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TPG Week 109: Necessary Rewrites

| January 25, 2013

TPGFeatured_02

Welcome again to The Proving Grounds! This week, our Brave One is Joshua Gorfain, who’d decided to pit his story against the editing might of The Steves! (We could be brothers!) We’ve got Steve Colle in blue, I’m in red, and we’re going to see how Joshua handles

PA-NYC

Josh, I just wanted to comment on your book title of PA-NYC before I begin digging into the meat of the story. It took me a few too many times looking at it and considering it’s effectiveness before I realized that you were trying to spell a stylized version of the word “PANIC”. I kept playing it through my head as I saw that the story takes place in New York City, but I couldn’t figure out what you were doing with the PA. Being from Canada, I figured it was the abbreviation for Pennsylvania or even the initials of the band, but neither was the case. What especially made it difficult to decipher was the inclusion of the hyphen between PA and NYC. Getting to the point: It doesn’t work. It doesn’t make sense, isn’t something that catches the attention in a good way. Would taking the hyphen away help? Not necessarily. PANYC still doesn’t sound like PANIC to me, but rather “PANICE” (rhyming with “Janice”). It’s good to be innovative and creative, but clarity and application to the story or characters is key, especially in a title. (And to chime in myself, before getting into it, I had no problem with the title at all, which means there is a cultural issue and not necessarily an issue with the title. Would I advise a change of title? Not without reading it first. So, let’s get into that, shall we?)

PAGE 1(Formatting problem right off the bat: page breaks go before you type in the page number heading, not after. You’ve got a whole page of wasted space this way.)

PANEL 1

A nice long shot of Manhattan, Bowery district. (Can you provide a link to a visual reference? I don’t personally know where that is or what the area looks like, and neither may your artist.) Lots of barrel fires, a couple of people on horses, trotting along. No cars. One person is flying by. (How is this person dressed?) Some strange people are walking, talking(This is vague. What do you mean by “strange”?). A busy night.

CAPTION:

Honestly, the craziness was here all along. The powers were just the nuts in the fruitcake.

(cont.)(Always separate your captions properly. By writing “cont.”, it isn’t clear that you’ve got four separate captions. Use proper formatting.)

 

Caption:

AndIt was only a matter of time before there were enough disasters that the (Missing a word) would just buckle under the stress.

 

(cont.)Caption:

Economic collapse. Hurricanes. (Why single out hurricanes instead of saying “natural disasters”?) Terrorist and demonic attacks. EMP pulses. Solar flares. You name it.

 

(cont.)Caption:

The world didn’t even end with a whimper. It ended with a groan. (The world didn’t end. Otherwise there wouldn’t be people still around, right? Instead, you have a pretty regular scene here that could be happening right now, albeit with the person flying, it’s definitely more comic book-ish. It’s a nice line, but it isn’t true.)

So, we’ve got P1 on the books! Doesn’t that lessen the tension, knowing that that page is done and behind us? Now it just needs a breakdown.

 

Let’s go over technicalities first. I’ve already talked about the page break and its placement, so that horse is beaten. Let’s look at panel 1, though. Looking at it, it gives the impression that there’s going to be a panel 2, doesn’t it? Well, that’s what I was looking for, and was a bit disappointed when I didn’t get it. Why was I looking for it? Because you didn’t say it was a splash page in any form in the panel description. You left me hanging. Not good.

 

Next, the captions. Don’t be lazy. Every element needs to have its own heading. That’s how scripting works. What does this do? This lets the letterer know what each part is supposed to be. Just saying “continued” isn’t going to cut it. Don’t be lazy.

 

You also need to slow down. (I was just transported back to the 80s. Brand Nubian. I know what I’ll be playing on Pandora on my way home from work in the morning.) Why slow down? Because in your writing rush, you’re forgetting words. Words that are important in getting what you want. Not good. It’s as I just talking then of a sudden I complete… See what I mean? It begins to make sense, but then you’re confused. Missing words will do that. Slow down. (I have that problem sometimes, myself. A good practice: wait a day or two after you’ve finished writing, and then read the words aloud. You’ll be forced to read what you see, not what you meant to write.)

 

Now, let’s get to it. You barely got in the Who, Where, When and What. Technically, this is a passable establishing shot. However, you’re losing me when it comes to the horses. I no longer know what timeframe this is. Are we current/near future, or are we in the past? Hopefully, this is something you’ve worked out with your artist.

 

As for the dialogue… It’s doing its job. I can’t say anything bad about it, but I also can’t say anything good about it. It’s informal, it’s telling some of the story, but I don’t think it’s doing enough to really get me to turn the page. Page turning here will be an automatic response.

