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TPG Week 124: When Scary…Isn’t

| May 10, 2013

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Hello all, and welcome back to another installment of The Proving Grounds. This week, we have a new Brave One in Greg Matiasevich. But again, a little housekeeping first.

We’re still needing your scripts. Currently, there are only two more scripts left in the queue, and then we run dry. We’re here for you, and we literally cannot do this without you. So send in those scripts, writers! Now’s a great time to get stuff sent in, because the wait is extremely short!

Anyway, we have Steve Colle in blue, I’m in red, and we see what Greg brings us in this untitled story. (I mean, he has “Western” as a file name, but I’m considering that a placeholder for a true name for the piece.)

PAGE 1

PANEL 1

A small Indian (East Indian or Native American?) kid stands in front of and under a carnival poster with his back to the reader. Centered on the poster is a large, bombastic P.T. Barnum-like figure with his arms outstretched. We don’t need to see the entire poster in this panel, just enough to understand what it is. The poster is tacked on to the side of a carnival tent. (Is it day or night?)

FATHER (CAP)

Anpao, Spirit Of The Dawn, hear my plea. (This answer’s Steve’s question: Native American. The better question is this: since he’s speaking out loud, where are the quotation marks for the voice-over captions?)

FATHER (CAP)

I fear for my son.

FATHER (CAP)

His obsession with the whites and their culture…

PANEL 2

Side view of previous panel. We see the Kid is in an alley between two tents and the carnival is set up beyond it. The Kid is in profile. In the background is an auction set-up, with an auctioneer barking out bids for a male/female slave duo. The Kid is oblivious to this, as we can see the rapture on his face from the poster.

FATHER (CAP)

(Connecting ellipsis marks here)blinds him to itstheir cruelty. (This is broken up badly. What’s the focus of the panel? The kid, or the slave auction in the background?)

PANEL 3

The Kid rips down the poster. (This is a moving action. Is the kid in the act of ripping down the poster, or is the poster already in his hands? There’s a difference. And where’s the camera?)

FATHER (CAP)

My warnings fall on deaf ears.

PANEL 4

The Kid rolls up the poster.

 

FATHER (CAP)

The boy cares only for the spectacle. The surface.

PANEL 5

The Kid pulls his hood up, covering his face in shadow down to his nose. Going into stealth-mode, as it were. (What hood? When was it decided he was wearing a hood?)

FATHER (CAP)

If he cannot see what lies in wait for him beneath…

PANEL 6

The Kid, coming out of the alley, faces two large sheriffs who, although a little ways away, have noticed him and look like they will snatch him. (Wouldn’t it be better if one of the sheriffs points in the direction of the kid to show us that they notice him? And how does it look like they’re going to snatch him from a distance? This would be something we’d see if they were closer and doing the snatch and grab motion with the kid barely escaping.)

FATHER (CAP)

(Ellipsis marks here)then he is lost to us.

 

Something you never really introduce is an establishing shot. Sure, you have the side view of the kid between the tents with the carnival set up behind in the distance, but an actual establishing shot would go a long way in establishing not only the setting, but the time period of the piece. The first caption you have of “Anpao, Spirit Of The Dawn, hear my plea” would have worked great in that establishing panel. As it stands now, I can’t tell, as the reader, where this story is taking place. Another thing that kind of confused me was the introduction of the hood, making this, in my mind, a present day scenario. The only way I know this is a western period piece is due to the e-mail in which you attached this script. If you were cold submitting this script to a publisher who didn’t specifically publish westerns, they’d be confused as to when the story takes place. There are sheriffs in the States to this day, so we couldn’t even use this as a reference cue. Make it clearer.

 

Next up, your sequencing. Let’s say you were to have the establishing shot as a first panel, then move into the rest of the sequence, what you have are two panels where the kid is looking at the poster, one to establish what’s on the poster and the next to show a profile shot of the kid’s face. Then you go into him pulling the poster down, rolling it up, putting on his hood, and noticing the sheriffs in the distance. As it stands, we don’t see the kid’s facial expression too well, so we don’t know if he’s mischievous, playful, angry, or any other potential emotion. We don’t see him looking around to see if anyone is watching as he tears down the poster. If he’s trying to hide his actions, wouldn’t he be looking around? Also, he isn’t trying to hide the poster in any way. These are things that should have been incorporated into the sequence in some way.

 

So, we have P1 on the books.

 

I’m not overly impressed. I know it takes a lot to impress me, but this isn’t getting it done for me.

 

I know what this was written for. A now-defunct anthology called Western Tales of Terror. This was near the start of of Joshua Hale Fialkov’s career. I even submitted to it when it was going strong. No, I didn’t get in, and no, I’m not bitter about it.

