Hello, and welcome to another installment of The Proving Grounds! For the next few weeks, we have something special: scripts from an upcoming anthology called Journeymen, which is being produced by our very own Noel Burns!
This week’s Brave One is Laura Morley. Besides her appearance in Journeymen, Laura also has a story coming in Womanthology, and was the voice of the video for it.
These scripts will have my edits on them, so you’ll get to see something you don’t often get to see here.
And, with no further ado, Laura brings us Steadfast In Peril. My edits will be in red, as usual, but new notes that I want you to notice will be in blue.
We’re looking up, through blue, frigid water, at the underside of a ship at sea. Moonlight from way above outlines the shape of its hull in the water: the vessel’s so vast we can’t see it all, just its prow and the first third of its length.
This panel is page-width and occupies the top two-fifths of the page. (You’re going to see Laura do this a lot. Perfectly acceptable, because it’s giving the artist an idea of what Laura’s seeing in her head. Necessary? No. Restrictive? It could be, especially if the artist feels they need to follow the script to the letter, and they have a different or even better idea for execution. When going through the script, Laura specifically told the artist that this was only her thoughts, and if they had a different idea, she’d be welcome to the different perspective. That, folks, is collaboration.)
CAPTION (lettered in a font like elegant handwriting – use this caption style throughout): OUR TRADE IS NOT, IN THE POPULAR IMAGINATION, ASSOCIATED WITH HEROICS. (See the note to the letterer? Perfectly acceptable, and I even encourage it for when you are going for a special look. Talk to your creative team, folks. It doesn’t all have to be dry imagery.)
We’re inside a plain, wood-panelled shipboard storeroom, with a staircase rising right to left from the panel’s centre (I want you to reverse the staircase. This is P1 of the story. The staircase is leading them “out” of the story to the left, instead of “into” the story to the right. Think about the art. The artist has to lead the reader’s eyes, and you don’t want to lead them “out.” You want to lead them “in.”). There are four men (plus the feet of a fifth) on panel: all are dressed in Edwardianpostmen‘suniforms (colours: navybluewitharedtrim). Two (WILLIAMSON and GWINN) stand at the foot of the stairs, heaving hefty mail sacks from a pile at their feet that extends off to the panel’s left. A third man, WOODY, stands directing them toward the stairs; a fourth (our hero SMITH), with dark red hair and mutton-chop sideburns, is climbing the staircase. He faces backward, a mailbag in his arms so heavy he bends backward to brace its weight. The feet of a fifth man, MARSH, are visible at the top of the staircase.
CAPTION: TO BE SURE, THERE ARE ADVERSITIES TO OVERCOME. ELEMENTS TO BATTLE. SOLITARY JOURNEYS IN THE DARK TO SERVE THOSE UPON WHOSE CONSCIOUSNESS OUR EXISTENCE SCARCELY DAWNS.
Smith loses his grip on the mailbag he’s been carrying. He falls backward, dropping it, and it bounces down the steps in front of him. (I have little idea of where on the steps Smith is: if he’s further up or further down when he loses his grip. I also have no idea where the camera is: is it in front of Smith, and we watch him fall down and away from us, or is the camera down in the hold, and we watch him in profile as he falls? You can always write the script in exacting detail, telling what you see in your head, and telling the artist to use another angle if they have a better, more dynamic idea. When starting a new project with an artist you don’t know, always write as fully as you can, which can cover any weakness on the part of the artist. Tell them the script is the story, but a guide for what you see. A strong artist will know what is and isn’t important, and a weaker artist will be grateful for the detail you’ve included. When you work with the same artist for a while, you’ll get to discover each other’s strengths and weaknesses. Your scripts won’t have to be as exacting then.)
CAPTION: BUT A GROUP LESS DRIVEN BY DREAMS OF FAME OR FABLE, YOU COULD SCARCELY HOPE TO FIND.
From the foot of the staircase, beyond the dropped mailbag (which slumps front and centre), we see Smith looking down with dismay as Marsh helps him back to his feet. Smith should be the panel’s focus. (Here’s what we have, Laura: the mailbag in the foreground, right in front of us. Beyond that, Smith has his back to us, looking down. Marsh is in front, possibly bending over, to help up Smith. If Smith is to be the focus of the panel, why is he showing us his arse? Is that the focus you want? And how did he get turned around? That’s a big jump in Border Time.)
