TPG Week 98: Pacing And Dialogue…

| November 9, 2012

Welcome, one and all, to The Proving Grounds! This week, we have a new Brave One in Eric Holt!

Some quick housekeeping stuff before we begin: we’re nearing the end of the year, and there are only enough scripts to take us to the end of the month. If you’ve thought about submitting, now is the time to get it in, because the wait isn’t long. If you’ve been through already, polished up a script, and want to give it another go, send it on. This column lives and dies with you. Thanks in advance.

Anyway, we have Steve Colle in blue, I’m in red, and it’s all about a tale of

Outliers

 

PAGE ONE (five panels)

Panel 1. Establishing shot. It’s late at night in the dimly lit 1900s pub. (Location, location, location. We know it’s a pub, but you never establish city or even country. Give us more details.) There are 5 patrons and one bartender behind the bar. (This makes it sound like all six men are behind the bar.) The bartender (Patrick) is dressed in a black suit vest, a white shirt and black slacks. His sleeves are rolled up his muscled forearms. He’s pouring beer into a pint glass from the tap. His rusty brown hair is neatly parted and his handlebar mustache is well maintained. There are crow’s feet on the edges of his eyes indicating he’s an older guy. Patrick isn’t looking at what he’s doing and is looking at no one in particular while he shouts.

The patrons are dressed in 1900s suits, most of which are disheveled. One patron is waiting for his drink while another is chugging his from a pint glass. Another is raising his pint glass over his head. The other two are behind the first three patrons standing by the bar. (You’re providing details on the people, but none on the actual location of the scene.)

Everyone is enjoying themselves.

CAP: Prologue (Reading ahead, you realize that your prologue is the entire first scene, right? And that there are only two scenes?)

CAP: 1903 – The Red Spruce Tavern

PATRICK: ONE MORE ROUND (Missing comma) GENTS! Then I shut er (‘er) down! (Either place emphasis on both sentences or neither. One minute he’s shouting, the very next calm like he’s talking to himself.)

PATRON ONE: Aye, Patrick (Missing comma) I’ll take that round!

PATRONS TWO, THREE, FOUR AND FIVE: Aye! Aye!

Panel 2. In the frame there’s Patrick in the middle and to the left is Patron One and to the right of the frame is Patron Two. Patron Two is finishing the last of the contents of his pint glass. Patron One is leaning on the bar obviously rosy cheeked from drinking and striking up conversation with Patrick. Patrick is starting to pass the pint glass to Patron One.

PATRON ONE: It’sh not every day that I get sherved by the fighting shampion of the world.

PATRICK: Ah, tat’s history (Missing comma) lad. I bought tis pub from ole (ol’) man Kilburn when I retired.

Panel 3. A mid-shot of Patrick. He’s wincing a little and holding his left arm while he’s talking to Patron Two. Patron Two is oblivious.

PATRICK: I tink retirement suits me better.

Panel 4. Close up of Patron One, his nose and cheeks are rosy from drinking. He has a gregarious smile on his face while he talks.

PATRON ONE: And what a nishe retirement it ish! A pub all to yershelf and more than enough patrons to keep ya company! But don’t yah missh it? The fightin? The crowdsh?

Panel 5. Patrick has shrugged it off and is pouring another drink for Patron Two. (Visual details needed.)(Like, a drink of what? Are they all drinking beer, or is something stronger being poured?)

PATRICK: I miss the ole (ol’) bare knuckle fisticuffs. Gloves are for wankers. Sport changed an (an’) I won’t change wit (wit’) it.

(So far some panels get the detailed treatment while others are simply written in plot format. Keep it consistent. More important than this is your dialogue, which you’ve tried WAY too hard to characterize. Patrick’s accent is terribly represented and inconsistent throughout, with a “tink” here and a “gloves are for wankers” there. The same thing applies to the drunk’s voice. I’ll tell you something honestly, it takes a special ear in a writer to capture true dialect and slang. Some have it while others don’t. You, unfortunately, don’t have it, so write it as you would regular English dialogue. If you really need to put in the ‘er and an’ and wit’, find someone who can do it justice. Many writer’s will hire another person to write or work with the dialogue to make it flow better. Right now, as I read the speech, I’ve got a stop sign slapping me in the face at what seems like every second word. That’s honestly not a good start.)

So, we have P1 on the books, and it doesn’t bode well for our hero.

