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TPG Week 92: Dialogue Needs Pacing & Punctuation

| September 28, 2012

Hello, everyone! Welcome back to this, our 92nd installment of The Proving Grounds! A few more weeks to go, and we get to have our 2 year anniversary! Looking forward to it! Anyway, this week’s Brave One is George Myers, who’s bringing us a tale of a place. As usual, we have Steve Colle rocking the blue, and I’m the demon in red! Let’s see how George does with

Porter’s Place

PAGE 1 (4 panels)
Panel 1- PORTERS’ PLACE BAR-interior

(I’m immediately hit with a wall of text. It’s a turn off. I’m hoping for a damned good establishing shot.)A very cozy, open, neighborhood style bar interior. Of course, it’s NOT. This is Porters’ Place, the bar the cape n’ cowl crowd frequent when they’re off duty. It seems innocuous enough from the inside (Prose. I’m not a fan of it. I’m getting a picture in my head, and that’s great, but I’m not liking the fact that you seem to be putting more energy into entertaining those who aren’t going to read this than you may be putting into things they WILL read, such as the dialogue. Time will tell, but I’m leery already.). A long oak bar with round spinning stools bolted to the floor in front of it runs parallel to the wall. The stools and the bar have heavy duty springs and arm supports underneath, but they don’t need to draw attention, just be there. The bar decor, again, is very tried and true, very iconic. However, mixed amongst these relics (pinball machines, large bar mirrors, rows of bottles, pool table, high cocktail tables towards the back, a dull, barely reflective bar floor, etc.), are also things of a super hero nature. Easily recognized homages to well -known superheroes are interspersed among the more mundane pub accoutrements (think of any scene from Top Ten, or the trophy room scene from Future Imperfect for inspiration and visual stimulus). Again, they’re not meant to be obtuse and glaring, but to mix and meld with the other brick-a-brack, to appear is if it’s all been there for a while, and by its sheer staying power has become normal, a common thing. The place is empty, save for a huge metallic man in some form of team seeming uniform sits near the bar corner, holding a large bucket glass in one over-sized hand, and a cell phone in the other. He appears to be quite agitated as he yells into the phone. (Is the character sitting in the foreground or background as he talks on the phone? This matters as you can see more of a reaction from his facial expressions as he sits closer to the camera.)(And, who is this guy? If you don’t care about the guy or his look, let the artist know. Otherwise, if he’s a main character, then the artist is going to need to know so that he can be properly designed.)

TITLE BLOCK (bottom left, probably over the empty bar stools that run off panel)
“Short Answer”
Written By: George Myers

THICKSKIN
You’re kidding— You’re fucking kidding! No, you’re right, you’re right. It’s ALL an act. All an act I’ve been putting on for you— Oh no. No, no I’m not being SARCASTIC. Seriously, I’ve fought the best, I picked shit up. I’ve been planning this since before I KNEW you, that’s how deep this goes, I- (This dialogue should be broken up to fit in multiple balloons. Not only is it too much for one balloon, but you have a pace to what’s being said. Here’s a way to break it up: “You’re kidding. / You’re fucking kidding! / No no, you’re right. It’s all an act. / All an act I’ve been putting on for you. / No no, I’m not being sarcastic. / Seriously, I’ve fought the best, I’ve picked shit up. / I’ve been planning this since before I knew you, that’s how deep this goes. / I –“ By dividing up your dialogue, you’re giving the impression that there’s an exchange, a back and forth, going on over the phone line.)

Panel 2-
THICKSKIN stares at the phone angrily, as his mind catches up to the fact that yes, the person on the other end did INDEED hang up on him.

Panel 3-
The same panel as above, but the cellphone has snapped to bits in his hand.

(For panels 2 and 3, make sure to give your artist more details, such as camera distance and angle. If keeping it as the same shot, you’ll want to make it so it’s a medium shot so both his face and his hand with the phone are in view. Another option would be to have two extreme close-ups, one of his face with an ECU of his enraged eyes and then an ECU of the phone being crushed to powder. Just give more information in your descriptions.)
Panel 4-
From the far side of the panel (left), the bartenders arm appears, setting a shot down in front of THICKSKIN. (Again, give us a description of where the camera is. We know that his arm is coming from the left, but is it the same distance that you had planned in the 2nd and 3rd panels?)

