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TPG Week 125: A Lack of Research Is Easily Seen

| May 17, 2013

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Welcome, one and all, to another installment of The Proving Grounds! This week, we have Brave One Dan Watters submitting his work, and we also have a new addition to the ComixTribe family: Samantha LeBas. Sam is learning the ropes of an editor, and this is a great place for it. Don’t worry about good ol’ Steve Colle. He’s still with us. Those two crazy cats will be switching out every week. To help differentiate who’s who, Sam is going to be in purple, Steve (not here this week) will continue to be in blue, and I’m as fiesty as ever in red. So, let’s see how both Dan and Sam fare as we look over

 

WITCHHUNTER: THE WITCH’S HEAD

 

PAGE ONE (6 Panels)

 

Panel 1: Int. of a small living room. It’s shabby, but clean. (Shabby is sort of the opposite of clean, pick another descriptor. Humble? Plain?) From behind we see an elderly black woman, Raphael’s Grandmother, kneels in front of a voodoo altar. The room is lit only by the many candles on the altar. (Visual ref: http://hauntednola.com/images/Marie_Laveau_Altar.jpg) She wears a simple dress and pearl earrings. (If we are seeing her from behind, her earrings might not be noticeable. If you want that to be a focus in this panel, and I assume you do since the earring comes into play later, consider showing her profile.)

 

CAP:

Gra’ma was a Voodoo priestess. She raised me in New Orleans after my ma died giving me life.”

(I have a problem with the word ‘priestess.’ That is something academics use when they talk about Voodoo. An insider would say she was a Voodoo queen if her rank was high enough, or a traiteur, if she focused on healing. Other than that, high-ranking women in the Voodoo community are called Mama [Their Firstname,] and ‘talk to spirits,’ or ‘know Voodoo.’ Sorry, I live in Louisiana and I minored in folklore.) (This is great stuff right here. It shows two things: that Sam knows her stuff, and that Dan didn’t do any research. Reminds me of Rosemary’s Baby, where the “witches” were actually Satanists. It’s a movie made in its time (the 60s) when everything that had anything remotely to do with magic was witchcraft. We live in a more enlightened time, though, and if you’re going to liken voodoo to witchcraft, there may be a problem here. Research is your friend.)

 

Panel 2: We switch view to in front of her. She has magical markings drawn in ash on her face, and her eyes are closed. (Yeah, you’re going to need more than that. How do we know the markings are magical? What do they look like? Where did you find this reference? Provide your artist with a link, or at least give them more to go on.) Over her shoulder, we can see that the door is open a crack, and 15 year old Raphael peers in. He has short dreadlocks and wears shorts and a t-shirt. The boy’s eyes are an unnaturalicy blue(Some eyes are naturally icy blue, so what makes them unnatural? Do they glow? Are they actually white? What’s the deal here? Another note, Voodoo rituals are seldom conducted alone, and even more seldom conducted in silence. People talk to the deities on their altars, most ceremonies involve dance and song or object manipulation. If she had put on war paint, we have to assume that she was conducting a ritual. In Voodoo this kind of necessitates motion, or speech. She is not a buddhist monk, meditating … what ritual is she working on here? You need to know that.)(All of which would have been revealed to you had you done a little bit of research. Even a bad Boris Karloff movie about voodoo had the basics correct.)

 

GRANDMA:

I know you’re there, Raphael. Come in.

(Raphael’s presence would be very taboo. If he were uninvited this would anger the spirits, and his grandmother would know that, she would not respond so calmly.)

 

 

Panel 3: Same shot. Grandma hasn’t moved, but the door is fully open and Raphael stands framed in the doorway. (‘Kay, dude, no meditation in Voodoo. She’s not frozen, she is allowed to react.)

 

RAPHAEL:

Are you going to let me meet the spirits today?

(Nope. Not how it works. She does not control the spirits. They choose who they ride. And if he is a black kid from NOLA growing up in a shabby house with his Gra’ma why does he never have a hint of an accent?)

 

GRANDMA:

Not tonight, child. You’ll meet them soon enough.

(Raph says today, Gra’ma says tonight. Change one or the other so they are consistent.)

 

CAP:

She knew things. (Change period to a comma)my gra’ma.”

(Very vague, we all know things … tighten up, use the amazing mythology of your subject, tell us something that matters, anything.)

 

 

Panel 4: Profile shot of the whole room(Can a room be in profile? Do you mean wide shot?) Grandma is standing, straightening up. Raphael looks annoyed (Where is he? Still in the doorway?)

 

GRANDMA:

No, tonight, what we need is okra. To the store with you.

 

RAPHAEL:

Ugh, Gra’ma!

(I don’t know where you’re from, but in the South this would not go over well, remember your context.)(Here’s a bit of a breakdown where I differ a tad. Some things are region specific, and would be more difficult to research. This is something I’d let slide.)

