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TPG Week 110: Pacing Is The Crux

| February 1, 2013

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Hello, one and all! Welcome back to The Proving Grounds! This week, we have no stranger to us: Brave One John Lees returns! As always, we have Steve Colle in blue, I’m in red, and we’ll see what John brings us in

 

Bad Sun

 

PAGE ONE (5 panels)

 

Panel 1. We open with an exterior establishing shot of a traditional, 19th-century era Glasgow tenement building. I know in our original discussions this was going to be high-rise apartments, but to me high-rise apartment towers are the kind of thing you’d get in just about any city, whereas there’s something about the 5-storey blocks with their distinctive light-brown sandstone that feels quite distinctly Glaswegian, and is tied into our history as a city. Using these, I feel, could instantly evoke a sense of place. I won’t bother piling heaps of photo reference upon your head: a Google image search for “Glasgow tenement” will give you a diverse treasure trove, and me trying to cherry-pick from that selection would only limit you. I would only suggest that, while the majority of building designs have traditional thatched roofs on a steep incline, base your design on the minority that have a flat roof on top, for the purposes of the issue’s climactic rooftop confrontation. Also, do we want to have any subtle mod-cons to indicate that this story is set 100 years in the future, or keep it as much like the present as possible so that the introduction of sci-fi elements on the next page is more jarring? If we get any sense of the surrounding area, we’re in one of the more rundown areas of Glasgow. One final note: in lettering, you may want to make the first caption – with the time and date – a slightly different style than the narration captions that follow. (I would place this lettering direction completely separate from your panel description, just above your first caption. Having it mixed in with panel description, and then following it up with more visual cues, can make it hard to see the forest from the trees.) Our scene is set in the very early morning, so while the sky is starting to get light, the sun has not yet risen into the sky.

 

CAP: GLASGOW, 2128 AD

 

CAP: THE FOLLOWING EXTRACTS ARE TAKEN FROM NEW HUMANS: A CHRONICLE OF A FUTURE FOUND.

 

CAP: WRITTEN BY DR. ALAN HUMPHRIES.

 

CAP: PUBLISHED IN 2149 AD.

 

 

Panel 2. We switch indoors now, with an interior establishing shot of the main living area in a rundown, grotty tenement flat. Our central focus is a drug dealer lying under a blanket on a couch. He has been jarred awake by the knocking on the front door: it may be good to have the front door in-frame in the background, so we can see where the “NOK NOK” sound effects are coming from. I’d have some drugs paraphernalia lying around on a coffee table in front of the sofa. Here, you may also want to take more of an opportunity to have future tech present here. Nothing too outlandish, maybe a representation of what a TV, a music system or a games console may look like a century from now. I’ll leave this up to you.

 

(If the following is an extract from a book, I’d suggest changing the font style so as to keep it completely separate from any future character or omniscient narrator captions, putting it in Arial or Times New Roman to make it look like print in a book.)

 

CAP: IN MANY WAYS, GLASGOW WAS UNCHANGED FROM THE PREVIOUS CENTURY.

 

SFX: NOK-NOK-NOK! NOK-NOK!

 

DEALER: WHUH!?

 

(more)

 

 

Panel 3. We tighten our focus in on the dealer checking that his gun is loaded. It’s a small hand-held pistol, nothing futuristic about it. (The fact that his pistol is vintage by 115 years at least means he’s a collector in my mind. Would there be a cabinet, perhaps, with other vintage firearms? Now, I doubt that’s the direction you want to go in for a petty dealer, but you can see what a comment of “nothing futuristic about it” can lead to.) The dealer himself appears to be a bit of a jumpy sort: high on his own supply, perhaps? (Gun? What gun? You mean the magically delicious one? That gun?)

 

CAP: MUCH OF THE OLD ARCHITECTURE REMAINED, AND SOME OF THE OLD PROBLEMS, TOO.

 

SFX: NOK-NOK-NOK!

