Hello, and welcome to another installment of The Proving Grounds! This week we have a new Brave One in Charles Crane. Let’s see what he brings us in
Telmin Frost sits upon his mount. He is on a road looking at his destination, a giant stone castle built into the side of a mountain. (So he’s turning his back to us? Or is the castle in the foreground? He can’t be looking at something in the background and still show us his face.) He is heavily armored, his armor a dark green with leafy gold veins snaking throughout it. His helm is down obscuring his face, he has a curved sword on his side, and a longer straighter one on his back along with a icey blue shield with a sigil engraved within it. At first blush it looks like nothing more than a circle, but when viewed more closely the circle is made up of six curved blades. The blade on the bottom giving rise to a golden treelike V. (All of the info you’ve just given about Telmin’s weapons, armor, shield and so on? Completely useless to the artist right now. It belongs in a separate document that your artist will use for the character designs. What is needed here is a proper establishing shot. That means we need a WHO, a WHERE and a WHEN. We have the WHO and the WHEN is mentioned lower in the panel description (it should be moved up a bit–you want all the important information in the same place for convenience’s sake). The WHERE is rather sketchy. Where’s the camera? What’s the countryside like? Is it a paved road or a dirt road? Any more details on the castle?) The knife we saw young Telmin grab in the beginning is at his hip. (What is this “beginning” you speak of? I see a beginning right here “Page 1, panel 1.” Am I missing pages? So right off the first panel of the script, we have extraneous info AND missing info.)
Next to Frost on a similar mount (A mount similar to the one you DIDN’T describe earlier? That’s not very helpful, Charles.) sits Curran Stewart, a long gray(-)haired similarly armored man.
It is is an overcast day, and it seems like it is about to rain.
You better be ready to go boyo. (Comma-fail)
A close up of Telmin’s eyes through his visor. (If he was back to us in the previous panel, there’s no way for the reader to connect what little he saw of the visor earlier with this close-up.) The scar is somewhat visible, but the look is unmistakable. This is definitely the boy we saw in the beginning. (Again with the “beginning”. I hope your artist knows what you’re talking about because your editor hasn’t got the foggiest right now.)
(And just what is the purpose of this panel? I can’t see any except filling up some space – and even that’s going to be hard with nothing more than a silent close-up.)
Okay. Wow. The first page, and I’m not ashamed to say it, is unmitigated crap.
Let’s take it a point at a time.
First, and simplest, is the character description. Like was said above, the information is useless here. It’s not doing anything besides taking up space. It makes the panel description look like its doing something because there are a lot of words there. If the part between the blue was removed, you’d see just how short the PD is. As this is the first panel description, it should be an establishing shot. Not much is established, though.
Second, I have absolutely no idea what you’re talking about when you talk about a “beginning.” That floored me, and I’m not ashamed to say it.
This is P1, panel 1. The only thing that came before this is what I stripped out: a cover sheet with the name of the story and contact info, to include an address. There’s nothing else before it, so a “beginning” is out. This is part of what makes this first page crap.
The second thing that makes it crap is that you only have two panels on this page. What is the second panel doing? Nothing. Two ill-described panels on a page, with a minimum of dialogue, which does nothing to make the reader want to turn the page, unless it’s the front cover and putting it back on the shelf. An extremely inauspicious start, Charles.
A two page spread.
We see Telmin, Stewart, five main Sell Swords I’ve described below, and a large army behind them.
Frost has turned towards his five comrades.
(Apart from my comments between parentheses, everything I’ve put in blue in the rest of this panel description should be cut out and moved to a separate Character Descriptions document.)
1. Aleva, is a small human woman of about twenty wearing an iridescent skin suit. It isn’t armor, more like a second skin. She may be slight, but her womanly figure stands out in her uniform. It has blades on the forearms that are made of the same material as the rest of the suit. She does have a wristbands with the same sigil as Frost’s shield. Her blonde hair is cut short in a boy cut, and has a samuraiesque sword on her hip. She has a gunlike device strapped to her back. She is seated on an outcropping next to the road. She looks edgy and agitated. A small dragon named Granov sits beside her. He isn’t large by dragon standards, but is small enough for her to ride upon It’s skin and bone structure looks similar to Aleva’s skin suit.
