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TPG Week 106: Getting The Bad Words Out

| January 4, 2013

TPGFeatured_01

Hello, folks! Welcome to the new year! Our Brave One this week is no stranger to me, as we have Jon Parrish stepping into The Proving Grounds. As usual, we have Steve Colle in blue, and me in red.

Let’s see what Jon brings us in

Walls

[Page 1][4 Panels]

Panel 1: An establishing shot of a empty street at night. (You need to specify where the street is, or at least tell the artist if it’s a city street, a road in a small town or hamlet, etc. By being vague, you’re asking for vagueness back and it isn’t going to be a pretty situation.) The street isn’t well-lit with perhaps one or two street lights. (Again, with this few lamps going, I’d assume you’re talking about a town or other small community, but are you really?) We can see Virgil Lane in the foreground standing on the sidewalk with a styrofoam cup. (What is he doing with the Styrofoam cup? Drinking? Looking at it? Holding it out? Be more elaborate.) In the background, we can see Darryl James walking on the sidewalk toward the reader. (Is he walking toward the reader or towards Virgil? What’s the difference? If his eyes are looking at Virgil, then he’s walking towards him, whereas if his eyes are looking down or away from Virgil, then he’d be walking towards the reader. May sound petty, but it’s all in the directing.)

NO TEXT

Panel 2: A view of the homeless man (You’re introducing a homeless man, but who is this? I’m assuming this is Virgil, but you don’t name him as such. In your previous panel, all you need to do is explain that Virgil is a homeless man and that connects the two threads together.) holding out his cup to Darryl as he approaches. Darryl has a serious look on his face but is looking straight ahead. (And if the homeless man is not Virgil, then he’s magically delicious, because he should have been seen in the previous panel.)

VIRGIL/ALMAK: Hey, (Unnecessary) Could you spare a dollar? (to) help a guy put some (Unnecessary) food in his stomach? (Make this one sentence by taking out the question mark. Another direction would be to simply say “Help a guy put food in his stomach?”)

(Here’s something that’s causing confusion: You have Virgil speaking, but you write that it’s VIRGIL/ALMAK? Who is ALMAK? Is this a second person that is saying Virgil’s dialogue at the same time in “stereo”? That’s what happens when you don’t explain before throwing elements into your script.) (OH! This is bad, Jon. We’ll talk about it soon.)

Panel 3: A side view of Darryl and the man. (Again, who is “the man”? Is this Virgil? Stick with names.) Darryl has walked by the man without even looking at him. The man is looking over at him in shock. (Are they both in profile? Does this mean that the man and Darryl are facing the same direction in the panel?)

VIRGIL/ALMAK: Hey!

Panel 4: A from behind view (A behind WHOSE view? This is extremely confusing. Do you mean that the camera is looking from Virgil’s viewpoint [or even over Virgil’s shoulder] AT Darryl’s back?) of Darryl walking off while the homeless guy stands there with his arms out confusion.

VIRGIL/ALMAK: Are you even listening to me?! (This is unnecessary dialogue. Move “Hey!” into this panel and leave Panel 3 devoid of dialogue.)

So far, I’m not liking where this is going. This opening page is doing absolutely nothing to forward the story or to entice the reader to turn the page. It’s dull and uneventful. A man walks by a homeless man. Where is the hook in that? The action of my editing the page has more drama than that as at least it leaves with a “What is he going to write next?” question. Not good. What’s worse, though, are the panel descriptions. In last week’s column, we had a writer who put such a minimal effort into his descriptions that it nearly gave me an aneurism. This isn’t that bad, but it’s still problematic. There are too many questions needing to be asked and in some cases, the clarity is nowhere near acceptable. Choose your words carefully and make sure to give your artist some specific details. Like I told the writer of the last TPG submission: If you can see it in your head, you can write it in the descriptions.

So, we have P1 on the books, and things aren’t looking good for our hero.

This isn’t a good start. Not at all. Jon would attribute this to “rust”, but rust is what you get when you don’t write for a while. Some of it has to be knocked off. I’ve beat Jon up time and again about establishing shots and putting enough information into the panel descriptions.

Panel 1 is a perfect example of not putting enough info in. Actually, this entire page is testimony to not putting in enough information. It’s terrible.

First, we have the lack of a true establishing shot. Like Steve said, there is a distinct difference between a town and a city. Hell, there’s a distinct difference between a city, suburb, town, and hamlet. With the lack of street lights, you’re giving the sense of a town, but there aren’t that many homeless people to be found in towns. You usually find homeless people in cities, sometimes in suburbs. So you have to decide what it is you’re wanting.

Another thing that gives the sense of a town is the lack of other people. You have only two people on this street at night. No cars, no other people, not even a traffic signal. At least, that’s the sense given. Very barren. And then, there’s the incongruous homeless person. It just doesn’t seem right.

Then, there’s the confusion. You give names to only two people, but there seems to be three when you’re describing them. The reason for that is because you don’t have good spatial relationships between anyone here. Not only do you not have good spatial relationships, they also aren’t acting at first. You don’t get around to having them act until near the end of the page.