CAPTION: WE WERE NEVER HEROIC.
WE WERE STEADFAST.
PAGE TWO(Page break. Whenever you start a new page of story, put in a page break. This lets the rest of the team know that that page is done and if necessary, they can quickly scan the element headings for what they need.)
Lay this page out so each panel is bigger than the one before – these are Smith’s memories, and I want the recent ones to feel brief and fleeting, the older ones “slower” and more deeply-felt. Because these are memories, the colours too should be muted (like early photo-tinting), visually distinct from the action in the present day.
Closeup on Smith’s hands: he’s winding the mechanism of a handsome fob watch.
CAPTION: ONE’S MIND DOES SIFT, SORT, AND PARCEL RECOLLECTIONS, JUST AS THE ANECDOTES SAY.
A newly-weighed anchor, still trailing seaweed and water, hangs from the black-painted side of a ship.
Close-up on a glimpse of Smith’s ankle, exposed between the cuff of his uniform trousers and the top of a well-polished boot. A West Highland terrier, teeth bared and snarling, is closing in on the ankle, ready for the taste of blood.
CAPTION: MY VERY FIRST POST ROUND.
Smith, a little skinnier and younger than we’ve seen him so far but still quite recognisable by his red hair, stands in a tailor’s shop. His arm’s stretched out for the tailor to measure, his unfinished uniform coat draped over him and his hat perched on his head.
CAPTION: FAST AT FIRST, THEN SLOWER, DEEPER.
A little girl, aged about 8, runs up the seaside path to a Cornish tin-miner’s cottage, waving a sealed envelope above her head. This is Smith’s daughter ELSA. She has mid-brown hair tied back with a ribbon that’s coming untied.
CAPTION: THE LETTER OF APPOINTMENT: WHAT A REPRIEVE IT FELT…
Smith, gaunt and skinny, bends over to pick up Elsa, only now she’s a year or so younger than last panel, smaller and lighter. Smith is trying to smile for his daughter but his face is ashen, and he wears a simple black armband on his shirtsleeve. (Nope. This isn’t going to go over well. You went back, and started to come forward. Don’t then start going back again. You’re going to lose your readers. The art will only be able to do so much. Continue moving forward.)(This was a mistake on my part. I mistook what Laura was trying to do. This panel stood as is.)
CAPTION: …AFTER THOSE LONG, HUNGRY MONTHS SINCE THE TIN MINE CLOSED DOWN.
See layout sketch (script p.11 below): this one’s a little complicated, but the effect should be neat. Essentially, the whole page can be read as a single cross-section cutaway through the body of the ship, so we can see three decks at once, with the zig-zagging staircase connecting them. The floors of the decks de facto divide the page into three page-width “panels”, and the men travelling down the stairs direct the reader’s eye. (I want you to reverse the layout. P3 should be a right hand page, which means you’re leading the eye back “in” to the book, instead of “out” of it. When I say “in” and “out,” I’m talking about the first and last panels. They have to lead the eye appropriately.)(Laura also submitted a layout of certain pages within the document. I looked at them and saw the problem with leading the reader’s eye immediately. Laura and I talked about it over the layout that the artist did, and we decided to go my way with it. This isn’t about me being right, it’s about what was best for the story.)
This is the highest deck we can see, with an exit door, a balcony, and a flight of railings. A plaque reading “D Deck” is affixed to the wall. Leaning over the railings stands THESSINGER, a portly man in rolled-up shirtsleeves, who shouts his lines down to the figures in the panels below. To his right stands Marsh, a mail sack tucked under one arm, using his free hand to mop his brow with a handkerchief.
THESSINGER: MY GOD – STILL AT YOUR POSTS – YOU CAN’T HAVE HEARD THE NEWS?
MARSH: WE’VE HEARD.
A flight of stairs crosses the whole panel, heading down from left to right. Williamson right) takes a bag of mail from the perspiring Gwinn (a few steps below him).
The plaque on this level reads “E Deck”.
WILLIAMSON: HOW MANY MORE BAGS TO GO?
GWINN: NINETY-SEVEN MORE FOR THE REGISTERED MAIL. (I put a dash in for you, but I’m not an advocate of bolding text in order to accentuate it. I’d rather see it underlined. It’s harder for the letterer to miss.)