 

 

Panel 5: Grandma ushers Raphael out into the hall.

 

GRANDMA:

No complaints. Pick up some carrots while you’re there.

 

RAPHAEL:

Fine, fine. Soon though?

(He would say, ‘yes, ma’am.‘ ‘Fine, fine.’ makes their relationship seem casual, she is a solemn Voodoo priestess monk, he wouldn’t say fine to her.) (This, I agree with.)

 

CAP:

I think she knew they were coming that night.”

(Are we supposed to think the spirits killed her? That’s kind of what you are implying here. I know it’s probably clear in your head what happened, but consider how it reads.)

 

Panel 6: Front view of the house. It’s a bungalow (The ref photo shows a shotgun house, which is it?) flanked by similar houses (Visual Ref: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/8/80/TremeStoopsFloodLine.jpg/256px-TremeStoopsFloodLine.jpg). Outside it is late evening, but still quite bright. (Note that this is a flashback to 1996, so this is pre-Katrina New Orleans) (Until now the story might have been taking place in 1880, you need to move this information up in the script.) Raphael is heading down the path towards us. In the back of the panel, Grandma stands in the doorway, seeing him off. She looks a little sad, but Raphael is oblivious. (Is she standing in the doorway where people can see her with magical markings on her face? You’ve not wiped them off yet, so unless that is what you want the artist to draw you need to mention when she wipes her face.)(Um…what path? You say “path” and I think “woods.” Or at least a garden. Regional language barrier. For a nice carbonated drink, do you say “soda,” “pop,” or “Coke,” no matter what the flavor is?)

 

GRANDMA:

Soon. I promise.

 

CAP:

That’s why she sent me away.”

 

The rhythm of this page is strong, the pacing works well. You have a nice balance of description and dialogue. I think the voice over works, considering this scene is a memory. I do have a question though, are we to assume this plays into the scene with Freddie? If this is supposed to read as part of the conversation, consider it as a separate set of dialogue. Freddie only has the information in quotation marks, and it’s not very informative. We can’t assume that he has access to the visuals Raph remembers. Format is good, setting is good, the altar and the shotgun houses give us a sense of where we are. You might consider telling the artist that this is a flashback, so he or she can indicate that visually.

 

We have P1 on the books, and I have no real complaints. Not deep ones, anyway.

 

The biggest thing about this particular page is the lack of research shown. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: research will take you a long way. When you’re talking about religion, a lack of research can be seen as a lack of respect. If I were a voodoo practitioner and read this, I’d probably be upset at the lack of basic research.

 

How can you make it better? Research, of course, and then put that research in the dialogue. It could easily fit in the captions that you have a small tendency to drop. You have more than enough space for more captions.

 

Here’s the other thing about the dialogue: since you started with captions, you have to continue with them. Almost every panel should have them, especially the first page. You’re setting up the world and drawing the reader in. You do that with the dialogue, and part of the dialogue are the captions. You’re not using them to best effect. I should be able to tell that you’ve done your research and that your characters have real personalities through the dialogue. I’m not getting that sense here, and that’s a shame.

 

Here’s something else to keep in mind: this could be the first time that someone’s encountering this information. This puts the burden of responsibility on you to make sure that the information presented is accurate, or as accurate as you can make it.

 

Heavy, right? You betcha. And that’s why you have to take it seriously.

 

PAGE TWO (5 Panels)

 

Panel 1: Wide shot of the same street. Raphael strolls down it, a paper bag of shopping clutched in his arms. It’s a bit darker out now, but the street is well lit with street lamps. (Strolling? Which way? Toward the house? What else is here to let the reader know this is the same street? You have to tie the previous panel with this one if they’re the same street, and the best way to do that is visually. You need a standout element, especially if this is at night.)

 

 

Panel 2: Low angle shot, not quite over Raphael’s shoulder.(I really don’t know what this is supposed to look like.) He’s stopped outside his grandmother’s house. The door hangs wide open. He frowns a little with concern. (Here’s the problem Dan: if the shot is low angled AND not quite over Raph’s shoulder, then we’re LOOKING at his shoulder. Unless there’s a knife, blood, a second head, or something to make it interesting, there’s no reason for us to be looking at his shoulder. No one cares about it. That’s first. Second, if the camera is behind him, we can’t see his face. Saying he’s frowning isn’t helping anyone.)

 

 

Panel 3: Int. The hallway of the house. We’re looking down the hallway(Combine this direction, you’re being redundant.) from inside the house. The lights are off, and Raphael stands silhouetted in the doorway of the open front door. The only other sliver of light comes from the slightly ajar door of the living room that we were in on pg 1.(Just to make sure: the camera is looking at Raphael, yes? So, which side is the living room on? The artist is going to need to know.)

 

RAPHAEL:

Gra’ma? Hello?