 

The problem here is simple: the first page doesn’t grab me. When you’re writing for an anthology, especially a horror anthology, the first page has to pull you in. This doesn’t come anywhere near grabbing me. That’s a problem.

 

Steve is very right, though, when he says that he’d be hard pressed to know what timeframe this takes place in, if it weren’t for the nature of the anthology itself.

 

Nothing in the dialogue grabs me, either. What would happen if this entire first page were cut? I don’t know, since I haven’t seen page 2, but I’m thinking that nothing much would be lost, which means this P1 is extremely ineffective.

PAGE 2 (Create page breaks for each time you change a comic page.)

PANEL 1

The Kid hightails it in the opposite direction; the sheriffs behind by a good fifteen paces but in pursuit.

NO DIALOGUE (You could have used a dialogue here, possibly from the sheriffs to show their frustration at getting left in the dust, so to speak.)

PANEL 2

The Kid ducks into a tent, lifting up the canvas side to make an impromptu doorway. (Tents don’t work like that. They either have an opening or they don’t. Their structural integrity depends on their stability.)

NO DIALOGUE

PANEL 3

Close on the Kid’s face, taken aback. He wasn’t expecting what we are about to reveal he’s seeing. (This would have made for a good hook for the reveal of the larger-than-possible room you’re about to show the reader. Having the reveal directly follow this panel makes it lose its potency.)

 

ORACLE (OFF)(See this? I don’t mind this. It’s one letter more than OP, but it doesn’t bother me. It’s still short, to the point, and tells the letterer that this is coming from off panel.)

Have a care, little one.

PANEL 4

Pull back and up, so it’s almost a security-cam-eye-view (Remember I was talking about us not knowing when the story is taking place? This reference to a security camera perspective makes it seem even more present day to me.) of the interior. Don’t worry too much about space; it probably works better if this looks like it’s too big on the inside to be possible; adds to the overall mystery.

The Kid is standing in the Oracle’s tent. There are various trinkets and sashes, drapes and other miscellany lying or placed about. The Oracle herself sits on a wooden chair in front of a small, contained fire pit away from the “door”. She’s an Indian woman in her late 60’s, Indian dress, shawl. (Why do you mention what the woman looks like here instead of in a separate character sheet, where I presume you’ve put other information like what the kid looks like? Or did you simply forget to add that information into your other panels? Either way, do one or the other.) Even though this is presumably in white territory, there is no trace of any Anglo culture here.

ORACLE

Tempting fate like this. Some day, they will catch you.

PANEL 5

On the Kid, smug as hell.

KID

They can try. I’m the fastest brave in my tribe!

(cont)

No white man born can catch me!

(“Cont” works to indicate that the speaker is continuing to talk uninterrupted by a second speaker, but I’d love to know whom you grabbed this advice or sample from as it takes the same effort to write out the character’s name again.)

PANEL 6

On the Oracle, less than impressed by his boast.

ORACLE

And yet, his trappings bind you already.

PANEL 7

On the Kid; now sullen, his bravado deflated.

KID

You sound like my father.

ORACLE (OFF)

Perhaps. But you and I have more in common than you think.

This is a good P2. I liked this. You should have cut it at panel 6, though.

One of the things that gets me is the placement. Where is the boy placed in relation to the Oracle? Does the oracle have her back to the boy, or is she facing him, or somewhere in-between?

The other thing that bothers me is the seeming case of the dropsies. You have the first two panels that are silent, and while I get it, I also feel like they need some dialogue. They feel empty.

Oh, and if the father is never seen, then you’re right with the lack of quotation marks in the captions.

Now, would this page have worked as well if P1 were cut? No, I don’t believe so. However, P1 still needs to be punched up. And what was built up nicely here was deflated a bit because you went overlong by going to panel 7. Take panel 7 and move it down to the next page.


PAGE 3
(Page break here)

PANEL 1

Back on the Oracle. (What’s she doing?)

ORACLE

I, too, ignored the protests of my tribe. (Ellipsis marks here or see next comment.)

(cont)

(Ellipsis marks here or add “I”) Sought to walk both the white man’s land and ours in equal measure.

PANEL 2

On both. The Kid more upbeat, thinking she’s going to validate his fascinations.

KID

But now you live here with them.

ORACLE

No.

(link)

Not with them.

(As mentioned with “cont” before, “link” also works to show a connected balloon, but where did you get this from? If it works in getting the point across, we can’t ding you for format as there are tons of different ways of writing scripts.)

PANEL 3

Tight on the Oracle’s face. Here comes the stinger. (This last part has no place in the panel description as it doesn’t provide any artistic information.) (Like, what’s her facial expression?)

ORACLE

Under them.

PANEL 4

She’s up from the chair now, to pace about for the rest of the scene. Feel free to subdivide these next panels if you want, to emphasize specific gestures/movements/acting that comes to mind.