 

DEALER: AWRITE, AWRITE, AH’M COMIN’! (Now, I’m not Scottish by any means, so I don’t know how you spell “alright” in slang there, but the way I’d write it here in North America would be “a’right”, putting an apostrophe instead of the “L”. Steven is more than open to disagree.)(I’ll disagree at the end of the page—natch!)

 

 

Panel 4. The drug dealer is now facing the front-door, leaning forward to peer into the eye-hole. He’s holding the gun pointed upward.

 

CAP: OF COURSE, NOW THERE WAS ONE MAJOR DIFFERENCE…

 

DEALER: WHO’S THERE?

 

 

Panel 5. The door is kicked right off its hinges, knocking the dealer off his feet.

 

SFX: KRAAK!

 

DEALER: EEAAAH!!

 

(Here’s where I have to wonder which is the greater hook for the end of this page: The door being smashed open or the panel of him peering through the eyehole? I’d be more apt to go with the latter as it leaves a mystery as to who is at the door and then open with an action shot as a start for the page turn. I offer another scenario with regards to strengthening the reasoning for my suggestion. What if it were a police officer on the take, a buyer, or even the neighbour knocking to get his attention for conversation? It wouldn’t have the same strength as a kicking in of the door, for sure, but that’s what the peering-through-the-eyehole panel does. It incites curiosity.)

 

So, we have P1 on the books. How’s it feel to have John back?

We have a few things going on here, so lets take a look at them.

The first thing you’ll notice right off the bat is the very informal nature of the panel descriptions. It sounds as if John knows exactly who is artist is, and has been in contact with them about the story before the script came in. Parts of this sound like a conversation, which is ballooning the word count on the first panel.

Now, I don’t mind that at all. If you know your artist, then there’s no reason at all why you can’t “talk” to them in the script. Just as long as you get all the information across, this is perfectly acceptable. And yes, John got all the info across.

I’m with Steve in that the lettering note in the panel description can get lost. I’d have broken that out either into its own paragraph or put it in with the lettering itself. While I wouldn’t call it a ding, it could lead to an issue of clarity. Breaking it out is easy enough to do and would nip any clarity issues in the bud.

The magically delicious gun? John knows better, and is probably wondering how the hell that slipped through. (John, put the knife down! It’s okay!)

Dialogue: I don’t watch nearly enough television from the UK. I’m trying to find time to watch Downton Abbey, Dr. Who, and The Eastenders. (That last is a soap-opera, but it is very unlike our soaps here in that the actors don’t make faces in front of the camera before changing scenes or going to a commercial. And it isn’t all about sex and people being exceedingly evil for no apparent reason.) I’d also like to catch the UK (read: original) version of Being Human.

Are there any shows that are only or primarily Scottish? I’ve no idea. However, what I refuse to do is to attempt to put my own thoughts of how a foreign dialect should sound on someone who’s actually from the place. I’ve watched enough movies/shows from the UK to know that there is a definite, distinct difference between John’s “awrite” and Steve’s “a’right”. From my admittedly limited knowledge, I think John’s is more correct. You have to form your mouth quite differently for his, which falls in line with what I’ve heard.

Apart from that, I’d combine a couple of the captions here, and possibly change the voice a bit. It’s sounding less like a book, less like a memoir, and possibly more like a diary. The only diary that I found to be hilarious was The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole. Good stuff right there (and keeping with the UK theme). Of the first four captions, the first one is fine on its own, but the next three need to be combined into one.

And as for Steve’s suggestion to cut the page at the peeping through the hole: I concur. That’s a great place to cut the page.

I love John as a writer, but if there’s ever a place where he needs an editor, it’s his pacing. We’ll talk about it more in the rundown.

PAGE TWO (2 panels)

 

Panel 1. The drug dealer is on the ground, having been knocked onto his ass by the impact of the door getting kicked in. He’s looking up at his off-panel assailant, eyes wide with shock and a little fear.

 

CAP: THE TCHAIRABUNS CHANGED EVERYTHING.

 

LENNII (O.P.): “WHO’S THERE?”

 

LENNII (O.P.): AND ONE CANNOT TELL THE STORY OF TCHAIRABUNS IN GLASGOW WITHOUT MENTIONING ONE IN PARTICULAR… (This should be a period instead of an ellipsis.)