 

 

Panel 4: Int. living room. Close on Raphael’s eye, open wide in horror as he peeks through the crack in the door (If we are close up on the eye, why do we need to know we are in the living room, you established that in the previous panel.) (What this needs is a rewording to make it more clear. Just keep it simple: we’re in the living room, close up on a crack in the door, where we see Raph’s eye wide open in terror. However, depending on where the living room is in relation to Raph’s location in the previous panel, there may need to be another panel between these two to act as a bridge. Having him approach the cracked open door would be a nice thing to see.)

 

CAP: “Tell me…”

 

 

Panel 5: Raphael’s POV. Reveal of the utterly trashed room. The altar is smashed to bits, idols and candles shattered. His Grandmother’s corpse lies decapitated in the middle of the carnage, blood pooling around it. There is no sign of the head. (This may not all be seen if we’re switching POV’s. Remember, he’s seeing this from a crack in the door. I’m seeing a regular door. If it’s a regular door, then you would have to place the altar and body accordingly in order to get all of this in. And if it’s only cracked, it may be cramped fitting all this in. That’s if this is a regular door. Now, if this is a set of French doors, you could have this as is.)

 

CAP:

(Continuing ellipses marks here) “Do you know the going rate for a witch’s head on the black market?” (And here’s where I shake my head because of lack of research. This just turned into Rosemary’s Baby for me.)

 

Fair enough, I’ll buy it. You might want to show his reaction a bit more. We don’t see how the sight of headless Gra’ma effects him at all. The wide eye is a good start, but more wouldn’t hurt. Also you switch setting on the third page, which will be visible beside this page, generally setting changes work better on a page turn. I like the tension of this: regular day, something terrible happens, so terrible in fact that he is using this as motivation years later. Consider giving readers a little bit more relationship between he and Gra’ma; some insight into what he was like as a carefree kid; or how he reacts to this tragedy. This will allow people to become more emotionally invested in him, and to understand how much this event changed him.

 

So, we’ve got P2 on the books. And what do we have?

 

Rosemary’s Baby. But we’ll get there.

 

There are visual cues missing that the artist is going to need. Again, if this is the same street but at night and from a different vantage point, either you’re going to need to put something in there that’s visually striking and that will stand out, or the artist will do it. If you’re lucky enough to have a competent editor on this, they should ask for it since you missed it, which will make the artist’s life easier.

 

More importantly, though, you have to understand what you’re asking for when you’re describing a camera placement. Panel 2 does not give you what you describe as soon as you give the camera placement. You take out the shoulder part, and you’re good. As soon as you put it in, you’re in the realm of Shirt and Shoulder, and the camera won’t see much else.

 

Panel 3 gives us a description that mostly works, but it still needs to be clarified. Clarity is and will always be the number one job of the writer. Panel 3 isn’t clear and doesn’t give all the information that the artist is going to need.

 

I’m going to disagree with Sam. I think the reaction is appropriate, but only as long as you continue to show the reaction on the next page. I haven’t gotten to the next page yet, but Sam has, and it seems like there’s a scene change. If that’s the case, then I’m going to say you’re wrong.

 

Pacing: pacing is how many panels are on the page, coupled with what is said, as well as what happens. You have a pacing problem with this page, and that comes in the form of dialogue. It’s light. You have a bad case of the dropsies going on with the captions. Not good. You could have given us so much story as well as suspense if you had provided more captions.

 

Then there’s Rosemary’s Baby. From a Christian/Roman Catholic perspective, I guess anything that isn’t Jewish at its base could be considered witchcraft (which could lead to some interesting discussions about golems, but let’s not go there), but still, it’s disappointing. As a writer, you’re allowed to have a point of view. You don’t have to be neutral, like in the news (which hasn’t been neutral for about the last 20 years or so, but that’s also a different discussion), but you should at least be informed. This doesn’t seem to be informed. My youngest daughter likes watching teenage romance drama’s, so she loves watching The Vampire Diaries. They have some voodoo in there, and even though it’s bad television, it’s seemingly more informed than this. Venom, which was a bad horror movie, also had voodoo at its heart, and that is seemingly more informed than this.

 

Research. It isn’t difficult, just time-consuming.

PAGE THREE (7 Panels)

 

Panel 1: An adult (mid twenties) (If this is not supposed to be present day, you need to note that. If it is check your math.) (In order for him to be 15 in 1996, he’d have to be born in 1981. If this is the present day, this means he’s 32 now. Your math doesn’t work if this is present day. If this isn’t present day, then there should be a compelling reason why it isn’t. The other bad thing is this: nowhere previously do you tell the audience that it was 1996, and nowhere on this page do you tie Granny’s demise with the poor slob Fred.)Raphael sits at a table in a sleazy bar. He’s looking directly at us across the table. We recognise him by his same short dreadlocks and icy blue eyes, but his face now bares (Wrong word here. You want “bear,” not “bare.” The word you use tells us his face is naked. Dictionaries are your friend.) stubble and a few scars. He is dressed in threadbare but heavyclothing (work pants and boots, a dark blue hoodie, a military style overcoat, fingerless gloves).(Why are you pairing binary opposites as descriptors? Be nice to your artist. Something like ‘worn out heavy clothing‘ would work just as well) He has a goblet shaped pint glas of beer in one hands(It’s not going to read as beer if you put it in a goblet, can it just be a pint glass? If you need to distinguish between them one could be light, and one dark.) (Word choice. Clarity. Intent. I won’t even get into the misspellings in the last sentence because it doesn’t do much to harm the clarity there. Goblet versus pint glass harms the clarity. Bare versus bear harms the clarity. See the difference?)