The next flight of stairs crosses the panel from right to left, reaching the bottom deck where the mailbags are piled. A sign on the wall reads “F Deck”.
On the left of the panel Smith bends backwards with the next mailbag in his arms, puffed but with a smile on his face. Because he’s down here in the bottom left, the panel’s positioned next to page 2 panel 7 – and it looks almost like the action here continues straight from that one. Smith’s pose should look as though he could have stepped directly from that scene into this one, the little girl replaced by the mail bag. To his right Woody stands a few steps upward, climbing the stairs and carrying another bag.
WOODY: AND TWENTY-EIGHT HUNDRED OF THE REST.
SMITH: SIX MILLION PATRONS TO SERVE.
Again, this page uses the photo-tint hues of early memory.
Page-width; one-quarter height.
We’re inside a modest stone church (I’m thinking something laid out like this or this.) The panel is framed from the altar, looking back down the aisle toward the door: in the aisle, walking toward us, Smith is one of the pall-bearers carrying a coffin. EMILY, Smith’s redheaded 30-something sister, sits in the front row; Elsa, aged maybe six, sits crying in Emily’s lap.
EMILY: WHAT’LL THEY DO FOR MONEY? MORWENNA’S SEAMSTRESSING WAS KEEPING THEM AFLOAT.
CAPTION (bottom right): EVEN THE MEMORIES OF SORROW ARE NOT MEMORIES
I’D HAVE FOREGONE.
Half-width; one quarter height.
The interior of a bedroom in a tin-miner’s cottage. In the bed lies MORWENNA, Smith’s wife: she looks gaunt, with a classic consumptive complexion (very pale skin and bright lips). Her long, dark hair is pushed back off her face. Smith is feeding her broth from a bowl and mopping her brow with a cloth. Elsa, even younger, stands at the bedside, holding her mother’s hand. (He can’t feed her from the bowl AND mop her brow. Pick one action. I suggest the brow mopping, and have him holding the empty-ish bowl in the other hand. That’s one action, and can be drawn.)
CAPTION: THE SORROWS BORN OF HAVING LOVED.
Half-width; one quarter height.
An echo of the previous panel, framed the same way on Morwenna lying in the same bed, except that – though rather thin and pale still – she is healthy now, a few years younger, holding in her arms a newborn baby. Again Smith kneels by her side, beaming down at baby Elsa.
CAPTION: OF HAVING HELD SOMETHING OF VALUE.
Page width; one quarter height.
We’re in the same church as in this page’s first panel, now on a bright spring day with sunshine streaming through the stained glass windows. Again the panel’s framed from the top of the aisle, looking out at pews full of relatives and friends in their best clothes. Front and centre, at the altar, stand Smith and Morwenna. They’re very slightly younger than in the last panel, and Smith holds a ring on Morwenna’s finger. (As a working-class Edwardian bride, Morwenna wears a very simple ivory frock.)
SMITH: IN SICKNESS AND IN HEALTH, FOR RICHER OR POORER, TIL DEATH DO US PART.
CAPTION: THOUGH ALL COMES IN THE END TO GRIEF –
Half-width, one quarter height.
Smith kneels on one knee on the Cornish beach, proposing to Morwenna, as the sun sets into the sea beyond them.
CAPTION: -OUGHT THAT TO STOP ONE EVER FROM BEGINNING?
Half-width, one quarter height.
At the same waterfront spot we see Smith and a FRIEND, gangly and awkward in their late teens, wading barefoot in the shallows to gather driftwood. Smith is bending to scoop something from the water, but he looks up, smitten, at Morwenna, who’s walking on the shore. She’s also in her teens, smiling flirtatiously and carrying a basket of groceries, though she already has her trademark pallor. Smith’s friend pulls a face, dropping a hand onto his shoulder to tell Smith:
FRIEND: SHE’S PROPER NESH, THAT ‘UN. FACE LIKE A WHITE-WASHED WALL. FIND YOURSELF A LASS WITH MORE LIFE IN HER.
Same three-deck layout as page three.
Thessinger stands right at the top of the stairway, gripping the railings and loath to actually head down. He looks distraught. Marsh has dumped the sack he was carrying at the top of the stairs, and turns to head back down the steps toward Williamson (in the next panel).
