TPG Week 97: Two Steps Forward…One Step Back (And To The Side)

| November 2, 2012

Welcome once more to The Proving Grounds! This week, we have Brave One Talisha Harrison stepping into the fray. As is the usual norm, we have Steve Colle in blue, and me in red. Let’s see what tale Talisha brings us in

Zahura

Most of my comments are going to appear at the end of the script. There are a lot of points and generalities that need to be addressed that are better served at the end.

Page One (six panels)

Panel One (establishing shot)
In the midst of a brutal battle, there is a small group (twenty) of Dahomean Amazons fighting for their lives. They’re surrounded by a mixture of dead Amazons and enemy male soldiers on the battlefield. (Why both men AND dead Amazons? Would even dead Amazons be working with men? Where is the battle taking place? What do the combatants look like? More pronounced descriptions are necessary.)

Caption One: Ambushes. That’s what we’re good at, (Period instead of comma) We stalk our prey and swiftly hunt them down.

Caption Two: No (Not) this time (Missing comma) though. (“That’s not the story this time” or “That’s usually how it happens, but not this time”. Elaborate and lengthen.)

Panel Two (Long medium shot) (Long OR medium shot? It’s hard to understand visually.)
In the midst of the group is their leader, Zuhura. She’s giving orders but no one’s following her orders they’re doing what they want to do instead. (Is it that they are completely dysfunctional or are they following someone else’s direction? They are used to leadership as soldiers, so them running directionless doesn’t make sense.) (This panel doesn’t describe an action that can be drawn.)

Caption One: Someone’s betrayed us, (Period here instead of comma) Now we’re the prey.

ZUHURA: STOP! WE MUST ADVANCE TOGETHER!

Caption Two: What’s worst (worse), no one’s listening to me.

Panel Three (medium shot)
As they continue to fight, more are injured another Amazon is killed.  Zuhura argues with one of her warriors. (Moving panel, and poorly described at that.)

ZUHURA: DWODA (Missing comma)LISTEN TO ME.(You’ve explained in the previous panel caption that no one is listening. It isn’t necessary to repeat.) IT’S IMPERATIVE THAT WE ATTACK AS ONE!

DWODA: NO, (Exclamation instead of comma here) YOU’RE WRONG! YOU’RE YOUNG AND INEXPERIENCED. ALL OF THIS IS YOUR FAULT! (This dialogue would be better served in showing how Dwoda is trying to take control. She wouldn’t wait for other Amazons to be overcome or killed just to prove a point. She would speak OVER Zuhura and try to lead them herself.)

Caption: They don’t respect me.

Panel Four (long shot)
Flashback, three days ago. Zuhura has been promoted to general  as her regiment is given an assignment by the king. (Why a KING? Aren’t Amazons all women? Do they follow a man when they detest men?) The warriors express their displeasure at Zuhura’s promotion on their faces in the background. (How is the reader supposed to know that this is a flashback, and how is the reader supposed to know that this is three days ago? Beyond that, where is this taking place?)

KING: YOU ARE TO SET AN AMBUSH (Here’s a second reference to the word “ambush” on the same visual page. Use a different word.) NEAR THE FOREST. ZUHURA WILL LEAD YOU.

Caption:  They never had (have) from the very beginning.

AMAZON ONE (WHISPERING): IT’S BECAUSE SHE’S HIS DAUGHTER WHY (THAT) SHE IS GENERAL.

AMAZON TWO (WHISPERING): DWODA SHOULD BE GENERAL!

Caption Two: I haven’t earned it yet.

Panel Five (long medium shot) (Don’t refer to your shots as “long medium shots”. When looking at a medium shot, consider what is seen and what isn’t. Is it from the bust up or the thighs up? Be more visually aware of your descriptions.)

Back to the present. The fight is getting worst for the warriors. In the foreground, three of Zuhura’s soldiers are pinned down and need assistance.

ZUHURA: WHO WILL GO WITH ME TO RESCUE OUR TWO SISTERS? (You refer to three being pinned down in the panel description, but only mention two in this dialogue.)

DWODA: WE MUST CUT OUR LOSSES AND RETREAT! (Is this the mark of someone who should have been named as General, that she give away her soldiers so easily?)

Caption: From the beginning, I’ve been trying to earn it.

Panel Six (long medium shot)
Zuhura looks around in disgust at her other soldiers as they refuse to make eye contact with her as they continue to hold off the remaining attackers. (Moving panel.)

