a misspelling. I know you saw that red line under there. You should have killed it.

(OH MY GOODNESS! People, there is a difference between “then” and “than.” Learn it. Next, you have a run-on, and finally, his final words don’t match his facial expression.)

Panel 5

Art: They are still facing each other but now Matthew is looking down and has his fist clench, the panel should be drawn in a worm’s eye point of view, with only Matthew in the Panel. (If it’s a worm’s eye view, and Matty is the only one in the panel, what does it matter if they’re facing each other or not? The angel could be stroking one off, and it wouldn’t matter, because he’s not in the shot.)

Angel ( off Panel ):You need to understand, if you don’t drink any Water soon, you will end up in Hell. (What does water have to do with anything? It’s the spirit realm. He’s been there for a year already. If it were the real world, he’d have been dead inside of five days. If it’s so important, give him a reason. Being in Hell couldn’t be any worse than where he’s at now. At least he’d have company. The good news is that you denote the dialogue as being from off panel.)

Matthew: OK I’ll try it, I don’t know if you’re telling me the truth, but it can only get better from here on out anyways. (Storytellers: learn punctuation as it pertains to dialogue. I cannot stress that enough.)

End of Page 4

Page 5 (Page break.)

Ext. Dry desert, no signs of life, only a few scattered cactuses. Day. (Cacti. That’s the plural for cactus. At least there’s finally a time of day associated with something.)

Panel 1

Art: Matthew, looks different now, he shaved, he is wearing a nice button down shirt, and he got a hair cut. He still looks dehydrated, yet the reader should be able to tell that something is different in him. He is standing in front of the Angel who is speaking to him and handing him a map ( Basically a big rolled up piece of Paper with Gold Edges). We see also that Matthew has a medium sized back pack on his back, on top of that is a small sleeping bag rolled up. (Deer Park, that’s good water! Wait, did I just age myself again? Does anyone know what I’m talking about? If the water was enough to bring about changes like that, then he should be whole. Think it through, Josue. There’s also the lack of facial expressions.)

Dialogue

Angel: Now this doesn’t mean it’s over. The other’s who came and tormented you, they’ll be following you, to bring you back. You’re their prisoner, and they won’t let you go without a fight. Are you sure you want to do this? (You don’t need the apostrophe with “others”. There’s nothing to make possessive, and there’s no contraction. It’s just wrong.)

Matthew: Well there’s some fine print for ya! Are you coming with me?

Panel 2

Art: This is a shot of the Angel’s face, he looks happy and joyful, even though Matthew thinks something is wrong, He knows that everything is ok. (So, Kyle… I know you’ve been wondering if I was going to call on you. And I am! What’s wrong here? [And yes, I know this is easy. Just easing you back in.])

Dialogue

Angel: Well, I’m not coming with you, but some of my allies are. Actually they’re brothers. You’ll love them, I know you will. Well, I guess this is it. I hope everything turns out right. (Storytellers: after you learn to use punctuation, the very next thing I want you to learn is how to break up your word balloons. That breaking up of balloons gives you the rhythm in which your characters speak. It isn’t just word choice. This should be two balloons.)

Panel 3

Ext. Cold, Dry desert. Night.

Art: We see Nick, a young fellow maybe 17 years old. He looks like a warrior, like some one who could do some serious damage. He’s got a tough build. A long Sword in it’s hilt on his hip. Red hair, and he’s about 6′ feet tall. He’s covered in armor from head to toe. He’s not smiling, he’s actually angry, he looks annoyed. We also see Mark, who is younger then Nick, he’s Nick’s little brother and he’s 15. Nick has been in many battles and you should be able to see that by looking at him but Mark on the other hand hasn’t been to a battle, not ever. So he has a small dagger hanging by his side. He’s shorter then his older brother too. He’s smiling. But he looks nervous. He has brown hair. He is also covered from head to toe in armor. (I’m dying, and you’re the one who’s killing me. How can someone have a tough build? How can someone’s build look tough? That’s like saying water looks fat. It doesn’t compute. It’s part of a character design, and shouldn’t be in the panel description, anyway. Now, how are you going to be able to see someone has been in many battles by looking at him? Can you tell how many scripts I’ve edited by looking at me? Same thing here. Now, you spent the ENTIRE panel description giving the artist what these two characters look like, but didn’t spend one single word telling the artist what they’re doing. Remember, this is called a panel description, not a character description.)