ORACLE

To the white man, I am, at best, a curiosity. (Ellipsis marks here)

(link)

(Ellipsis marks here) Kept around to give their children something to point at. (Ellipsis marks here)

(link)

(Ellipsis marks here and using the word “to”) Show them we are no threat.

PANEL 5

On the Kid. (Facial expression? What’s he doing?)

KID

Then why do you stay?

And here is where that goodwill you built on P2 starts to get squandered.

 

Explanations that no one’s caring about. It almost sounds like the writer’s world view than a character speaking. And I’m bored. Five panels and really, nothing untoward has happened.

 

This is P3, and this is for an anthology called western tales of terror. I’m wondering when the terror part starts to come into play. (I guess it doesn’t help that I’m watching The Cabin in the Woods as I work on this script.) It’s dragging. Dragging is never good. (The script, not the movie.)

 

This page could definitely be removed/tightened up. It’s filler, trying to make a page count.

PAGE 4 (Page break here)

PANEL 1

Back on the Oracle. (What’s she doing?)

ORACLE

In a dream, Anpao showed me what was to come for our people.

(link)

That night, I decided it was better to live under the white man’s thumb…

PANEL 2

Tight on her eyes, giving us the ‘thousand yard stare’ of someone who has seen their own death and is now numb to the very concept of it.

ORACLE

(Ellipsis marks here) Than die under their heel.

PANEL 3

Still on her, but pulled back to a medium shot. An index finger is raised and her demeanor has improved, showing a flash of insight. (This panel is unnecessary as it simply adds an action that could have been avoided. It also breaks up the dialogue unnaturally. Add “But for you” to the next panel’s dialogue.)

ORACLE

But for you

PANEL 4

Now on the Kid, at this point so scared he doesn’t know what to think. No trace of bravado left in him. (Scared of what? Nothing even remotely scary has happened, unless he’s scared that she’s going to continue talking. That might scare me, too.)

ORACLE (OFF)

But for you,my little brave…

 

PANEL 5

Largest panel of the page. Pull back as far in the tent as you can go. She’s now standing at the fire pit, arms outstretched, as if to direct her soul into the rising smoke and carry her message to Anpao directly. The Kid should be somewhere on panel but opposite her and facing away from us.

ORACLE

(Ellipsis marks here) It might set you free!

 

More padding. That’s really all these two pages are. Padding. Uninteresting padding, at that.

 

I”m still waiting for something interesting to happen that justifies P2. So far, I haven’t seen it.

PAGE 5 (Page break here)

PANEL 1

Establishing shot. We’re now at the Indian camp. A few tents, a few Indians going about their daily routine. In front of one of the tents are the Kid’s parents. The mother stirs a pot hanging over a cooking fire; the father sharpens an arrowhead next to her. We don’t really need to make out that they’re doing this exactly in this panel, we’ll come in closer in the next panel, but in your approximation set them up as this somewhere in this scene. (It’s here, on Page Five, that I finally get a sense of this taking place in the past instead of the present day. Cooking fires is a good visual, but why did it take so long to get our minds into that time period?)

MOTHER (NO TAIL)

He’s still out there.

PANEL 2

Closer on the parents. If you can swing the POV around and have them now in the foreground, then you can have a small silhouette of what we’ll find out is the Kid in the background, standing about twenty paces away from a decent-sized tree.

FATHER

Good. He needs the practice to catch up to his brothers.

MOTHER

What do you think happened?

PANEL 3

Now we’re looking at the poster from page 1, panel 1 again, but close on the ringmaster. We can tell that there are small rips, tears, and holes in the paper.

FATHER (NO TAIL)

What needed to happen. (No. This comes from OP.)

PANEL 4

Close on the Kid’s hand, holding the back of a notched arrow tight against a pulled bowstring, just before release. (What the hell? Okay, we go from looking at the poster to looking at the boy with a bow and arrow. When did he unroll the scroll, and when did he acquire a bow and arrow? Talk about magically delicious!)

NO DIALOGUE

PANEL 5

Back to the poster view, but now there’s an arrow sticking out of the ringmaster’s right eye.

SFX

THUNK

 

P5, and I have no choice but to call bullshit.

 

Let’s start with the obvious: the prayer. If the father was praying, why is there no mention of it being made? It could have been either of the parents for all the reader knows.

 

As for that prayer, I’m now ambivalent about the need for the quotation marks. Yes, they’re needed, because the prayer was spoken aloud, but at the same time, not having them lends some weight to the first page.

 

I’m not one that changes things for the sake of change, so I’d leave it. But it bothers me.

 

Now, we have the parents talking about their son not being back. I don’t know about anyone else, but 20 paces is not a far distance. I hate to say it, but it’s a simple matter of turning around to see him…and if he’s sending arrows into the poster (which we’ll get to next), they’ll be able to hear him.