 

RAPHAEL:

The tongue alone would be worth a small fortune. (Here is where the reader starts to ask the question: how does he know? Hopefully, that answer will be forthcoming.)

 

 

Panel 2: Over Raphael’s shoulder, we see his companion at the table. Freddie is in his early 50s, dressed in a black leather jacket and white wife-beater. He has spiked brown hair, balding at the top, a grotesque 80s throwback. He is clearly quite drunk; his elbows sprawl slightly on the table and his eyes are out of focus.(Does this mean that his eyes are blurry, or that he is not looking at anything directly?) He grips a more standard issue pint glass. He looks at Raphael with a drunken expression of uncertainty. (You’ve drawn this out unnecessarily. There’s a different way that gets more to the heart of the matter faster than this. We’ll talk about it in a few moments.)

 

FREDDIE:

Hell (add a comma here) kid, I appreciate the beer, but I was hopin’ to have a drink in peace. What do I care for your sob story? (Why would he assume that this is a sob story? For all he knows Raphael might be a buyer, looking to employ him, or a hunter with something to sell.)

 

RAPHAEL:

Because, Freddie… It is Freddie (add a comma here) right? Freddie Skinner? (Personally, I would break this up here with a shot of Freddie looking surprised, maybe just move it down to the next panel. You are separating the reaction from the dialogue. Perhaps, put the second phrase in a separate balloon and move it to the next panel.)

 

 

Panel 3: We’ve moved to a side-view mid shot of the table so we can see both men. Freddie looks shocked at the use of his name, Raphael is deadpan. His hand is in his inside jacket pocket.

 

FREDDIE:

Ya know me, kid? What you want? (Why does he use ‘ya’ for you, and then drop it? I know you are trying to communicate a dialect but it seems forced and inconsistent.)

 

RAPHAEL:

I think you know.(Why? Why would he know?)

 

 

Panel 4: We are looking at Raphael through an extreme close up on Freddie’s near empty glass, which distorts Raphael considerably.

 

RAPHAEL:

1996. You were in New Orleans, right (Add a comma here.) Freddie? (I would strike ‘1996.’ and reword this sentence to include the date: You were in New Orleans in ’96, right, Freddie?’) Freddie the fence. (Change period to question mark.)(I don’t think that’s necessary. It’s a statement rather than a question, followed by another statement. I think this sentence is fine as is.) You could get hold of anything.

 

FREDDIE (OP):

What? No, I (Change elipses to a double dash, and put this in a separate balloon) C’mon, it was just an earring!I din’t know nothin’ about it! I don’t ask questions, ya know? (Suggest separate balloon) It’s a policy. (Okay, this reads like this asshole decapitated an old lady for a pearl earring… it just doesn’t make sense. I am on my third read of this script and I cannot understand why this guy would say that. If Gra’ma was killed for her head, what the hell does an earring have to do with Freddie?)

 

 

Panel 5: High angle. Raphael has stood from the table, pint glass in hand. He looks at something in his other hand, but we can’t see what it is. Freddie has slumped even further onto the table; he doesn’t look well. (Is this his glass or Freddy’s? Remember, Fred had the glass and Raph had the goblet-that-shouldn’t-be.)

 

RAPHAEL:

Just an earring. (Make this a question mark) An earring from a witch’s corpse. (Suggest separate word balloon)Fuck you, Freddie Skinner. (Suggest separate word balloon)Did you enjoy your drink?(I really do not understand what you are trying to imply through this dialogue. Did Freddie sell the earring? Did he kill Gra’ma? Where’s the rest of her head?)

 

FREDDIE:

Uuugh (Add an exclamation mark) my gut… (Change to double dash, and consider separating this into two balloons here.) What’s happening to me?

 

RAPHAEL:

Ah, just a little curse something I picked up on my travels. (This is not a curse, a curse is an action not a thing, if you want to be specific, use ‘potion.’) A few noxious ingredients, a little chanting. (Separate balloon here) Some would call it poison, (Change to ellipses) not magic (Italicise this word. This dialogue is confusing. If you are going to elaborate on this concept later or earlier in the script, it might work. However, if you do not plan on doing so, it unnecessary. Chanting does not equal poison. Is he practicing Voodoo now? Maybe you should mention that earlier, like when you are talking about what Gra’ma knew, somewhere in there? Maybe consider having some earlier hint that he is dabbling in magic. This seems out of place, you are telling us, not showing us: in a visual medium.)