 

(I’m lost. Is this text supposed to be from Lennii or the excerpt from the book? It sounds like a continuation of the reading, not a dialogue from your character.)(Yep, yep. I’m lost, too.)

 

CAP: BLAH… (What purpose does this serve as part of the excerpt? For that matter, even if you did make a mistake with speaker designation, why would Lennii be saying this?)

 

 

Panel 2. In an image that I imagine would take up most of the page, the reveal of our hero, Lenniidasz Cowan. He’s standing in the doorway threshold, looking down at the dealer, a smirk on his face. He’s dressed in a police sergeant’s uniform, wielding a baton. For this first shot, we should try to make Lennii look particularly imposing, menacing and, well, alien.

 

CAP: THIS IS THE STORY OF LENNIIDASZ COWAN.

 

LENNII: IT’S THE POLICE, DUMMY.

 

 

(By the way, this would be a great opportunity for the title and credits to be placed here.)

 

P2 is down, and what do we have?

Confusing dialogue, that’s what we have. Not good, that. It’s way too early in the extreme to get lost in your own story, John. That’s disappointing.

If the dialogue was straight, then I’d have no real problem with this page, except for the pacing. The first panel can be combined with panel 2, moving the camera in order to have the dramatic entrance, and move the last panel of P1 into the pole position here. (Remember the cartoon Pole Position? I loved that cartoon. So what it was made to sell toys. I didn’t care. I enjoyed it. This is what today’s youth needs: more cartoons on network television.)

Ahem…

But do you see what the suggested changes do? They pull the reader in more, while adding clarity to the visual narrative. That clarity is important.

 

PAGE THREE (4 panels)

 

Panel 1. Lennii is standing in the doorway, securing the dazed dealer’s hands behind his back with handcuffs while looking ahead intently into the flat. (At which point did he reach for the dealer to put his hands behind his back? And when did he pull the cuffs out? This is a big jump in action, especially given this is a facing page.) For the purposes of the reveal in the next panel, we shouldn’t be able to clearly see behind Lennii into the close here.

 

LENNII: IT’S NOT YOU I’M LOOKING FOR. I HAVE A WARRANT FOR THE ARREST OF JAMES ROULSTON.

 

LENNII: I KNOW HE’S WELL-GUARDED ON THE TOP FLOOR, (Period)SO I’LL NEED YOU TO CALL UPSTAIRS AND GET YOUR BOSS DOWN HERE WITHOUT ALERTING THE WHOLE… (By taking out the “So I’ll need you to”, you’re making it an authoritative command instead of a plea for assistance.)

 

 

Panel 2. Lennii is looking over his shoulder now, and we can reveal, standing in the close behind him, a middle-aged man in a tracksuit– James Roulston, we can safely assume – holding a plastic bag of grocery shopping. He’s staring at Lennii in open-mouthed surprise.

 

LENNII: …TENEMENT?

 

 

Panel 3. Deadpan reaction shot of Lennii, and now it’s his turn to look surprised.

 

LENNII (small): SHIT.

 

(Panels 2 and 3 can actually be combined into one profile shot, Roulston on the left, Lennii on the right, both looking surprised.)

 

Panel 4. Roulston has now turned and bolted down the close, dropping his shopping bag behind him, headed up the stairwell.He’s shouting out, a panicked expression on his face. Lennii is in pursuit, shouting after Roulston.

 

LENNII: ROULSTON, STOP!

 

ROULSTON: POLIS!

 

ROULSTON: BOONIE!

 

ROULSTON: BOONIE POLIS!

 

(Do we really need all three of Roulston’s balloons above? I’d stick with “BOONIE POLIS!”, though maybe have him say it twice.)

 

CAP: HIS STORY BEGINS ON THE DAY WHEN EVERYTHING CHANGED.

