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TPG Week 86: Prose Does Not Belong In Scripting

| August 17, 2012

 

Here we are, once more, back at The Proving Grounds! This week, we have a new Brave One in Damian Wampler, who brings us a story of Sevara. As is the new norm, we have Steve Colle in blue, and me in red. So, let’s get started!

 

PAGE ONE (four panels)

 

Panel 1. Panoramic shot of snow capped mountains. In the center, the silhouette of an armored man, the COLOSSUS, walks past a ruined city, holding something small in his right hand. Compared to the mountains, the COLOSSUS looks tiny. At the bottom of the frame, we see the skyline of the city. (This making sense to anyone? It isn’t making sense to me. Let’s look at the different aspects of what we have here: a panoramic view of mountains. That means we’re pulled out. Remember, we have to describe things in a certain order: either left to right, right to left, front to back, or back to front. This is going from back to front, because we have to have the mountains in the background. Next, we cannot have anyone walking anywhere, going past anything. We have to have the city. This means, the city has to be nestled in the mountains. Now, we can have the guy walking. That last line? Impossible. As it stands, this panel cannot be drawn.)

 

SEVARA (cap): Alathea, forgive me.

 

Panel 2. Medium shot (Do you mean a long shot or extreme long shot?) of the ruins of a city from above. Combined with the previous panel we have one complete image. (There’s no reason to have it as two panels; keep the first and second panels together for stronger effect and use a low angle or worm’s eye view to have the camera low down to show the size and majesty of the setting.) (Did you read the rest of this description? You have one shot that should have been pulled out (need to give the time of day), and this shot which comes in closer. These two shots are incompatible to complete anything, because the camera is at different angles. Lose the second sentence of this panel description, and it works, as much as anything will work in what’s looking to be a train wreck right off the bat.) In the street below we see bums in a dark alley– the city’s destitutes. Decrepit excuses for human life carry on a meager existence. They huddle around a fire pit, drinking and smoking. (How many, what sexes, what ages? What are they wearing? Lots of non-answers here.)

 

SEVARA (cap): I have failed.

 

Panel 3. Medium shot of the alley. One of the destitutes looks up. A wisp of hope crosses her wind battered face. (If you had been somewhat specific in the previous panel, you could have just told the artist which one of the people it was that was looking up. That’s first. Second, stop trying to be prosaic. This isn’t prose. You don’t get points for it. No one but the creative team is going to see the script. Why do I want you to stop being prosaic? Because it leads to things that cannot be drawn. You cannot draw a wisp of hope. Remember, folks: the cleaner, clearer the emotion, the easier the artist will be able to draw it.)

 

SEVARA (cap): I couldn’t save them.

 

DESTITUTE: Sevara will come. (This single sentence sets up a whole heap of trouble, as the expectation here is that she will come, not that she is already here trapped in the hand above them. By doing this, you’re saying that the woman in the clutches of the Colossus is not Sevara, therefore Sevara doesn’t appear in these pages. Watch how you phrase your dialogue.)

 

Panel 4. Medium on SEVARA held tightly in the grip of a huge metal hand of the COLOSSUS. The hand gives off an eerie blue energy. SEVARA lays helpless, eyes half closed. Half unconscious. Half dead. She weakly holds a magnificent wooden staff covered with intricate carvings. (I’m not picturing this. Are we talking a King Kong holding Faye Wray, or are we talking something else? If she’s lying, half unconscious, how is she holding onto a staff? See what trouble being prosaic gets you into? Just describe what you see in your head so that the artist can interpret it.)

 

SEVARA (cap): I can’t do this alone. (She’s half unconscious, half dead, and yet she’s able to form this thought for the reader to understand her plight? It isn’t a necessary line and doesn’t work here, so take it out.)

 

A few issues with regards to dialogue: 1) There isn’t enough of it, 2) it isn’t moving the story forward as we’re not learning anything, and 3) it seems like it was decided upon after the fact, as it reads haphazardly.

 

There’s no hook to capture the interest of the reader enough for them to turn the page. One hook could be your panel three, with the line “Sevara will come”, but there isn’t enough before it visually or textually to warrant that kind of cut.