Below Aleva, down on the road with Telmin Frost are four others.
2. Gentleman Bruce, a half man half Goblin who is garbed in armor similar to Frost’s, however he doesn’t have nearly as much and doesn’t take nearly as good care of his as Frost does. It is caked in mud and blood, but the telltale designs and sigils are still visible if faded. He is muscled and scarred. But is standing with a twisted smile on his face. He’s ready to kill people. He has the same wristbands as Aleva. A double headed axe is in his hands, and he is testing its sharpness against his finger. While he prefers his ax, he still carries the requisite guild mandatory sword at his side. He is also sitting upon a mount.
3. Broag, a bulky and built half giant. He has a long wilde beard, and stands resting upon a giant and fearsome looking spear. He has a shaven head, and wears the Sigil of the Circle of Swords as a tattoo on his forehead. Otherwise it appears nowhere else on his body. He is forever bound to House Viridian and the Circle. The others are merely contracted and bound with the wrist bands and gauntlets. A large sword by human standards, but small to him, sits upon his back.
He looks grim and in no hurry to get started.
He also has a mount.
4. Aruska, a human woman with a staff. She is a little younger than Telmin Frost, but carries herself with an experienced air. She wears a simple traveling robe, but is surrounded by the auras of charms and protective spells. She sits upon an animal similar to Telmin Frost’s. (What are those mounts?)She has red hair, and freckles. Instead of sword she carries a small dirk. She is the resident mage of the group.
5. Garin, a human male of about twenty five. He has long brown hair and bears his sigil as brands upon his hands. He wears armor like Telmin’s but has a black cloak over shoulders. He is used to warmer climate, and isn’t aclimated to the cooler temperant of their current location. He is fighting off a cold and is blowing his nose. He wields a morning star and hand sword. He is standing next to his mount.
Percival is done waiting.
A whole spread just to show your cast and a speech balloon with four words in it? That’s a criminal waste of space, Charles. Even worse, you could have been done with this on the first page since you only had two panels and that establishing shot couldn’t have taken more than a third of the page. The way I see it, first page should have been your establishing shot (1/3 of the page) and the rest of the page presenting your cast. Right now, you’re just wasting real estate doing the comic equivalent of static anime shots. If I picked this off a shelf and saw that your first three pages consisted of three panels and two speech balloons, I’d put it right back, thinking this is all you’d be offering for 22 pages: characters standing around, doing nothing much but posing. There is nothing here to convince me I should turn to page 4. You’ve basically made me lose my entire mind.
And why are there no page breaks?
The good thing is that, while useless, this double-page spread was done correctly. That’s the only good thing about this.
Telmin and Stewart. (I can see that: they’re talking below. But what are they doing? What’s their expression? What’s the camera angle? What’s in the background? You’re not telling anything more than what I could assume by reading the dialogue.)
All we need you to do is deliver the ultimatum.
Will the host remain at a distance?
We’ll march closer after you have entered their walls. It might bring home the reality of the situation. If you can convince Grassan to cooperate without any bloodshed, all the better. (At least, this is decent dialogue. It reads somewhat like a novel, though.)
Telmin is addressing his Vanguard, mostly Aleva and Granov. (And once again, you’re not telling us anything more than what we can read in the dialogue. Did the camera angle/distance change? How are the people he’s addressing reacting? What are they doing? I’m in a white void, and everyone knows how much I hate being in a white void.)
