Hello, and welcome to The Proving Grounds! This week, we have Brave One Jeremy Melloul returning to us bringing excerpts from his graphic novel, Taking Flight. Let’s see how he does, shall we?
(Jeremy, I’ll be showing you a bit of formatting technique as we go through, especially on SFX.)
PAGE ONE (4)
PANEL ONE: Wide & long view of an airplane flying from right to left.
Remind me why I would ever agree to this?
PANEL TWO: Michael and Darwin sitting across from each other inside the plane in full skydiving gear. They’re the only two people in the plane. Michael is smiling, Darwin is pointing his finger accusingly.
Your girlfriend broke up with you and you got fired from your job.
You’re a dick, you know that right? (Comma-fail between “that” and “right”.)
My idea of fun does not include falling 10,000 feet through the air.
(Oh come on,) survival of the fittest and all that. (You already used this statement right before this one. There has to be something else that can fit here, if needed.)
That joke is so old. / Besides just because my name’s Darwin, doesn’t mean I want to spend my life testing his theories. (Separate the two sentences into two balloons for better effect and flow. And another comma-fail between “Besides” and “just”. Don’t make this a habit.)
PANEL THREE: Michael laughing.
SFX: Michael laughing (”Hahaha”) (“SFX: HAHAHA!” is the proper format for sound effects, without the extra details of “Michael laughing,” which you’ve already stated.)
Don’t get grumpy!
PANEL FOUR: View from outside the plane of Darwin looking through a window looking at the ground far, far below him. The green go light washes the cabin.
Oh shut up. You know I remember when- (Another comma-fail between “Oh” and “shut up”. Also, never use a single dash, but rather a double dash at all times when cutting off speech or connecting immediate, fast paced speech.)
Green light, time to go! (Another comma-fail, as there should be a period between “light” and Time”. Nasty habit developing here.)
Okay, so we’re at the end of P1, and already, there are problems.
Panel 1: This is the very first page. Why is the plane flying from right to left, basically taking the reader “out” of the story? Everyone, do this: take your right hand, and put it on the top right of your screen. Now, move your hand to the left. That’s how the plane is flying. The artist will place the plane near the right edge of the panel, because it’s more visually exciting. If it were placed correctly (on the left), then the artist would place the plane near the left edge of the border. The artist will not place the plane in the center of the panel.
Now, what kind of plane is it? I have no idea. Neither does your artist. Why? Because you didn’t say. They could be in a jumbo-jet headed for Easter Island for all we know. This information is important. You don’t want your artist having to ask unnecessary questions, which is what you’re doing here. You want them to come back? Give them all the necessary info.
Next in panel 1 is that dialogue. Is it supposed to be a word balloon, or a caption? If it’s a word balloon, then it should have a note saying that the speaker is Off Panel (OP). Having it come from the plane is perfectly fine, but I’d rather this bit of dialogue were a caption, instead. Make it a caption, add quotation marks to show that this is a voiceover, and keep it moving. Why a caption instead of a word balloon? Personal preference. I don’t think the dialogue warrants it coming from the plane. When people are speaking off panel like this, making the dialogue seem that it’s coming from an object instead of a person, then I like to have it as an exclamation or something extremely meaty. This isn’t meaty at all.
Panel 2: That’s a LOT of dialogue for this one panel. Any by a lot, I mean a shit-ton of back and forth. Now, you have to think about the negative space when it comes to dialogue. The negative space I’m talking about are the balloon tails, and the amount of “air” that is between the balloon wall and the dialogue contained within. If you don’t take that into account, you’re going to have a cramped panel, just like you have here.
As for the panel description…again, I don’t care for it. Where are they in the plane? Where’s the camera? If they’re in the cockpit area, AND they’re both dressed to jump, who’s going to guide the plane down? Location, Jeremy. Extremely important. What’s in your head has to make it to the page, or else the artist is going to be asking all sorts of questions that the script should be answering.