BARTENDER (OP)
Here, (Period instead of comma) On the house (Comma-fail here) man, (Period instead of comma) Sounds like you need it.

THICKSKIN
You have NO idea…

Alright! We’ve got P1 on the books! And you know what? Except for that too-long establishing shot, it isn’t that bad. I’m enjoying it. That says a lot.

Let’s break it down some.

The first panel is too long. You give a lot of information, but how much of it is NEEDED info? That’s the question to ask, and there’s a balance to be struck. Right now, you’re leaning toward the “unnecessary” realm, instead of the “necessary.” Things that you’re missing: windows, a time of day, a camera angle.

Windows? Yep. You give lots of info, but nothing about a window or any type of light source. It’s a very simple thing, but because it’s simple, it’s often overlooked.

The conversation. Simply put, it’s too wordy within a single balloon. While I don’t agree with Steve’s assessment of basically putting every line in a different balloon, I do agree that most of it should be broken up into different balloons. (You have to take into account the negative space that balloons take up.) I’d advise breaking it up into about three balloons, and varying the ending punctuation in order to get across the sense of conversation.

I’m thinking this is a decent first page, though. Good work.

PAGE 2 (5 panels) (GAH! No page break! I just died a bit…)
Panel 1-
PORTER (the bartender), stands facing us. He’s a tall man with wavy brown hair, lanky and a little above average height. Think Peter Parker plus 15 or 20 years. The most distinguishing feature about PORTER, are the large, round insect eyes replacing the two normal ones the rest of us get. Other than that, he wears a faded t-shirt, jeans, and has a bar towel slung over his shoulder. His affable smile tells us, and THICKSKIN, ‘you sure about that?’ (Again, camera details.) (Just to remain constant: yes, I hate the fact that the character description is in here. Take it out, and what are you left with? He’s standing, facing us, with the look on his face.)
PORTER
Oh, I’m guessing I can relate… You’re Thickskin (comma-fail) right? With, the… uh… Help me out here. (Again, break it up. “Oh, I’m guessing I can relate. / You’re Thickskin, right? With the… uh… / Help me out here.”)

THICKSKIN
The Gene Teens. (What is Thickskin doing in a bar if he’s with a group called the Gene TEENS? Isn’t he underage?)

Panel 2-
A shot from behind the left shoulder of THICKSKIN, a little from above. PORTER has both his hands on the bar, leaning forward a little, a good-natured grin on his face as he snickers wickedly. (Good camera work here.)

PORTER
No, I know… (Period here instead of ellipsis) I just wanted to hear you say it. (Here’s the problem: you said he snickers. The problem with snickering? It’s generally a moving action. That being said, I’m not seeing/”hearing” any snickering here. This is a good/bad thing.)

Panel 3-
THICKSKIN shoots his head up, a look of perfected annoyance on his face… (Is Porter in this shot to receive “the look”? You haven’t established camera distance.)

Panel 4-
…Which changes quickly when he realizes he’s staring at empty space. (So this means “no” to the previous question, but does it mean that the camera is now further back to catch this empty space?)(Okay, so the look changes. What does it change to? You don’t say, and it’s important for the artist to know.)

Panel 5-
Worms eye view, kind of up the side of a bucket glass PORTER is setting down for THICKSKIN. PORTER himself is clinging to the ceiling, apparently holding on with his feet. THICKSKIN meanwhile has started backwards a bit, surprised by the vertical appearance of his barkeep. (If he’s hanging upside down from the ceiling, then you have to make sure that the ceiling isn’t too high up. Either that, or the guy is able to stretch. Either way, it’s important for the artist to know.)

PORTER
Kidding, I’m kidding! (Separate balloon) No, I just wanted to know what’s up. You just dusted a YPhone there. And I’ve SEEN your work, (Period instead of comma here) You know your own strength. (Separate balloon) So, what’s the haps?

Okay, P2 is down.