Aleva, I want you and Granov to watch our back from above. You’ll only need to get involved if everything gets fucked. (What?! Not only did your comic just get shifted a few shelfs higher out of reach of the young ones, but that four-letter word just came completely out of left field. You have dragons, sorcerers, goblins, giants, castles and armies with mounted knights when all of the sudden BANG! F-bomb! Maybe you were going for edginess or shock value, but you didn’t hit either of these marks. In the post-Mark Millar world, you’ll need more than that to catch a reader’s attention. All you did here was reduce your readership.)
ALEVA (This is the first time that someone whose name we know is talking. Telmin and Stewart are still nameless.)
Alright lets go. (Comma-fail)
Another two-panel page? This is shaping up to be a very fast read. At the price comics are sold today – and with the costs of indie comics often imposing a high starting price – you can’t afford to be this cheap with content. At this point, you barely have enough to fill two regular pages. Really, you could fit everything so far into a single page.
The panel descriptions are not adequate for anything. Because you’ve not really given a panel description, you can’t go into panel description shorthand, which is what you’re doing.
The dialogue is extremely reminiscent of a novel, which would fit, since your “panel descriptions” are very much like prose. Except in prose, you also have adequate descriptions for settings. You don’t have that here, Charles. Right now, you have much of nothing.
Also, as noted above, only one of the characters have been named in a place where the reader can see it. Five “pages”, eleventy-hundred people, and only three people have been named. Not good.
Aleva has jumped aboard (“astride” unless that dragon has a hollow thorax she can climb into) Granov and has taken flight, a smile on her face. She and her dragon nearly fading into the gray sky.
The Vanguard have mounted and have moved down the road. (Justin, what’s left of my head is dripping down the walls. Tell me why.)
You and Broag may have to remain in the courtyard. I doubt Grassan will allow an Orc (I thought the guy was a “half-goblin”.) and a giant into his halls.
Fuck Grassan. (*sigh*)I’m just grateful you brought me along at all Frost. (Comma-fail and now we all think you main character is called “Frost”.) I’m used to being left in the back.
The Vanguard has gotten closer to the castle. Aruska has summoned a magical standard, signaling that they have come as the Vanguard of House Viridian, and that they are in the service of Lord Percival of Dunmark. (Oh really? And the reader is supposed to know that how? And what is the artist supposed to draw?)
You are far from the back, Gentleman Bruce.You are part of the Vanguard of House Viridian. (Missing space between the two sentences.)
A shot of our three riders. Telmin in the middle, with Aruska and Garin at his sides. Bruce and Broag flanking them, with Aleva and Granov flying in the sky above. (This is where more precise camera directives would come in handy. Is this a head-on shot with the two flyers way back in the distance? Is this a worm’s eye view shot looking up towards the flyers? Or is this a bird’s eye-view shot, looking down on the riders with the flyers in the foreground?)
We are the first and last thing our enemies see.
(Three panels only? You’re maybe up to two and half pages of content right now – and I’m being generous.)
P5, and to be honest, I have no idea what’s going on.
Of these five pages, this is the first page that has more than two panels, and that’s only by 1. This is also the first page that has more than a handful of words on it. This means your readers aren’t reading. Instead, they’re looking. They’re looking to see how fast they can put this back on the shelf and buy something worth reading.
Like I said, it’s P5, and I still have no idea what’s happening. What’s the story about? The sad truth? I don’t care. Nothing so far has happened to make me interested in the least. I don’t understand, and I don’t want to.
You’re not taking your readers along with you. You have this vision in your head, and you’re following it full tilt, giving no heed as to whether or not your story is making sense. And it isn’t, and that’s hurting you.
Combine that with the ultra-fast read that this is, and what you have is crap.
Now, the language thing: very anachronistic. I don’t care about the word “fuck.” It doesn’t bother me one whit, in and of itself. However, when you have it in a fantasy setting, it doesn’t work. It throws your readers right on out. That’s terrible. I’d tell you to don’t be terrible, but it’s already too late for that. Let’s move on to the next page.
