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TPG Week 132: Rushing The Pace Kills The Story

| July 6, 2013

TPGFeatured_01

Welcome once again to The Proving Grounds! This week’s Brave One is Ronnie Massey, a novelist hailing from Writer Scotia (no, she doesn’t). She’s back again, pitting herself once more against Steve Colle, who’s in blue, and I am forever in red. Let’s see how Ronnie does with

Legacy

Page One (5 panels)

Panel 1: Long shot. Its night and we’re outside of a very swanky looking strip club. It’s (Okay, just a quick thing: it’s is a contraction of “it is,” and its is the possessive form of it. Something every writer should know. However, since it doesn’t muddy the panel description, I’m going to let it go.) a brick building with a black, arched awning with a glowing, red silhouette of a naked woman on it. There are two streetlights very close to the main entrance so the area is well lit. There is a line stretching down the sidewalk. People in the line are talking among themselves or on cell phones. A very large bouncer dress in a suit and tie, is wearing a ‘don’t fuck with me’ expression on his face. (You’ve created a good visual description for the establishing shot, Ronnie. Good on you. I do have an itch that needs scratching, however. Now, I’ve seen these kinds of line-ups to get into a club, but never one to get into a strip club, swanky or otherwise. The two don’t feel like they should go together. Also, you call it the Bottom’s Up Gentlemen’s Club, but don’t have it written on the outside of the establishment nor do you have a visual cue or symbol on the sign that would say the three things you’re trying to convey: Sexual, swanky, and symbolic. Here’s an idea. Create the look of the cocktail glass with the shape of a woman’s body standing on her hands with her legs spread in a “V” shape. Don’t put a line going across the top, leaving it open. This visual design covers all three points I made. Just a thought to strengthen the visual identity of the setting.) (I like the idea, but I believe the suggested visual is wrong, due to the name of the club. Woman with spread legs in a cocktail glass is rather cliché, for one, and doesn’t go with the name of the club, for two. What would I suggest? A woman bent over, butt higher than her head. Or, keep the glass, but push the woman’s butt up higher than her head, both of which can be seen over the rim of the glass. However, in my experience, I’d say that Steve is very correct about the line outside the club. I have yet to go to a strip establishment that has a line out the door. Now, I’ve never been to one that had a marquee dancer or actress on the stage, but unless you’re talking something like the AVN awards, I don’t think this would realistically happen.)

CAPTION: The Rue Royale, New Orleans. It’s well after midnight, and the Bottoms Up Gentlemen’s Club is open for business. (This should be a simpler narrative caption as it’s the only omniscient narrator caption from what I can see. You’ve got the two components within what you wrote: The Bottom’s Up Gentlemen’s Club, Rue Royale, New Orleans. Keep it direct. Otherwise you’re creating an expectation that it’s a character narrative and we’ll be waiting to see who’s talking.)

Panel 2: Medium shot. We’re inside the club in a wide hallway with two doors. There are dancers in various stages of undress in the hall going back and forth. On the closest door on the right we can see a sign that says ‘Dancers Only’. (Instead of going straight for the hallway, why not give us an idea of where the hallway is and still provide us with a glimpse of the interior of the establishment. One step at a time. Maybe we can follow a dancer off stage and to the back room. That would reel me in more than what you have now. The next point is that you have text in the balance of the panels on this page. Why have a silent panel here? Having the announcer asking for applause for the last dancer or having a few words from a song playing will keep the textual momentum going. Besides, the place isn’t silent, is it?)

Panel 3: This is the largest panel. We’re inside the dressing room. From left to right, (Here’s where you don’t need to say “left to right” unless you’re going to give specifics of who is standing on the left and who’s on the right.) there are four girls in various stages of undress, seated at a long vanity putting on makeup. The girls are conversing among themselves, all except for one. Though we can see the other girls, Stony Monroe is the focus of this panel. Stony is at the far end of the vanity, somewhat isolated from the other seated girls, and looks very nervous. She’s wearing a pink Native American-styled, fringed outfit and is adjusting her headdress. Standing beside her is another girl (A fifth girl, right?), but she’s not dressed like a dancer. This girl (TK) has a pair of old school, chunky headphones hanging around her neck, is wearing a toboggan with her long, brunette hair sticking from underneath it, and her makeup is gothic. She looks out of place with the décor of the club. She’s got a stack of CDs in her hand. TK looks like she hasn’t got a care in the world.

STONY: I don’t think that I can do this, TK.

TK: It’s your first go as team leader, Stony. Everyone has cold feet their first time. You’ll be fine.