Also, I liked the attempt you made at working his name in there. It wasn’t subtle at all, but it did the job of letting us know his name. There are better ways, but you’ll grow into those.
Panel 3: The action should match the last thing said, not the first thing.
As for the laughter as a sound effect, I’m going to tell you that, in this case, it isn’t effective. Using laughter as a sound effect should be for something that is important or hilarious. The reader is going to get the impression that the person laughing is rolling on the floor laughing, or is being sarcastic. When that’s the case, you don’t want to have more dialogue in the same panel. Just leave it with the laughter, and continue to march. However, in this case, I’d change the panel description to match what was last said, not the laughter.
Panel 4: Where did that light come from? Can readers see the light? Why wasn’t it seen before? Why wasn’t it at least mentioned before? That’s magically delicious. Now, the hard part: where’s the camera? If this is from Darwin’s POV, then we can’t see the green light. We can see what Darwin sees. Maybe, maybe we can see his reflection in the glass. Maybe. But Darwin, the ground, and the light cannot all be seen.
Now, as a page, this could work. What’s lacking is a reason to turn the page. Jumping out the plane isn’t enough. Readers are going to turn automatically, because that’s what the end of the page is telling them to do. They aren’t turning the page because you made them do it. See the difference? If you continue to not make them turn the page, they’re going to close the book and put it back on the shelf.
But this could work, as a page. Just need to fix the problems.
PAGE TWO (4)(page break)
PANEL ONE: Michael, happy, hand on one of his straps.
PANEL TWO: Same shot except Michael’s hand is now further away from him and the strap is pulled out / tight.
PANEL THREE: Head-on view of Michael and Darwin standing in front of the hatch. Darwin’s hand is to his forehead and Michael’s hands are in his pockets.
Look, really, I don’t think this is a good idea. / I feel sick. (Separate the two sentences for better flow.)
Alright, open it up!
PANEL FOUR: Same shot, Darwin and Michael are facing each other now, though. Michael is grinning and Darwin is looking genuinely freaked out.
MICHAEL (CONT’D) (It’s completely unnecessary to write “CONT’D” to indicate continued speech from the same person, and this applies to each one that you’ve included in your script. The only time I don’t harp on it is when a writer uses a formatting program such as Final Draft. However, FD won’t put a Cont’d in a new panel. The same panel, with the same person speaking, sure, but not a new panel, as this is.)
You know, for a firefighter – (This should again be a double dash at the end.)
Four more panels, and really, the worst thing is that nothing happens. You have two panels of a guy pulling a strap. Why? What does that do to reveal character or to push the story forward? Nothing. The first one is fine, but the second is padding, and as we all know, padding makes you smell of elderberries. I don’t want you (or anyone else) smelling of elderberries.
You have to think through what each and every panel is trying to accomplish. Each and every panel should have a reason for being. Out of four panels, two of them are unnecessary.
You’re also boring the reader. Yes, I understand that this is a graphic novel, and as such, you have a little more leeway with the pacing. However, you’re boring the reader. Leeway doesn’t give you latitude to bore. Something interesting has to happen, and I don’t mean them jumping. That isn’t excited. That’s expected.
PAGE THREE (4)
[SPLASH] PANEL ONE: View from behind Michael and Darwin as they stare out past the limits of the plane and into the clear, beautiful sky in front of them. This panel should stretch all the way across the page horizontally and most of the way down the page, too.
-you’re kind of a pussy. (Double dash to continue from connected speech.)
PANEL TWO: Close-up of Darwin’s face: eyes wide, mouth agape.
Michael, I’m not doing this.
PANEL THREE: Close-up of Mike’s hand not yet touching Darwin’s back.
PANEL FOUR: View from the side of Darwin looking out scared. He is closest to us. We also see Mike to the left of him and slightly behind Darwin. He’s looking at his scared friend and smiling knowingly, his arm reaching behind Darwin.
Relax, / you’ll thank me for this. (Separate this text into two balloons, with a double dash at the end of “Relax,” and at the beginning of the next line.)
Okay, I have no idea what the hell just happened here.