But let’s talk about those spatial relationships for a moment. If taken from left to right, as panel descriptions are supposed to be written, then we have Virgil on the left, and Daryl somewhere to the right of him. Then there’s panel 2, where things continue to go off the rails. One of two things is happening here: either Virgil is the homeless man, or Virgil isn’t in the panel. This is what happens when you let clarity go out the window: the artist is either going to ask or be forced to make assumptions.

Look, folks: scripts aren’t written in order to make the artist ask questions about what should be happening. Scripts are there to answer the bulk of the questions before they’re even asked. That’s how it should work. This script, so far, is more work for the artist than should be necessary. Not good.

But we were talking about spatial relationships. It isn’t just between subjects, but also between the camera and the subjects.

Let’s look at panel 3: there’s a side view of Daryl walking by Virgil. With me so far? Panel 1 is a straight on view, panel 2 is a straight on view, and panel 3 is suddenly a side view. No, that isn’t going to work. Why? Let’s take a look at the setting.

The street is empty. No cars, no buildings, no nothing. There are sidewalks in this place, and a couple of street lights, but that’s it. You said it was empty, so I’m just going by what you say. But I’m one for giving the benefit of the doubt, so I’ll give it: it’s a city street. Why? Homeless guy. So I’ll give you that. What I won’t give you, though, is the alley to the left of the panel. The one that Virgil should be standing near.

This is P1. You don’t want to circle around to the right, because that has people looking “out” of the book. You’re directing the eye the wrong way. But that’s what needs to be done, because there’s no alleyway mentioned for the camera to swing to the left to. If there were an alleyway, then the view would be properly from Virgil’s side, and not from Daryl’s, which is what’s happening.

See how this isn’t properly thought out? All because you didn’t put enough information into your establishing shot. Everything else stems from that.

[Page 2][4 Panels]

Panel 1: A view of Darryl walking into his apartment building. Next to the door are a row of mailboxes. (So we start our second page with the same type of interest that we left Page One with. Up to now, I feel like I’m reading an itinerary instead of a story: Walk by homeless man, walk into building, etc. There’s nothing to catch my attention. This isn’t even a slice-of-life situation as that would have meaning to the character and to the reader as they could relate the goings-on to their own lives.)

NO TEXT (The fact that there is no text makes this even more depressing.)

Panel 2: A side view of Darryl standing at his open mailbox. (When did he open it and, for that matter, when did he reach to open it?) In the background, we can see Gloria coming down the stairs on the right side of the panel.

DARRYL: Same shit. Different envelopes.

Panel 3: A long side view of Darryl walking away from his mailbox, now closed, towards the stairs. Gloria is walking towards him.

GLORIA: H-hey (Missing comma) Darryl. (Why is she stuttering? Is she in love with Darryl and she’s nervous to talk to him? Is it a medical condition? If there’s no reason for it, take it out.)

DARRYL: Hi (Missing comma) Gloria.

GLORIA 2: I was going out to eat. Would you like to come with me?

Panel 4: A view of Darryl walking away with his back to us. We can see Gloria in the foreground with a slightly embarrassed look on her face.

DARRYL: Maybe some other time.

GLORIA: Okay. (Where is her reaction, her emotional state as a result of his rejection? There is no feeling in this response. If you’d written “Oh. Okay.”, that would have at least given something for the reader to grab onto, to relate to. This is unfeeling and simply goes through the motions.)

And so we end another page with four panels of nothing. No action. No emotional expression on the part of the characters. No emotional investment on the part of the reader. Like I said before, this reads like an itinerary’s step-by-step directions instead of having a flow to the scenes. I’m going to read one more page in the hopes that something will happen.

P2 is on the books. Are things looking up? Not necessarily.

Now, I’m not going to bag on Jon for the sparse panel descriptions. I edit him privately, so I am used to them. However, we’re running into the same problems that Jon always runs into: lack of camera angles, compressing a bit too much, and lack of acting on the part of the characters.

Yes, even in private, Jon has these problems. However, here Jon’s throwing in a new wrinkle: being boring.

Two pages, four panels each. The panel count doesn’t bother me overmuch. What does? The fact that absolutely nothing happens.

Okay, there’s my adage that writers have three to five pages in order to grab a reader. Here there are two pages that are squandered. The pacing is off. These two pages should be one six- or seven panel page. This gets more characterization in, and gets the boring out of the way faster, instead of spreading it over two pages.

Remember, folks: you control the pacing of your stories. You control it in two ways: panel count, and word count. These two pages are going to be an extremely fast read, because there’s not a lot to read in terms of words per panel. There’s about thirty words total between these two pages. Couple that with a distinct lack of anything interesting going on, and the energy is sucked right out of the story before it even begins.

Not good.

Place these two together, getting to the meat sooner, and everyone will be happier.

[Page 3][4 Panels]

Panel 1: A view of Darryl stepping into his apartment. It is small and barely furnished. There is a stand by the door with a phone on it. (So, you’ve had Darryl walking on the street, walking into his building, and now walking into his apartment. I’ll say one thing for you: You’re consistent. The same thing applies to the use of the four panels per page.)

