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TPG Week 77: Newbies Make Lots Of Mistakes

| June 15, 2012

Hello, and welcome once again to The Proving Grounds! This week brings us a team-up of new Brave Ones: Brian Harris and Phillip Butehorn. Let’s see what they bring us with

The Extras

Issue One:

The Wheels of Evolution

 Page 1. Panel A. Foreground, RICHARD TODD and HAROLD JOHNSON. Fishing in motorboat. Background, Nazi Stealth boat approaching without RICHARD and HAROLD noticing. (You’re off to an awfully abrupt start! Try establishing your scene first. Add a panel before this one to do that, maybe a wide elevated shot of the lake with the two fishermen in their boat. Describe the lake and the surrounding area (we don’t even know if there’s wood, a beach, a small village or anything right now). Mention the time of day too. I know most people fish during the day and that’s a given, but here we have a “Nazi stealth boat” that can apparently accost them without being noticed, so you can bet the artist will have his doubts. I’d also move that first caption into the new panel, if only to let the art breathe a bit better in both.)

(CAPTION) 1

The year is 1941. The entire world is in the midst of one of many “wars to end all wars”. It is a world very different from the one we live in today. Europe, Africa, Asia and Oceania have troops battling all over the planet, fighting for freedom, or for tyranny. In the United States of America, however, life goes on. The war isn’t waged on home soil.

(CAPTION) 2

Two men, Richard Todd and Harold Johnson, having too many old injuries before the war even started, were unqualified to be drafted. But even if they couldn’t be brought into the war, the war was about to be brought to them, in a very real way…

B. Close up on RICHARD’s face getting pistolwhipped by NAZI 1 (with phases of movement as RICHARD gets hit), as in the background, NAZI 2 climbs on board. (First things first: camera angles. If you ask for a close-up of something or someone, the artist is going to draw only a part of that something or someone. Thus, you won’t be able to show movements, like your character here getting pistol-whipped and even less anything in the background. Second, what you have here is what we call a gap in border time. That’s when too much time elapses between two panels. The previous panel showed the Nazi boat approaching and the next one show one of the Nazis hitting one of the fishermen. You’re missing a beat where we can see the Nazi approaching his victim and initiating the attack. Finally, with a movement as simple as a blow, you don’t have to ask for ghosting (“phases of movement” as you call them); simple motion lines will suffice and the artist will put those in without you having to tell him.)

SFX.

Creeeeek (Why does your pistol-whip sound like an old barn door? Find another SFX for this. I’d suggest WHAP, THAK or POW.)

RICHARD

What the— (Careful: Microsoft Word automatically changed your double-dash for an em dash. Always be wary of these automatic corrections, if only to make the job easier for your letterer. Also, place this line before the sound effect since it’s actually cut by the blow.)

C. Side view of NAZI 1 on the right standing over RICHARD as HAROLD on the right tackles the NAZI.

HAROLD

You son of a- (Double-dash here.)

D. View from the ground, HAROLD on all fours, face contorted as the butt of the rifle from NAZI 2 makes contact on the back of his head. (Last time we saw NAZI 2, he was just climbing aboard. Where was he all that time? You need to show him approaching Harold. Otherwise, one second Harold is tackling his opponent and the second, BANG, magically delicious blow to the head. I mean, you never asked for NAZI 2 to even have a rifle when you had him coming aboard. Also you need to be careful about not bunching together cause and effect. Harold can’t be on all fours already if you’re showing the rifle just making contact with the back of his head. Either you show him on all fours with the Nazi standing over him, holding the rifle as if he had just hit (but then you’d need to add a panel to show the actual blow) or you show the Nazi hitting Harold as he’s just reacting to the blow (buckled legs, arched back, pained expression and so on).)

SFX

CRACK! (SFX generally don’t require punctuation.)

E. Completely black panel.

So, we have P1 under our belts, and immediately, we can see that we have two new writers that have more studying to do.

Panel descriptions are very important. Establishing shots, while not always necessary, certainly help. They should answer Who, What, Where and When. After you establish the shot, you can then do script shorthand, where the first panel would work. But you have to establish the scene first.