 

For four panels, better as three with the first two combined, there isn’t anything being said. Not good.

 

So, we have P1 down, and already it isn’t looking good.

 

Simply put, Damian, your panel descriptions are going to be the death of you.

 

This isn’t prose. This isn’t a novel. The script is nothing more than a set of instructions so that the rest of the creative team can do their jobs. Any artist worth their salt will have a lot of questions to ask, because you aren’t giving them the information they need in your quest to try to be entertaining.

 

Stop.

 

Like I said, no one else is going to read the script. Just the creative team. It doesn’t have to be “just the facts, ma’am,” but it does have to do its job of giving direction. This isn’t doing that. See how much red and blue there is? Exactly.

 

As for the dialogue, Steve’s right. There isn’t enough of it, and what is there doesn’t pull the reader in. You have four panels. You have more than enough space to tell the story in such a way that the reader can be propelled into the story. You’re putting your energy in the wrong place. You’re giving the artist the “entertaining” bits, instead of the audience. Remember who your audience is. It isn’t the ones reading the script.

PAGE TWO (six panels)

 

Panel 1. Small panel. Close up on SEVARA’s hand. She lets go of her staff. Her only weapon. It falls. (Here you have opportunity to create dramatic effect by having a panel or series of panels showing the staff falling through the air. Take advantage of that.)(If I hair, I’d be pulling it out. This is a moving panel, and as such, it can’t be drawn.)

 

Panel 2. The wooden staff embeds itself in the snowy ground like a flagpole just outside the city limits. In the distance the form of the COLOSSUS continues towards the mountains, leaving the city behind.

 

SFX: THOK

 

SEVARA (cap): The people have abandoned hope.

 

Panel 3. Wide shot. The tiny figure of a destitute bag lady leaves the safety of the city and walks towards the staff a few hundred feet out. Her tiny footprints trail behind in the snow. (Is she walking towards the background, to the foreground, or from left to right/right to left? Consider how the “tiny footprints” are going to come across.)

 

SEVARA (cap): They’ve abandoned their pride.

 

Panel 4. Medium shot. The ragged woman runs her hands over the staff. A mystified look crosses her face as she stares in the direction of the COLOSSUS. This is the staff of legend.

 

SEVARA (cap): They’ve succumbed to fear.

 

Panel 5. She tries in vain to pull the staff from the ground. Not out of greed. She wants the hope that it brings.

 

SEVARA (No cap; is this said aloud?): Have you abandoned me as well (Comma-fail) Alathea?

 

Panel 6. The destitute trudges mournfully back to the city, the staff still stuck in the ground.

 

Again, minimal dialogue is saying the same thing and isn’t moving the story forward. And again, the text is forced, unnatural, and isn’t relating to the images. Finally, why is Sevara still rambling when she’s half dead and, even more of a problem, she isn’t even on the page?

 

We still don’t know who Sevara is, as we can’t effectively put two and two together to come to the conclusion that the staff belongs to her. On top of that, the staff in and of itself isn’t enough for us, as the readers, to feel that sense of hopelessness.

 

So far the pace is really slow and we haven’t seen much action or movement in forwarding the story. I hope that changes.

 

Okay, P2, and we’ve still got a lot of nothing.

 

Damian, the other part of the problem is that you don’t know what does and doesn’t work as a panel description. It’s like you wrote a story in prose, and then tried to translate that story from prose into a comic script. You should be finding out that it’s much harder than it looks.

 

Now, here’s the thing: part of what you’re writing is fine, because it gives instruction for the artist. The other part is crap, because it can’t be drawn. Take panel 5 of this page. That first sentence needs some work, but it can be drawn. Everything else after that is crap. It cannot be drawn. Why is it here? Who is it for? The artist? If you wrote the first sentence in a way that gives information while still tells of the ambiance of the panel, then the other sentences aren’t needed. The rest of the team? What do they care? And we already know that the audience isn’t going to read it. That means its wasted effort. Wasted effort is money lost, once you start getting paid for this.

 

Also, that extra fluff? It can lead to confusion. You could contradict yourself. This leads to more questions from the artists, which could be frustrating for you, because you just want Graeme McFreelancer to draw. If they have a question about every single little thing, then you didn’t do your job as the writer in creating a script that they can work from.