Let’s start with the establishing shot. It’s confusing. First thing, right off the bat, it isn’t described from left to right. It jumps around, which is going to cause the artist to have to work harder to see the scene in their mind’s eye. Left to right. Left to right. If you describe things from the left of the panel to the right of the panel, and are consistent about it, then you almost preclude the need for a camera angle. What’s seen and where it shows up in the panel (when you describe it if you’re going from left to right) will often tell the artist where to put the camera. It isn’t just the first panel that suffers from this, either. Panel 2 is specifically screwed in the “describe it from left to right” department.

The dialogue is atrocious. I’ve seen worse, but this is pretty terrible, and the reason for that is twofold: what I’m guessing to be an English pub, coupled with drunk people.

Now, I’ll tell you a few things: I don’t have many European friends that I speak to on the phone. Most of what I know of how Englishmen speak comes from watching Dr. Who. I also like watching Eastenders when I can catch it, and I have Downton Abbey and Foyle’s War in my Netflix queue. I also like watching black and white Sherlock Holmes movies. So, my ear for an English dialect is admittedly limited. That being said, I read this and was totally unconvinced about the authenticity of the dialogue and the dialect. And then to throw the slurring of inebriation on top of that gives us a whole heaping of “not good.”

The apostrophe has three main purposes. The first purpose is to add an “s” in order to make a word possessive. Instead of saying, “That skirt belongs to Peggy,” you can say, “That skirt is Peggy’s,” or “That’s Peggy’s skirt.” The second is to form contractions (which also runs into the third reason). “Isn’t” is really “is not.” It’s taking the place of a letter or two. The third purpose of the apostrophe is to take the place of missing letters or words. Instead of saying “It’s ten o’clock,” we’re really saying “It’s ten of the clock.” “Mix ‘n match” is really “mix and match.” A lot of times, it’s there to take the place of a letter at the end of a word, usually for a southern accent. “Gone” becomes “Gon’”, and so forth.

The problem with apostrophes taking the place of letters in written dialogue is that this has to be read. It becomes extremely distracting to see apostrophes all over the place. That distraction takes the reader out of the story, and actively pushes them away.

The same thing goes with slurring. It isn’t something the audience wants to read much of. It has to be done judiciously. This isn’t judicious. It’s a turn-off.

Oh, and there’s a moving panel in there. Two actions at the same time that cannot be drawn. That’s the last panel. If it’s a metaphorical shrugging that isn’t supposed to be drawn, anyway, then it shouldn’t be in the panel description. Why? Because the artist may try to draw it, and it will look terrible, or the artist will ignore it, and then it won’t come out like you saw in your head (because even if it is metaphorical, I’m betting you still saw him shrug as he poured in your mind’s eye).

 

PAGE TWO (five panels) (Make sure to put page breaks between each comic page. Formatting 101.)

Panel 1. Patrick is shooing the patrons out of the pub. Each one is clumsily trying to keep their balance as they try to exit. (This is a jump in time. How did we get here? He was just talking about fighting and suddenly he’s forcing everyone out.)(Besides that, where’s the camera? Where are the patrons? Where are we? Inside or out? See what happens when you aren’t descriptive enough?)

PATRICK: OUT (Missing comma) you hooligans! I don’t care where yah (ye) (that’s not a correction I would have made. Makes it sound more like “yee” than “yeh,” and methinks “yah” or even “ya” was perfectly acceptable.)go (Missing comma) but you can’t stay here! (Case in point regarding inconsistent and misspelled slang.)

Panel 2. Patrick is at the patron side of the bar and pouring himself a beer from the tap. (Another jump in time, as he was at the door and is now pouring a drink.)(It’s teleportation! And why is there a tapped keg on the side of the bar where a patron can get to it? Free beer in a pub? How’s he stay open? Besides that, we have the teleportation of the keg. It was behind the bar, and now, it’s easily accessible by the patrons—we know this because you said that Paddy is in front of the bar, which is the patron side. So, either the tap teleported, or Paddy is lying across the bar so that he can get to the beer. Which is it? This screws up the logic of the rest of the page, I know.)