THESSINGER: DON’T YOU HEAR ME? WHAT’S THE MATTER WITH YOU? ARE YOU MAD, OR ONLY STUPID?
Williamson holds up his mailbag, ready to pass it to Marsh in the panel above. Gwinn has his back to Williamson, trooping back down the stairs (toward the right).
Marsh’s speech balloon descends down from the panel above.
MARSH: WE MAY VERY WELL BE BOTH, BUT WE HAVE MADE OUR CHOICE.
Woody is holding the bag that Smith had on page three, ready to pass it up to Gwinn, and looking over his shoulder toward Smith. Smith, in the left-hand bottom corner of the page, holds another mail sack. Again, his posture makes it look as though he’s finishing the action he was taking in page four panel six (standing up straight). The floor beneath his feet is slick now with water, and the sackcloth mailbags are growing dark with damp.
WOODY: I SAY, THESE FEEL HEAVIER ALL THE TIME.
SMITH: I’M AFRAID THEY’RE GETTING WET. WE’LL NEED TO WORK FASTER.
Again, this page is flashbacks, so back to the phototint hues.
Page-width, one third height.
We’re back on the same beach where Smith first saw Morwenna. Smith, now only eight years old, is kneeling on the sand, wearing a stripy Edwardian bathing suit, and building a sandcastle quite close to the tideline. His sister Emily, aged maybe ten, stands over him – barefoot and wearing a short dress – with her arms folded and a disapproving expression.
EMILY: IT SHALL ALL BE UNDERWATER IN FIVE MINUTES.
SMITH: I DON’T CARE.
Panels two, three, and four are each one-third width and one-third height, arranged in a row across the page. The sandcastle is visible in them all, but the children need not be – Emily’s speech balloons can be tailless.
In panel two, as the two children watch the sea, a wave sweeps in toward the sand castle…
EMILY: CAN’T YOU SEE?
At its height it reaches a point just inches from the sandcastle’s crumbly walls…
EMILY: YOUR SILLY CASTLE WILL BE WRECKED. YOU’RE WASTING YOUR TIME.
…Before receding and falling back, leaving a trace of foam on the sand in its wake.
BALLOON (tail extending down into panel five below): EMILY! JAMES!
Page width; one third height
Frame the panel from the water looking inland, so the children are foregrounded. Emily’s run forward and started climbing a flight of steps cut into the granite cliff-face beyond the beach. At the top of the steps a woman in working-class late-Victorian dress stands waving to the children. She was the unseen speaker in panel four: this is the Smith children’s MOTHER. Smith is looking up at her, still kneeling on the sand beside his castle as another wave sweeps in.
EMILY: COMING, MAMA.
And back to the present-day action; again, the layout and setting matches that on pages three and five.
THESSINGER steps back from the top of the stairs, one hand on the handle of the exit door. Marsh is ignoring him, setting down a mail sack at the top of the stairs. Marsh’s speech balloon extends down toward the panel below.
THESSINGER: COME WITH ME, FOR GOD’S SAKE. LEAVE NOW. GIVE YOURSELVES A CHANCE.
MARSH: GENTLEMEN. THERE IS NO SHAME IN WITHDRAWAL, SHOULD ANY OF YOU WISH IT.
Gwinn, visibly perspiring, leans forward to scoop up a mailbag Williamson has dumped on the stairs beneath him. Williamson, in turn, is dumping another onto the pile.
GWINN: NOT I, SIR.
WILLIAMSON: I ONLY WONDER, SINCE IT’S COMING UP SO FAST, IF D DECK WILL BE HIGH ENOUGH?
Down here at the lowest level, Smith stands up to his ankles in water, straining to hoist two mailbags at once toward the stalwart-looking Woody. There are more bags piled on the steps between them, and the bags still on the floor are drenched by the rising water. Woody is grabbing bags from the top of the pile on the stairs.
WOODY: EVER UPWARD, GENTLEMEN.
The page layout here matches the one from Page One.
An echo of the scene from page 1, panel 1, except that we’re now viewing the ship from above, in bird’s eye view. We see its nose beginning to rise up above the ocean, as the rear compartments fill with water and sink. Visible on its side as the ship tilts are the letters RMS Titanic.