 

As for the dialogue, I’m not going to say that it’s forced, but I’m going to agree with Steve: there’s nothing here for the reader to connect Sevara with the figure being held by the giant non-ape fist.

 

Now, we have a logic problem: why aren’t the other people reacting? A giant just walked by, and only one person looked up. Not only did that person look up, but they ran out after the giant, with no heed to themselves, in order to try to pick up a stick. First, that doesn’t seem plausible to me. Second, where are the other people’s reactions? Third, if he’s a giant non-ape on walkabout, didn’t anyone feel the vibrations? Sure, it’s fantasy, but there has to be some internal logic to it. I’m not finding it here.

PAGE THREE (five panels)

 

Panel 1. Medium on SEVARA, struggling against the grip of the huge metal hand. She pushes the fist open slightly, gasping for breath. She speaks to an empty sky. Perhaps Alathea can hear her. (There’s no dialogue in this frame, so this is completely redundant.)

 

Panel 2. Close on SEVARA as she almost succeeds to pry one finger off her.

 

Panel 3. The hand closes tighter on SEVARA.

 

Panel 4. Wide shot. We see over the shoulder of the COLOSSUS a tiny round metal door in the mountain, much too small for the COLOSSUS to fit through. It is intended for something else. The giant stands holding SEVARA. Snow and ice surround them. (Which direction are they going, left to right or right to left? This is important for eye flow.)

 

SEVARA (CA) (What in the world is CA?): We promised to save the human race together… (I think this was supposed to be a caption.)

 

Panel 5. Close on the small door as it slides open. The doorway is thick metal, but what awaits is a mystery, cast in shadow. It looks like the gaping maw of death. (Moving panel.)

 

SEVARA (No cap; is this said aloud?): Alathea! Where are you? (Should this be screamed out? If so, capitalize for emphasis.)

 

Is this the first issue? If it is, then you’ve done everything wrong in introducing your character of Sevara. It’s fine to start the story in medias res, in the middle of things, but what you’ve done is bypassed all of the action and gone straight to the capture, and dwelling on it to boot. We don’t know who the character is or even if this “savior” has made an appearance yet.

 

The pace you’ve established is so slow, I lost interest on Page Two. It’s lumbering just like the Colossus.

 

Again, minimal forced dialogue that isn’t moving the story forward.

 

Her actions on this page are anticlimactic as she tries and quickly fails to escape. I feel like I’m watching Godzilla vs. Bambi.

 

P3, and still, more of nothing.

 

I don’t edit prose. I could, but I don’t. Why? Because prose is even more intimate than comic scripting. Talk about someone getting upset! Why? Because I’d tell them that some of their passages are wretched.

 

Let’s go directly to the dialogue. Besides there being not enough of it, it’s overblown. You’re definitely trying too hard. Trying so hard that it’s pretty difficult to read. This is the reverse of good.

 

As for what’s happening on this page…

 

Let’s look at the technical aspects.

 

Technically, there isn’t much on this page that can be drawn. That first panel? Can’t be drawn. First you’re talking about pushing open a fist. The next panel, you’re talking about a finger. How do you go from a fist to a finger? I don’t know.

 

Panel 3: how tight was the fist before that it’s now closing tighter? How is the reader supposed to know between tight and super-tight? What’s her reaction? I don’t know, because you don’t say. Since she’s reaction-less, the reader won’t know that it’s supposed to be tighter.

 

Panel 4 can’t be drawn. If it’s a wide shot, you have to pull out. If the hole is tiny, it can’t be seen. Not if you’re going to get a whole body shot of the giant non-ape holding the I-thought-she-was-near-death-so-how-can-she-be-struggling damsel. You don’t even say where the arm/fist is. Is it down by its side, or held up at the shoulder or elbow? I don’t know. Neither does the artist.

 

Panel 5 can’t be drawn, because it’s a moving panel. It didn’t start out that way, but that’s how it ended up. Why? Because you were being prosaic.

PAGE FOUR (eight panels)

 

Panel 1. Close up on the head of the COLOSSUS. A helmet hides its true form.