 

As for the sense of the dialogue, with the world ending and so forth…I’m getting a sense of Alan Moore’s Promethea. (I loved that book.) At the end, the world ends, but nothing really changed. However, if you want more world-ending type of stuff going on, you have to do better in your dialogue than you did. Like Steve said, it sounds like events of today, and today isn’t too scary. You got up and went outside, right?

PAGE 2

 

PANEL 1Bowery Poetry Club. (What does the building look like? You’re saying in your caption what the place is, but is it an actual place? I had to research this myself, along with finding pictures of the exterior and interiors of the building. This is your job, to provide as much information to your artist as possible. Keep this in mind as you write your future scripts.) Exterior shot. Curtains are up, looks peaceful… which of course is deceiving.(I’m going to assume it’s still nighttime. So, what else can we see here? What’s the state of the building? What’s the state of the people? Can we even see any people? How close/far away is the camera? This is a minimalistic mess. I’ve asked more questions than you have panel description. )

CAPTION:

Bowery Poetry Club (& Café. That’s the actual name of the place, right on the outside signage, as per the pictures found online. Make sure to get it straight.). 308 Bowery, between Bleecker and Houston Streets in Manhattan‘s East Village.

 

(cont.)Caption:

Been around for ages, since before all this craziness started. Recently reopened by some old school punks.

PANEL 2

Inside the club. (Again, you have visuals online of what it looks like now. Use them to direct your artist.) It’s a punk show, the band “Murder of Crows” playing. (Do we see this name on a sign on or beside the stage? If not, then the information isn’t necessary to the panel description. Stick with the visual facts.) It’s a 50/50 mix of punk anger and lyrics and death metal riffs and musicianship. (This last sentence gives us an idea of the music, but not what is happening. More needless information for a panel description.) The place is packed and busy. Imagine about 30 or so super-powered (How can we tell they are all super-pwered?) punks partying it up. It’s a miracle that the place is still standing.

The band is right in the middle of a song. EVELYN “RIOT” MacKINNION is on lead vocals, screaming her heart out, BRUCE “PULSE” REDMOND is on bass, is just chugging along. Into it, but cool, calm and collected. The lead guitarist, REBECCA “FOURPLAY” LEVINE, who’s (whose) four arms are really coming in handy playing guitar like no one else can, is grooving along, ignoring everything else but playing. Her strong, yet attractive 7’2″ frame belies her kind nature. (You introduce the characters here, but the only one who has a little information about her is Fourplay, at 7’2” and having four arms. Give us more details. Better yet, create a character sheet that establishes their looks so that you aren’t wasting that time and space here.)

There is a drum machine or maybe a laptop in the back, chugging away.

CAPTION:

That’s my band, “Murder of Crows.” We’re finally starting to get a following. Could really use a drummer (Missing comma) though.

 

PANEL 3

Focus on PULSE, shredding away. His eyes are glowing a dark blue.

CAPTION:

That’s me. Bruce Redmond. Everybody calls me Pulse.

 

(cont.)Caption:

Bit of fun, bit of coin. Works out well. (Pulse should be saying this before he introduces himself. What you’ve done is introduce him, then have this sentence, then introduce his band mates, instead of maintaining the flow of the introductions.) The other band members, Riot and Fourplay (Missing comma) are decent people and better roommates. (Here’s where you have an opportunity to have another panel with an image focusing on the two ladies, positioned in the frame from left to right in the order you have them introduced by Pulse’s dialogue. Otherwise you’re just blowing names to the wind. This added panel can contain this last bit of introduction as well as the dialogue coming up with the title.)

 

(cont.)Caption:

Hardly any hair in the shower drain.

TITLE:

Getting the band together, Pt. 1 (I’m kinda confused. You have the title here as one thing, then the title on the cover page for your script saying something different [not that anyone beyond your editor will see it, but that’s not the point.] Try to keep consistent when writing your story title from cover page to actual inclusion in the comic pages. Editors will find that unprofessional.)

 

P2 down, and I’m bored.

 

From a reader’s perspective, this is going by VERY fast. We have what I can now call an ineffective P1, and following that with a P2 that only has 3 panels on it.

 

So, let’s back up a bit. Why is P1 now ineffective? Because P2 is boring. There isn’t anything happening, and nothing warranting the splash page that I can see. P1 could have been a wide-screen panel at the top, and then everything on P2 could have been put under it, and you would have had a more effective page and possibly get to something actually interesting that much faster.

 

What do we have on P2? We have what I think of as a spiral: we start outside an establishment, and we move in. It goes like this: The outside establishing shot, the inside establishing shot, and then the hero. I think of it as a spiral at times. There could be added stops on the spiral, but these three stops are generally what you find.