Dialouge

Nick: I think we’re getting closer. The Sooner we’re done with this mission the better.

Mark: Oh Come on Mark Cheer Up! This mission can’t be that bad. (Comma-fail.)

Nick: You’d be suprised. This desert, it’s no place for a Christian. (Spelling counts in dialogue. Much more than it does in the panel descriptions. This is what gets read, what the readers see. If you misspell here, it WILL be noticed, and readers will hang you out to dry.)

Panel 4

Art: We see Nick and Mark, on top of a cliff, this is a Bird’s eye point of view, they are looking down. Nick looks bored, while Mark looks cheerful, even excited. (How can we see their expressions if this is a bird’s eye pov? More importantly, why did you change locations in the middle of the page?)

Dialouge

Mark: We’ll be done with this mission in no time Big Brother. (Comma-fail.)

End of Page 5

And that’s where I stop.

Let’s run it down, shall we?

Format: Inconsistent, with useless elements that are helping you with the inconsistency. Useless elements appear and disappear at a whim. Not good. Get rid of them, and the only thing you’d have to contend with are the page breaks. You could have had a flawless victory. And to be honest, the format was the best part of this entire thing.

Panel Descriptions: Practically useless, from top to bottom. Just about every panel lacks information the artist will need to do their job, or has unnecessary info. Remember the purpose of a script: to give the creative team the information they need in order to make a comic. That starts with you. No, the script doesn’t need to be a terse set of instructions, but they DO have to contain instruction. There’s precious little of that evident here. There is a bright side, though. You didn’t fall into the trap of moving panels. That, Josue, is an accomplishment, because I just knew there was going to be at least one of them in here. Good work there.

Pacing: Abysmal. We start out in a car somewhere, and then jump to a cave, and then stay there before jumping somewhere else. It seemed like there was some sort of story starting to come forward, but then it never materialized. This stays on the shelf due to lack of interest. If you had gotten to ANYTHING interesting within the first few pages, you might have saved it, but as it stands, you didn’t. Be interesting. Start out with a bang!

Dialogue: I’ve said it before and I’ve said it again: dialogue is the most subjective part of a script. Remember that. Now, with that being said, I couldn’t find one redeeming quality of the dialogue. Improper punctuation, misspellings, improper use of words, awkwardness, too many words, and a total failure to push the story forward are all in there.

If you want to be a better writer, READ. If you want to be a better writer of dialogue, READ DIALOGUE. Not just comics, although that should be a prime focus, but anything with dialogue. Read, study, imitate, and apply. This will help you get better.

A LOT of dialogue is about punctuation. Patterns and pauses. Stops, starts, and the meaning imparted inbetween. You’re reading this, and you’re hearing my “voice” in your head. You’re reading it the way I want you to hear it. Conversationally. I place my punctuation correctly for how I want it to sound. If I wanted to put in a pause…well, I use punctuation to help me get those pauses across, and help to impart my meaning. Do you see what I just did? More importantly, did you notice HOW I did it?

Make the punctuation do the work for you. In order to do that, though, you have to learn to use punctuation correctly. Reading can help, but school would be best. You can ask questions of teachers that you can’t ask of books.

Content: When I was in the Marine Corps, before I started editing, I was writing, trying to get my own universe of characters off the ground. Everyone knew I loved comics. I had a part time job off base at the local comic shop, helping out in return for comics and action figures. One of my Marines was a Bible-thumper. Everything was about God, and every conversation would somehow introduce God into it. He was almost as bad as a Jehovah’s Witness. One day, before he gets out of the Corps, he hands me a comic as a present.

I say thanks, and notice right away that it wasn’t a Marvel/DC book. The art was subpar, but I’d give it a shot. It started out with angels fighting other angels, and a teenager wanting to kill himself for some reason. His girlfriend does her best to talk him out of it, because God has a plan for everyone.