You asked for a splash page, and then you added three more panels somewhere. I have no idea at all where those panels are supposed to go. Are the inset to the splash? Are they below it? I don’t know, which means I’d have to assume, and I don’t know if anyone knows this, but I hate assuming.
Now, follow me: the last panel on the previous page had them facing each other, yes? Then why does the first panel on this page have them facing in one direction? When did someone turn around? That’s an uncomfortable chunk of Border Time right there.
However, you did manage to work Micheal’s name in there, so he isn’t some nameless hobo with the money to take his friend skydiving.
And don’t think I forgot the page break. I didn’t. Just like I didn’t miss the next one.
PAGE FOUR (1)
[SPLASH] PANEL ONE: We are in the air looking back up toward the plane. Darwin is in our face hands outstretched. He’s screaming and totally freaked out. Behind him, further up, Michael is following after him, he’s diving down to reduce the distance between them.
SFX: Darwin screaming “AHHHHHHHHHH” & Michael screaming “WOOOHOOOO!” (Separate these sound effects to read as the following:)
TITLE CARD: “Taking Flight” / Written by Jeremy Melloul, Art by “_________.” (Separate your story title from your CREDITS, and only put quotation marks around a title that will show them when lettered.)
Finally, we have a true splash page. Too bad it’s boring, and because of that, has landed this back on the shelf.
What’s the story about? I have no idea, and I’m four pages in. Not only do I not have an idea, it doesn’t look like an idea is anywhere near being offered. That means you’re taking way too long to get to something a reader wants to read. Get to it, Jeremy. Your readers rewarded you by buying the book; reward them by giving them something they want to read.
PAGE ONE (6)
PANEL ONE: Wide shot of O’Hare airport. A plane flying in. TEXT OVERLAY: “Chicago, IL”. (This TEXT OVERLAY should be written as a CAPTION, and should be formatted as you would speech or SFX, without the quotation marks.)
PANEL TWO: Michael, carrying his backpack, on the phone (he has the iphone earbuds in his ear – they extend down to his right pocket) and dressed casually (jeans & t-shirt), rolling his suitcase outside O’Hare toward the taxi station. We see a sign above his head directing people toward the different services (Ground Transportation ->, etc…).
Hey Darwin. (Yet another comma-fail, between Hey” and “Darwin”. Learn from this and never do it again!)
PANEL THREE: View from behind Michael as he stands beside a stand where a taxi attendant has his hand up, in a waving motion, signaling one of the taxis in the line to come closer.
I’m on my way to my hotel right now.
PANEL FOUR: The taxi pulling up in front of Michael.
I told you don’t worry about it – / besides the room’s already booked and it’s only gonna be a few days until they finish the renovations. (A few points here: First, it’s supposed to be a period after “don’t worry about it”; second, capitalize the first letter in the next line; and third, take out “besides” here because you use it again in his next speech balloon and taking it out here makes better sense. Watch out, because this is the second time you use the same words in subsequent speech from the same character, the first being “Oh come on”.)
PANEL FIVE: The TAXI DRIVER, having just gotten out of his car as Michael stands by the trunk. We should see the whole taxi.
Besides the hotel is still an improvement over my last accommodations.
PANEL SIX: The taxi driver holding Michael’s suitcase as he tries to put in the truck.
I loved it, don’t get me wrong, I just can’t wait to eat some real food.
Listen, I’ll tell you all about it when I see you tomorrow.
Again, I have no idea what happened here.
I understand that it’s a graphic novel. I get it. However, why are you changing the page numbers? I get that this is supposed to be a new chapter or something, but did you break this up into different documents? The second P1 threw me something awful.
And, I’m sorry to report, you’re still boring. What is this entire page doing? Not one thing. Elderberries. There isn’t one single point of interest on this entire page.
So, the question is why? Why is this page here, taking up extremely valuable space? What is it doing to reveal character or push the story forward? You did in six panels what could have been done in two, three tops.