 

(As I’m reading your captioned excerpts from the book, I’m realizing just how sporadic they are throughout the script so far: Page One, panels 2, 3, and 4; Page Two, panels 1 and 2; and Page Three, panel 4. Not only that, but are they really forwarding the story in any way? I’d vote for the negative. If anything, I find they are detracting from the dialogue. If you want to add more dialogue to slow down the reading experience, do that, but don’t fill that space with something that doesn’t serve a purpose. A lot of this backstory/history can be told through dialogue and exposition in my opinion. You’ve established time and place in your opening caption to this scene, so leave that as your indicator that this isn’t the here and now.)

 

P3, and I’m settled into a story with a chase. I’m liking it.

What I’m not liking is the case of the dropsies.

Dropsies are when you start an internal monologue or some sort of captioning device (here, excerpts from a book), but don’t follow through with it as necessary.

There is a lot of space left for dialogue so far in this story. Let’s take a look at it: P1 has five panels, P2 has 2, P3 has four. And in that space, there isn’t much to read. That quickens the pace (as necessary for a buildup to a chase), but it also leaves things to be desired from the “book.”

Are the excerpts necessary? Without having read the entire story, I don’t know. I’m willing to give John the benefit of the doubt that he makes it relevant, though. However, just in this snippet…No, I don’t think it’s necessary. Not to the setup, or to the story. It could just be an internal monologue, and then it would be fine. It would still be a case of the dropsies, but then John wouldn’t have to work as hard in making it sound like a book. And believe me, book-writing is a challenge.

 

PAGE FOUR (6 panels)

 

(So here we have Page Four and I’ve quickly read ahead to the end of this scene. I’m going to edit it based on the fact that I think this should have been your first scene in the script. Why? First of all, I’m not seeing a reason for the flashback, here or anywhere else in what I’ve read in the page after this scene, which ultimately brings us back to the chase from your opening scenario. Second, there’s no real transitory device to get us from point B to point A. Third, it goes back in time to when Lennii was a baby, quite suddenly at that, instead of letting the story move from point A to B. Finally, it has no reason for being as it cuts the action from Scene One in two just when it was getting started. As we read onward, consider these points [and Steven, you’re more than welcome to disagree].)

 

Panel 1. We shift scene now to a flashback, and we’re in space, where a large fleet of small spaceships are converging on planet Earth, seen hovering in the distance as their destination.

 

CAP: IT WAS THE YEAR 2093 WHEN THE ARMADA ARRIVED ON EARTH.

 

CAP: THE TCHAIRABUN HAD LEFT BEHIND A DYING PLANET ON A ONE-WAY JOURNEY TO A NEW WORLD.

 

 

Panel 2. Exterior night-time shot of a busy Tokyo street. A spaceship has landed there, and a group of three Tchairabuns have emerged from it, dressed in spacesuits. There is a scene of general panic all around them, with civilians fleeing in terror. (How is the reader to know this is in Tokyo?)

 

CAP: THEIR SHIPS LANDED ALL OVER THE EARTH. AS ONE MIGHT EXPECT, IT CAUSED QUITE A STIR. (“Quite a stir”? Hell, man, I’d put it more like “It caused outright panic.” Because it’s a passage from a book that reads as matter-of-fact, I wouldn’t put an exclamation mark at the end, but the way you wrote it sounds like a casual walk in the park for the civilians of Earth.)(He’s from the UK. Understated is part of their DNA.)

 

 

Panel 3. A dimly lit, windowless room, presumably within an American military facility. A Tchairabun sits behind a table in an orange jumpsuit, being questioned by a scientist. The Tchairabun stares at the human across the table in confusion. Two armed soldiers stand guard at the door. (So what you’re saying is that they’ve landed and that, suddenly, one of their own are captured and interrogated. When did this happen between panels 2 and 3? Were all three of the aliens brought into custody? It doesn’t make sense. If you had done an “Area 51”-type scenario with the ship crashing and the survivors were detained for questioning, that would have made sense, but 2 + 2 aren’t making sense. Not only is it a sudden jump cut, but one doesn’t lead to the other unless they gave themselves up. If that’s the case, why is only one being questioned?)(Presumably American? How so? How does the artist get that across?)