I felt slapped in the face. In some ways, it was worse than 7th Heaven. Very blatant. About as subtle as getting your legs blown off with a mortar.

Luckily, this isn’t as bad as that. There are problems, but subtlety isn’t one of them. I’m very happy for that.

From a reader’s perspective, this stays on the shelf. Why? Because within five pages, you haven’t given me any reason at all to spend money on it. What’s the story about? I don’t know. Some guy’s first in a car, and then he’s in the spirit world. Why is he in the spirit world? I have no idea, and answers don’t seem to be forthcoming, there’s no hint of real intrigue, so on the shelf it stays.

Editorially, this is crap. It needs to be gutted and started over, starting with the plot of the story, and getting that plot to come through faster, and be interesting with it. Format is easy. It’s pretty difficult to get it wrong. The story you’re telling within the format, though, is what’s hurting you. There are a LOT of problems here. It would be better to just print this out and keep it so you can refer to it, and start building another script from it. Get an editor, and have them help you with the arc of the story, and then the individual issues. Make sure you stick to that when you write. Make sure the editor is challenging you to be better.

If you take all of this to heart, you’ll see immediate improvement of your craft.

And that’s all I’ve got for this week. Next week, we hit ONE YEAR! Check the calendar to see who the lucky one is!

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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 (17)

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  1. Liam Hayes says:

    “We see Matthew, a middle aged man, who has just lost everything, well, everything material for he lost his passion for God a long time ago. He is wearing a nice white dress shirt that is unbuttoned, he has a white v-neck underneath. His sleeves are cuffed and in his right hand he is holding a beer can. We can’t see his lower body because he is in his car, a small green mini cooper. He has an Angry/Confused look on his face, and he is speaking but there’s no one around. He is crying, although he is trying to hold the tears back. He has a haircut and no facial hair. You basically see the windshield of the car. The Passenger Seat is littered with Beer Cans. Matthew looks Drunk, the back seat of the car has a variety of things, Cloth, food, papers. He lives in his car.”

    Let’s do some cutting!

    “He is wearing a nice white dress shirt that is unbuttoned, he has a white v-neck underneath. His sleeves are cuffed…”

    Given that the description of Matthew (and maybe his attire) should be handled in a separate page or document, this can go.

    “who has just lost everything, well, everything material for he lost his passion for God a long time ago.” “He lives in his car.”

    Totally unnecessary. This is something you should communicate to the reader through dialogue. The artist isn’t your reader, he’s your partner in crime, and instead of handing him a loaded handgun, you’ve given him a pear. This is where I drop the ethically questionable crime metaphor.

    “We can’t see his lower body because he is in his car, a small green mini cooper. He has an Angry/Confused look on his face, and he is speaking but there’s no one around.”

    Kill this. The camera angle will dictate whether can see his lower half, and unless he’s up to something untoward under the dashboard, it doesn’t really matter.

    And we’re left with;
    A shot of Matthew sat in his green Mini Cooper. Outside the car, it’s night and raining. Angle the camera so that we’re looking in through the windshield. Matthew’s expression of confusion under tears.
    On the backseat of the car is a pile of clothes, food and papers.

    Anywho, those are some thoughts to digest, poke, fiddle with ect.
    Cheers
    Liam

    • Thanks, Liam! Exactly what needed to be done, with a few caveats:

      If the character is wearing the same clothes throughout, then the clothing description is not necessary. However, if they’re changing clothes, and the clothes are important to the scene, then that information could be important. Is it important here? It could be. I don’t know. I’d leave the clothing description in, but cut the rest as you did.

      Good work!

  2. Don Urquhart says:

    Josue,

    Reading lots of material to help polish your dialogue is the way to go, but I’d like to add that there are some very good TV series that rely heavily on talking heads. I know written speech is deferent than TV show dialogue, but some shows can be “watched” without the picture being turned on. If you’re not offended by profanity or violence, have a listen to the way they talk on The Wire, Deadwood, or Spartacus. They’re great references for making the spoken word interesting.

    • Hey, Don.

      The reason why I’m now advocating the reading of dialogue (especially in this case) is because storytellers aren’t that familiar with the written word. The more they read, the more they can get used to seeing it written, and imitate from there. Call it faking it until they make it.