STONY: Look at this outfit. (Exclamation mark) I’m practically naked and everyone is going to see me like this. (Exclamation mark)

Panel 4: Insert (Inset) panel. This is a close-up of TK’s face. She’s flashing a one-sided grin as she talks.

TK: You being half-naked, dropping it low, is a bad thing, how? I for one am going to enjoy tonight’s assignment.

Panel 5: Insert (Inset) panel. The door is open and a young man has his head stuck inside the door.

GUY: Alright, New Girl, you’re up next! (Period instead of exclamation) (I’d leave the exclamation mark. It lends immediacy to what’s being said.)

Pretty good first page. Besides the comments I made above, one thing I would have liked to have seen is an attraction or, in other words, what makes the place so popular that there’s a line-up outside. Is it the fact there are the most beautiful women in the business, popular porn stars making their public appearances, the design of the floor having more than one stage and dancer at a time, etc.? Show us why the place is such a draw.

P1 is on the books!

See how much pressure has just been relieved? The first page is always the hardest, and will generally set the tone for the rest of the story. So, let’s see what we have.

The panel descriptions are much better this time around. I can see what’s going on in my head, and that’s a great thing. It means the artist will be able to draw it. Good job.

The thing that’s wrong here, though, is the pacing. We start outside, which is great! Then we’re inside, but we’re almost practically at the back before we’re whisked to the Dancers Only dressing room. Three panels. That’s too fast. Even though you have five panels here with the insets, this is really a six-panel page.

Steve is correct in saying you should show us (the reader) why this place is such a draw. There should be a marquee in panel 1 to tell us who’s the attraction that everyone has come to see. Then that person should either be on the stage, or should be coming up soon. This should be made clear in the second panel. If she isn’t coming up next, have a DJ/MC talk about her, hyping her up, but before the crowd gets to her, they have to go through whatever Stony’s stage name will be.

Even though it may not be your thing (and maybe it is—I don’t know), you should visit a strip club and see what they’re like, if you haven’t already. If you have, you should go again to refresh yourself.

I have no real problem with the dialogue. Just liven up panel 2 with some, as well as whatever extra panel you use for pacing. I’m a big fan of silent panels, but only when they’re necessary. This isn’t necessary.

 

Page Two (5 panels)

Panel 1: This is the largest panel. There are booths along the walls and circular tables in the center of the floor. The space between the tables is wide enough for dancers and waitresses to pass without bumping into people, and for the dancers to do lap dances without hitting the people at the next table. (This last line of description goes without saying. If it were a dive, they may have tight spaces for the dancers and servers, but this is swanky, right? So there should be plenty of space to move around. That said, having gone to my fair share of strip clubs in my younger years, having the girl give a lap dance at one table draws the attention of looks from other tables, so being close isn’t a bad thing.) There is a large stage with a pole, situated in the center of the floor. There are chairs along the edge of the stage. The main lights are off and the main spotlights are focused on the side of the stage. We can see the shadows of men seated around the stage. There is an announcer standing on the floor to the left, at the edge of the stage. All we see on the stage, for the moment is Stony’s hand gripping the pole from behind. The rest of her body is cast in shadows. (Wouldn’t the spotlights be all around the stage, focused on the subject of desire dancing for the crowd? And you say that the stage is in the center of the floor and that the pole is in the center of the stage, meaning she wouldn’t be in shadow. Why not have the stage against a wall with a curtain she will make a grand entrance through? Having the stage in the center of the floor means she’s going to be seen before she reaches the stage, so go with the against-the-wall design to keep her hidden until the reveal.)(Also, everything you just described should have been in panel 2 of P1. This way, your setup would be done, and you wouldn’t have had to go through the semi-convoluted panel description.)

ANNOUNCER: Alright, Fellas, give it up! TONIGHT, MAKING HER BOTTOMS UP DEBUT, STONY MONROE! (Okay, two things here: First, Stony isn’t really an effective name for a female dancer. A male porn star, sure, but it’s definitely not feminine enough. The other thing is that you have TK on the previous page calling Stony by her stage name when she’s obviously a friend from outside of the industry. Give us that sense of familiarity between these characters and then introduce the stage name here. Finally, on a side note, don’t you think you should have clapping here?)(Umm.. Okay. First, Steve’s right: Stony is a horrible stage name for a dancer. If she’s dressed as an Indian, then she should have a terrible, sexed up Indian name. However, TK doesn’t call her by her stage name. You give her real name as Stony in the panel description, and that’s what TK calls her. Not many dancers/strippers/porn stars go by their real names. It’s a privacy thing. You should do a re-think here.)