I’m dying.

Why am I dying?

Because it’s extremely easy to see that you’ve done some homework. You haven’t done it all, but you’ve done a good portion of it. The part you’ve forgotten to study? Dialogue.

I’m going to tell you right now that your dialogue sucks. It sucks NOT because of what it does or doesn’t say, but for the lack of correct punctuation and the lack of breaking it up properly.

I have a dream. My dream goes something like this: I’ve won an Academy Award for writing an original screenplay for Pen-Man. I am then able to parlay that into teaching a comics writing course at a prestigious college. I’m able to convince the dean that everyone who takes my class starts out with an F, and then they have to work their way up. A few things I wouldn’t tolerate: incorrect spelling, incorrect punctuation, and incorrect word tenses. Those are automatic failures for the assignment.

Within that dream, this is a failure. The first one I found, I’d just circle it, give the F, and continue to march with the next paper in the stack.

Okay, you have a bit of teleportaion going on here. It would be better if the as-yet unnamed bartender starts to speak, and then continues what he says off panel, while Thickskin has his head down, making the as-yet unnamed bartender off-panel. Then, when Thickskin raises his head, that’s a beat, and then the expression change is a beat, and then we see the bartender is gone.

That’s a pacing thing. That can be worked on and helped with editorial. The bigger thing that will help you get a job? Punctuation and pacing within the dialogue. You do that for yourself, and things would go easier for you.

PAGE 3 (4 panels) (Page break.)
Panel 1-
Front shot of THICKSKIN. He looks tired, one arm on the bar as he leans forward on it a little, his shoulders low. The other hand holds his bucket glass, as he points his finger at PORTER, O.P.

THICKSKIN
Thanks. It’s- (Double dash) (Separate balloon) Look, I’ve been dating this chick (Comma-fail) right, (Question mark instead of comma) ‘nother hero. So we’re seein’ each other for (Comma-fail) like, three weeks now. Everything’s great. She’s great, (Period instead of comma) Movie night’s great, (Period instead of comma) Whole package (Comma-fail) right?

PORTER (OP)
With you so far.

Panel 2- C.A.D. Warehouse- interior
THICKSKIN and his ‘girlfriend’ are battling a tide of men all wearing semi sci-fi armor and using hi-tech rifles. These men are the forces of C.A.D. THICKSKIN is plowing through them, energy blasts ricocheting off him. To his side, the girlfriend is morphing a hole in her torso to let a blast through, while stretching one arm out as she shifts her arm into a blade, slicing a gun in half. The other arm has taken the shape of a shield, and is engaged deflecting a blast. Of course there are men swarming all over them. The setting is some form of standard, large-scale warehouse, the likes of which villains and secret organizations are always so prone to use. (You were fine, until you stopped thinking. Look below.)

THICKSKIN (CAPTION)
So tonight we’re out, (Comma-fail) and we bust up this C.A.D. arms deal. Buncha’ (Don’t need the apostrophe after “Buncha”) nerds in body armor, (Period instead of comma) Real ‘low-rent’ stuff. (This is a voice-over. What happened to the quotation marks?)

Panel 3-C.A.D. Warehouse- interior cont.
THICKSKIN and his ‘girlfriend’ stand victorious against their foes, throwing each other knowing smiles (Instead of “knowing smiles”, why not flirtatious smiles or “Let’s get outta here and f–k” smiles, which would lead better into your next panel?) over the mounds of passed out C.A.D. Soldiers. (Case of the dropsies.)

Panel 4- Large metropolitan city, rooftop, night
The two lovers are going at it pretty heavily, lying on the roof next to the supports for a water tower, and the heating vents poking out of the ground. The girlfriend is pulling the top of the uniform off of THICKSKIN. She herself seems to be in a pretty thorough state of undress, but she’s angled so we can’t see anything.

THICKSKIN (CAPTION)
Next thing you know we’re on a rooftop (Or “on top of a building”, just so you don’t repeat “rooftop” twice) six blocks down (Comma fail) tearing off spandex… (Still in the voice-over. Still missing the quotation marks.)

PORTER (CAPTION)
Rooftop Sex? (Quotation marks.)