Its metallic eyes stare at us.

 

SEVARA (cap): I need you.

 

Panel 2. Medium shot of the interior cockpit of the COLOSSUS. The PILOT, hairless, pink, and covered in scars, sits limply at the controls. He is more monster than man, never having seen the light of day or touched the skin of another human. Metal coils plug into his eyes. A feeder tube goes into his mouth. We can’t see his forearms or feet. A radio squawks orders at the PILOT. (Why is he covered in scars? Don’t we find out that his body is attached to the machine and that he’s “never seen the light of day”?)

 

RADIO: Holding bay D-27 is ready! (You don’t need to exclaim everything being said over the radio. It loses power for those comments that really need it.)

 

SEVARA (cap): Humans have lost themselves to greed and evil…

 

Panel 3. Wide shot. Side view of the metal hand holding SEVARA on the level with the COLOSSUS’ head. Silhouette and sunset. The COLOSSUS stares at her. SEVARA’s head is slumped forward.

 

SEVARA (cap): (Ellipsis marks here to continue the text from the last caption) And have become more powerful than even I. (How is this true?)

 

Panel 4. Medium shot, straight on, of SEVARA being held. She raises her head and looks into our eyes. She is an object of beauty. (This is basically the same shot as Panel 1, albeit a medium shot instead of a close-up. Why?)

 

SEVARA (cap): I was once worshiped as a god.

 

Panel 5. Close up on the PILOT’s face. His expression, despite the wires and tubes, is full of sorrow.

 

RADIO: What are you waiting for?

 

Panel 6. The PILOT leans forward, as far as he can go. We see that he is physically part of the cockpit, his legs, back, and forearms merging with the surrounding fleshy walls.

 

RADIO: Load prisoner S-1 NOW!

 

Panel 7. The PILOT leans back, straining the cables which are plugged directly into his eyes.

 

RADIO: Breach of protocol, breach of protocol! (This should be the same sentence repeated twice as “BREACH OF PROTOCOL! BREACH OF PROTOCOL!” Otherwise it sounds weak and lacking of the speaker’s energy.)

 

Panel 8. Close on SEVARA’s eyes as they narrow.

 

SEVARA (cap): They are the gods now. So what does that make me? (How are the humans the gods now? I hope you’ll back this up.)

 

5 panels of the pilot. Why? This whole page is pure fluff.

 

Again, the dialogue is filler, forced, and extremely minimal.

 

Page Four and I still don’t know this is Sevara.

 

The pacing is still extremely slow. I realize you’re probably trying to create a somber moment, but it’s resulting in the book already being back on the shelf.

 

Okay, we’re on P4.

 

Like Steve said, this is already back on the shelf for being overblown and terrible.

 

The pacing? This is a very fast read. Why? Because there are hardly any words on the pages. And for all of that, it’s slow.

 

It’s P4, and there’s no interest. I’m still waiting for the story to start, and that’s terrible. Even if there were questions to be asked, at least something would have happened. Nothing’s happened here. In these four pages, you have about a page and a half of actual story, and that’s a shame.

 

You’re trying to make a page count, Damian. That’s totally obvious. Know what that means? You don’t have enough story to carry the issue. And you know what? I think you know that. Then the question becomes simple: why continue on this path, if you know you don’t have enough story to hold someone’s interest?

 

You can rely on the art only so much, which is the only other alternative that I’m seeing here. Readers may come for the art (and premise), but they stay for the story. So far, you aren’t delivering on the story.

 

We kinda sound like broken records, don’t we?

 

Yes, this entire page is fluff. Elderberries. You took a bath in them.

 

Also, eight panels is a no-man’s land. It’s difficult to pull off. It isn’t a grid, and it doesn’t leave enough space for good panel flow. Seven should be the limit, unless you go to nine.

 

PAGE FIVE (six panels)

 

Panel 1. Close up on the PILOT’s face. The cables pop out of the eyes of the PILOT. His head snaps back. The cables fly away and spark.

 

RADIO: What are you doing? (Exclamation mark here, as this is a crucial decision being questioned.)

