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TPG Week 134: R-E-S-P-E-C-T (Just A Little Bit)

| July 19, 2013

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Hello, everyone! Welcome once again to The Proving Grounds! This week, we have a new Brave One in Darren Higham, hailing from Mountain Flats, in Phlatsam. (Yep. Once again, no idea.) This week we have Steve Colle in blue, and I’m always in the luxurious red, and we see what Darren brings us in

POWER PALS

Before I begin, I’ll let you know that I’ll be going through the first eight pages. These comprise the first scene. Having read up to that point, I honestly believe they could have been reduced substantially. I’ll explain why as I go through the editorial comments. (And, also, just as a heads-up: it is not pretty in here. Stop now if you don’t want to think me a monster. You’ve been advised.)

 

PAGE ONE (Five Panels)

PANEL ONE: Establishing night time shot of Gothtropolis city. (This name of Gothtropolis City screams spoof to me. However, as I went through the first scene, I wasn’t getting a sense of making fun of Batman and/or Superman. In other words, there’s no spoof to be found, making this nothing more than a bad attempt at combining two popular names, coming across as lazy and unoriginal. You could have done much better here.) It is a sprawling metropolis with seemingly endless skyscrapers spreading towards the horizon. (Here’s another problem with combining two distinctly opposite locales: Gotham City is known for being dark and infested with street level crime, while Metropolis is bright and built upon developing new scientific concepts for the future. Key structures or organizations for both are Arkham Asylum for Gotham and STAR Labs for Metropolis. See the major difference? So combining the two creates a city without a distinctive character of its own. Work on creating a city where your protagonist fits into the world around him or her. Next, you aren’t giving your artist enough information to create a strong visual for the setting. “Endless skyscrapers” doesn’t cut it. Give us more details.)
CAPTION: Gothtropolis City – West Coast USA (You could simply leave it as “Gothtropolis City”. You don’t need to be more specific than that.)(Okay. Here’s the thing. I’m just going to come right out and say it, since we’re now in a place where the reader can see the name: this is terrible and stupid. The only way it can be both terrible and stupid yet still allow you to get away with it is if this is for kids. If that’s the case, then you still need to change the name, because kids don’t like being patronized. If this isn’t the case, then you’ve got a lot of ‘splainin’ to do, Lucy. Because, really, just the name of this city is trying to make my head ‘splode.)

PANEL TWO: An empty street in downtown Gothtropolis. To the left a jewellery store’s window has been smashed open, we can see the leg of someone climbing into the building (I’m confused. First off, where is your camera? I’m getting the sense that you have an establishing shot happening of the empty street, but then you talk about seeing the leg of someone climbing into the building. Next, if it’s a bustling metropolis as you say, how likely are these thieves not to be seen creating a large hole in the front window of any store? Another point is you don’t show the reader or even insinuate that the action of breaking in has occurred. This should have been done with a panel of the front window breaking as something is thrown through it. Finally, why isn’t the alarm going off? Too many questions need to be answered.)

 

CAPTION: Just another typical night in Gothtroplis (You’ve misspelled the name of your city and forgotten ending punctuation. On top of that, you’ve already established the name of your setting in the previous panel, making this caption moot. Another thing you need to ask yourself is: Who’s talking here? The first caption in Panel 1 sounds like the omniscient narrator giving us straightforward information, but this one sounds like it’s coming from a character in the story. Looking ahead, I don’t see any other captions like this.)

THIEF ONE (from window) (Do you mean from inside the building?): Just grab whatever. We need to be out of here in two. (This doesn’t sound natural. “Just grab whatever” sounds like he doesn’t care, whereas “Grab what you can” sounds more panicked, as well he should be. As for the second part, again, why didn’t you say “Move it!” or “The cops will be here any second!” The way you have it sounds like they have no fear of being caught, so just make sure to be out of there in two. By the way, I’m assuming you mean two minutes, right?)

PANEL THREE: We are now inside the store facing the window. There are two men in the store wearing black jackets and balaclavas. One of them (Thief One) still has his leg in the window continued from the last panel. Thief two is shining a flashlight over a row of display cabinets ro (More spelling mistakes) the right of the panel (Again, where is the alarm?)

THIEF ONE: Forget the small stuff, grab the big rocks they’re probably worth more. (Bad dialogue with bad punctuation. Again, you have no sense of urgency in what’s being said. First of all, Thief Two was just told to grab whatever and is now being told to concentrate on the larger items because “they’re probably worth more.” Of course they’re going to be worth more, so why be redundant? And why change a given direction before Thief Two has even broken open a case? It’s dialogue for nothing, just there for the sake of having a conversation, which I’ve noticed is going to be the case in the coming lines.)

THIEF TWO: Yeah yeah. Aren’t you supposed to be keeping an eye out for the cops instead of telling me what to do? (More needless text. All it does is fill space, not adding to the story. On top of that, it’s too casual. Why aren’t they rushing to get out of there instead of sauntering around seemingly without a care? It isn’t making sense.)