 

The problem with P2 is that its boring. None of it is interesting. Want to make it interesting? Put some song lyrics in there, across the entire page. That’ll liven it up some. At least it’ll be a bit more interesting.

PAGE 3(Another whole page wasted. Here’s the benefit of the doubt, though: you used a program that screwed up your formatting when you did the export. See? I gave you an out. It’s up to you to let me know if I’m right or wrong.)

PANEL 1

The show is over, the band is packing up, some hangers on are trying to chat up Riot, who is clearly not interested. One of the bouncers is handing Pulse a note. The bouncer looks like he’s made of hard packed dirt wearing a bouncer shirt and pants. (Talk about a jump in time! We’re going to talk about it down below. This, however, is not good.)

RIOT:

[Small] #$%! (Just an FYI: Try not to close a word made of symbols with an exclamation or question mark. The reason is to avoid the reader thinking that‘s the end of the sentence.) off, @$$hole.

BOUNCER:

Hey (Missing comma) Pulse, some dirty hipster came by and paid me to hand this note(You don’t need to spell it out as we can see that it’s a piece of paper.) to you.

 

(cont.)Bouncer:

He said it was important.

PULSE:

Hmm?

PANEL 2 – CONT. (Why did you write “CONT.” here?)

Pulse is looking at the folded paper as the bouncer is raising his hands in submission. Riot is still trying to get these losers away.

BOUNCER:

Yeah. You don’t have to read it.

 

(cont.)Bouncer:

I could give a squirt.

PULSE:

Ok ok. (Unnecessary)Thanks, Clodhopper.

BOUNCER:

Yeah, whatever.

RIOT:

[Small] Now run along, before I force feed you your #&$@. (Unless Pulse is looking at the bouncer, this isn’t necessary.)

PANEL 3

Riot is talking to Pulse as Fourplay is taking out some of the gear. Pulse is looking at the paper he just got.

RIOT:

What was that about?

PULSE:

Got a new lead to figuring all this out.

PANEL 4 – CONT. (What exactly is this panel a continuation of?)

Fourplay is chiming in, actually kind of interested. (Is Pulse in this panel? If not, then his dialogue should be designated as coming from off panel.)

FOURPLAY:

You’ve been chasing this thing for years. I think you might be tilting at windmills.

PULSE:

Maybe. (Comma here instead of period.)but we all have to have hobbies, yeah?

 

P3 is on the books, and I’m underwhelmed.

 

Here’s what we have: We have Josh trying to inject some mystery here. We have a note, we now have a mysterious mcguffin, but we don’t have the secret, magical ingredient: caring.

 

I don’t care. And that’s a shame.

 

But let’s go back up to the top of the page. This is P3, yes? Yes. That means it’s on the right-hand side of the book. Evens on the left, odds on the right. So this isn’t a page turn, this is more of an eye-drag. (I won’t even make the easy joke here, because that’s disparaging to the artist, and I haven’t even seen the artwork, if any.)

 

Why is this important? Because there’s no psychological break that you get by turning the page. The page turn is like a doorway. When you go through the door, you know you’re in a different place, be it a room, hallway, outside, or whatever. You know you weren’t where you were. The page turn can do that for you. The eye-drag doesn’t do that. The eye-drag is nothing more than a step you take in order to get to the door. See the difference?

 

So what we have here is P2, and the band is jamming. Then we have P3, and they’re not only not jamming, they’re mostly packed up and ready to go. That’s too much compression. What it tells me is that you don’t have enough story to fill these pages.

 

How do you fix the compression problem? There are three ways. The first, best, and most admirable way would be to rewrite this from P1. Possibly starting at a different point, and making sure you have enough story to carry the page count.

 

The second way is to have more song, or to advise in an omniscient narrator caption that this is the last song being played tonight. Not as elegant, but it could work.

 

The third, least favored, easy and clumsy way is to add a caption saying “later.” Guess which one I’m a fan of.

 

But we’re at the end of P3, with no real hint of a story going on. And it’s still damned fast. Four panels on this page. Why? What’s going on that’s so important that the pace has to be this fast? There isn’t even a lot of dialogue to slow it down.

 

Combine. Condense. This is really P2, and you still need to add a panel or three. Make sure they’re interesting.

PAGE 4

PANEL 1

Pulse is walking out of the club. The streets look darker and more dangerous. (What makes the streets look more dangerous? Give us some details to back this up.) Fourplay and Riot are walking out waving. (If I had hair, I’d be pulling it. I may have to start shaving my eyebrows so that I’m not tempted. How about a panel description that can actually be drawn?)