 

Panel 2. The PILOT stares at SEVARA with a mix of greed and curiosity. Although his eyes have been pierced, there is enough humanity left for him to see. Something stirs inside the remnants of his soul. (How does he still have eyes if they were part of the machine?)

 

RADIO: Execute override. (This isn’t a computer voice. You’re writing it as such. Emotionless. You’ve already established there’s someone on the other end.)

 

Panel 3. Medium shot. The arm of the COLOSSUS moves towards the small round door. The fist is about to go into the hole, the blue energy pulsating. We can see that the door’s opening has grooves that fit the giant’s forearm near the elbow– when they meet, her fate will be sealed. (That perfect fit is awfully convenient.)

 

SEVARA (cap): I’ve lived millions and millions (unnecessary) of years…

 

Panel 4. Close on the fist as it enters the whole. Half of it is in shadow. The holding bay glows blue. (Is she still sticking out of the top of the fist? She’d be broken against the surface.)

 

SEVARA (cap): …and died a hundred thousand deaths…

 

Panel 5. Close on the PILOT’s face. His brow is furrowed.

 

SEVARA (cap): (Ellipsis marks here) Only to be reborn again and again. But this time, my powers won’t save me.

 

Panel 6 Closer on the PILOT’s eyes. He sheds a single tear.

 

SEVARA (cap): I’m prepared to die…

 

RADIO (op): What are you doing?

 

Panel 7. The hand closes on SEVARA, appearing to crush her. SEVARA disappears inside his fist, although the blue glow is gone. (This would mean that his hold would have had to be readjusted at some point, as the fingers would need to move and possibly release her.)

 

SFX: CRRUNCH!

 

Fluff. Plain and simple. The pace is killing me. You have panels that don’t need to be there to move the story forward. And again, the dialogue is terrible. She’s made it clear that she’s giving up, that there’s no hope of success or survival. And then, suddenly…

 

P5, and I’m appalled at the lack of logic displayed. Totally and completely.

 

First, yes, you’re still severely over-writing the panel descriptions with prose. That’s standard.

 

Now, if the hole (you spelled it wrong in the PD) is an exact fit for the non-gorilla hand, how is the unnamed character going to fit, since she seems to be hanging out of the fist? She doesn’t. Not without some parts being severed.

 

Like Steve said, if the hand has to reposition her in the fist, it has to open. More than likely, it has to use two hands. I don’t see how the repositioning is going on.

 

Logic fails. If your artist is worth their salt, they’ll re-pace this page, and do something logical with it. Then again, if the artist is worth their salt, they’d re-pace this entire thing.

 

Fluff? Part of it is. This is about half a page of story, which gives us two solid pages.

 

And you know what this reminds me of? The beginning of The Dark Knight Rises. (Well, all of it, actually.) Just bleak and hopelessness piled on top of a slow moving start. This is following in those footsteps, except this doesn’t have the production values of the movie.

PAGE SIX (six panels)

 

Panel 1. SEVARA’s arm punches out from the middle of the giant’s fist. Her arm is different now though. Instead of soft skin she is covered in a black armor, partially metallic, partially organic, teeming with barbs.

 

SEVARA (cap): But not today. (You have just single-handedly made a mockery of what you established on the previous page. Hulk Hogan would be truly proud of the way she came back from absolute death to being suddenly regenerated. ARGH!!!!!)

 

Panel 2. Splash page. (This isn’t a splash page.) Large panel. The COLOSSUS’ fist bursts apart from the inside. Wires, fluids, and metal fly in all directions. In the center, SEVARA breaks free of her prison. Most of her body is armored. Wings extend from her back. Snakeskin wraps around her waist. She is beautiful. And deadly.

 

SFX: BOOM!

 

Panel 3. Medium on the round door as it begins to slide shut quickly. SEVARA is still most of the way inside. The miniscule form of SEVARA flies towards the crack. She can’t escape in time…

 

Pane 4. Small panel. Close on SEVARA’s armored foot as it slips out of the round door just before is slams shut.

 

SFX: BAM!

 

Panel 5. She flies directly towards us on bio-mechanical wings. Black armor covers most of her body, and a visor shields her eyes. It has all sprouted from inside her.