Panel 3. He’s looking at the back wall of the bar. Displayed on the back of the bar are various posters and pictures of his fighting days. Hanging from a hook are boxing gloves that have barely been used. The back of the bar is mirrored and we can see the look on Patrick’s face. He’s rubbing his chest. His face is expressing a mix of pride and sadness. There’s an awning over the pub’s mirror with a wooden plaque that says, “ONLY THE GOOD DIE YOUNG”. We can also see behind Patrick through the mirror and at the window of the pub door there’s a silhouette of a figure wearing a cloak and hood. (I’d seriously forget about worrying about the minute details and put the focus on the silhouetted figure on the other side of the door’s glass window reflected in the mirror.) (Exactly. If you wanted all that, then you should have done a proper establishing shot on P1, which would have been pulled back to encompass all of this, so that the real focus of the panel is the reflection. If the artist is on it, they’re going to do that, anyway.)

Panel 4. A mid shot of Patrick. He’s now clenching his chest with his left hand and has a shocked expression on his face. (This would have been more dramatic if he wasn’t already rubbing his chest. It lacks immediacy this way.) He let go of the drink in his right hand while he reaches for the counter of the bar. (These are two separate actions, of dropping the drink and reaching for the bar. Have them in two separate panels to enhance dramatic effect, changing up your camera distances.)

Panel 5. Still clutching his chest Patrick is now on his ass. He still has his grip on the bar but has turned around and has his back on the bar. His spilled drink is to his left now. (Where did the drink spill? On the counter? On the floor? Be more exact.)

 

(This page is extremely dull. The actions are monotonous and under-dramatic, making me want to stop here. That’s not good. You also have some major league jumps in time that need to have the blanks filled in. I’m feeling a strong need for some form of dialogue, of self-talk on Patrick’s part as he reminisces about the past.)

P2! This is mostly a silent page, and has pacing problems on top of it.

I’m not a fan of silent opening pages for new writers. Most new writers can’t handle it. There’s too much to do than to waste an entire opening page with booming silence. However, this is P2, and there’s still too much to do for it to be as quiet as it is, especially considering that P1 was pretty weak to begin with.

As Steve noted, there are large gaps in Border Time, which gives the appearance of teleportation. Couple that with moving panels, and you have a hot mess of bad pacing, not to mention improbable placement of objects.

The first panel needs to be described better. It’s a white void of action, and while white voids are better than moving panels, I still don’t like ‘em. After establishing panel 1 better, you have to add a panel to get him back to the bar. But if the tap were placed correctly, you now have another problem: how to get Paddy O’Drinksy to have a beer, sit on the stool, and see the figure in the mirror. The way you have it set up now is impossible. It shows you haven’t thought it all the way through. It would have been extremely evident once thumbnailed out, unless the artist drew a second tapped keg where the patrons can get to it. Then it runs into the logic problem of having patrons getting free beer.

This screws up the rest of the page, as I said before. Until this is resolved, nothing else really matters. There’s a way out, though, unless you’re trying to give Paddy a heart attack. Who cares to give it a shot?

I agree with Steve, though, an internal monologue would be nice here, or even him talking out loud to himself about the guys who just left. Dialogue, going so far as to give a verbal response to the figure in the mirror/window, would go a long way toward strengthening what’s going on here. But the logic flaw has to be fixed first.

 

 

PAGE THREE (four panels) (Page break needed. If you’re going to go through the effort of 13 “return” hits to separate your written pages, you can do a page break in Word.)

Panel 1. A close up of the door with the silhouette in the window. The door is starting to open and black tendrils start to creep through the crack of the door. There’s a bell at the top of the door to announce incoming customers.

SFX: creeeek (“CREEEAK” would be the proper spelling as onomatopoeia.)

SFX: jingle

Panel 2. Patrick is still holding on to the bar clutching his chest but he’s repositioned himself so he can see the door. (He could see the door before as a reflection in the mirror. Just say he’s turned around to face the door.) He’s in pain but yelling. From the direction of the door darkness starts to consume the room.

PATRICK: (burst) (A burst wouldn’t have lower case lettering. See your next dialogue for a good example of proper usage.) I’m closed! Get your arse back to tah gutter! (HUH? What the hell is “tah”? It doesn’t look like you were trying to spell the proper word in the event this was a typo, so I have to assume this is deliberate. Wow!)

Panel 3. Close up of Patrick’s face. He’s shocked to see who comes through the door.

PATRICK: (burst) JAKERS! (So I’m assuming that Patrick is from Ireland as he’s using a euphemism for Jesus here, right?)

Panel 4. The Grim Reaper stands inside the door. In his right hand is a scythe and in the other is an hourglass. The sand has run out and fills the bottom of the hourglass.

GRIM REAPER: Patrick “Fisticuffs” O’Connor (Missing comma) your time has come.