FOURPLAY:

Good luck!

RIOT:

Yeah! And bring home some coffee!

PANEL 2

The streets have long shadows. (Depending on placement of the street lights, the further away you get from the light source, the longer your shadow gets. Is that what you mean?)(GAH! PROSE! KILL IT! KILL IT WITH FIYAH!) Pulse is walking along, reading the note.

PULSE:

Tompkins Square Park?

 

(cont.)Pulse:

Not the safest place to meet, but it’s his dime.

PANEL 3

It’s late in the village, but this is New York City and stuff is still bustling. (I have to laugh a bit here, as you had said in your first page dialogue that it was after the end of the world, and yet it’s bustling…) Pulse is waving to some acquaintances. It sort of looks almost looks normal, with weird looking people huddling around a oil drum fire while waiting for their food from a truck.

CAPTION:

I’ve been around a while, (No comma needed here) and can honestly say (Missing comma) despite everything that has happened in the past thirty or so years, things are still pretty much the same.

PANEL 4

Further on, bars and restaurants are still going full steam. Looks a bit run down, but it’s busy and bustling. (This is not a panel description. Would someone please write this as a panel description? Thanks.)

CAPTION:

I’m very long-lived; (Never put a semi-colon in comic captions or dialogue.) it’s part of who I became when everything took a left turn off sanity.

 

(cont.) Caption:

Despite all the powers and demon attacks and endless energy problems…things are pretty good.

PANEL 5

More walking. Little demonic beasties (about the size of a medium sized dog and full of teeth, wiry muscle and claws), four in number, are following at a distance, stalking Pulse.

CAPTION:

ButStill, I would really like to know what the hell happened? What’s the reason behind all of this. (Okay, you have a question mark at the end of a statement, and a period at the end of what should be a question. Let that sink in for a bit, then tell me the sense of this.)

 

(cont.) Caption:

But I’m close, (Period instead of comma) I know it.

 

 

I’m going to stop here. I’m going to say that this doesn’t so much need a rewrite, but it definitely needs work. I’ll let Steven have his say.

Okay. P4, and it has officially turned into crap.

 

Let’s run it down.

 

Format: Like I said, I’m willing to give you the benefit of the doubt when it comes to the page breaks. However, the laziness shown in the dialogue? That I can’t forgive. Learn your job. That’s all there is to say about that.

 

Panel Descriptions: Sparse. You’re not giving as much information as you should, and when you are, you aren’t giving enough information to cut off the questions that are going to be asked. Your job, as writer, is to make sure the rest of the team have as few questions as possible when it comes to the script. The script is all on you. It is the foundation for everything else. Do your job, and the rest of the team will be able to do theirs.

 

Pacing: Terrible. Absolutely. There’s no other word for it. (Well there are, but no word that I care to use.) You have four pages of crap, when you should have had two pages that garnered some modicum of interest. Instead, you padded it out, trying to make a page count.

 

Terrible.

 

If you don’t have enough story to carry the page count, then you’re done. You’re done before you begin. If you can’t hunt around and find something interesting about the story, then you shouldn’t be telling it.

 

Lowering the panel count speeds up the reading experience. Remember that pacing encompasses four things: the number of scenes in a book, the number of pages in a scene, the number of panels on a page, and the number of words in a panel. When you have a low panel count and a low word count, readers are going to fly through your story and will be left feeling very empty. They’ll want to know why they wasted their time and their money. They won’t come back if you make them feel that way.

 

Condense. Condense pages. Up the word count. Make sure that the added words are also adding value to the story. If the rest of the script is like this, then you probably have about 12 pages of story. I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt and say 16…which is a stretch. That means you have six pages of story to fill, at the very least. Not enough. Either find more story, or find a different story.

 

Dialogue: Not terrible, Not terribly engaging, either. At least it wasn’t Exposition City. Exposition Town, but not City. The problem is that there was too much backstory and not enough actual story to make it worth reading. That may be a bit harsh, but it’s also true. There is no part of these four pages that warrants a reader investing either their money or their time in it. That means you have a lot of work ahead of you.

 

Content: As a reader, I wouldn’t read this. The concept doesn’t seem to be well defined, and the writing definitely isn’t engaging.

 

Editorially, I disagree with Steve. This needs a total rewrite, stem to stern. That’s the best remedy for this. Anything less would be nothing more than polishing a turd. Let’s not do that. Take it back to the plotting stage, and think it through. See how much story you really have, and then find more to add to it. It’s better to have too much story where you have to cut, than to have not enough. Infinitely better.

 

Rewrite it.

 

And that’s all we have 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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