PANEL FOUR: Same view as the last panel except that Thief One is now fully in the store while Thief Two is smashing one of the display cabinet’s open with the bottom of the flashlight. (Why did it take three panels for Thief One to get into the store? Why didn’t you have the breaking of the cabinet in the last panel? You’re dragging through the actions, elongating the pacing when it should actually be quicker to reflect the lack of time they have to commit the crime.)

 

SFX (CABINET): CRASH

THIEF ONE: Just hurry up (Missing comma) man. The cops are not aren’t the only thing to worry about these days (Forgot the period. Now here’s the thing: I know you’re setting up the whole “Rat Boy is badass” thing here, but why not just let the actions play out the story and have your hero actually SHOW he’s a badass instead? All this is doing is slowing down the pace of your story and filling the panels with needless dialogue, text that isn’t moving the story forward to begin with.)

THIEF TWO: What? You talking ’bout that Rodent Kid or something. It’s just a punk in a bad halloween costume (Forgot the period again)

THIEF ONE: I heard he took out seven other guys over the weekend.

PANEL FIVE: Sam angle as before. Thief one is still in the same spot while Thief Two is pushing a handful of necklaces into a bag, some of which are spilling on to the floor. Behind Thief One outside the window we can see the nose cone of the “Rat Plane” (Okay, this is getting absurd. First of all, which direction is Thief One looking in? You never established this information. Second, you have the Rat Plane coming down from the sky like a VTOL (Vertical Take Off and Landing) aircraft. Where are the clouds of billowing dirt and garbage that would result from the air being pushed down to gently let the airplane land? Also, would it honestly be silent? Nothing here is making sense.)

THIEF TWO: You worry too much. Anyone ever tell you that?

 

So I’ve gotten through Page One and there’re a lot of problems. You haven’t shown the proper steps of the thieves breaking in, they linger around without a care, there’s no alarm going off, their dialogue is simple banter that serves no purpose, the pacing is off, and things just generally aren’t making any sense. On top of it all, there are misspelled words and bad punctuation errors. Not a good start.

Here’s what you could have done, for example: We didn’t need to see the overall cityscape in the first panel from that high angle because it doesn’t bring us to where the meat of the situation is going to take place. You could have used a low angle shot from street level looking up at the high rises and skyscrapers while also showing the happenings on the street (which should have had at least some people out instead of being completely dead, as I’ve lived in two different cities of different sizes and there’s always someone on the street even at 3 in the morning). This would have allowed you to also have the SFX of the window breaking in the distance. From that point, you have the thieves climbing in through the window and rushing to get the jewels as the alarm goes off. This is the middle of a city, for crying out loud, so an alarm system on a jewellery store is more than expected. It’s rush rush rush to get out without time for casual banter. Then, instead of a plane VTOL landing in the middle of the street, our hero could have climbed out from a manhole or a nearby alley and silently made his appearance in shadows. Being Rat Boy, wouldn’t you think he’d be more “grounded” like a rat instead of flying a plane? End this first page with a hook, such as Rat Boy, from off panel, saying something to suddenly catch their attention.

 

P1 is on the books, and already, I’m feeling extremely pained. And I have seven more pages of this to go through. I am not happy. And whenever I start out not being happy, things go swiftly downhill from there.

 

It’s simple. Aretha Franklin sang a song about it: R-E-S-P-E-C-T. Just a little bit. That’s all I ask. Just a little bit. What does that mean for a writer? That you do the simple things.

 

I’ve learned to accept comma-fails. This page has a few of them. I’ve come to accept them and even expect them. The difference between writers and storytellers. I almost get it. What I don’t get, and what makes me get extremely close to losing my entire demeanor, is the lack of ending punctuation. That extremely simple step—a period, an exclamation mark, whatever—should be at the end of every sentence. The only time where it is acceptable to leave it out is when you have an omniscient narrator naming a place. Your very first caption is totally fine without ending punctuation. You’ve got a comma-fail in there, but not having ending punctuation is okay. However, in looking at the rest of this page (unlike Steve, I don’t have the fortitude to look forward and come back—my intellect, meager as it is, can only take so much), the “choice” you made is now called into question. Was it a conscious choice, or did you just forget?

 

Here’s the thing, folks: you’ve been writing almost as long as you’ve been alive. We’ll say since around age 5. See Spot run. You’ve been told from the time you’ve started school that there must be some sort of ending punctuation for every sentence, usually a period. Hell, almost invariably it will be a period. Not doing a read-through, not giving it a once-over, not even remembering that there should be some sort of ending punctuation at all tells me that you have no respect for language, the medium, or the people who have to slog through your writing. And that’s what this is. It’s a slog. The only reason Steve went through a whole scene is because I asked him to do at least a scene a few months back. Otherwise, he probably would have stopped at around P3 and saved us all the bitching out you’re going to get, because you so clearly deserve it.