 

 

Panel 6: Low shot on Raphael as he sips from his still full pint. (Where did this drink come from? Is it the poisoned one? If not the glass Freddie had previously is emptied. This beer comes out of nowhere.) With his other hand he’s putting whatever is in his hand down on the table. (This is going to be hard to read visually. I would consider moving this action down. Have a panel that shows Raph’s hand placing the earring on the table, maybe just before he walks out. So the readers know what it is, and how it got there.) (What’s in his other hand, so that the artist knows?)

 

RAPHAEL:

But (add ellipses) I don’t think so. No kinda poison could burn so much, eh (add comma) Freddie?

 

RAPHAEL:

Yeah. It’s a good one.

 

RAPHAEL:

Real easy to slip into a beer (add comma) too. (This is compromising the Badass vibe Raphael had going until now. He’s becoming a Batman villain. I would cut the second two lines of dialogue altogether.)

 

Panel 7: Wider shot. We are on the table, half the panel taken up by Freddie’s face (Is this shot looking down at the table, or at the level of the table? Where is the camera here?). Wide eyed, face a hideous grimace, Freddie is slumped on the table. He’s dead, but looks enough like a passed out drunk that the other patrons of the bar won’t notice for a while. A little blood trickles from one eye.(If his eyes are opened and he has a hideous grimace, people will notice. Close his eyes, or have Raph do it as he walks out.) On the table next to Freddie’s head we see what Raphael put down; a single pearl earring, one of the ones his grandmother was wearing on pg 1. In the background we can see Raphael walking towards the door of the bar. He’s not looking back. (We don’t need to see Raph walking away to know that he is done. The hand placing the earring on the table near Freddie’s head would make more of an impact here. Also, consider giving the earring a distinguishing detail, so that it is unmistakable. You are hanging your hat on this thing, your protagonist just killed someone over it, spend some time with this object.)

 

It is hard to imagine Raph as a good guy if you show him playing with the mouse before he kills it. If you make this choice you need to really establish the emotional toll his Gra’ma’s death had on him. This has to feel connected directly to that. Your audience needs to FIRMLY grasp Freddie’s role in her death in order to empathise with Raph.

 

P3 down, and with it, the story starts to go downhill, too.

 

Again, this page shouldn’t be here. This should be P4, and this page should should us his reaction and begin the transition to the bar.

 

Now, why does this page start to go downhill? It’s not making sense.

 

First, let’s take a look at the first panel. I don’t like starting inside when I change scenes. I find it to be too jarring. This is a generality. Generally, I find it less of a burden if the writer starts from the outside and works their way in. There is a caveat that doesn’t apply here: if there is a voice-over caption to help the transition. If there’s a voice-over caption, then you can change the scene and go right inside to the conversation. Why doesn’t that work here? Because you have voice-over captions all over the place already. So you have to go from the outside to establish the setting, and then work your way in.

 

Now, since you plan to kill him and don’t think he’s going to be noticed for a while, you have to do a little more work: you have to establish what type of place it is on the inside. Big, medium or small; seedy or trendy; and finally, how many people are in there. All of that needs to be established in the second panel, and then you can have a third showing both of them at the booth. Booths are better for privacy than tables are, depending on the size of the place.

 

Okay, so the pacing’s off. So is the logic.

 

Like I said above, there’s nothing to tie Freddy with the death of granny. Why is he being punished? If he’s just a fence, the only thing he did was receive the goods and sell them. Even if it was something that was ordered, he didn’t do the ordering. Someone told him what they wanted, and he told the person who could procure the item in question.

 

I understand that Raph is crazy. I get that, but this is still a bit much. Why is he crazy?

 

He left the earring. What the hell was that about? If they’re supposed to be pieces of power, why leave it? What’s the point?

 

This is where you lost me. And Sam’s right. Parts of the dialogue, along with the action, is turning him into a superhero’s villain. Batman? Possibly. I’ve been listening to a lot of audiobooks from Graphic Audio lately, and this seems to fall in line with a DC story.

PAGE FOUR (5 Panels)

 

Panel 1: Mid shot. Raphael has just exited the door of the bar. It is dark and drizzling outside. Raphael is looking upwards at the rain. The grubby, empty street is exactly the kind we expect to find a dive bar on. (Where’s the camera? Wide or tight shot?)

 

 

Panel 2: Raphael stands outside the door. He has pulled his hood up against the rain.

 

RAPHAEL:

Asshole.

 

LEGBA (OP) (Legba’s speech balloons should be wavy, to indicate his otherworldliness):

Sendin’ more poor souls to ma doorway, Raphael?