We are on the ramparts of Castle Grassan. Soldiers stand armed with bows, spears, swords, and gunlike weapons similar to the one Aleva carries. (How many soldiers?) We can see the three riders of the Vanguard nearing the castle’s gates. One of the watchmen is a man named Borath, the first sword of Lord Grassan. A watchman next to him is turned speaking back to him. (If we’re on the ramparts looking down on Telmin and his merry band, I guess Borath and the watchman are back to us?)
Sir, riders are approaching. They are the Vanguard of House Viridian. (Well at least the guards know who these people are, so I guess the magical standard works.)
A medium shot of Borath looking out at the riders. He looks determined and resolute. (Does he also look resolved? Unflinching? Single-minded? Because you’ve just used two other synonyms to describe Borath’s expression. If you’re a writer, Charles, words are your primary tools. Don’t give the editor to whom you’re pitching this any reason to doubt you don’t know how to use them. And, really, how is the artist supposed to draw “determined and resolute”?)
They ride for Percival. Send word to the Duke, and let them in.
He has turned and is walking away from the ramparts. His hand on the hilt of sword. (Is he coming down stairs? Going into a guard tower? Jumping down into the courtyard? Walking through thin air?)
But have our archers and marksmen on them as soon as they get within thirty feet of our walls.
(Three panels only – again.)
I’m feeling like I should stop right here, but there’s something below that I want everyone to see, so I’m going to continue. However, this is really just more of the same: bad panel descriptions that will only lead to questions from the artist, and dialogue that doesn’t yet make much sense. It’s one thing to start in media res, and more comics should start that way (or close to it, like this one), but you still have responsibilities to live up to. The biggest one is taking your readers with you, like I said before. They’re left in the dark.
Follow me, now.
Imagine that I just started talking about various things as I went through this, and never once gave you a frame of reference for anything that I said. I just expected you to keep up, and if you didn’t, then hey, that’s your fault. Everything is there on the page to be seen, right? Then you should be able to discern what I’m talking about.
Unfair, right? Well, that’s what you’re doing to your readers. They picked up the book because they thought it looked interesting, and then asked for their money back when they found out that you’re not writing a story for them—or, at least, not one they can understand. Bring your readers along.
Borath has entered the Duke’s throne room. The Duke is seated next to his wife, sons, and daughters. (Who is sitting and who is standing?)His sons are of fighting age, and stand armored and armed. His daughters are young, the eldest 17, the other two 14 and 12. They are blonde, pure and beautiful. (You know where this goes now.) The youngest daughter, Eran sits upon his lap, and the Duke is holding her for dear life.
Borath is kneeling before him. (Where’s the camera? Hey, Adam, just as an exercise, you think you could tell me what the possible shots are for this panel and what’s the best according to you?)
My lord, there are three riders approaching our gates from guild the Circle of Swords. (Missing word?) They ride for Percival. (Split here and put the last sentence in its own speech balloon.) What would you have me do?
Duke Grassan sits with a sickened expression on his face. His wife looks as if she can barely stand. Her brothers look enraged, ready for a fight. Eran simply looks frightened, and is pressing herself tighter against her father.
A close up on the Duke’s face. (What’s his expression? It’s crucial info since you’re asking for a close-up of his face.)
Let them in. (Two people have talked to Borath as of yet and none of them have mentioned his name. Those were two squandered opportunities to name the character.)
A more reasonable four panels, but you know it’s already too late by now. Only a very patient editor would have gone this far, not a reader. I wouldn’t call me the most patient of people, but like I said, there’s something I want everyone to see.
So, finally, a reasonable panel count on the seventh page of this thing. You’re trying to gain someone’s interest, but you squandered every opportunity to win it at every turn. Your criminally low panel count coupled with dialogue that doesn’t enlighten, expand, or otherwise tell a story, has solidified in readers minds that this is not worth pursuing.
I’m not going to steal my own thunder in running down this page, because the problems with the page are the problem with the script, writ small. They’re all here.