You have to learn to condense. Understand what is important, why it is important, and then show it. There’s no space for rambling, which is what’s going on here.
I can’t even place this into context, because I have no idea as to what happened in the middle. (Personally, I’m kinda hoping the taxi driver snuffs Mike. At least it’ll show why he’s important, and give the readers something they actually want to read.)
PAGE TWO (6)
PANEL ONE: Wide shot of Michael still dressed the way he arrived, sitting inside a nice hotel room. He is at the desk on his laptop. We can see his bed, already littered with the contents of his backpack which lies discarded by the pillow. We also see an open suitcase on the side of the room by the television.
SFX: Room service knocking (KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK) at the door. (SFX: KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK)
PANEL TWO: The computer’s screen, displaying a press release announcing Michael’s new book “Taking Flight.” (Text provided in separate document).
PANEL THREE: View from behind Michael of Michael holding open his room’s door for the ROOM SERVICE LADY (white, middle-aged). Michael’s body should be obscuring most of the tray.
ROOM SERVICE LADY
Good evening sir, I’m not disturbing you am I? (Yet another comma-fail between “you” and “am”.)
No, I was just writing.
PANEL FOUR: Wide view from side of Michael sitting sideways on his chair looking at the room service lady. She has already removed the lid for the salad (the main course) and is in the process of removing the lid for the molten lava case desert. It should be high enough that we see the actual desert but she shouldn’t have already set the lid down. A glass of water should also be on the tray.
You’d think that when the press release is about you you wouldn’t have to write it yourself. (OMIGOD! Another comma-fail between “you” and “you”!)
PANEL FIVE: Medium shot (waist up) of the room service lady, looking toward Michael, smiling.
ROOM SERVICE LADY
I suppose you wouldn’t.
PANEL SIX: Full view of Michael, still sitting, smiling back. He is holding his wallet and taking out a 5-dollar bill.
Why? Why hasn’t someone killed him yet? There should have been a silenced bazooka hidden under that tray lid.
Since no one’s killed him—and it seems like no one will—why are we following this guy? I thought Darwin was the star, since he was dumped and fired some time in the (possibly recent) past.
Again, I ask, how is this page pushing the story forward or revealing character? All it’s making me want to do is make called shots to the face with heavy artillery. Something has to happen, Jeremy, and nothing has happened yet. That’s on you as the writer. You have to find the interesting parts and talk about those. You aren’t doing that. People want the cake, they don’t want the details of how you made the cake, to include the store you got the ingredients from, the fact that it was your great-great-grandmother’s recipe, and how much gas you spent in gathering the ingredients. None of that’s interesting. They just want the cake.
Give them the cake.
PAGE THREE (5)
PANEL ONE: Michael, dressed in business casual now, talking with a RECEPTIONIST (female, white, young) at the check-in desk.
Hello, I’m waiting for a reporter from the Tribune, I’m going to be at the bar, can you point the reporter my way when he gets here? (Another comma-fail after “Tribune”, which should be a period. Also, you repeat “reporter” twice in the same sentence. We know it’s a guy named Brian, so say “can you point him my way”.)
No problem, sir.
PANEL TWO: Side-view of Michael, dressed in business casual, sitting at the hotel bar. A glass of whiskey sits in front of him. The BARTENDER (male, black, young) presses a rag against the inside of a glass as he cleans it.
PANEL THREE: View from behind the reception desk of the receptionist looking out at the people in the lobby. Some are sitting at the chairs spread through-out while a few are walking out the doors. Jessica is heading straight toward the receptionist.
PANEL FOUR: Shoulders-up view of Michael, surprised to see Jessica.
PANEL FIVE: Side view of the receptionist pointing Jessica to Michael. Jessica is looking over toward Michael, a small smile on her lips.
Okay. These characters have a relationship, and the readers are supposed to know about it by going through the story. Fine.
So now we’re forced to ask: why did we have to go through that whole landing and hotel room thing? Two wasted pages that could have been taken care of in two panels. The plane lands, we cut to his room and the unpacking, we then cut to him talking to the concierge. All of that is done in one page. See what happens when you condense?