Panel 2: Medium shot. The spotlights are turned to the pole and Stony begins her dance. All of the nervousness is gone from her face. She looks at ease and sure of what she’s doing.

SFX: Music Notes

Panel 3: This is long shot of Stony on stage. She’s spinning around the pole and has the top of the outfit in one hand. We see men standing up with money in their hands. We can also see money (bills) in the air, flying towards the stage. (Does this actually happen, because I’ve honestly never seen guys throwing money on the stage before? The idea is to put the money on her body. Also, she’s just started dancing, so wouldn’t the guys in the audience be whistling and giving catcalls trying to get her attention? This doesn’t feel like a true representation of what would happen.) There are other dancers in the crowd, some are giving lap dances, and others are walking around.

Panel 4: Stony has dropped to her hands and knees on the stage, the frilled skirt of her outfit is around her knees as if she’s about to crawl out of it.

STONY (THOUGHTS): I need visuals… (This, and the following “thoughts”, would be better served in caption boxes.)

Panel 5: Medium shot. Stony is now in a very tiny bikini top and G-string, and has crawled to the edge of the stage. She’s smiling as she looks down into the eyes of a man that is slipping a wad of bills (A wad of bills? Seriously, wouldn’t he put a couple and promise her more for a lap dance, perhaps in one of the private booths?) into her G-string. (Eh. I know a woman who’d shower a good stripper with fifty singles. It really depends on the denominations.)

STONY (THOUGHTS): What do we have here?

STONY: You like what you see?

Not entirely crazy about this page. The staging of the setting and the reactions of the patrons doesn’t add up for me. I’ve been to dives and I’ve been to ritzy strip clubs before, and not once did I experience what you’ve written here. Even the most popular dancers won’t have money thrown at them. And I’ll tell you, in those better establishments, they have “gentlemen” watching on the sidelines for inappropriate behavior on their girls. This feels made up and unnatural. More work needs to go into this.

It’s P2!

Once again, we have a pacing issue. I know you want to get right to it, Ronnie, but you can’t. You’re rushing the story, and you shouldn’t be. Let it unfold in its own time.

I’m reminded of the movie Sucker Punch. (Terrible movie, but a small guilty pleasure.) The girl is placed in an asylum, and loses herself in the dance, going on adventures. When the adventure is over, she stops dancing, and comes back to reality, where she’s told that she’s got this raw talent and is a damned hot dancer. But it starts out with her being nervous about it. You have to show that nervousness on the page, especially if its her debut AND she was just complaining about it a moment ago. It has to unfold, and you’re not letting it.

Internal monologue vs thought balloons. That’s a great debate. There are pros and cons to both. Personally, I like thought balloons, because they lend an immediacy to the story that a caption won’t. However, I also like captions, because while they allow for the readers thoughts to come through, they also have a different, calmer feel to them. They aren’t as immediate. So, it really depends on what you’re going for.

Now, with that being said, you’re talking about powers. Because we’re talking about powers, I’m going to agree with Steve and say that an internal monologue caption would work better here. The thing with thought balloons is that you have to use them as soon as possible, and you did! You used it the first chance you got, and I commend you for it. However, a caption works better here. This isn’t a mistake, just a tweak.

The pacing? That’s a mistake.

 

Page Three (6 panels)

Panel 1: Insert into panel 2. This is an extreme close-up of the customer that Stony is talking to. We can only see his lips. They are parted as he talks and we can see a hint of fangs. (He’s talking with words that would require his mouth to open more than a crack, so we would see more than a hint of his fangs.)

VAMPIRE CUSTOMER: Do I…? Can’t you tell by the hundreds? (So, he’s giving hundreds of dollars to a new dancer during her first ever dance? It doesn’t make sense.)

Panel 2: Close-up. Stony has one eyebrow cocked and a smirk on her face.

STONY (Thoughts): Gotcha.

Panel 3: Medium shot. Stony falls backwards into a flip. We see her mid-flip with a hand pressed to her ear.

Panel 4: Insert. This is a close-up of Stony’s ear. We can see that there is a small device tucked inside of it. (This panel is completely unnecessary. Take it out.) (It would be unnecessary if this were set up more correctly. How to do that? Mention it earlier. Like, on P1. You could have started with a voice-over of their conversation, and had TK handing her the transceiver somewhere on the page. Then this panel would be unnecessary, because it would already have been established. As it is now, I wouldn’t call it totally unnecessary. Just a trifle clumsy.)

STONY (WHISPERING): TK, I’ve got conformation confirmation. The operation is a go. (Move this to your flip panel.)