 

 

Panel 3: Over Raphael’s shoulder. He has turned to see the speaker. Sitting cross legged on a dumpster is Papa Legba. His skin is pitch black, but he has white circles around his eyes and white lips. (I know this is the iconography associated with Legba, but visually, it is going to read antiquated and racist. He will look like he is wearing blackface, or one of those offensive cartoons from the 1930s. I would consider reworking this, toning it down, modernising.) He wears a red jacket, black trousers and a wide straw-hat. He is shoeless and shirtless, and his fingers and toes end in long, white nails. He grips a simple black walking stick. (You are seriously getting into Zippity Do Dah territory here; I know what he is supposed to look like, but you have artistic license.)

 

RAPHAEL:

Papa Legba, I didn’t expect to see you so far from New Orleans.

 

PAPA LEGBA:

I’m a spirit of the road(add comma) as well asthe gateways, boy. I’m tied down to no place.(Separate balloon) Besides, I been watching you.(Once you create a slang by leaving of a ‘g’ you have to stick with it.)

 

 

Panel 4: Mid shot from the front. Raphael, in the foreground, has stepped past Legba, who is hopping down from the dumpster behind him.

 

RAPHAEL:

Is that right?

 

LEGBA:

Thas right. (‘Thas’ doesn’t read well, try ‘Dat’s’) I was very fond of ya gra’ma (Comma.) ya know. All of us were, really. Figured the least I could do was keep an eye on you(Add comma)(Nope. A comma slows it down for no reason.) for her. (Dialect is a hard thing to mimic accurately, if you are not well acquainted with the culture of those you are trying to imitate, you’ll come off as mocking or condescending. Why doesn’t granny have a name when others talk about her?)

 

RAPHAEL:

Maybe you shoulda kept a better eye on her. She might be less (Add ellipses here) dead.

 

CAP:

Papa Legba is a Loa. (Change to ellipses) (What the hell?! NOW we get an internal monologue? I think I had a small aneurysm.)

 

 

Panel 5: Mid shot. Legba has drawn level with Raphael. His grin is wide across his face. Raphael’s face remains blank.(Are they shoulder-to-shoulder face on, or looking at each other?)

 

LEGBA:

Tch. (This SFX not part of the dialogue, separate balloon) (Nope. It’s fine just where it is. It’s coming from his mouth, akin to a sigh, so it’s fine.) Raphy. (Change period to comma) You know it doesn’t work like that.

 

RAPHAEL:

What do you want, Legba?

(Big no-no, in Voodoo you must use honorific titles like ‘Papa.’ If there is some reason Raph doesn’t have to, you need to mention that. This is incredibly disrespectful, it’s asking for trouble. If he still has ties to Voodoo, and practices that magic, he wouldn’t dare talk to a loa that way. If his magic is not Voodoo, you need to mention that.)

 

CAP:

(Connecting ellipses) One of Gra’ma’s spirits.

(‘Kay, here’s another problem, they are not anyone’s spirits, a reader unfamiliar with Voodoo will read this like she had control over them, the loas have control over their followers.)

 

You might have something to indicate that Legba is a deity, maybe he lights a cigarette with his fingertip, or glows a little. He is not human, he shouldn’t look human. Right now he seems very terrestrial. He looks like a sketchy homeless man who often bothers Raph. Thematically this page is a bit muddled, you are toying with the rules of mythology in a way you don’t explain. That creates questions, in a bad way. As far as the pacing you’re doing well. You have introduced a new character, and you are taking the time to tell the reader about him, but the message you are sending does not fit with what we are seeing.

 

P5 is on the books.

 

And again, we have the problem of research.

 

I don’t have too much of a problem with Papa Legba’s description. If his skin is pitch black, like a part of the night, then there’s little problem of being seen in blackface or being racially offensive. However, since you name him, you have the option of modernizing him. It would still have the same effect. You also don’t run in to a problem with his depiction because of the word balloons. However, a show of magic would be a good thing. It would help to cement that this is in fact a supernatural being.

 

The dialogue… Dialects are a challenge. I get it. However, you seem to be giving it a half-assed try. A dropped letter here or there, but you’re not consistent with it. That consistency will help to sell this to the reader. Right now, what you’re doing is giving them small reasons here and there to put the book down. These things add up.

 

And then there’s that internal monologue that just popped out of nowhere and caused my brain to start to explode. What the hell, man? Here’s a question to always ask yourself when it comes to internal monologues: who is the person talking to?

 

You want to start an internal monologue as early as possible. Here, it’s looking like you just changed out the voice-over captions with an internal monologue and kept it moving. That’s a no-no. They are akin to thought balloons. You just can’t pick ’em up and put ’em down whenever you wish. Otherwise, you’re going to jar the reader right out of the story, like you did me.

 

Finally, the lack of research is killing you, Dan. It seems like the only bit of research you’ve done was the appearance of Papa Legba and his position/job as a loa. Everything else is killing you. I have no compunction about saying it.