Pacing is next. Pacing is the amount of actions on a page, coupled with dialogue, coupled with the length of a scene. Pacing has a lot of moving pieces. This page is choppy at best: actions that suddenly happen, but dialogue that drags it down. You have to have panels that bridge your sudden actions.

Things that are “magically delicious”: these are things that just suddenly appear, without having been established beforehand. That rifle in the Nazi’s hands suddenly appears, and thus, is magically delicious. Items that are going to be important to a panel have to be established as early as possible. As this is written, the rifle should have been visible in panel B.

Now, for the dialogue.

I’m not going to call it wretched, although it’s close. Instead, I’m going to say that this is not comic book dialogue. It wants to be—it’s reaching for it—but it isn’t there yet. More prose than comic, and that isn’t helping the reading experience at all.

What you’ve done is an info-dump, and those are hardly ever friendly. You have some important info in there, mixed up with info that is less than important.

You’re also wordy. That first caption has 69 words by itself. Too many for a caption to comfortably hold.

Also, don’t have the narrator talking about different worlds. Let the reader infer that this is a different world all on their own. The mention of Oceania will do that all by itself.

Okay, suffice it to say, from here on, we’re just going to treat this as a guideline for where it is you want to go. This is going to need a total and deep rewrite.

(Page break. Always insert a page break before the start of every new page.) Page 2. Panel A. Completely black panel.

(CAPTION)

3,937.454 miles away from home (So roughly the distance between New York and Berlin. Let’s hope your readers can deduce that.)

RICHARD (Since the panel is completely black, we can’t see the characters. That means we have to mark their lines as “OP” (off-panel).)

Get your filthy Kraut hands off of me!

MENGELE (OP)

<Shh, you’ll thank us later.> (Foreign languages. You did good by putting your text between brackets. Generally, you’d also want to add an asterisk at the end of the first line in brackets with a caption that says something like “Translated from German”. However, since the dialogue already makes it pretty clear that the foreign speakers are German, that caption becomes less necessary.)

Panel B. View from HAROLD, waking up. Through blurred vision, NURSE HAWLEY on right, MENGELE on left. IV in his left arm, RICHARD on a table behind NURSE HAWLEY as the two hover over RICHARD. (Apart from hovering, what are they doing exactly? As for Richard, is he struggling? Is he in pain? You need to tell the artist what the characters are doing, not just where they stand. Also, how is the reader supposed to know this is from Harold’s POV? Do we see part of his chest in the panel? His hand reaching towards Richard? That’s the problem with POV shots: you need to show the character in a panel at some point if you want the reader to understand whose eyes he’s borrowing. By bordering this panel with two black ones and not having anyone interacting with the POV, the reader has no way of knowing this isn’t a completely objective viewpoint. Finally, I’m going to have to assume that Richard is bound to the table, otherwise he’s being a very polite guinea pig, loudly protesting but just staying there getting poked and filled with fluids.)

NURSE HAWLEY

<Doctor, stop! That’s too much of the Serum!> (If you want to put emphasis on a word, underline it. Bold characters can get overlooked very easily by the letterer.)

MENGELE

<Shut up, you useless girl. You think I haven’t done this before?>

Panel C. Black screen as HAROLD falls unconscious again.

RICHARD (OP)

Harry?! Harry?? (You can combine an interrogation mark with an exclamation mark, but you can’t double interrogation marks. One will suffice.) Wake up!

(Hold on a sec. Harold is just falling unconscious yet Richard is already at his side trying to wake him up? What happened to the nurse and Mengele? They were there just a second ago. And how did Richard escape his hypothetic bounds? Once again, you’re losing control of your time flow. Make sure every required action gets its beat and its panels. First have Harold faint, then – in another panel – have Richard wake him up.)

Panel D. View from HAROLD, blurred vision. RICHARD hovering over HAROLD, loosening the straps on his wrists and ankles. (Aha! So there were straps! Magically delicious straps since you failed to mention them earlier! So once again: how did Richard escape? Also, since this is from Harold’s POV, he might not be able to see his bound ankles while lying down.)

RICHARD 1

C’mon bud, wake up. (Comma-fail) We gotta get the hell outta here!