Panel 5: Long shot. We can see a DJ booth set high in one corner above the crowd. TK is in the DJ booth and doing thumbs up. (This could have worked better as an over-the-shoulder shot from behind Stony as she says “The operation is a go” and we immediately see the thumbs up. Having the thumbs up in a separate panel slows the pace of the scene.)(I disagree. This is the first properly paced page in this piece. One way or the other, this is fine, because if you have a thumbs up as she’s saying it, you’re not giving time for the speaking and the reaction to the message being sent. There’s no way to place the camera where the times would match. And in placing the camera behind TK as she looks out over the stage as Stony says it’s a go, then what you’re seeing is the acknowledgment before you see the message. We read from left to right. Over-the-shoulder puts TK on the left, and Stony on the right. If we’re absolutely lucky, the letterer would put the dialogue in the middle. If we’re unlucky, they’d try to put the dialogue to the right. The timing just doesn’t work out with this suggestion. It’s fine the way it is.)

Panel 6: Medium shot. Stony is still on her knees but she’s leaning forward with most of her weight resting on her palms. She now has a look of determination on her face. Her headdress is beside her hand (Did it fall off during the flip?) and we can see what looks like some type of crest inside of it.

STONY (THOUGHTS): Keep yucking it up, big boy. (Huh? This dialogue makes no sense and sounds like it was just thrown in. When was he “yucking it up”? Make sure your dialogue not only makes sense, but moves the story forward.) Your ass is mine.

I continue feeling “Meh” about the story. I can see what you’re trying to do, but it’s coming across as forced and unnatural. The other thing I’m noticing is how you seem to have a deliberate page design in mind, with the inset panels (not “insert”) being a prime example. That said, I’m not seeing why you’re designing the page for your artist. Let them have some creative license.

P3!

This page was going along SO well! Then you had to go and mess it up with the dialogue, Ronnie! It hurt me! I’m hurting over here!

Stony’s thoughts are totally inconsistent with what happened on this page. You want to make it ring true? More dialogue from the vamp. Either that, or rewrite the last panel. Personally, I vote for rewriting the last panel’s dialogue.

This is the best page of this story yet. You just ruined it with dialogue. I loved the pace. Could it have been tweaked? Sure. And I’d recommend that tweak, too. But as it stands, this page is better than the previous ones.

 

Page Four (5 panels)

This page lost me and I honestly had a devil of a time trying to find the words to say where things went wrong. This is the last page I’ll be commenting on.

Panel 1: Long shot of Stony standing in the middle of the stage with one hand on her hip and the other holding the crest in the air. (Why a long shot? We can’t make out what she’s holding up from a long shot. Is the crest still in her headdress? Is it meant to be more like a badge? Make sure it’s seen clearly.)

STONY (BURST): ALRIGHT (Missing comma) PEOPLE, SHOWS OVER!

STONY: Per the Stoker Accords, no group of non-familial Mythics may establish a business without the proper permits from the nearest Legacy House.

Panel 2: Medium shot. Most of the men in the club have stood up and they are angry. A lot of them we can see have fangs. Most of them are hissing and growling. Some of the dancers that are in the crowd look terrified and shocked. Some of the dancers looked relaxed as if they knew what was going to happen. One of them is Marisole Van Helsing. She’s got a hand to her earpiece. (Most of? A lot of? Some of? This could have been written differently, for sure. Clear and concise is what’s missing here.)

CROWD (BURST): WE AREN’T GOVERNED BY YOUR LAWS!

SFX: GGGRRRRR!!! (Just simple “GRRRRRRR” would have sufficed. You don’t need the overkill of the three exclamation marks.)

MARISOLE: Stony, you’re losing control here. (Is this dialogue said through an electric balloon?)

STONY: There’s no need for this to get ugly (Missing comma) people! (If this is a medium shot, where’s Stony? This would be better from her POV, which would make her OP.)

Panel 3: The calm dancers are reaching under nearby seats. Aside from the vampires, some of the men are hunched over and appear to be changing form. Some of the men’s faces have changed and they look like they are walking rotting corpses, revealing themselves to be ghouls.

CROWD: GET OUT!

STONY (OFF PANEL): We’ve got transport vehicles waiting! Everyone out! (This sounds like a Prohibition-era raid, but done badly. Where are the vehicles? When did they arrive? Why didn’t the patrons outside the establishment say something? Why didn’t the bouncer rush in? The logic of the story starts to break down on this page, because people aren’t acting the way they should. You’re forcing the action instead of thinking it through.)