ZUHURA (angrily): KNOW THIS, I WILL NOT LEAVE ANY BEHIND. (By putting the emphasis on the word “WILL” instead of “NOT”, you’re indicating that she WILL be doing it. In other words, emphasize the NOT.)

Again, I’ll save the major comments till the end.

 

So, we’re at the end of P1, and it looks like Talisha still has a lot of learning to do. She hasn’t been putting in the work.

It’s simple: you when you start with an establishing shot, you can then do “shorthand” for the rest of the scene. The establishing shot answers Who, Where, When, and What. Let’s look back at panel 1.

Panel One (establishing shot)
In the midst of a brutal battle, there is a small group (twenty) of Dahomean Amazons fighting for their lives. They’re surrounded by a mixture of dead Amazons and enemy male soldiers on the battlefield.

Let’s ask ourselves some questions: Do we have a Who? (Yes.) Do we have a What? (Yes.) Do we have a When? (No.) Do we have a Where? (No.)

 

Since we don’t have a When and a Where, we don’t have an establishing shot, even though the panel is supposed to be one.

What’s disappointing is that I’ve said this before. I’ve been saying it. It’s like Talisha sends a script in, then doesn’t read any other entries, and then barely reads her own.

If you want to be a comic book writer, you have to put in the work. Putting in the work means that your artist has the fewest questions possible when you sent the script to them. You can answer most of their questions for them by answering the few simple questions of an establishing shot. You don’t even need to do it well. You just need to do it. If you just do it, then your artist will have enough information to do their job. That’s because you’ve done yours.

Doing your job also means making sure that the artist has something to draw. If you’re going to take the time and trouble to write a panel description, then describe what is going on inside the panel. Characters are actors, and they have to have specific actions. “Giving orders” isn’t describing an action. “Pointing at the tower as she gives a plan of attack” is describing an action. See the difference? If not, let me know, and we’ll go more in depth on it.

Next, we have the moving panels.

Everyone knows how I feel about moving panels. I can’t stand ‘em. But there are a few on this page, and they shouldn’t be there. Kill them. Static images. That’s what you’re describing. As long as you keep that in mind, you’ll do better in your panel descriptions.

Whenever you switch scenes, especially going into a flashback, you want to do another establishing shot (unless the flashback happens in the same location), and unless the reader can reasonably ascertain when the timeframe is supposed to be, saying that the flashback happens within a certain timeframe in the panel description is worthless unless you also state it in the dialogue, either spoken or in caption. Your audience cannot read your mind. If it’s important, then you have to put it in dialogue (caption or spoken); if it isn’t, then don’t mention it in the panel description.

Dialogue! Well, that and knowing which terms to use.

Know what I hate? I hate it when people say, “If worst comes to worst, “ or “If worse comes to worse.” It’s “if worse comes to worst.” See the difference? When we come out of the flashback, you say “the fight is going worst for the warriors.” Wrong tense. As a writer, words are your domain. You have to have control over them, especially the simpler things. This is simple.

Now, all of that is technical stuff. Let’s get into what is going to make people’s head explode, shall we?

You’re describing the women as Amazons. Readers generally know Amazons as men-haters, only good for breeding. What Amazon is going to submit to a man? What Amazon is going to give their loyalty to a king?

Your only saving grace here is that you never identified them as Amazons in a place where readers can see it. Otherwise, readers will more than likely reject it as you not knowing what you’re doing.

And what’s up with the pidgin dialogue? It doesn’t sound right at all. Notice, I’m looking for an explanation of the dialogue, instead of just saying that it’s wrong and moving on. Explain it so that I can understand it, and then we can see if it’s wrong, and if so, why it’s wrong.

Whew! And all of that was P1!

Page Two (Six panels)

Panel One (establishing shot) (What is this supposed to be establishing?)
Zuhara runs towards the pinned warriors, leaving the remaining unit stunned in the background.

Caption: Even now, they won’t accept me.

Panel Two (long medium shot)
With a battle cry she attacks the enemy soldiers (there are four) with her machete.

Caption: I’ve had enough.

ZUHURA: AIEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!

Panel Three (long medium shot)
In one swift motion,  she cuts down one of the men warriors with her machete. (Why a machete instead of what we usually associate with Amazons? Are they mainly fighting tools?)

Panel Four (No shot)
She chops off the next attacker in half as another runs towards her.

Panel  Five (No shot)
She has beheaded that soldier and is now in the midst of beheading the other.