HAROLD

…whaa? Whaddya…Where…where are we? (No need to start this with an ellipsis. You’ll want to start with a capital letter however, just in case your letterer uses a mixed case font. Generally however, letterers us an all-caps font, so it won’t really matter.)

RICHARD 2

Hell.

Panel E. View from behind, RICHARD supporting HAROLD as they walk passed hospital beds with unconscious patients.

(NO COPY) (I would have moved the last dialogue line in this panel, if only to make sure you don’t finish your scene with two consecutive silent panels. There’s also the fact that the silent splash page on page 3 has a lot more impact than this panel.)

So, we have a page that isn’t doing what it needs to do. I think that all of these pages are going to be like this.

First things first. You did the scene change at the page turn well. I liked it. I didn’t like the first caption, but I liked the transition. Everything on this page after the transition needs a lot of work, though.

First, the point of view. Why Harold? Why choose his point of view, instead of Richard’s, or just have it be neutral? Two black panels on the page aren’t doing anything to push the story forward. Using only one would have been more interesting.

Second, you have things that are magically delicious: the straps, as well as the way the doctor and nurse just disappear. Great magic trick, that. I mean, they were literally gone with no explanation, and no passage of time. Teleportation.

There’s also the lack of explanation of where the straps were, and how one of the prisoners escaped their bonds.

This page fails on many levels. The only thing that was good and done well was the transition panel.

The dialogue? A little cheesy, but serviceable as a placeholder.

Now, here’s what I’m not understanding: why have a stealth boat come up and kidnap two guys who may be old but are definitely injured? That seems like a lot of resources for seemingly little gain. It doesn’t make sense, and I love it when things make sense.

(Page break) Page 3. Full Page. View from above. Hundreds of others strapped down to tables, who may or may not have already been injected with the serum. (Can we see Harold and Richard in this panel? What are they doing? And what does this room look like? Can we even see the walls? How’s the lighting? What do the people on the tables look like?)

(NO COPY) (However, that would have been a great spot to drop your title and credits.)

Not good.

First, this page should have been P4, not P3. Whenever possible, a splash page should be on an even page, so you have to turn the page to get there, not an odd page, where you just have to move your eyes over to the right to see it. You lose some punch that way.

And again, no mention is made at all about how Richard escaped his bonds.

However, as splash pages go, this one could be a lot worse. It is serving most of its function in being powerful, but that power is only present if the two main characters are on the page. The way you have it written, they aren’t. Not good.

(Page break) 4. A. Foreground, a “Welcome” sign. Background, HENRY WELLS, dressed in a full trench coat, walking towards the water treatment plant on the outskirts of town. (What does the plant look like? How’s the surrounding area? What time of day is it?) The sign reads:

Welcome to SHEPHERD. We take care of our flock. Population 8,257.

(CAPTION 1) (If this is Henry Wells narrating, you need to indicate it in the header, usually as such: “CAPTION (HENRY WELLS)”. This will let the letterer know he needs to make these captions appear different from your previous objective narrator captions. Unless of course those were all Henry’s as well, and then we have a problem of clarity.)

It has been seventy years since the experiments the Nazi’s (no apostrophe) did on Harold, Richard and those countless other poor souls. While the serum may not have had the intended effect upon that first batch of guinea pigs, something changed in their very genetic code.

(CAPTION 2)

This is something they would pass on to later generations of happy, clueless young men and women. The gene remains dormant in most, requiring a little extra kick. It’s about time someone provided that kick.

[HENRY WELLS is in his late forties, early fifties. He’s dressed in a long trench coat. When he isn’t invisible the trench coat in some way obscures a full view of Henry’s face. He’s above average height but a little thin for his size and age. His hair is black with touches of white, the salt and pepper look. He has a full beard, which, along with his shabby appearance, gives him the look of a maniacal villain. Looks can be deceiving, particularly in Henry’s case, because he is a brilliant research scientist who may have taken his experiments too far. John Terry with a beard.] (All of this should appear in a separate Character Description document instead of cluttering up the script here. Your artist will be using that document for his character designs.)