      Now, listening can work for a writer, but for a storyteller, I don’t think it’s the same thing. I think they need to read in order to help them write.

      I’m NOT saying that your advice is wrong. I’m just saying that it may not be applicable in this case. (The same goes for my advice, btw. It definitely may not be applicable.)

  3. Page 3 (Page break.)
    Panel 3
    Art: We see Matthew, he is standing up, he has a rock in his hand which he has been throwing up and down to entertain himself. He has a lonely look on his face, and he is looking down. Tears are running down his cheek. He still has no shirt from last time, and he is sweating because of all the heat. In the background we see an Angel, he is looking towards Matthew. He is smiling, and looks full of Joy. He has a long white gown, and a sword. He has long brown hair, and looks young. He is extremely clean compared to Matthew, not a speck of dirt is on him. Matthew has his back to the Angel. (Oh, goodness. Lisa! You’re up. Where, why, and how is this not just wrong?)
    Caption: Two days later.
    Angel: You know, you should really drink some water, you’ve been here for days. (He’d been there for days already. Where is he supposed to get the water from, anyway?)

    1. No angles. No perspective. By the description I’m assuming M is in the foreground as the Angel is in the background but are we seeing a profile? Top half of his body? Just his face? Whole body shot? You have to give a better overall picture of where everything is before you start with your minute details.
    2. “he has a rock in his hand which he has been throwing up and down to entertain himself” – Don’t tell me what he WAS doing, tell me what he IS doing. This could also be multiple actions. You can’t have something moving in a panel (if that is your intention). If you want to demonstrate the moving rock you need to use multiple panels or small insets to do this. Or in just this one panel have the rock in the air to give the notion he’s been throwing it.
    3. “throwing up and down to entertain himself. He has a lonely look on his face, and he is looking down” – If he is entertained why does he look lonely? Either the look needs to change or the explanation of entertainment: they don’t match. And the artist doesn’t normally need to know why something is happening just what is visually going on.
    4. “Tears are running down his cheek.” – Not a huge problem at all, but again with the motion, remember everything is still. He can have tears ON his cheeks but not running unless you again want to establish the importance of this with multiple small panels. Content wise: Why is he crying? You haven’t given us a real reason for his tears besides two days passing which (I’ll explain more later) isn’t established clearly.
    5. “He still has no shirt from last time, and he is sweating because of all the heat.” You don’t need ‘from last time’. If I were an artist I’d be filtering back to see what you meant and then be wasting time. Keep it simple” He has no shirt on and is sweating”. It’s all you need for this to work for your artist.
    6. How can we see all these details of the angel if he is in the background? Remember your perspective, if someone is in the background hair colour helps but specific details won’t be useful until we get a closer look. If you want a closer look break it up into multiple panels.
    7. Caption + dialogue: I understand what you’re doing here but it doesn’t ‘feel’ right. This is personal taste but you’ve jumped from three days + two more days inefficiently. You only have three panels on this page and you could split it up by adding some time sequence panels to demonstrate: time passage, his boredom and extended loneliness. Him having a sad face means nothing in this panel and you’re probably intending a savior moment when the angel appears but he’s only been in that cave for one previous panel. I am not feeling it. And the angel showing up is abrupt without the desired dramatic effect. If you want this to be more dramatic pacing is important. Space this out and make us feel how horrible these two days have been for him. No water, no company and no toilet: reading this means so little when you do not establish the horribleness of the situation. For me, he’s just chillin’ in a cave with that rock then BAM angel. Make me feel his pain. Make me want him to find salvation and an escape. At this point I’m more interested in what he might do with that rock.

    Some over all advice: try establishing where everyone is in the panel before going into the details. “Angel background left facing reader. M foreground torso up facing reader (right side of panel).” THEN go into what they’re doing individually followed by facial expressions and personal descriptions (that don’t classify as character descriptions) so the artist can get a better idea and get it done faster.