 

Fix a couple of things, and this page works. You’re moving the story along, which is a great thing. Just make sure that the reader comes along with you.

PAGE FIVE (6 Panels)

 

Panel 1: We pull out. (Oh, do we now?) (Naughty, naughty girl…) Papa Legba has his hand to his heart, staggering backwards in mock hurt. Raphael doesn’t turn to watch. (It’s difficult to show a stagger. Not saying it’s wrong. Just saying that it’s difficult.)

 

LEGBA:

Ah, little Raphy, ya wound me. You leave home so long, long ago (add comma) and never return. Then I try an’ check in(add comma) and ya give me the cold shoulder? (So, Legba reads like a Scotsman, or possibly like a character from Fargo, great. That’s not what your going for, I assume. The dialectical choices you’ve made are irrational and inconsistent.)

 

CAP:

That makes him very powerful.

(Being one of Gra’ma’s spirits makes him powerful? False. You need to rework this. What about, ‘He is powerful’ since you use the phrase ‘very powerful’ in the next panel?)

 

Panel 2: Raphael has folded his arms defensively and stopped walking, ending up under a street lamp. Legba has come right up behind him, grin wider than ever.

 

RAPHAEL:

Well? (Why does Raph say ‘Well?’ This doesn’t make sense. I assume this is meant to read like, ‘Well, say your piece then,’ but it doesn’t read well.)

 

LEGBA:

I got something for you(missing comma) Raphael.(Change to ellipses)Something I want you to check out (add comma) (Nope. No need for a comma here.) for me.

 

RAPHAEL:

I’ve got things to do.(Where is Raph getting his magic? If it is Voodoo he would never talk to one of his gods this way. Also, people ask loas for favors, I haven’t heard of it happening the other way around too often.)

 

LEGBA:

So I see. Gonna hunt down every two-bit magewho was skulkin (add apostrophe) aroundin the nineties, (In New Orleans or everywhere?) just on the off chance that they mighta off’d your gra’ma, are ya? (Was Freddie a mage? That didn’t come across. This dialogue gives me a headache. I am from the region whose dialect you are imitating, and I cannot read this out loud without stumbling. You are making an attempt to guide the reader phonetically and yet it is unpronounceable.)

 

CAP:

Very powerful…

 

Panel 3: Raphael has one shoulder raised in a shrug. Legba, still right behind him, looks downwards, hiding his face in the shadows under his hat, but one of his eyes gleams wickedly. (A straw hat would cover all his features. How would you draw a wickedly gleaming eye here?)

 

RAPHAEL:

Something like that.

 

LEGBA:

Sounds like fun.

 

CAP:

(Connecting ellipses) And very dangerous.

 

 

Panel 4: Legba is pulling out a battered, rolled up newspaper from his inside pocket with one hand. With the other hand he holds up a finger to indicate “one”.

 

LEGBA:

One down then, eh (Comma.) Raphy? And how many to go (add comma) hmm? You don’t know. You got lucky findin’ this one. But fear not! Papa Legba is here to help.(Some of this needs to be trimmed, he’s holding that ‘one’ gesture for a long while. Consider moving everything preceding ‘But fear not,’ to the panel above, this will make the pause gesture, or the finger indicating ‘one,’ relate to only that statement and eliminate ambiguity.)

 

RAPHAEL:

Is that right?

 

LEGBA:

Of course!

 

 

Panel 5: High angle, just on Raphael. He has taken the paper., It’s a local one, “The Moreville Times” and the headline reads “TWO MORE MURDERS” (What if we just saw the paper in his hands in order to take all focus off Legba. Also the headline needs work, it should be more emotionally charged, something like ‘Killer Strikes Again.’ or ‘Double Homicide Sends Moreville Reeling Again,’ might resonate more.)

 

RAPHAEL:

Moreville, Oklahoma. What the hell am I supposed to find in Oklahoma?(add ellipses to indicate a beat) Legba?

 

 

Panel 6: We pull out. Raphael looks up. He is totally alone under the street lamp. Legba has vanished.

 

RAPHAEL:

Screw you (add comma) Papa Legba.

 

CAP:

Did I mention? He’s also a trickster god. (I’d strike also, we know that’s its in addition to the other things that were mentioned.)

 

You transition from dialogue caption to narrative caption on these last two pages. Why is Raph suddenly talking to the reader? The first set of captions are spoken to a character within the story (Freddie), why the switch? Are these captions necessary? I do not think they are especially engaging or effective. You could have included this in the dialogue, creating a more natural exposition. This is another instance of telling us, rather than showing. The title is confusing, is Raphael meant to be the Witchhunter? Where is the Witchhunter?

 

I feel like you need to thoroughly research your topic. Right now, it doesn’t seem like you have a great authority on the subject, if you do; wait until later to toy with the conventions. You are dealing with a religion that people actively practice, so try to establish that you can back up your claims on how it works with evidence.