Panel 4: The dancers now have various weapons in their hands and are pointing them at the nearest paranormal. The vampire that Stony spoke with earlier has a finger pointed toward the stage as he yells at her. Stony is looking down at him with a frown on her face. (Various weapons? What kind of weapons? What kind of chairs were they pulled from? Because if you’re talking about big weapons or crossbows, you’re going to have a hell of a time explaining why they weren’t noticed earlier by someone. And if this is a vampire-run establishment, you’re going to have a REAL tough time explaining how the weapons got there in the first place. These places get cleaned, and I’m not seeing how there was time or opportunity to plant weapons before patrons showed up. This isn’t the Godfather where a guy plants a gun in a toilet.)

VAMPIRE #1: We don’t recognize human authority in this building! Leave now, or your first night will be your last!

STONY: I guess things are going to get ugly.

Panel 5: This is a close-up of Stony. She has a mischievous grin on her face, as if she wants a fight.

STONY (BURST): TTTTKKKKKK!!! (What is this? Is she calling out for TK? This reads more like a sound effect, and a bad one at that. It doesn’t make sense.) (Oh, very much so. This is awful. If she’s calling for TK and you want to draw it out, then you have to do it phonetically: Teeeekaaaay! Like that. However, this does not match the panel description. A grin and a yell do not go hand in hand.)

Okay, I’m done. This just went completely sideways into a very bad story. Vampires and ghouls. Strippers with weapons. I can’t take it. I’m sorry, Ronnie, but this needs a re-evaluation. You’re getting the gist of how to structure your script format, but the story itself needs some serious work. What I’d suggest is for you to go back through this story and rewrite the first few pages, specifically the ones we’ve commented on, and send them back in for a second look. I’ve done this myself in the scripts I’ve submitted to TPG and it helps not only myself to see where growth has occurred, but also shows the editors here that you understood and have accepted the comments we have given. You’re getting better as your last story had a lot more going against it. I continue looking forward to your growth.

P4, and things go downhill into absurdity quickly.

I tell everyone who’ll listen that I love bad movies. I’ll go one better and say that I love terrible movies. There’s a movie on Netflix that’s called Girls Gone Dead. There’s also Strippers vs Zombies, and other truly terrible, straight to cable movies. I’ve seen a lot of them, because they truly are guilty pleasures.

This reminds me of those movies. They go sideways very quickly because they have to.

From a technical standpoint, this is a pretty decent page. We’ve got some camera placement issues and a bit of vagueness concerning weapons, but I don’t have much to say on the technical aspects of the page. Those are easy fixes.

Pacing-wise, just on this page, there isn’t much of a problem, either. It isn’t as good as the previous page, but it’s still decent. Nothing to make my head ‘splode, which is always a good thing.

However, Jane Austen is nowhere near this building, because sense and sensibility left with Elvis.

Anyway, let’s run this down.

Format: Flawless Victory!

Panel Descriptions: Ronnie, I must say that these are much improved to the extreme. I see the work that you put in. You keep this up. Just remember to keep thinking things through, and try to be specific when possible. Or, if you don’t feel like being specific, be vague, but “talk” to the artist. Let them know that you’re giving them more power. It’s not just permitted, I encourage it. Good work here.

Pacing: This is the biggest downfall of the piece. I’m just going to say it outright: the pacing of this piece sucks. However, that’s okay! It’s also pretty easy to fix, once you recognize what you’re doing (in either being too fast or too slow). Pacing can take some getting used to, in order to get it right. This is why we have editors. We’re here to help.

Dialogue: For the most part, the dialogue is good. You moved too fast (pacing), which made some of the dialogue wonky. The dialogue itself was fine, you just rushed through some panels when you shouldn’t have.

And then there’s the zerbert that wasn’t.

Because your character goes by her initials, you’re going to have to spell out the name phonetically in order to drag it out. Not doing so makes it look like a sound effect, and an especially strange one at that. An easy fix, though.

Content: Okay, here’s where we have the biggest problem, outside of pacing.

Like I said before, this goes sideways into absurdity extremely quickly. I can’t take the story seriously because of it. This could have been The Untouchables (great movie), but instead came off as Ticked-Off Trannies with Knives (yes, that’s an actual movie title) or Strippers vs Werewolves (another actual movie title). These movies slip sideways into absurdity very quickly as well. Your story didn’t have to do that. Properly paced, you have about ten pages worth of story here. You easily have eight.

If this story had taken its time, then I could take it seriously. It’s all in the pacing.

Editorially, it just needs some guidance. The story needs to be slowed down so that it can breathe. That’s about it. You’re going in the right direction, but if you want this story to have the gravitas it needs (and it can have some, despite its roots), then it needs to breathe. Slow down. There’s more story here than you’re telling. Get it all out so that the reader will enjoy it more.

And that’s about it 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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