The Vanguard riding through the open gates of the Castle Grassan. A marksman with his magical gun/weapon trained on them along with several others. In the sky we can see the faint hint of Aleva and Granov. (I’m very curious to know where your camera is if we can see both the Vanguard arriving in the castle’s courtyard and the flyers in the sky so high above them. Simply put: you’re asking for something that can’t be drawn.)
The three have dismounted with Bruce and Broag behind them. Borath and some soldiers are standing that the entrance to the Castle. A horizontal view. (This… this makes no sense at all. I’m not sure if you’re missing words or ideas here.)
I am Telmin Frost, (FINALLY! A name!) Sell Sword of House Viridian of the Circle of Swords. We are here as envoy’s (“envoys”) for Lord Percival of Dunmark. (It’s the land of dramatic revelations: Dun-dun-dunmark!)
You are welcomed to Castle Grassan Sell Sword Frost. I am Borath first sword of Duke Grassan. (Comma-fail but you did manage to squeeze in Borath’s name, albeit a little late.)
A medium shot of Borath and the humans. (Once again, you’re not saying anything to help your artist: no definite angle, no actions, no expression – nothing. You give out so little visual cues that it’s almost as if you were writing a radio play.)
Your business here is fit for only the Duke himself so if you would set aside your weapons and follow me.
Are you serious, First Sword?
Fuck you. (I’m laughing right now, but not because it’s funny.)
Watch your tone sell sword. (Comma-fail)
Careful Telmin… (Comma-fail again. And you have way too many back-and-forths in this panel, enough to cover up most of the art. The most you can have before it starts making trouble for your artist is Person A – Person B – Person A.)
Telmin is giving him the eye. (What eye? Did he pick this up with the knife “in the beginning”?) Aruska is leaning in to him looking concerned.
I apologize if I have offended your sensitive nature First Sword Borath, (Comma-fail) but the Vanguard of House Viridian will be fucked (Again with the “shock value”.) before we will throw down our weapons to you.
Borath and Telmin having a stare(-)down. (This is anemic panel describing at its worst. You’re not telling the artist anything he needs to know. All you’re doing is telling him your story. That’s not what he needs to hear. He needs to know what people are doing, what emotions they’re showing, how are they placed in relation to each other, from what angle we see them and so on. Your job as a writer is to give the artist the instructions he needs to tell the story, not to tell the story yourself.)
We’d gladly surrender them, but only after you and your men have done the same. We both know thats (“that’s”) not going to happen, so why don’t you shut your fucking mouth and take me before your Duke. (“Fantasy! Do you write it, m#########er?” Sorry, thought I was in a Tarantino movie there for an instant. It’s the only way I can cope with the jarring effect of having flying dragons juxtaposed with fantasy knights arguing like the leads of Reservoir Dogs.)
Borath has turned his back to them. (And what else? Anyone else doing anything of note?)
Very well. The Orc and Giant are to remain outside but the rest of you, follow me.
And here it is. This is what I wanted everyone to see. After six pages of two- or three-panels, and a page with four, suddenly we jump to six. Why six panels all of a sudden?
It’s also particularly remarkable that this is your most dialogue-heavy page yet, and you’ve opted to have less space per panel for once. Dialogue takes up space in the panels. When you have more dialogue, ask for fewer panels. When you have less – like for action sequences – you can have more panels.
Anyway, it makes absolutely no sense.
And that’s more than enough. Let’s run this bad boy down.
Format: Easily the best thing about this script, hands down. If you had added page breaks, then this would have been a flawless victory. Know how I generally say that format is the easiest thing to learn? This piece is living proof of that. No, stop it. This is not me being mean. This is me being truthful. The format is the best thing here.
Panel Descriptions: Criminal. More times than not, they are totally useless. It’s like you wrote a novel, and instead of rewriting it in order to adapt it to a comic format, taking out what wasn’t needed and keeping or expanded what was, you just broke it up into panels and kept it moving.
This is criminal.