Panel Six (No shot)
Zuhura who stands defiantly as she holds one of the soldiers head in her hand (see reference picture) as the rescued Amazons stand behind her with gratitude on their faces.

I’m trying to understand how her actions of killing the enemy are any different than what the other Amazons are doing or are expected to do. This would make her an equal, not a leader. The only difference I see is that she was viewed as a weakling before (why, I don’t know) and is now shown to have strength.

 

 

P2, and we have some problems.

First, panel 1: what is that shot supposed to be establishing? If we haven’t left the scene—and I mean, truly left it, not gone into a flashback or flashforward—then there’s no need to establish anything. If you’ve done your job, you would have established the scene as soon as possible (in this case, on P1), and that would have sufficed for the rest of the scene here. So while saying that panel 1 is an establishing shot isn’t wrong, it is definitely unnecessary.

Next, we have the fact that you’re not describing things that an artist can draw (again). Panel 2 is a perfect example of that. If I were to ask four people to tell me what they got out of that panel, I would get four different panel descriptions. Dead horse, and my arms are getting tired.

At least the dialogue is better, what little there is of it.

As for the change in how Zuhura is seen by her peers…I’m not buying it one iota. She hasn’t done anything that literally wasn’t expected of her.

What you have here is a lack of characterization. You’ve only said that she isn’t a leader, but you haven’t shown why. Characters can say a lot, but actions speak louder than words. And right now, she’s just doing a lot of yappin’.

Why is she not worthy of being a leader? How is she seen by her peers? None of that is truly set up here. There’s no background for it…it’s just said. Not good. And then to go from being disrespected as a leader to being looked upon as being worthy just because she did her job in killing some people—it just doesn’t make any sense. I was in the Marine Corps. It takes more than just suddenly doing your job to make your subordinates respect you.

 

 

 

 

Page Three (seven panels)

Panel One (establishing shot) (What is this establishing?)
The unit is now ready to follow Zuhura. Respect has replaced the contempt in their eyes(This cannot be drawn, and it happens way too fast.). Dwoda has stepped forward to speak for the unit.

DWODA (remorsefully): PRINCESS, I–

ZUHURA (firmly):  WE MUST REGROUP AND ATTACK.

(Switch the above two bits of dialogue around so that it reads “We must regroup and attack” and then “Princess, I–“. That way Dwoda’s two pieces of dialogue follow one another.)

DWODA (serious):  – (Take out the double dash here)(No, leave them in. When you end in a double-dash, you start with a double-dash.)YES, YOUR HIGHNESS (Comma-fail.).

(Don’t give acting direction to your letterer. It doesn’t change how the text will look to begin with.)

Caption: Apologizes (Apologies) can wait. Our mission comes first.

Panel Two (medium shot)
The warriors have regrouped and stand steadfast, their weapons ready for battle as Zuhura leads them in a battle cry, her machete raised in the air.

ZUHURA:  WE ARE THE FLOWER OF KING GEZO’S FORCE, THE FINEST OF HIS ARMY. MEN SHAKE IN FEAR IN OUR PRESENCE!(Needless dialogue, and again, KING GEZO is a man. It doesn’t make sense that every other man should fear them.)

WARRIORS: NONE SHALL ESCAPE OUR BLADE!

ZUHURA: ATTACK!

Panel Three (medium shot)
Screaming their war cries, Zuhura and her warriors race towards the enemy who are caught off guard by the Amazons’ surprise attack.

AMAZONS: AIEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!

Caption: Finally, I’ve earned it.

Panel Four (long shot)
The Amazons move swiftly as they kill their enemies with brutal precision. (This is not describing an action that can be drawn.)

Caption: We moved as one, (Period instead of comma)We showed no mercy.

Caption Two: We accomplished our mission.

Panel Five (close medium shot)
Present day 2012 Orlando, Florida. A teenage girl  (it’s Zoe) abruptly wakes up. (I want someone to tell me why I just lost my entire mind. PLEASE!)

ZOE: HUH!

Caption: Little did I know that ambush was the start of something more sinister.

Panel Six (medium shot)
She has risen from her bed and faces her dresser.

Caption: Something that changed my life forever(No need for ellipsis; change to period) (I’m not saying the ellipsis is wrong, and I’m not saying that it’s right. It really depends on how the author wants it to read. I’m fine with it, personally.)

Panel Seven (medium shot)
Looking into the mirror, we see that her reflection is Zuhura.