DARRYL: Home sweet home. (This is the most positive thing I’ve read so far, and yet the most inappropriate given the mood you’ve established.)

Panel 2: A view of him tossing the envelopes on the table.

NO TEXT

Panel 3: A downward view of Darryl walking to his couch.

NO TEXT

Panel 4: A close-up of Darryl sitting on his couch. He looks relieved.

(Here’s where you have three panels where one would have done the job. Consider the actions: Throwing the envelopes, walking to the couch, and sitting down. What would have been better would be to have him enter the home with the envelopes in hand and the couch a few feet away in the first panel. In the second panel, he throws the envelopes on the side table next to the sofa as he plops down onto the seat cushions. In other words, you’ve elongated actions for what seems to be the simple sake of having four panels.)

DARRYL: Alone at last. (This line is not only cliché, he’s been “alone” in his own mind for the last two pages, walking past the homeless man and pushing Gloria away with his words.)

VIRGIL/ALMAK (op): Well, I wouldn’t know about (say) that.

Okay, I’m stopping here (whereas I should have stopped a long time ago). I’m yawning, both physically and figuratively. I can honestly say there’s a poorly written story here.

You’ve finally getting to something resembling interesting, but you took too long to get there. Like I said, if you had combined the first two pages into one, you can then up the panel count here as well (as long as you’re interesting!), and then move the final panel here onto an odd-numbered page (as you have here) in order to keep the mini-mystery for the page turn.

As it is, these pages reek of elderberries. Nothing but padding.

Jon, I’m sure you have it in you to do better than this. From the pacing to the minimalist dialogue to the lack of any form of energy, this is a bad attempt at a story. Word of advice: Put yourself into your writing, literally in this case. In other words, roleplay your story. You’ll see there’s more to it than just “walking by man, walking into building, walking into apartment” There’s life in and between the actions. Figure out the emotions that are happening in your characters by putting yourself and your acting cohorts through a battery of feelings questions to see what’s going on inside of them and yourself when experiencing this story live. You’ll be in a better place as a writer when you can create a stronger sense of emotion in your characters.

 

Let’s run it down.

 

Format: Flawless victory. Really, I wasn’t expecting anything less.

 

Panel Descriptions: There’s rust, and then there’s this. This isn’t good. This isn’t rust. This is “I’ve been doing this for a while, so I should have known better.” The only semi-excuse that I’d accept is if this were an older work.

 

It’s like this, folks: you can be minimalist. You can. You can have a script full of one-liners. Look at any Warren Ellis script. Those things are testaments to minimalism. However, they’re also written in a manner that can be drawn. He knows how to evoke a scene with the fewest amount of words.

 

This, Jon, is not up to your usual bar. The first page alone had me doing a Marvin Gaye. (Made me wanna holler and throw up both my hands.) It just wasn’t good. There are clashing could-be visuals, because you didn’t write a good establishing shot. It just went downhill from there.

 

Pacing: Not good, by a longshot. No, it doesn’t have to open with a gunfight, car chase, maiming, or death. It doesn’t have to start out with action. However, you have to give the readers a reason to turn the page. If you don’t do that, then you haven’t done your job as a writer.

 

Here, you haven’t done your job as a writer. How do I know? You’ve got Steve giving some snarky remarks. That doesn’t happen often.

 

Four-panel pages with very little dialogue makes for an extremely fast read. Take a look at it. Imagine it. See the four panels on the page, and then see how much dialogue is on the page, and then imagine quickly turning that page because there aren’t any words left to read on it. You’re going to have the readers speeding through. Couple that with the fact that nothing of real merit happens in the first three pages, and you have a recipe for a great, fast-acting sleep aid (non-habit forming).

 

Again, you can still have the off-panel dialogue on P3, but you have to make the pages that precede it interesting. What you have here just isn’t cutting it.

 

Content: I can’t say if this is something I’d read or not. I can say that, as a reader, you failed to grab me, and that’s never a good thing to hear.

 

I read a book called Cryptonomicon once. It took me three times to get through it. The first pages had interested me, and then the writer kept going back and forth in time. It was interesting and humorous, until the story just seemed to stop moving forward. 300 pages in, and I stopped. (It’s a 1k page book.) I stopped two times, because I wanted the story to move, and it just wasn’t—after three hundred pages. Not good. (I finally made it through and thoroughly enjoyed the book, but it was definitely trying my patience.) You’re not going to have that same luxury. Get to the meat sooner, so that readers stick around.

 

Editorially, you’re at least looking at a rewrite of the first few pages. We’d have a conversation about what it is you’re trying to accomplish, and then see if we can get it there. (And then you’d go away, work on it, and come back with an approach that works for the story, is better told, and is novel, defying my expectations. I know, because you’ve done it a few times already.) All you really need is to get the bad words of the first draft out of your system so that you can get to the real story. That’s what I’m taking this as.

 

And that’s it for 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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