SMITH (tailless): EVER UPWARD.
This page-width panel shows only the lowest deck of the ship, where the water’s risen and engulfs the lowest steps. All five postmen cluster here, trying to salvage the sodden mailbags. Smith faces Woody, who stands a few steps above him on the right of the panel, handing him a dripping wet mailbag. It’s important here to convey a sense of Smith’s upward motion: have his leading foot placed on a higher step, his body reaching upward. Between the men’s feet the steps are piled with mailbags; still more are visible disappearing below the rising water in the lower lefthand corner of the panel.
CAPTION: FIVE OF US SERVED IN THE POSTROOM ABOARD THE ROYAL MAIL SHIP TITANIC.
IT IS MY HONOUR AND PRESUMPTION TO SPEAK FOR THEM:
OF ALL MY LIFE’S ENDEAVOURS, NONE MEANT MORE THAN THAT I TRIED TO SAVE THE MAIL. (If you want two different captions, then you have to label each caption. Otherwise, the letterer is going to put all the words into the same caption. And make no mistake, this deserves two captions.)
A panel framed from the foot of the staircase, down at water level, looking up the stairs. Smith has turned around from his upward movement, and now faces down toward the reader. For the first time in the comic, he is beginning a descent: down toward the rising water.
Return to the flash-back colours last seen on page six.
The nine-year-old Smith gets up to climb the stairs toward his mother. We see him mid-turn, his face angled away from us, reaching up for the railing as he goes to ascend the stairs. In the foreground of the shot, a wave sweeps in and engulfs the now-falling walls of his sandcastle.
Okay, Laura, here’s what we’ve got!
From a scripting perspective, this isn’t bad at all. I like that you embedded the links to what you wanted the artist to see, and I like how you laid out the one page for the artist. Nice work.
I’m not too enamored with the laying out of some of the other pages for the artist. This is a personal taste, and it is NOT wrong, which is why I’m not dinging you for it. Some artists may like it. They may want it. It may save them some thinking. Others may think it too constraining on their creativity. The final decision will be yours as to whether or not you keep it.
There’s one big problem here. NONE of the characters are named in a place where the reader can see it. Smith gets named as a little boy, and that’s about it. There’s little to link boy-Smith to adult-Smith. There’s absolutely nothing to link Emily from adult to child, so that we know who we’re looking at. Well, let me rephrase. Only the wife is named and identified well.
Are the names important? I believe so. It helps the reader to identify with the character. At least the main character. The others can be named or not at your leisure. I suggest naming Elsa, though. Children are special.
Dialogue: I have absolutely no problem with it. There’s nothing I’d change about it, except to add more of it. You have a lot of space on the page because of the little bit of dialogue you have. You could double what you have on each page and it won’t be crowded.
I think that when you have a story that’s caption heavy such as this one, you’re causing the reader to “sit back” as the story is being told to them. Word balloons engage, and captions disengage. If you’re going to add more dialogue (and I sincerely hope you do), I suggest more word balloons. Engage the readers. Make them sit forward instead of sitting back.
That’s all I have. Looking forward to the next draft.
Okay! Was that a treat or what? Let’s run it down, just so that we’re consistent.
Format: Almost a flawless victory. If there were page breaks, this would have been perfect.
Panel Descriptions: This script is eminently drawable. I love this script for that. Laura gave all the information the artist needed in order to draw this story. The bad points? Sometimes she was a little murky in visualizing where the camera would be, such as when Smith was being helped to his feet. Other than a few slips, this thing is rocking in being able to be drawn.
Pacing: Almost perfect. I’d like if there were more dialogue, but that’s a personal preference. That’s the only thing I’d change about the script. It will read a little fast.
Dialogue: Pitch perfect. I loved the way it read, I loved the word choice, placement, and usage. This, folks, is how dialogue should be done. Very nice indeed.
Content: As a reader, this story held my interest. I liked what it did, and I liked how I felt after I read it. Call it bittersweet, with more than a hint of duty thrown in for flavor. I don’t know. Maybe the fact that I was in the military is clouding my perspective here. As a reader, that’s great. For me, it did its job.
Editorially, this script was pretty easy to edit. Not much red to be seen. Laura did her job admirably.
And that’s all for this week. Check the calendar to see who’s up next!
Category: The Proving Grounds