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TPG Week 119: Pacing Is The Biggest Problem…

| April 5, 2013

TPGFeatured_02

It’s another instalment of The Proving Grounds! Today, we have a new Brave One in the form of Aaron Richmond, who hails from Thingplus, New Mexico. (I have no idea if there’s a Thingplus in NM, but it wouldn’t surprise me.) As always, we have Steve Colle in blue, I’m in red, and we’re going to see about Aaron’s tale about

Teddy and Abe

PAGE ONE (four panels)

Panel 1. Establishing shot. TEDDY and ABE are seen popping/appearing into one of the tree-lined paths of Paris, France out of thin air. I say “path”, as it is intended for walking on, but the pathway is cemented and built to the same proportions as a normal 2-lane street. (I’m trying to picture this. Is this something you could have provided a visual reference to? Have a link here to a picture of what you’re describing because it isn’t clear.) It is mid-June in 1940 and the air is seasonably warm. There is a soft breeze blowing through the trees. (Because this is a static medium, a soft breeze won’t be seen, but rather felt. The artist can’t convey this, making this unnecessary to describe. Now if you’d said that the wind was blowing hard and the trees were swaying, that would be something they could draw.) Despite the beauty of the day, there is a notable lack of people in the shot. (Does this mean the scene is empty of anyone but Teddy and Abe?)(What happened to the time of day?)

CAP (near upper left corner): (Just as a small aside, you don’t need to direct your letterer with specifics like this. They either know their job or will be guided by the editor as to placement. The other point with this is the fact that it’s the only text in this panel, so where it goes doesn’t really matter, right?) (Untrue. It can matter a lot. It all depends on the pacing that the writer wants to give. Just because they usually start in the upper left corner doesn’t mean that it has to go there. It could also go in the bottom right corner. It really depends.)
14th of June, 1940 (Period)(This, methinks, is an editorial prerogative. It isn’t incorrect, if it’s just giving a timeframe or place of reference. In this case, it’s about aesthetics. I like the missing period, personally. I wouldn’t ding on this.)

Panel 2. A medium length (front, profile, or back?) shot of TEDDY and ABE. ABE is wearing a black suit, bow tie, and stove pipe hat. TEDDY is dressed in his Rough Rider uniform and carrying a Winchester rifle over his shoulder. Both characters have a pocket watch stashed somewhere. (Is it in their socks? Their underwear? No, more than likely it would be “stashed” in either their coat, vest, or pants pockets, so watch what you say about “somewhere” because that’s exactly what you’ll get.) The WATCH FOB (or chain) should be visible, although it shouldn’t stand out too much. They are standing in the middle of the path and are taking in their surroundings. TEDDY appears to have done this many times before. (So what is Teddy’s expression to give us that idea? He looks comfortable and confident, most probably. Make sure to use direction that is direct.) ABE looks slightly more confused. (Okay, so I’m going to say this here: I, being Canadian, can only assume that your title characters are Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln, correct? For those who don’t know these people as former US presidents [Lincoln is the more familiar of the two], you need to identify them as such so that we aren’t left scratching our heads with your reference of “TEDDY is dressed in his Rough Rider uniform” and such. This could and should have been done in a separate character sheet, but that wasn’t provided, so you need to either have that character sheet or include that information in the beginning of this script, including a reference to at least Teddy Roosevelt.)

ABE:
Where are we? (Separate balloon) When are we?

Panel 3. TEDDY removes an ornate POCKETWATCH from a pocket in his uniform and looks at it. (This panel is unnecessary. You could have had him pulling out his pocket watch in the second panel, followed by him looking at its face in the next. Not only does that eliminate this visual, but a silent panel as well, which serves no purpose either.)

Panel 4. A close-up of the watch’s face reveals the date, time, and location. It is ornate, melding both classical and futuristic designs.

TEDDY:
We appear to be in 1940’s Paris… (If this is a panel of the watch, then this dialogue should be coming from off panel.)

TEDDY:
QUICK! Get off the path! (Where did this come from? You have no visual cue that would cause this kind of reaction or outburst. It doesn’t belong here. Where it actually works better is in the first panel of the next page, where you have the actual pulling into the trees. Have it as a forceful whisper, a quiet scream if you will. He doesn’t want to be heard by anyone else but Abe, but can’t say it louder than that whisper.)

In one way you started out the story in a good place, in medias res (in the middle of things). That said, you could have even started the story in a time warp where they are just appearing in this time period. That would have clarified the idea of these two historical figures being together and not just a couple of imitators dressed as them. Make it easy for the reader to understand what’s going on by making sure all of the information is present. We don’t want to feel as though we missed part of the story from the first issue when this is, in fact, the first issue.

So far, you have minimal dialogue and text. You could have established more of a conversation between the men to give us a bit of backstory, such as mentioning the fact they have just come through a time warp. This would have given more credence to Abe’s questions of where and when they were now.