P3 down, and what do we have? A lack of thinking things through, as well as a slowdown in interest.

When did you stop thinking? When you said that there was a gun battle, but the bad guys were also swarming over the good guys. Generally, if you’re in a firefight, you don’t want to get in front of the bullets/beams/blasts, because that means you’re going to get hit. “Friendly fire” hurts and kills just as much.

What else do we have here? The old cliché of the person at the bar, pouring his heart out to the bartender, who has a sympathetic ear. Know what word is part of “sympathetic?” Pathetic. And while I get that you’re going for the humor angle, this is also P3. You have to give the reader a reason to turn the page. Sex, while fun, isn’t the biggest hook in the world to get them to do it.

I’m still waiting for the story, to tell the truth. While I’m not bored, I’m not yet enjoying the story, because there isn’t a story yet.

PAGE 4 (5 panels)
Panel 1- PORTERS PLACE- interior
PORTER looks at THICKSKIN awkwardly, disappointed. For his part, the ‘Gene Team’ (Why not use “Gene Team” instead of “Gene Teens”? That way you don’t have to explain his being in a bar as a “teen”, even though you explain that he’s 23. By the way, is he a Hollywood actor, an adult playing the role of a teenager?) member has sunk farther towards the bar, his height level seemingly a barometer for his mood. One arm is raised up, the hand giving a ‘thumbs down’ sign.

PORTER
No bueno…

THICKSKIN
No. Not at all.

Panel 2-
PORTER leans in confidentially, close enough so only he and the broken THICKSKIN can hear. (Even though they’re alone in the bar, I understand what you mean here.)

PORTER
Problem was…?

Panel 3-
THICKSKIN has raised his posture a bit, but not his mood. He straightens only as a result of tipping his drink towards PORTER, the universal symbol for ‘gimme another’. THICKSKIN, poor fellow that he is, still looks pretty deflated as he continues to explain his woes.

THICKSKIN
Look, I haven’t been with anyone since my powers kicked in, (Period instead of comma) I hadn’t considered the… finer points involved… (Period instead of ellipsis) One more? I mean, I’m invulnerable, (Exclamation mark instead of comma) I don’t feel fuckin’ TANK rounds!

THICKSKIN
Who ever thought THAT’D be a bad thing (Comma-fail) y’know?

Panel 4-
PORTER has raised his chin towards the roof in speculation, while THICKSKIN has returned his head (and spirits) dejectedly towards the bar.

THICKSKIN
Which brings us back to the phone call, wherein she accused me of not ‘changing back’, (Don’t need the comma here) because I didn’t WANT to have sex with her.

Panel 5-
Suddenly, the math comes together as PORTER looks at THICKSKIN with surprise and empathy plastered across his odd looking mug. (When writing your panel descriptions, stick with the facts, not the “suddenly, the math comes together…” kind of subjectivity. It doesn’t provide the details that the artist requires.)

THICKSKIN
(Ellipsis marks) Said I just didn’t want to take things to the next level, (Period instead of comma) That to ME, we were just ‘fight buddies’. (Separate balloon) Like she’s a shape shifter AND a telepath all of a sudden…

PORTER
Duuuuuude…

P4. Is this what the story is about? People who go to the bar (empty) and spill their guts?

One more page. Let’s see what happens. But so far? I’m not impressed.

As for the panel descriptions…you’re treading into areas of feeling that cannot be drawn. Remember, this is comics, and they have to be drawn. Without the ability to draw, then this might as well be prose.

PAGE 5 (7 panels)
Panel 1-
THICKSKINS head has continued its attempt at escape, and has now been buried behind the arm on the bar. His other arm is raised, index finger pointed towards the sky. PORTER looks on, interested.

THICKSKIN
Right? I’m 23 years old and I beat up WMD’s with mental problems and dorks with militia complexes, (Ellipsis) FOR A LIVING. (Exclamation mark) There are ZERO times in a day I don’t want to get laid. (Ellipsis to connect to next dialogue )

Panel 2-
Profile shot of both of them, as PORTER (on the right of the panel) continues to pretend to clean the glass, facing slightly away from THICKSKIN (left), who is just staring at him, completely flabbergasted, one hand gesturing back at his own body, somewhat flippantly.