 

Panel 6. Small panel. Close up on the muzzle of large guns. Dozens of cannons, sprouting from the COLOSSUS like porcupine quills, open fire on our tiny angel.

 

SFX: BLAMBLAMBLAM

 

This book was put back on the shelf a long time ago, no matter what the art looked like, which I’ve seen a sample of on Digital Webbing. You’ve destroyed the credibility of the character, taking five pages to drag out the fact that she has given up and that certain death is imminent. I can’t take it anymore!!

 

I have to stop here. This story is making me angry. What bothers me most is I’ve seen the five-page sample in the writer’s forum of Digital Webbing and it isn’t the same script. Why did this one get submitted instead of the other? I don’t understand.

 

This, in my opinion, needs a complete rewrite. The dialogue is atrocious, the pacing is terrible, and there are areas of total needlessness that just drag me through like I was the lifeless body. It took me three days to get through to page six, which is saying something. YOU CAN DO BETTER THAN THIS!!!!!

 

This is terrible. Let’s just say that, and run this down.

 

Format: Flawless victory. That’s the only good thing about this.

Panel Descriptions: There are words, and none of them are nice. This isn’t good. Being prosaic isn’t helping you in the least. Actually, it’s hurting you. You keep writing the descriptions, doing one of two things: you either write something that cannot be drawn, or you keep writing until you write something that cannot be drawn.

Prose. That’s part of the problem. It doesn’t belong in panel descriptions, especially if you don’t know what you’re doing or how to incorporate it. This is clearly evident in your panel descriptions. More study is needed.

You also need to know what can and cannot be drawn. You have to think things through. Slow down, think it out, see if it makes sense.

Most of the time, panel descriptions have to be written left to right. That’s how we read comics in America. Left to right. If the information has to go back to front, or front to back, then that’s okay, too. Just don’t do it haphazardly. Besides bad writing, there’s a lot of haphazardness going on in here.

Dialogue: There isn’t one good thing I can say about the dialogue. Wait, that’s not true. There weren’t many comma-fails. Part of the reason for that, though, is because there isn’t a lot of dialogue here to begin with. That lack of dialogue is also a lack of understanding for the reader. And what is there is overblown bleakness, almost to the point of parody. Parody isn’t what you’re going for.

The art is supposed to be able to tell the story by itself, and dialogue is there to supplement it. There isn’t a lot of supplementing going on here. Why is that?

How is the reader supposed to become engrossed in the story if there’s no story being told? That has to be fixed, and you fix it with more dialogue. Lots more.

Pacing: Fast, yet slow. Fast, because there isn’t enough dialogue to keep a reader on the page, so they’ll be zipping through this pretty swiftly. Slow, because you are almost actively working against having forward progress in this story.

You can start late in the scene. Starting late in the scene is good. But the trick is this: you also have to give the reader enough so that they can catch up without having to work too hard for it. Here, there’s no way for the reader to catch up, because you’re dragging things out with the bleakness.

Four pages of “I failed, we failed, it’s over” is not a setup for “except this one last time!” It’s overkill. You want to draw the reader in, not turn them off. You took WAY too long to get to the action, such as it is, because you were too in love with being a drama queen. I could see the back of her hand on her forehead as she uttered every word.

Pacing has a lot of moving parts: how many scenes in a comic, how many pages in a scene, how many panels on a page, how many words in a panel. All of that is on top of what happens in each scene. All of that has to work together. If even one part is off, then the entire comic’s pace will be off.

Your pace here is slow. Fast, because there aren’t enough words, but slow, because you have nothing but fluff here posing as story. This should have been three pages, max.

Content: I have no idea. As a reader, there isn’t enough to hold me here. This is back on the shelf, no matter how purty the art. I don’t know what the book is about, and if I can’t tell anything about the story, or even begin to tell what’s going on after five pages, then that’s time I can’t get back. You have to get there faster.

Editorially, this needs a complete rewrite. More study is needed in every area of scripting. You need to learn how to write for comics. Read the first thirteen installments of Bolts & Nuts. Do the homework. Resubmit. Put in the work. You do that, and are diligent about it, and I guarantee you’ll get better.

And that’s all we have for this week. Check the calendar to see who’s up next!

Please click here to make comments in the forum!

 

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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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