 

CAP: THE GOVERNMENTS AND ARMED FORCES OF THE WORLD WERE QUICK TO REACT…

 

 

Panel 4. In an unspecified Middle-Eastern country, a small pile of Tchairabun bodies are being burned on the desert terrain, surrounded by cheering soldiers and civilians. (Again, the public and military are destroying bodies, but I can’t see how you got to this point. Did the people of Earth overpower them and bring them into concentration camp-type locations for disposal?)(How is the reader supposed to know this is the middle-east?)

 

CAP: (Added “… THOUGH”) SOME MORE HARSHLY THAN OTHERS.

 

 

Panel 5. The flaming wreckage of a Tchairabun spaceship lies on a quiet road on an industrial estate out in one of the satellite towns of Glasgow. (Okay, I’m lost again. The invasion has occurred, the bodies have either been destroyed or the aliens are in the process of being interrogated, and suddenly this lone ship, what seems to be months down the road, crashes in the middle of nowhere. Did all of the ships but this one make it down months ago? Help me out here, John. The other BIG problem is I feel like I’ve been here before on at least two different occasions, the first with baby Kal-El (Superman) and the second with Abin Sur (Green Lantern). It’s been done before and is now a bit cliché.) A car has pulled to a halt in front of the wreckage, and Willie and Margaret Cowan have emerged from it. Willie is staring at the wreckage in front of him in disbelief, while a shocked Margaret points at something off-panel. (How is the reader supposed to know this is Glasgow?)

 

CAP: A SYSTEMS FAILURE CAUSED ONE SHIP TO CRASH IN THE OUTSKIRTS OF GLASGOW.

 

WILLIE: GOOD LORD, WHAT IS THIS!?

 

MARGARET: WILLIE, LOOK…

 

TOVRANASZ (O.P., weak): LENNIIDASZ…

 

CAP: LENNIIDASZ’S MOTHER WAS KILLED INSTANTLY.

 

 

Panel 6. Reveal of Tovranasz Viormobun Du-Sereentu, Lennii’s father. He has crawled from the wreckage of the ship, as seen by the trail of blood he has left in his wake, and is now sat on the ground a moderately safe distance away, mortally wounded. He is holding up baby Lennii in his hands, outstretched in front of him, out towards the Cowans. There is a look of desperation on his face.

 

CAP: HIS FATHER LASTED A FEW MINUTES LONGER.

 

TOVRANASZ (weak): LENNIIDASZ. (You honestly don’t need to have the baby’s name repeated three times in this panel. It’s been said once in the previous panel and once here is more than enough.)

 

TOVRANASZ (weak): LENNIIDASZ.

 

TOVRANASZ (weak): LENNIIDASZ.

 

 

I’m sorry, John, but I have to stop here. I’d finish off the scene, but my brain is hurting.

 

You had a pretty good start with the opening sequence and could well have continued that momentum by taking out this flashback altogether. As a matter of fact, I believe I’ll correct myself and say that the flashback has no purpose in the story whatsoever. It’s the future. Who knows, maybe there WILL be alien police officers 115 years from now.

 

One thing that is detrimental to the story, I believe, is the captions, especially in the above last two panels. Not only is it unnecessary in forwarding the story (besides the first four panels of this last page), but it’s spoon feeding us information we don’t need to know. For example, in these last two panels, you mention the crash, the fact that the mother died instantly and that the dad followed shortly thereafter. We don’t need to know about the mother and the father is dying as we look at the visuals.

 

I’m chalking this up to an older story. It may not be the case, but in my mind, this is pre-“the award winning John Lees”. Sorry, my friend, but this needs a complete rewrite in my opinion.

 

P4, and we get a John Lees Signature Move: the flashback.

John falls into his own trap a lot: he doesn’t like to tell a story with a straight timeline if he can help it. He likes to play with time, sometimes to the detriment of the story.

Complete rewrite? I don’t know. Possibly. We’ll talk about it more in the rundown, so let’s do that now.

Format: Flawless Victory. And I wasn’t expecting any different.