(Not only is your imagery of the grim reaper cliché, so is his dialogue. You can do better than this. Here’s what I’m getting from this page and the story in general so far: Slow and uninviting. I’m not feeling anything as I read this, especially this particular page. No excitement. No suspense. No horror. Nothing.)

We have a P3, and a breakdown in logic.

Looks like we’re giving Paddy a heart attack. That’s a shame. I get it, but it’s still a shame. It makes the previous page that much more difficult to think through your drinking/placement problem.

Okay, the previous page had Paddy almost seem like he was reacting to the silhouette in the mirror, like he was surprised to see someone he recognized standing there. This page, though, has him telling someone to get back to the gutter. That isn’t necessarily the response I was expecting. That’s what I’m calling a breakdown in logic.

Then we step off a cliff and into cliché.

Now, cliches can be good. Used correctly, they’re fine. You can even twist them, so that there’s a new spin on it. This wasn’t twisted, and it wasn’t used to anywhere near best effect.

Yes, Death as a scythe-wielding, hooded figure is a visual shortcut. It’s so overused that it’s crossed over into humor. Generally, you don’t see this as a terrifying figure anymore. I’m now expecting something comedic, and if I get it, then I’m going to say that it should have been funnier in the beginning.

The dialogue continues to be exceptionally bad because of the dialect. It tears me out of the story, every time.

 

 

PAGE FOUR (five panels) (Page break needed, again with 13 hit of the “return” button.)

Panel 1. The Grim Reaper is pulling his scythe back and preparing to strike Patrick. (Start your page with the next panel, getting rid of this one. This is both cliché and lessens the real attitude that should be your first shot.)

Panel 2. Patrick looks down to his spilled drink with an angry expression on his face. (Again, where is the drink spilled? Go for more drama here by having two panels instead of one, the first of Patrick looking down, giving us the impression he’s out of breath, facing the camera in a close up. Move to a second panel of his face not fully up so that we can see mostly his angered eyes looking up furiously at the Reaper.)

PATRICK: You owe me for tat drink. (Again, another example of poor slang.)

Panel 3. While the scythe was in motion to strike Patrick has grabbed it and has given the Grim Reaper an uppercut, which knocks his hood off and spins his skull around. (That’s a lot of movement for the artist to try to express. Can he do it? Probably not.) (Just call it what it is: a moving panel.)

SFX: CRACK

Panel 4. The force of the punch knocked the Grim Reaper through the bar window and into the street. Broken glass litters the street and the Grim Reaper is sprawled out on the sidewalk. Patrick is making his way through the window to the Grim Reaper with his hands clenched into fists. (Another example of needing two panels to express the action. Stick with the Reaper smashing through the glass [which is an extreme punch, by the way] and then have a shot of Patrick walking through the broken window on the door.)

SFX: SMASH

Panel 5. Patrick looms over the Grim Reaper while he’s sitting on the sidewalk and holding one hand up in surrender and the other he’s using to keep his jaw in place.

GRIM REAPER: How muth wath that thrink? (Role play this speech and the way it sounds when holding your jaw tightly. It doesn’t sound like this, especially with the clarity of the word “that”.)

It’s P4, and there are certain words I’ve taken out of my personal lexicon that would work so very well right now.

Anyway, this is not good.

We have a guy who was first looking like he was in the midst of a heart attack, fallen back in an awkward position and hanging onto the bar—and all of a sudden, he’s fighting Death and winning.

I don’t care about the “fighting Death and winning” thing. What I care about is the lack of acknowledgment of what went before it. How he goes from one to the other leaves me completely befuddled.

And then we have the comedy. Comedy which is totally ineffective. One punch and Death gives up? Really?

You have two pages worth of setup—agonizing setup, at that—don’t really do much foreshadowing of the heart problems, don’t do much with what could be a heart attack, and all of a sudden he’s in fighting trim.

No. This is horribly paced.

And the moving panels…these need to be fixed. For the overwhelming bulk of scripting purposes, characters can only perform one action per panel. Once you get that down, then you can try stretching your wings. Right now, though, one action per panel.

 

PAGE FIVE (five panels) (15 hits this time to separate pages. Why go through all the trouble?)

(So here you’ve got a huge jump in time on a facing page. This should read as an epilogue.)

Panel 1. An exterior shot of Patrick’s bar. Some college guys are entering the bar. They’re wearing contemporary clothes and the cars driving down the street are modern day. (Why didn’t you do this for the very first page?)