 

There is a lot of dialogue on this page, it feels a little heavier than the others, you lose a bit of the tension you’ve been building. The dialogue generally feels conversational, but you’ve transitioned to talking heads. That being said, the dialect is a major issue. You are inconsistently indicating accent, and when you do employ slang; it does not make sense, or guide the reader to the tone you are tying to achieve. There has got to be a more dynamic way to make this exchange play out. Also, you are going to need to account for Raph’s relationship to Voodoo.

 

The most successful elements of your work, in my opinion, were technical. The format is easy to read and the action reads well as a whole. You begin characterisation in effective ways, but could go deeper, and let the audience know a little bit more about the characters. I get the sense that you understand the people you are writing about, don’t be afraid to share that information with the rest of the class. Another fine point of this script is the pacing. There are no real lulls and you use your time with the audience well, getting a lot information across in a concise fashion. Your first page presents an intriguing hook, and showcases the relationship between Raphael and Gra’ma well. You also establish what the subject of the book will be. So, readers know that this book is going to deal with something bad happening to Gra’ma, who is very important to the main character, and that we will be dealing with Voodoo. Nicely done.

 

If you can master the subject matter and regional dialect you are dealing with in this script, your next attempt will be much more successful as a whole. If your interests, or curiosity have directed you to the topic of Voodoo, take the time to learn more about the religion and the area where it is practiced. The feeling of sincerity will come across more easily if your intentions are not buried under misunderstanding, or misrepresenting the culture.

 

I’m just going to run this down.

 

Format: Flawless Victory.

 

Panel Descriptions: They need some work. Think through what it is you’re saying, and then give it some time to sink in. Remember, the script is a set of instructions for the rest of the creative team. They have to interpret it. Don’t make their job any harder than it has to be. Right now, that’s what you’re doing. Sometimes, you actively get in your own way. Ungood. Slow down, think it through, and then re-read it to make sure you’re communicating what it is you really want.

 

Pacing: I’m so-so with it. Again, from biggest to smallest, pacing is the amount of scenes in a book, the amount of pages in a scene, the amount of panels on a page, and the amount of dialogue in a panel, and what happens in all of it.

 

P1 is okay, P2 is okay, but P3 needs to be moved to P4, with a better reaction to the revelation on P2. Then we can have P4-P6.

 

The amount of dialogue on P5, panel 2 has to be cut down. You have both characters speaking as well as a caption on a six-panel page. Not good from a pacing standpoint, and terrible from a space standpoint. All of that won’t fit in there comfortably. Remember, word balloons also have negative space, and you’re not taking that into account.

 

Dialogue: Serviceable! There are two problems with the dialogue: a lack of research, and a lack of consistent dialect.

 

The dialogue is telling the story, moving the reader along, doing its job. However, it’s also giving misinformation at worst, or misrepresenting a culture at best. Neither of these are very good prospects.

 

You fix it with research.

 

The dialect is inconsistent. Dialects are challenging, because they are VERY easy to overdo. So easy that it becomes hard to read, and that isn’t something you want to do. However, if you gon’ drop a “g”, make sho you drop it all de tahm fo de character’s speech. Dat includes dere internal monologues. You cain’t have them say things one way in one sentence, and then another way just a moment later. See what I did dere? An’ here? That’s you. It doesn’t work.

 

Give a nice taste, a nice bit of flavor with the dialect, but don’t overdo it. This is a matter of taste. Sam heard a Scot. I didn’t. I heard Kevin Costner’s “southern” accent coming in and out (mostly out) in JFK.

 

Content: Despicable. Harsh word, I know, but there’s no witch, there’s no witchcraft, there’s no witch hunter. There’s Voodoo, which is much different from Witchcraft.

 

You didn’t do any real research on the topic. You had an idea and decided to run with it. I have no problem in standing up and calling “bullshit.” What you have here doesn’t describe anything accurately. From a reader perspective, I’d be highly suspect of story. As a practitioner of witchcraft or a practitioner of voodoo, I’d be extremely pissed off, because the title doesn’t do anything to represent either religion. It’s a slap in the face, to be honest. Sam was extremely kind to you. As a reader, I might be moved to write you a nastygram saying that you don’t know a damned thing about which you’re writing.

 

Editorially, this needs a lot of work. Besides the challenges already presented, when you change locales, you really change locales. How is the reader supposed to know where they’re at? Not good.

 

It doesn’t need a rewrite, it needs guidance and a name change. The title is supposed to tell the reader what they’re getting, before they even open the book. You’re not providing that. Readers are going to call you on that.

 

There’s stuff to fix, but it isn’t insurmountable. You just have to put in the research, and that research has to come through in the script. Right now, it doesn’t. Even if you told me you researched the hell out of the topic, I wouldn’t be able to tell by this script.

 

And that’s all for this week. We’re still needing scripts, writers! Send ’em in.

 

Check Who’s Next to see who’s coming up on the list.

 

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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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