 

Now we have the poster. When it gets unrolled isn’t important. That’s a simple jump cut. How it’s attached to the tree? That’s somewhat important.

 

But the real thing that gets me is where the bow and arrow came from. Nowhere was it mentioned, and its sudden appearance is extremely jarring to me. And if he’s sending arrows thwacking into a tree, he’s going to be heard.

 

Couple that with the fact that nothing scary seems to be near, and we have another page of padding.

PAGE 6

PANEL 1

Full page splash; just leave a little horizontal space along the bottom of the page for credits.

The top two-thirds of the page shows us the vision the Oracle gave the Kid, seen as a kind of spectral overlay against the open sky. Directly above him is the ringmaster, but now twisted and malevolent. Gone is the bombastic huckster, replaced by the evil trickster. Around him is a collage of images of the inhumanity that the Kid’s people have and will endure in the coming years. You can show a procession of haggard-looking Indians (the Trail of Tears), Indians on the auction block (like the slaves from page 1), Indians attacked by white soldiers, Indians obviously sick and diseased. Again, we’re going for phantasmagorical here. This is what’s going to haunt the Kid for the rest of his days and has turned him into what we see at the bottom one-third of the page.

Below that is the Kid, another arrow cocked and ready to let fly. There are tears streaming down his face, but his eyes burn with an intensity that should take us aback. This look would kill you deader than the arrow he’s sending into your heart. (So you’re saying that the shot and his gaze are aimed at the camera, right? I get this impression from sending the arrow “into your heart”. Say this in your description, then.)

TITLE: MANIFEST DESTINY

 

Greg, this was generally a good story. Confusing with the lack of time and place beyond the carnival setting, but good nonetheless. I do have a question, though. You start the story with the father, in captions, saying that he fears for his son because of his fascination for the whites as the kid pulls down the poster, supposedly as a keepsake, but by story’s end, the kid is now shooting arrows at it with eventually great accuracy. Do you see how not having a direct emotion presented on the first page can confuse the reader as to the kid’s intent for the poster? If he were smiling, we’d get the sense that it was awe and fascination, but with ambiguity or emotionlessness, I personally got the impression by the end that the kid was planning to steal the poster to shoot at it right from the start, making his father’s concerns moot, as if he already knew his son’s intent.

I’ll let Steven take it from here.

Let’s just dive right in, shall we?

Format: You would have had a Flawless Victory, if not for the page breaks. Everything else was clear and concise.

Panel Descriptions: These were light. They need a bit more heft to them. And by heft, I mean you have to have the characters act. You can put the camera “on” a character, but that doesn’t tell the artist anything about what you see them doing. I write pretty loose scripts myself, but I at least tell the artist what I’m seeing in my head. They’re somewhat free to change it if they think of something better, but I at least give them the option by putting my vision down in the script. You don’t do that here, and I think the piece suffers for it.

Pacing: The opposite of good. Most of this story is padding, which is a terrible thing to say. You can have a book that’s nothing but talking heads…as long as the conversation was interesting. The conversation stopped being interesting on P2, and he had barely met her. Not good at all.

Dialogue: I had no problem with it, except that it didn’t really move the story forward. I could see the conversation happening, and I could hear the different voices. But as a vehicle for moving the story forward, the dialogue doesn’t do its job.

Content: As a reader, I’d been upset that this wasted my time. If this were a part of Western Tales of Terror, I’d be wondering where the terror part was. Nothing even remotely scary was evident here. Not even thought provoking. You “save” it for a final image, but the only thing that could be considered even partially scary is the “evil trickster.” It would totally depend on how the artist interpreted that very loose description.

Editorially, I’d have given this story a pass, were I the editor of the anthology. While the writing was there, the story was not. I find the last image to be too abstract to be understood or be scary. Not saying that it has to be all ghosts and vampires, but this story is missing key elements, such as intensity or even a decent thrill. It’s all just uninteresting talk, except for P2. The small promise of P2 is never delivered upon.

How to fix it? Make it scary. Make it intense. The oracle is haunted? Give her power to the boy in some splashy way. Have him be galvanized by the passing of the power, and now he sees what she does. A different suggestion in the same vein: he’s blinded from birth. He makes his way to her, and she says he can see, but will pay a terrible price. He doesn’t care. She passes her power on to him, and in a montage, he sees the fate of his people. He can now see, but everyone he sees is suffering and dying. That’s intense. That’s scary.

Again, these are just suggestions to have the story fit the anthology better. That’s all.

And that’s all we have. Again, we still need your scripts. Read the rules and send them in!

Check the queue to see who’s up next!

Click here to make comments in the forum.

 

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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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