Caption: Something that brought me from the past to the future (present)… (No need for ellipsis; change to period) (The correction makes the sentence make no sense at all. Every second, we are in the past/present/future. In order for this to make sense, you’d have to start in the present and then move to the past, but that changes the thrust of what Talisha is going for. She started in the past, and then had the character move to the future, which is our present. I can see that and be happy with it. What I’m not happy with is the seeming ease with which the character knows she’s in the future, and is okay with it. No disorientation at all, in either timeframe.)

Okay, so I’ve got a lot to cover, some commentary, some solutions and suggestions.

 

-Regarding format, a few things struck me. One I noticed right off the bat was the mixed use of capitals and lower case letters in your dialogue and captions. You need to maintain consistency. Preferably go with upper case all around. Second, you used an establishing shot for the first shot of every one of the three pages. That, along with the use of the terms “long medium shot” and such, tells me you aren’t yet familiar with how to use or describe your shots. Establishing shots only need to be used once in a scene in order to set up locale of the setting. Third, there are six camera distances to choose from, those being extreme close-up, close-up, medium shot, full shot, long shot, and extreme long shot. Try to vary your images to take advantage of the selection.

- There are two ways of writing comics: Plot format and full script format. What I was reading, save for the basic camera distances, was plot style, where you give a very simple visual for the artist to work from. The same effect could have been accomplished if you had separated the descriptions into one continuous series of paragraphs in one set of pages with captions and dialogue in another set. That’s what’s commonly known as the Marvel style. That said, you shouldn’t have it both ways. Either put the extra effort in of visually describing each individual panel or write it as you would straightforward, present-tense description. For example, “In the midst of a brutal battle, there is a small group of Dahomean Amazons fighting for their lives. They’re surrounded by enemy male soldiers on the battlefield. In the midst of the group is their leader, Zuhura. She’s giving orders, but no one’s following them. As they continue to fight, more are injured or killed. Zuhura argues with one of her warriors.” See what I mean? It gives the artist complete control of page layout and number of panels to tell the story in. You need to decide if that’s what you want to happen. It isn’t a bad thing at all, but rather a creative choice.

- Your dialogue and actions are very basic and just touch the surface of their potential. Get into the meat of the dialogue. Instead of saying “No! You’re wrong! You’re young and inexperienced! All of this is your fault!”, get behind the reason for the comments, such as “You aren’t strong enough to lead us! I should have been chosen to command our battalions. All you can do is whimper in self-pity. Pathetic.” Dive into your character’s voice. Listen to attitude, nuances, and presentation. You have it in you.

- There are three levels of conflicts in this story: Army vs. army (obvious conflict), woman vs. woman (secondary conflict between Zuhura and Dwoda), and woman vs. self (primary conflict, as Zuhura battles with her own inadequacies). I compare it to Disney’s Mulan in a lot of ways. The main problem with your story is that you’ve introduced three conflicts that never really peak or resolve. They all just exist as matter of fact. If you had concentrated on one of them and only one, the story would have had more pull. The situation? A battle. The conflict? Zuhura’s battle with self-confidence. Dragging Dwoda in there just added another conflict that didn’t really get resolved. It just whimpered away.

- You’re trying to accomplish too much visually in too few pages and your pacing is suffering for it. Your first page has six panels, your second has six, and your third has seven. That’s nineteen panels in three pages. I see very obvious breaks in your actions that I’ll point out. First off, your opening image of the battlefield can be its own splash page for Page One. On top of that, it hooks the reader with set up and a comment of “yeah, you’d expect it to go that way, but it’s not”. Your next page, Page Two, can consist of four panels all from Page One, those being Panels 2 to 5, where you end with Dwoda’s retreat comment. Page Three can then be three panels, Panel 6 from Page One to Panel 2 of Page Two, where Zuhura states she won’t leave any behind to her battle cry. Page Four consists of Panels 3 through 6 of Page Two, where she jumps into action and ending with the enemy’s head in her hand. Page Five has four panels to show the Amazons now following her, consisting of the first four panels of your current Page Three. Finally, your jump in time to Zoe’s room makes up Page Six. But more on this in the next point.

- If this is the beginning of a much larger story, I can understand the inclusion of the jump to Zoe’s bedroom in the “future present” from the “past present”. However, this is three pages. Try to concentrate on one story at a time. You have a self-contained story with Zuhura and her battles, both personal and professional. Stop where your story ends. Even your title is resolved in the past tense battle scene.

I’m looking forward to seeing what you have next for us.

 

So, let’s run it down, shall we?