HENRY (caption 1) (OK so you DO know how to ask for personalized captions. Then whose captions were those in the first panel? They sounded pretty personal to be from an objective omniscient narrator.)

I’ve waited long enough.

HENRY (caption 2)

It’s time to grease the wheels of evolution. (Four captions in an establishing shot, in a 7-panel page. That’s a lot. Either cut some text out or cut some panels.)

B. Back view. HENRY breaking the lock on the door, and sneaks inside. (If you want the reader to understand what he’s doing, better make it an over-the-shoulder shot instead, otherwise we won’t be able to see what’s going on in front of him! And this is a moving panel.)

HENRY (singing) 1

Jack and Jill, went up the hill, to contaminate some water…

C. Back view. HENRY, inside, next to the water, pouring the serum into Shepherd’s water supply. (Again: we won’t be able to see what he’s doing. Also, I’m pretty sure water treatment plants are a lot more secure than that. It’s already highly dubious that a single lock would be used to secure the building, but I also doubt that it’s that easy to have access directly to the water. Have you researched any of this? Another crucial detail: you didn’t describe earlier what the serum looked like. Does it have a special appearance that will make it evident for the reader that it’s the same liquid he saw earlier?)

HENRY (singing) 2

They’ll all change now, McCoy will call foul…

D. Back view. HENRY writing a note on a piece of paper. (The problem here is not so much that you’re again using a camera angle that would prevent the reader from seeing the character’s actions, but that you keep using the same shots. Shake things up! I know you want to make sure the reader can’t see Henry’s face, try using other tricks: silhouettes, shadows, bird’s eye views, and so on.)

HENRY (singing) 3

And I’ll win all the world after.

E. Back view of the door with HENRY’s trench coat sweeping over him. (I don’t understand what you mean here. That means the artist won’t understand either.) A note stuck to the door.

(NO COPY)

F. Close up on the note. “Somebody’s poisoned the water hole”.

(NO COPY)

G. Close up on the bottom. “We’ll play more soon. Sincerely, H.W”.

(NO COPY)

(Were these three shots really necessary to get your point across? Here’s my suggestion: the note pinned to a column or wall corner with Henry slipping out the door in the background. You’ve just saved two panels, showed the character leaving the scene and your reader can read the whole note at once.)

So, the first scene was only three pages long, and so we switch to another one. Not only that, but you decided to crowd the first panel unnecessarily.

Most of the dialogue has to be rewritten. You have it in one voice, but it should be in two: an omniscient narrator, and the more personal captions from the character’s pov.

So, seven panels, and two of them are really just wasting space. We already know the pacing is terribly off, but this only serves to exacerbate it.

I’m not going to beat you up on the fact that your mystery man has no name where a reader can see it, but you also hid his face, so that’s fine. Leave it as a mystery.

What I will beat you up for, however, is the fast cut. A fast cut is a scene that is a page or two in length. There isn’t enough meat on this page to carry it, especially with the padding you have.

This page should have been about four panels in length. Combine panels that are really relatively close in Time, and then let the story guide you from there.

As it is written, most readers aren’t going to get this far. Nazis or not, back on the shelf this goes.

(Page break) 5. A. MATT DUNHAM dressed in gym shorts and a t-shirt, on the uneven bars. Hanging off the lower bar. (You actually have more words here describing the character than the scene. Where is this? There’s no establishing shot. A proper establishing shot gives us the WHAT, the WHERE and the WHEN. We barely got the WHAT and there’s no trace of a WHERE or WHEN. At least give the artist details about the room around Matt. All we know is that there are uneven bars and Matt hanging off the lower one.)

[Matt Dunham has the look of a hero, through and through. He’s tall, well built, agile, and handsome. He has the square jaw of a movie star but none of the cockiness or attitude. He is the captain and quarterback of the John Addams High School football team. Everything about his appearance forces you to like him. Matt Bomer] (Move this to the Character Descriptions document.)

MATT

So. Am I all Kirk or am I all red shirt?

JOE (off panel) (And now I see you already know about “off panel”. Why didn’t you use this properly earlier?)

What?