CAPTION: EPILOGUE. Present Day (Missing period)(No it isn’t. Artistic choice. There isn’t a period on the first page, first panel. By adding Epilogue, you’re forcing the need of a period. The way around that? Add another caption for Epilogue, and leave that periodless, as well.)

Panel 2. The college students are standing at the bar. Patrick still in clothes appropriate for the early 1900s is pouring a beer.

PATRICK: What’ll it be (Missing comma) lads?

Panel 3. A close up of Patrick’s hand has just launched a pint glass down the bar. (Full glass, I’m assuming.)

Panel 4. Patrick is in the background with the college students while the pint glass has reached its destination and a boney hand reaches out to grab it before it falls. (Are you saying this shot is from the viewpoint of the Grim Reaper? If that’s the case, say so, because this description doesn’t have clarity.)

Panel 5. There’s a mid-shot of Patrick behind the bar smiling. In the background down the other end of the bar is a silhouette of the Grim Reaper. (Reverse angle of the last shot, right?)

PATRICK: Take yer time lads (Change to something like “No rush” so as not to repeat “time” twice in the same balloon.) I got all tah time in tah world. (Bad use of slang again.)

Eric, I’m going to be honest in saying that I can appreciate what you’re trying to do in this story. It’s the complete delivery that isn’t working. The structure of being a prologue and epilogue without a middle, pacing, panel descriptions, cliché nature of the Reaper, and most importantly, that really, REALLY bad use of character dialogue throughout, whether it’s the drunk, Patrick’s Irish accent, or the Reaper talking with his jaw in his hand. This doesn’t just need a rewrite, but a whole reimagining of your approach. Another issue is the format of your script. ALWAYS create page breaks. There’s no reason for not doing so. If you’re not sure how to do it, research it. Finally, I had to correct a lot of punctuation errors. A serious no-no if you ever want to get published. It’s the mark of an amateur.

I’d be interested in seeing this same story in a rewritten form down the road. The concept is interesting in itself, though basic in its current approach. Good luck!

Okay. Let’s run it down.

Format: There’s the problem of missing page breaks. It’s about knowing your tools. I’ve been using a word processing program of one sort or another for almost 20 years, with Word being the one I’ve used the most. A smattering of effort was put into making the script look good in the format department, but not enough, I’m afraid.

If you know enough to make it look like it has page breaks, then you should learn how to put them in. It only takes a little more effort. You could have had a Flawless Victory.

Panel Descriptions: Oh, so terrible. Ineffective establishing shots, missing camera angles, moving panels, teleportation, and illogic permeate them. Lots of study is needed to make these sing. Lots of study.

Pacing: Terrible. You screwed up the pacing as of P1, panel 1. You would have been better served from starting outside the pub and then moving in, and then cutting down the last call to actually shooing the patrons out the door. You could make reference to his boxing as he’s kicking them out. It would fit very easily. That should have been the first page.

Instead of that, you waste two pages with last call and the shooing, and then bring Death in on P3. That should have been the end of P2. Get rid of the heart attack, since it’s totally ineffective, anyway. That saves you a lot of space, where the fight could get more interesting.

Like Steve said, this needs to be gutted and rebuilt. It isn’t good.

Dialogue: It made me want to do violence.

Now, don’t get me wrong: it isn’t bad in itself. It’s terrible and makes me want to do violence because of the overuse and incorrect-sounding slang and drunken speech. It was terrible to read. Again, it made me want to do violence.

If you had written it straight, or only had the slightest of accents, it would have been fine. Look at other characterizations: John Constantine, Rogue, Gambit, and others. Look at how the writers don’t overdo their accents. There’s enough to give flavor to their dialogue, but the accent doesn’t overwhelm the reader. It’s a challenge, but it can be done. You went for overkill, and succeeded.

Content: Meh. You’ve got a little bit of interest from me, but not much. I like immortality stories, but they generally have to have a point for me. I’m not going to call this story pointless, but it does seem simple to me.

As a reader, though, I’d be damned upset in trying to read this dialogue. I probably wouldn’t be able to get through it, even though it’s only five pages long.

Editorially, this needs to be gutted and reworked. Simple and to the point. The story is simple, but the execution is miserable. Lots of work to be had to bring this to a publishable level.

And that’s all for this week. Remember, we still need more scripts! Send them in!

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 [email protected] for rate inquiries.

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