The panel descriptions are there for the rest of the creative team. The ONLY thing that could partially save this from being criminal is if you were drawing this yourself. However, there are some panel descriptions here that are just totally undrawable, even if you were using the script as notes for yourself to draw from. So, this is criminal. ‘Nuff said.
Pacing: Criminal. Worse than. I’d go “super-criminal,” but that could be seen as a badge of honor, instead of something that is truly, head-’splodingly terrible.
Your first page has two panels. I can almost get behind that, IF the panels themselves were used effectively. However, in turning the page, it is painfully obvious that the first page isn’t effective at all.
Your second page is a double-page splash (which, a point in your favor, was done correctly), but it was a single panel showing people just standing around. It did absolutely nothing to either move the story forward or to reveal character. It didn’t even tell anyone’s names. It’s just a waste of space showing unnamed people doing uninteresting things.
Your fourth page has two panels, again, not doing much to push the story forward. Then the panel count inexplicably starts to climb, as does the amount of dialogue. I didn’t do a count because there wasn’t enough dialogue to make the page cramped, however, you’re backwards. You have almost no dialogue on the low panel counts, and are almost dialogue-heavy on the higher panel counts.
And finally, near the end, there’s some story progression. What any of it has to do with anything is beyond my ken, because I stopped wondering what the story was going to be about and instead was interested in how bad the story was going to be at around P3. You may think of it as a gentle ramp up, but instead it is a slow-yet-fast dive into a morass of terrible storytelling. Slow because nothing really of note, moment, or importance happened; fast because the low panel count and the low amount of dialogue means that the reader will be turning the pages fast.
Dialogue: Except for the use of the word “fuck,” this is the second nicest thing I can say about this piece.
Let’s talk about the good first. The dialogue generally does not come across as cheesy. Like I said before, it does read somewhat like a novel, which shows a faint glimmer of potential. The dialogue itself is easy to understand.
The bad: Right off the bat, using the word “fuck” in a sword and sorcery tale will turn readers off faster than watching their old toothless uncle gum some peanuts.
Comma-fails. That kills your readability.
You have a ton of characters, and few of them are named in a place where the reader can see it. That is a huge, huge problem. Take the double-page splash: you could have named characters there extremely easily with captions. Instead, you opt not to, for no reason that I can understand.
Dialogue is used to expand and expound on the art, as well as inform the reader as to what is going on. Your dialogue isn’t doing that. None of it, partially because there’s so little of it in the beginning. (The actual beginning, not the misty, unknown beginning you talk about on P1, panel 1.) Your dialogue doesn’t take the reader along the for the ride.
Here are the reader questions that dialogue should answer: who are these people, what do they want, are they interesting enough to follow, are their voices distinct, do I want to know more? In 8 pages, are any of these questions answered? No.
Content: Overall, this is crap. Remember that each part works in concert with the other. None of the elements are working together here. As a reader, I shouldn’t have to get to P8 before reaching something that vaguely resembles something interesting. I shouldn’t be left with “bad” questions after reading that far, either. (A “bad” question is “what are these characters names,” and “what do these people want?”) I should be left only with good questions (“how is the character going to get out of this predicament,” or “I wonder how what I just learned will impact the story later.”). These aren’t the questions your readers would ask of this. Your readers would ask “who wrote this, so I can be sure to avoid them in the future,” “who agreed to publish this,” “who edited this,” “who thought this was a good idea,” and my favorite statement, “I should be paid to read this, instead of paying to read it.” None of that is any good.
Editorially, this needs to be scrapped and started over clean. It needs to be plotted so that it can be better paced, the panel descriptions have to be drawable, and the dialogue has to be reworked so that it takes the reader along for the ride, while also being contemporary within itself. “Fuck” has to come out. It has no place, and isn’t doing anything at all to help you or your characters. It is actually doing more harm than good. As it stands, it’s just one more “wrong” piece in this puzzle.
And that’s all there is for this week. Charles, being a glutton for punishment, sent in two scripts, so he’s up again next week. Anticipation should be high to see if things are different!
Category: The Proving Grounds