Panel Descriptions: Generally, pretty well done. They gave the information that was needed. The only thing that I didn’t like so much was the magically delicious gun. Wasn’t a fan of it. Know what else I wasn’t a fan of? How you got lazy on P4. You forgot that the reader is supposed to know where these things are happening. You forgot that just saying it in the panel description doesn’t mean that the reader will know, too. You got lazy, and now, you’ve been called on it.

Pacing: This is your kryptonite at times, John. Most of the problems Steve had wasn’t with what your panels were saying, it was what was taking place in those panels in relation to the timing of the other panels here. You had some jumps in there that were hard to swallow.

This is the reason John generally needs an editor. It isn’t his storytelling ability and it isn’t his dialogue. His storytelling is generally fine, and his dialogue is generally pretty good. No, John needs someone onboard to make sure his pacing remains consistent and serves the story. Everything else that editor might do with John’s scripts will be negligible compared to making sure the pace is correct. Generally, it just needs to be pointed out, and then John’ll go back and fix it, and everything is fine with the world once again.

Part of that pacing problem is the flashback right near the beginning of the chase scene. I’m with Steve on this one: the flashback isn’t necessary. Want to make better use of the book excerpt style of captioning you’re doing? Give this flashback info in the captions, instead of making the artist draw it. This gives you two things, immediately: it increases the word count, because the dialogue is a little light right now, and it gives you more space in terms of pages to tell the story visually. This is to your advantage, because like Steve said, when it comes to the crashing of the spaceship, we’ve been here before. It can be an homage to Superman, sure, but why be obvious about it? Put it in the captions as part of the book and keep it moving.

As part of the pacing, you could move the story along faster. Get to something interesting. You have the beginnings of a chase, and then you go into something different. I think that’s a mistake. Keep going into that chase, and give pertinent info while you’re doing it. This will use the both your visuals and your text to their best advantages, instead of stopping the story altogether to go into a flashback.

Dialogue: You have the dropsies. Other than that, most of the problems with the dialogue have to do with the pacing: the fact that you stopped the story to tell a flashback. If you had more words on the page, you’d be fine. Here’s a way for you to go. Take it.

As for the dialect, I’ve got no problem with it. I’m not going to go into a whole Inglorious Basterds thing on dialects—I’m no Tarantino—but I’ll just say that I watch a decent amount of different things and have held my fair share of phone jobs, and because of that, my ear is a bit broad. I may not always be able to place an accent, but I can generally tell when “someone isn’t from around here.” It could be a repeated phrase, or the way their words are formed, or it could be the way their sentences are structured. (Easterners—Near, Middle, and Far—love the word “actually” for some reason. I think it’s an American thing. I dunno.) If you listen to the telltale signs, you can pick it up. As writers, that’s part of your job.

And remember, folks: there’s a bigger market out there than the American market. You can write for your own back yard. That’s what John is doing here. If he were writing for the American market, then he would have placed the story somewhere else.

 

Content: As a reader, I’d be interested until we got to the flashback. The flashback would have frustrated me. It’s misplaced.

I once edited a writer who wouldn’t write a full scene. Their entire first draft was full of fast cuts: they’d get into the middle of a scene, and then cut to somewhere else, only to get to the middle of that and cut to a third location, and then get to the middle of that scene and go back and finish the first. A frustrating experience, getting in the way of the enjoyment of the story. I told the writer about it, and they balked and fought for a while, but ended up seeing my way. Why? Because, in faux-Latin, it was story-us interruptus, which can lead to Hulk-us rage-us.

Don’t lead people down that path, Mr. McGee. Don’t make them angry. You won’t like them when they’re angry.

Editorially, I don’t think this needs a complete rewrite. It more than likely needs a rethinking and a rearranging, but not a complete rewrite. The reader interest is there. The object now is to keep it.

So, one way or another, the crux of this story comes down to pacing. (I’m reminded of Promethea when she meets King Solomon, and he’s going on and on about cutting a baby in half. It turns out he was right, because that got to the crux of the matter.) Fix the pacing, and you fix the story.

And that’s all for this week. Check the calendar to see who’s up next!

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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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