You could have also had another panel added to the end of this page which would have set up your page turn and action from your next (first) panel on the next page. Have the soldiers in view, either clear or in silhouette in the shadows created by the trees. You could have also kept your “QUICK! Get off the path!” statement in this new panel to hook the reader. Something to think about. (There’s also the problem in that there’s absolutely no indication given as to why they should be hurrying off the path. What does Teddy see or hear to cause this reaction? Dunno, because no reason is given.)

P1 is on the books, and we’re off to an okay start. I’ve seen better, I’ve definitely seen worse.

The main problem here is pacing. That, and the doubling of the work. Let’s take a look at panel 1. You have A&T appearing, and you have the caption, giving the time and location. What would have worked better is to have the first panel either having them in the warp or whatever as Steve said, or to have the panel be on the empty path, and in the next panel, have them start to appear. Either one works. Personally, I like the second option. I think it adds a little more mystery to it.

The problems start to occur as soon as you have that caption, though. There’s absolutely no need for an omniscient narrator to give the time and place, if you’re going to give that information a couple of panels later, directly from one of the characters.

I’m getting a Dr. Who feel, though, where Teddy is the Doctor, and Abe is the companion. The Doctor always knows—or finds out soon enough—where he is in space and time, and gives that information to the companion through dialogue. The same thing has happened here. If you didn’t have the duplication of work, this would have been that much better.

Steve is totally right, though, in calling you out on that last line of dialogue. It doesn’t fit at all in that panel, which means you forgot to add another panel, which again means that your pacing is off. This is easily a five or six panel page. It definitely isn’t four.

However, my interest is piqued a bit. Let’s see what happens next.

PAGE TWO (six panels)

Panel 1. TEDDY grabs ABE and dives into the trees. (Is the place so heavily forested that the trees would completely cover them? Wouldn’t it be better if there were brush that they could jump behind or into?) ABE’S HAT is knocked from his head. (Moving panel. This is two actions instead of one.)

Panel 2. ABE is seen holding his head as Teddy presses himself up against a tree in the background. Abe’s hat is missing. (Needless information as we know it’s missing as it was knocked from his head, right?) In the pathway can be seen given the angle (preferably it is), ABE’S HAT is sitting on the cement. (This sentence reads poorly, whereas you could have simply written “We can see Abe’s hat sitting on the cement pathway.” ‘Nuff said.) (This panel description doesn’t work well with the previous one. If they’re diving into the trees, I’m expecting some literal diving into the stand of trees. What I’m getting at is that these characters should be on the ground, but you have Teddy pressing himself up against a tree. I see that as him standing. The two don’t match. This means one or the other panel descriptions aren’t clear.)

Panel 3. TEDDY peeks around the tree, waiting for something to appear. He appears very concerned.

ABE (OP):

Owwww… (This “Owwww” makes Lincoln appear very weak. Was he? I don’t think so.) What’s got you all riled up? (Again, is this really the character of Abraham Lincoln? The words may sound period appropriate for the character, but personality-wise, would he be so wishy-washy?)

Panel 4. A short distance away, we see a contingent of Nazi troops marching along the same path that TEDDY and ABE were just standing on. There should be no more than 20 of them. TEDDY is leading ABE as far away from the path to a nearby two-story building in the short time available. ABE’S HAT lies forgotten in the middle of the path. (What? What two-story building? Where’s me Lucky Charms, because that building is magically delicious! And, how many troops are we talking about?)

ABE:

My hat! I lost it when you shoved me.
TEDDY:
Never mind that now. This building looks perfect. Hurry up and get in.(This is just extraneous dialogue that sounds more like filler than something to forward the story. Let the actions explain what’s going on instead of adding words for nothing.)(That’s the first part. The second part is that this dialogue also reads like they’re already at the building, when you’ve made it perfectly clear that they aren’t. Or at least, they shouldn’t be, because they just left the path. Don’t forget about the amount of time a single panel can encapsulate, as well as the amount of border time that you can have between panels. Your border time is right, but what you have Teddy saying (the part that Steve correctly cut) is wrong.)

Panel 5. TEDDY looks through an upstairs window (How did they get to this upstairs window and into position so quickly? That’s a jump in time that needs some form of transition to make right.), loading his rifle, as ABE watches the stairs, expecting to be followed at any moment. The room they are in is used to house gardening equipment for the landscapers. (Why would they put landscaping equipment into the room on an upper level from the ground, when it will be used frequently? Doesn’t make sense.)(Excellent question, and one that I’d like to have answered.) Among the various utensils tools is a SHOVEL, a few gardening TROWELS of various sizes, a large RAKE, a HAND RAKE, a GAS CAN (it should read “l’essence” as the characters are in France), and an INSECT HAND SPRAYER.