THICKSKIN
(Ellipsis) But I LITERALLY can’t feel ANYTHING like this, and I can’t STOP being this!

PORTER
So…

PORTER
You CAN”T (CAN’T, with an apostrophe instead of quotation marks before the “T”) change back?

Panel 3-
Same panel as above.

THICKSKIN
Clearly you weren’t listening to me at all there…

Panel 4-
Same shot as above again, except for a slight change to PORTER, who’s moved a little as he’s cleaned the glass. (How has he moved? Is he now facing Thickskin? Is he further away? Describe in more detail.)

PORTER
No, I get it, I get it… (Separate balloon) Look, she’ll come around. Women y’know? It’s just, it IS a, forgive the pun here, a ‘sticky’ situation…

Panel 5,6,and 7- (keep in mind, these don’t have to be very large at all)
Three consecutive, equal sized panels, each has one more empty (maybe the remnants of some ice or a crushed piece of fruit left over) bucket glass than the last, arrayed haphazardly on the bar top. (This is a looooooooong silence between the two characters. Can these panels be used to better effect to move the story forward?)

Okay. There’s not really a story here. I’m done. Let’s run it down.

(Steve had more…but I’m not captured by what’s going on. So, some snipping…)

I honestly enjoyed reading this story, a slice-of-life, humorous look at the behind-the-scenes life of the super-hero. The dialogue was natural and fun to read, and the plot was well laid out.

 

That said, there is a lot to be worked on:

You absolutely love using ellipsis marks, but aren’t always using them effectively. The same thing applies to learning how and when to use commas and/or periods.

Your dialogue can definitely be broken into separate balloons for better effect in pacing.

Your panel descriptions need to be refined and expanded upon to make it easier for the artist.

You have to make sure you don’t jump actions because you’ll completely lose your reader.

Make sure every panel counts, and don’t use them haphazardly.

With proper editing, you can have a truly entertaining read and a sellable story. Nice work for the most part.

 

Okay, let’s run it down.

Format: Needs only a bit of work. Page breaks! Add them! You coulda had a flawless victory!

Panel Descriptions: Le sigh. You need to cut the extraneous crap, and work on making sure the panel descriptions are actually describing actions. Actions can be drawn. Being vague? Not so much. It isn’t difficult. You’re mostly there.

Pacing: From a dialogue perspective, terrible. From a story perspective, while I’m not much of a slice-of-life person, there’s still things that could happen from a better pacing perspective.

What do I mean?

Let’s take P3. That page should have ended with the first two panels of P4. That was a more natural ending point for the page, which led into a page turn. See how that works? See what that would have done to the pacing? Not just the pacing, but the interest level? That would have been much more interesting, and would have kept my attention.

The dialogue needs a LOT of work. You have to learn the rhythm of how people speak, how they break their thoughts up, and how to represent that on the page. You couple those two things, and you’d have been golden.

Dialogue: I have no problem at all with WHAT was being said. If I were just to read the words, then that would have been fine. There are two problems with the dialogue, though.

The first is the total, utter, and complete lack of correct punctuation. I think only the period was used correctly, and that’s only because it ends a sentence. You need to learn to use punctuation correctly.

The second thing is the running together of ideas in a single balloon.

The best way to break up a balloon is to consolidate the ideas that each balloon is expressing. You can then go to “breath control” from there, but if the balloon keeps to a single “theme”, then it becomes easier to read. The last thing you want to do is to lose readers because the word balloons are all over the place thematically.

Content: Again, I’m not the best person for slice-of-life stories. I prefer horror and sci-fi. Give me a good ghost story. Slice-of-life, though, is harder for me to get into.

That being said, this could have gotten me, if it were paced better. It has potential. Better pacing and a nice polish, and I could have gotten into it as a reader.

Editorially, this needs a LOT of help. Pacing, dialogue, panel descriptions. You have the ability, now it’s time to hone the skills. Hire an editor. You’ll learn a lot.

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

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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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