And, really, this is the first page that works for me. Generally, the artist has everything they need to tell the story, and the readers should have enough information to know what’s going on. Whether or not it’s interesting is another matter. But this page works.
PAGE FIVE (4)
PANEL ONE: Overhead of Michael and Jessica standing awkwardly halfway between the desk and the hotel bar.
What are you doing here?
I’m here for your interview.
I thought I was meeting a man named Brian.
He got sick, so I volunteered to take his place.
Do you want to sit down?
PANEL TWO: Side view of Michael and Jessica sitting across from each other at some chairs in the hotel lobby.
So you work for the Tribune now? What happened to New York?
They made me a better offer, moved here about a month ago. (Here’s where two sentences work better than one, reading instead “They made me a better offer.” Separate balloon, “I moved here about a month ago.”
What about you?
I’m moving up here actually, only at the hotel because my apartment is being renovated.
Oh. That’s great.
PANEL THREE: Close-up of Jessica squeezing her own hands, she’s nervous and awkward. She doesn’t quite know what to say.
PANEL FOUR: Close-up of Michael, one end of his mouth tugged upward into a smile.
Should we get started?
I understand that there are only four panels on the page, but again, you go absolutely overboard with the back and forth in panel 1.
Let’s run this down.
A bit of disclosure: the preceding was taken from the beginning and the end of a graphic novel. The line of demarcation is clearly visible. That’s why there’s this sudden disconnect between the first scene and the last. Got it? Good.
Format: Not the greatest by a long shot. Page breaks and sound effects are killing you, let alone the starting over with the numbering. Every element has a name and a place in the hierarchy of scripting. I suggest reading some old Bolts & Nuts to brush up. (No, there isn’t such a thing as a “standard” format, but you have to be consistent, and your collaborators shouldn’t have to look through the entire script to see what their part is supposed to cover.
Panel Descriptions: On average, they were barely okay. The first few pages, though, were terrible. You should strive to have an establishing shot that covers Who, What, Where and When. This can be broken up into two panels. After that, you can perform script shorthand—not describing every little thing that’s in the panel. However, you have to set the stage first. You didn’t do that in the first few pages. That has to be ironed out.
Pacing: To quote Charles Barkley, “turbl.” In these nine pages, absolutely nothing happens. Nothing worth reading, and that’s the biggest failing of this piece. If the first four pages are supposed to be the beginning, then you’re off to a very inauspicious start. I don’t know if you started too early or too late, but you need something to set the status quo. This isn’t it. Find another way to open this, and have some actual movement.
And condense. There is no reason for pages like the second P1 to happen. Or the second P2. Something interesting should happen on every page, and if something interesting doesn’t happen, that page should lead into something interesting. This way, you’re always keeping it moving, and not boring your audience.
Give your readers cake, not everything that went into making it.
Dialogue: This is another problem.
First, certain panels have too much of it in order to fit comfortably. Second, the comma-fails. Commas aren’t that difficult. You’re online. Look up their usage if you aren’t sure. If your program doesn’t support grammar check, then use another.
Comic book dialogue has some conventions of its own, such as the double-dash and the ellipsis. Those can be learned, and will help your letterer. However, learning to use punctuation correctly will only help you in the long run. It isn’t just about comics.
Content: This isn’t something I want to read. Not without an editor going through and making sure this is ready to go into production. As it stands, it’s torturously slow. As a reader, I’d be extremely disinclined to ever pick anything up by you again. This is not good.
Editorially, we’d have to start over from scratch. I’d need to see an outline of what the story is supposed to be about, so that I could advise you best. I don’t think where you started from is the real starting point. I think you started too late. But I’d have to know what the story is about in order to be sure. After going through this, I have absolutely no idea what this story is about, and to pull from the beginning and the end of the story and still not be able to tell anything means there are huge problems in this story.
And that’s all there is for this week. Check the calendar to see who’s next, and I’m still looking for more scripts!