TEDDY:
Keep down. I don’t think they’ll find us up here (Missing comma) unless–

Panel 6. A Nazi soldier stoops down to pick up ABE’S HAT. Although his uniform is historically accurate, his weaponry is decidedly futuristic. Think “Ghostbuster Proton Pack” meets “Flamethrower”. The pack itself is filled with an iridescent liquid. (You don’t have the soldier looking around to see if he can find the owner of the hat, so how does this act as “a reason to”? How long do you think it would have taken the soldier to pinpoint their exact location in the building? Does the soldier know something about the dangerous nature of Teddy and Abe, something we don’t know? Too many questions.)

TEDDY:
— we give them a reason to. (Again, consider the facts as to the possibilities of them being discovered. It makes this comment sound inappropriate.) (This dialogue should also be a voice-over caption.)

 

And with P2 on the books, we see more pacing problems.

The biggest thing is that entirely huge cut in border time. One moment they’re headed toward the house, the next, they’re already upstairs and looking out the window. That’s a huge cut in border time, leading one to think they teleported when they didn’t. Not good.

You’ve got six panels on this page, but it doesn’t feel that way. It feels condensed. Too condensed. That big cut doesn’t help, either. It feels choppy.

Here’s the thing: I want to like this story. It’s P2, and I’m interested to see what’s going on. I like alternate history. (Lots of people do. I think this is why Dr. Who is such a big draw since it’s revival, the excellent writing notwithstanding.) However, with the minimalist dialogue and the fact that after 2 pages nothing has happened, I’m getting bored.

You have tons of opportunity to tell the story through dialogue. Alternate history is one of the only times where infodumps and lots of exposition is expected, and quite possibly needed. Get everything out in front, so that everyone knows the status quo, and then introduce the problem. You could have done that on P1, rushed them off on P2, having them just get upstairs in order to talk some more. Hiding builds tension.

That last panel you have here? The placement of it doesn’t much matter, because this is P2. This isn’t a page turn. The reader’s eyes just slip right on over to P3, without any type of pause or psychological break. That last panel should probably be the last panel of P3, after effectively setting the scene.

But I’m bored, and it’s reading fast. A fast, boring read. Not good.

PAGE THREE (five panels)

Panel 1. As the soldier picks up ABE’S HAT, a bullet flies through his skull and a shot rings out. (What was the range from the upper window of the building to the soldier’s head for the bullet to go through and through? Is the soldier wearing a helmet? Would the bullet, from that distance, go through the helmet? Someone please enlighten me.)(Rifles have a pretty good range, and are very accurate when wielded correctly. Yes, I can believe the range, depending. Going through the helmet that the soldier will almost certainly be wearing? You betcha. It won’t come out the other side, though, so no through-and-through. It’ll lose too much energy going through the metal helmet, tough skin, and dense bone. It won’t make it out the other side of the helmet. Now, if he’s not wearing a helmet, that’s different. However, Aaron doesn’t say. I’m going to say there’s a helmet there, though. It will help to establish the identity of the soldier that much better.)

SFX:
BANG!

Panel 2. TEDDY yells out the window, having just fired a shot. ABE is recovering from the surprise, as his attention was focused elsewhere off-panel.

TEDDY:

Viva Vive la France, you kraut-eating bastards! (I had to laugh out loud when I read this dialogue. Notice I changed the line to VIVE LA FRANCE instead of “Viva”, which isn’t French. Also, the Nazi’s were the Krauts, so to call them “kraut-eating bastards” makes them sound like carnivorous haters of the Krauts. Funny stuff, Aaron.)(Well… The thing is, the Germans were the krauts because they eat sauerkraut (which is spoiled cabbage). Kraut was used as derogatory term, but it was synonymous with sauerkraut. So, this is correct.)

ABE:
Teddy! What are you doing?! (You’ve finally given a name to Teddy. Prior to this point, neither character was introduced by name. Abe, being the more recognizable of the two men, didn’t need it as much, but you should have done that by now as well.)(You should have used an interrobang here. You asked a question, so there should be a question mark in there.)

Panel 3. TEDDY takes another shot as ABE looks around for something with which to arm himself. TEDDY is obviously enjoying himself with the merriment of a schoolboy. (You don’t need this.)(I disagree. Shooting guns is fun. Cleaning them isn’t, but shooting guns is fun. While in the Marine Corps, I shot my rifle, a 9mm, a shotgun, a revolver, as well as a crew served weapon. It’s fun. What this description does is gives a facial expression to Teddy.)

TEDDY:
Introducing myself. I’ve found it’s the best way to move the plot forward. (What is he talking about, “moving the plot forward”? Are they in some sort of storybook adventure and are aware of it? That’s the kind of line that makes things confusing.)(I like this line! It’s fun, while being ambiguous. Is he breaking the fourth wall? Is he not? Dunno!)