    Maybe try looking at a few frames from other comics and describe them in writing instead of coming up with your own from scratch. Write down everything you see and then look at your own panel descriptions to see what you can do to make it more clear and to the point. Basic placement, then down to actions, then down to emotions. There are a million ways to do this but making it easy for the artists is a part of your job as a comic writer.

    Best way is to do it with a comic you don’t know what’s happening in. If you don’t know the story you should still be able to tell what’s going on in the panel and your descriptions will tighten up, getting rid of the pesky novel style details of feelings and emotions. The old saying is true in comics more so than anywhere else “Don’t tell me, show me” Don’t tell how they are sad from having lost god. Describe how their actions demonstrate this emotion (if you can).

  4. Art: We look at a wall in the cave and we see silhouettes, one of Matthew lying on the floor on his back, he is holding one hand up as if begging, we see another silhouette, this one of a Kate but she has now become a demon, we see that the creature has wings, and horns, and is holding a whip. You see it has his mouth open, and it’s laughing. (No. Rich, why isn’t this working?)

    OK, so Josue, think about what we’re looking at here – silhouettes. Shadows on the wall. Shadows mean no facial features, no fine details, etc. – so how can we see that this is Kate as a demon? If you showed the actual demon, and there were some similarities, like features, or torn clothing, something, that would clue us in, but there’s no way to show it in shadow.

    It’s a pretty extreme transformation, and you’re not giving it any “screen time” – you’re expecting the reader to make the leap and realize its the same character, but you’re not giving them enough info to make that inference. For all we know, its a demon that she summoned. You need to make it clearer, so there’s no doubt as to what’s going on.

  5. Kyle Raios says:

    Panel 2

    Art: This is a shot of the Angel’s face, he looks happy and joyful, even though Matthew thinks something is wrong, He knows that everything is ok. (So, Kyle… I know you’ve been wondering if I was going to call on you. And I am! What’s wrong here? [And yes, I know this is easy. Just easing you back in.])

    Let’s go with proper punctuation.

    This is a shot of the Angel’s face, looking happy and joyful. Even though Matthew thinks something is wrong, he knows that everything is okay.

    Glad to be back. Thanks dude.

    • Punctuation is one thing that’s wrong, Kyle, but that’s not what I was getting at.

      Incorrect punctuation in the panel descriptions is something I’ve learned to live with in TPG. It kills me, but I’m doing it for all of you. Otherwise, there would be a lot more of me griping about punctuation. Who wants to hear me gripe about punctuation all day long? I know I don’t. So I pick my battles.

      Now, unless your scripting is absolutely pristine (see Submissions in B&N), you’re going to end up in the round file. However, making the script itself pristine is easy. It’s everything else that’s hard, so I’m focusing on the other moving parts, rather than turning into an English teacher (although I severely wish I had a ruler to whack some of you on the knuckles with, starting with Yannick, just because).

      So, that being said, again, the punctuation wasn’t what I was getting at. Since we’re easing you back in, and joyful feelings are in the air, let’s try it again. What isn’t needed here?

      • Liam Hayes says:

        Steven + Ruler = End of the world.

        It would happen. 😛
        Cheers
        Liam

      • Kyle Raios says:

        Dec 23, 2011
        Reply

        Panel 2

        Art: This is a shot of the Angel’s face, he looks happy and joyful, even though Matthew thinks something is wrong, He knows that everything is ok. (So, Kyle… I know you’ve been wondering if I was going to call on you. And I am! What’s wrong here? [And yes, I know this is easy. Just easing you back in.])

        My mistake D: Round 2

        What isn’t needed – “even though Matthew thinks something is wrong, He knows that everything is ok.” You’d probably call it prose writing, since that’s what it is and it isn’t necessary to the description for the art.

        For clarity, the panel should just describe the Angel’s face, without since that’s the focal point.

        Sorry for the mistake!

        • No need to apologize! This is how we learn!

          And you’re right. It IS prose. It has little place in the panel description, because it isn’t doing much to illuminate what the angel is feeling, and it definitely cannot be drawn.

          You’re eased in. Next week’s will be harder! 😉

  6. I’m the lucky one! Here’s to getting gutted for the new year! Can’t wait to get your feedback, honestly. It’ll be nice to get something solid from which to make progress.

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