MATT

Every episode Captain Kirk would go down to the planet with a buncha guys in red shirts. (Comma-fail) Eventually, they’d all die, and him (“he”) and the rest of the crew would save the day.

JOE (off panel)

What’s your point, Matt? (Try to limit your dialogue exchanges to no more than three “turns”: person A talks, person B replies and person A gets another word in. The reason for this is that too many speech balloons in the panel tend to take up space and thus cover up the art.)

B. Back view. MATT doing a back flip, grabbing the top bar. (Moving panel. You’re asking for your artist to depict two completely different actions. If you’re really adamant about having both actions depicted in the same panel, ask for ghosting.)

MATT

Well, am I the hero every week or am I a constant visitor to Dr. McCoy’s sick bay?

JOE (off panel)

We don’t have a sick bay. This is my basement. (Underline for emphasis, not italics.)

C. Side view. MATT in the air about to land.

MATT (caption)

Looks like a poor man’s Danger Room…

D. Front view, MATT on the ground, with shrugged shoulders, arms up in a questioning pose. (Another gap in border time here. Last panel, Matt was just about to land and now he’s already landed and is in a shrugging pose. We never actually saw him hit the ground.)

MATT

Seriously? You never watched Star Trek? (Now THIS is where you should be using italics: when you’re naming the title to something.)

It looks like this is where your story really starts. Everything else was just preamble.

And even though we just changed scenes, there isn’t anything here that’s any different than the rest. Let’s just go and run this down.

Format: I’ve got nothing really about the format, except to add in page breaks. I’m not a fan of using letters instead of numbers for the panels, but I’m not going to say that its wrong. You were consistent with it, and I’m more about consistency than about trying to constrain someone to my notions of what is and isn’t a “good” format.

Panel Descriptions: Sorely and severely lacking. Things and characters appear and disappear without any explanation, actions aren’t properly described, and the artist is going to have a lot of questions when trying to draw this. You don’t want the artist asking a lot of questions. The script is there to answer questions, not make them be asked.

Pacing: In some ways, the pacing is worse than the panel descriptions.

The action is choppy, with characters doing things that aren’t fully explained or that logically follows the action from the previous panels. Huge chunks of border time are taken, and if the artist were to draw it as is, readers wouldn’t be able to follow the story. As it is, the artist won’t be able to add panels in order to fix the pacing because some actions are all over the place. Take P2: It’s all black, then a guy wakes up, sees a doctor and nurse, and then passes out again, giving us two black panels to contend with. Then, the other guy miraculously gets up, and the two of them somehow escape. We have no sense at all of the passage of time, have no idea where the doctor and nurse are, have no clue as to whether or not both men were restrained or how one of them got loose in the first place, and we have no idea of how they effected their escape. All of that could have been done on that one page, if it were paced better. Then there was the fast cut that didn’t do much to push the story forward at the moment, and then the story really starts. And it only took five pages to do it.

Dialogue: Like I said before, there are parts here that aren’t comic book dialogue. It comes close, but no see-gar. There are places where there’s too much talking, the captions are all in one voice, and it isn’t interesting enough to make someone want to read more. Lots of people are interested in alternate histories, but they don’t want to be spoon-fed the information. Let them discover it on their own. It’s much more enjoyable that way.

Content: As a reader, I was completely underwhelmed. I have no idea as to what’s going on, and I wasn’t interested enough to stick around and find out.

Editorially, this needs deep cleaning. Rewriting from the ground up, with everything needing some work. We would have to have a discussion about what is the story you’re trying to tell, and then find the most interesting way to tell that story. This isn’t it. We’d have to start from the base and work our way up: plot, characters, theme, voice, action. We can work on everything else from there.

Basically, this is a mix of newbie mistakes, along with some plainly bad writing. It feels like you two were rushing. It also feels like you two took turns writing dialogue. Maybe one of you wrote the panel descriptions, but it feels like the two of you tag-teamed the dialogue. I’m interested to know if I’m correct about that.

Scrap this, and rebuild it.

And that’s all there is for this week. Check the calendar to see who’s next, go make comments in the forums, and send in more scripts! Where are you, lurkers? It’s time for some of you to start coming into the light.

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Category: Columns, 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.

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