ABE:
You’re going to get us killed. You know that, right?

TEDDY:
Nah. We’re the heroes. Heroes don’t die until their story is finished. (That is a very naïve way of seeing the world, one that I doubt the real Teddy Roosevelt had a problem with.) You might want to do more than just stand there, though.

Panel 4. ABE fills the INSECT HAND SPRAYER with the contents of the GAS CAN.

Panel 5. ABE reaches into TEDDY’s suit jacket to retrieve a book of matches.

I’m going to stop here. I’m not seeing much but question upon question that needs to be answered. My biggest question is: Why these two historical figures and why are they together? There is so much backstory and explanation that needs to be given for me to understand the premise of this story. Lincoln died in 1865, while Roosevelt died in 1919. Why is the story taking place in a time period neither was alive for? Why not have someone like Teddy preventing the assassination of Lincoln, going back in time instead of ahead? That’s my biggest problem, the whole forward instead of backwards jumping. It’s not like it’s a story about Buck Rogers in the 25th century, where he jumps forward in time. And what purpose does the futuristic weaponry have to the story? You have so many elements that just don’t add up. It’s like you’re starting with one story and then adding a second and third to the mix, those being the inclusion of a second historical figure instead of sticking with one and then putting in the idea of the future weaponry. Stick with one story and work it.

Your dialogue is so lacking and what you do have isn’t moving the story forward. Give us meat. With there being so many questions to answer, make sure you give the reader what they need. Also, keep in character. It doesn’t matter if I’m Canadian or American, I can still research and have heard about these two great men. Lincoln was a fighter at a young age when he beat the school bully. Don’t weaken him for the sake of the story.

I’ll let Steven have his say from this point.

P3. What can I say?

I’m not enjoying the fight. I think it’s coming too soon. This should probably have been on P4, if not P5. You still have a lot of worldbuilding to do, but you aren’t doing it.

As for the characterization… It depends on what you’re going for. Are you going for historically accurate, or are you going for funny? Can you do both? Not with these characters, no. Well, you could, but not with the way you’re depicting them.

Lincoln, while being a fighter, was also damned smart. He was a lawyer. He should be the thinker of the group, the one who’s the leader. For all intents and purposes, he’s Reed Richards. Teddy, on the other hand, while he was intelligent enough to become president, he was also a man of action. For all intents and purposes, he’s Johnny Storm. Now, imagine Johnny as the leader of the Fantastic Four. See the problem?

I think you have them set up wrong. You can do what you want within character, but you have to do a little bit more studying. Have them butt heads if necessary, and have things go both right and wrong for each of them, in turn. It’s a great pairing, methinks. You just have the setup backwards.

Let’s run it down.

Format: Flawless Victory!

Panel Descriptions: A moving panel, some things not thought all the way through, and a magically delicious building, but I didn’t have much trouble seeing what you were doing. Clean up the ambiguities, making sure things are crystal clear. Don’t forget to go back and put elements in at the earliest possible place you can. That building? That building should have been in panel 1.

Pacing: This is one of the biggest problems the story has. The pacing is choppy, with huge cuts in border time, not enough dialogue, and panels that don’t add much to the page.

Take your time and think through the actions you want the characters to take. Make sure there’s a steady progression from one moment to the next. If you don’t take your time, what you’ll get is what you have: choppiness, and editors coming down on you for it.

Add dialogue. Again, this is alternate history, so give us that exposition. Give us that infodump. Just make it enjoyable. As long as it’s enjoyable, few will complain. (There are always those who will complain. What you want is to give the fewest amount of people a reason to do it. You do that, and you’ll go far.)

Adding dialogue will do a few things for you, right off the bat for these first few pages: it will slow down the pace, it will give story, and it will reveal character, all at once. This could easily be a very enjoyable story, but the pacing is a big part of what’s hurting you.

Dialogue: There isn’t enough of it. Dialogue gives us more insight to the story, as well as tells us about the characters. Things that their actions don’t.

The dialogue here feels a bit modern to me. I can’t quite see T&A speaking in the manner you have them. I see their manner as being more formal. Remember, people were a lot more formal in the timeframes these characters came from. Their dialects should reflect that. This means more studying on your part.

Content: I was intrigued. Done well, this is something I’d pick up. Aaron, you just need to work harder to make sure things ring true.

Editorially, I’d be asking you a lot of questions and urging you to switch up the roles of the characters. Right now, it seems like Teddy is the leader, and I don’t think he should be. Abe should be the leader.

I’d also be urging you to do more research. You can then develop your own voices for the characters, but they need to be more historically accurate. Research will do that for you.

But this seems to be a fun romp. I could easily go along for the ride. Let’s work harder to make it as enjoyable as possible.

That’s all we have for this week. Check the calendar to see who’s up 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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