Format: Flawless Victory! As always, formatting is the easiest thing to do. Let’s move on to the meat of things.

Panel Descriptions: In some ways better, in a LOT of ways worse. It’s like you took two steps forward, but then decided to take a step backward and to the side. I don’t understand it.

Like Steve said, this is a mixture of plot-first and full script. He was kind in saying that you shouldn’t have it both ways. You know me, I’m going to give it to you straight: you can’t have it both ways. Choose one or the other for this script and stick to it.

For plot-first, your page is broken down too far, because while you think you’re giving your artist more control, what you’re actually doing is writing moving panels, which is forcing the artist to think harder than they would have to.

For full-script, this is sorely lacking in things an artist can draw. Instead of describing an action, you’re describing what’s happening. The two aren’t the same thing. Let’s go back to an example I like to use of a photograph of a girl waving. What you see in the picture is a girl waving, but that isn’t how you describe it to the artist. Not in a truly static panel. See what you want in your head, pause the action, and then describe that.

The panel descriptions are crap. And I’m changing my mind: Before anyone else weighs in on P3, panel 5, I want you to tell me what’s wrong with it, Talisha. There is more than enough information in here for you to tell me exactly what’s wrong with what you’re trying to pass off as a panel description. After she says, then it’s open to everyone else.

Pacing: Rushed! Nothing is set up properly, and the story is suffering greatly for it. Part of this is also going to spill into Content, so we’ll discuss it more there. But, overall, you need to tell a few things in these opening pages: who’s fighting whom, why, and why the troops aren’t listening. You don’t have that in here, instead just rushing into a fight for no apparent reason, and then just saying that she hasn’t earned the right to lead. That needs to be fixed. Remember, you need to take your readers along on the journey with you. If not, you’ve wasted their time and money, and they’re going to want a refund for both, or take it out in trade by publicly stating how wretched they found the story.

Dialogue: I will be the first to state that I don’t understand the use of pidgin English here. Are they so unsophisticated that they can’t speak in full sentences in their own language?

Second, Steve is very right: the dialogue is basic. My twelve year old can make points better than what’s shown here, and these people are supposed to be warriors and leaders of soldiers (notice I didn’t say “men”). It’s your job to put memorable dialogue into their mouths. I know you can do better. I’ve seen it.

Do better.

Content:

This is the big one.

Like I said before, you didn’t establish anything in the beginning. Why are these people fighting? I have no idea, and neither does the reader. They’re just as lost as I am, if not moreso.

You’ve given no characterization to Zuhura, other than she’s a whiner who really doesn’t deserve to lead anyone. Why was she chosen to lead the fighters? We all know why the fighters think this happened, but we don’t hear a reason from Z herself. We don’t hear her stand up for herself, even in her own thoughts! Not good. If you can’t stand up for yourself there, then you can’t do it anywhere. So, the reader is missing that, as well.

We’re also missing real dialogue showing how she isn’t respected by her warriors. There’s only 1 who stands up and says it, but that’s it. There’s ample opportunity for the warriors to say something. Instead, they’re as cowardly as Z, if not moreso.

I think you took my loose “grab ‘em in three” rule a little too seriously. I see what you were doing there, and really, it falls flat, because you didn’t set anything up properly. You could have grabbed ‘em on the first page, if you did your job right.

So she’s been whining about not being respected, and then kills a few people. All of a sudden that gains respect? All of a sudden she’s a leader? No. It doesn’t work that way. She’s only killed a few people, but she hasn’t given anything of a gameplan or the like to make her be seen a a leader. That’s a failure on your part.

Again, the only thing saving you from getting nasty-grams from your readers is the fact that you didn’t call them Amazons in a place where they could see it. If you had done so, then you would have deserved every single bad note you got. Why? Because everyone “knows” that Amazons hate men. (Just as everyone “knows” that a cross will stop a vampire…even if it’s of a different faith.) In doing a little research, Amazons had little to no use for men, except for breeding purposes. They certainly wouldn’t submit to a “king.” So what you’ve got here are things that are just nonsensical.

So, yeah, as a reader, this would be confusing as hell, and I wouldn’t pick this up unless it were free.

Editorially, this needs a complete rewrite. Scrap it, and start again. You’ll have to give readers the opportunity to follow you as you tell the story. Right now, for all the reasons stated above, you aren’t doing that. And the hell of it is, you could be much better if you put effort into applying lessons from the past. However, I am seeing some improvement. Some forethought. Keep that up.

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

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 [email protected] for rate inquiries.

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