 

At least the format is right.

 

Okay, P1.

 

Like Steve, I’ve lived in a few cities. Unlike Steve, while living in those cities, I’ve also happened to work as an emergency dispatcher or emergency calltaker in a couple of them. He’s right when he says that there is always someone on the street. I’m not going to lower myself to repeat the name of your city, but for a sprawling urban location, there’s going to be someone walking around, just like these two would-be thieves. This means you’re forcing the action.

 

Okay, looking at the bottom of my word processing screen (I’m using OpenOffice, if anyone cares), I see that you hail from the UK, Darren. Great. I don’t know about there, but I don’t think they’d use just regular glass to showcase their wares, and even if they did, I’m extremely sure that there would be a metal gate of some kind to prevent would-be thieves from doing exactly what they’ve done: smash the glass in order to grab the jewels.

 

Because this is a business that anyone off the street can walk into, I’m going to assume that there is no silent alarm, all evidence to the contrary. Why? Because a loud, blaring alarm is a deterrent on multiple levels. First, it’s there to scare away thieves; second, it makes it hard to think over the noise; third, because it’s hard to think, it won’t be as easy to get truly valuable items; fourth, it tells the police exactly where the problem is. There area undoubtedly more, but those are the obvious ones. A silent alarm is more passive, more intent on catching the criminals rather than scaring them away. I’m not ruling out the possibility of a silent alarm, but I’m not thinking that you thought about it.

 

Next, the pacing. It’s terrible. It takes your thief three whole panels to get inside? Here’s what you did, that you shouldn’t have done, because you had time pass in one manner but not in the other.

 

Visually, it seems like you showed the same instance of time, but from two different angles. I’m talking about panels 2 and 3. In panel 2, you have the thief entering, with his leg sticking out of the windowfront. Then, in panel 3, it’s like you came around to show the same thing. If something extremely interesting were happening, that would have been fine. If this were film, it would have been fine. But this is neither. These are static images that have to tell a story. You should have moved forward from one panel to the next, visually. But you didn’t do it visually, you did it audibly.

 

Audibly, you move the characters from panel 2 to panel 3, but since you didn’t do it visually, you have a mismatch in time. This is part of what Steve is talking about when he says that your pacing is off.

 

The next thing that’s obvious to me is that this is not a “smash and grab” operation. Smash and grab has the connotation of desperation, of things not being thought through. If one of the thieves knows that they have two minutes to get what they want, then there was some thought put into it. This means you failed as a writer to think this through. Here’s what I mean.

 

If your characters know things, they thought it through. This means they did their recon, they cased the place, they know what they’re up against, and they know what they want. The dialogue here doesn’t reflect that. It gives the sense that it was thought through, but then it goes from “grab whatever” to “grab the big rocks.” So which is it? Smash and grab, or thought out caper? You can’t have both. And this is what I mean when I say you failed as a writer to think this through.

 

Finally, I hope that there is a silent alarm. Otherwise, your hero is psychic. We’ll see what it is in a moment, won’t we? (And I’m seriously hoping it isn’t a VTOL craft. I’m hoping it’s a tiny craft, big enough to hold a rat. Otherwise, it’s more of me waxing pseudo-scientific, and I’ve written enough on this page already. I’d just suffice it to say that Steve would be right if it were a VTOL, because if it’s a regular-type of plane…the logistics of impossibility and improbability will make my head ‘splode.)

 

PAGE TWO (Four Panels)

This next page is entirely fluff, meaning that you’ve taken a potentially strong second page and created a non-threatening casual exchange. You’ll see what I mean in a moment.

PANEL ONE: Outside the store we can clearly see the “Rat Plane”. It is a sleek black vehicle hovering teen ten feet above the ground through the aid of thrusters on the bottoms. From the angle we are looking we can clearly see that it’s overall shape somewhat resembles a rat with the four “landing feet” being designed to resemble the small front legs and large back legs of a rat. The shadowy figure of RatBoy is climbing out of the open cockpit. (Why spend the time concentrating on the fact he’s climbing out of his plane? It’s needless information and doesn’t provide us with a strong opening visual to the page turn, such as what a punch to the thief’s jaw would have done.) (Um…? Okay. No. This isn’t going to work. If the plane is hovering 10 feet above the street, there’s no way the nose of the plane could have been seen from inside the store. Geometry tells us this is true. The storefront windows are at most 8 feet tall. The camera in the previous panel is placed inside. Not just inside, but near the middle or the back of the store, in order to look toward the front. This means the angle that we have to see outside is reduced even further. And now you’re saying that the plane is hovering 10 feet above the street. One of these panels is lying: this one, or the previous one. Which is it?)

 

(RatBoy Image for Reference)
PANEL TWO: Still outside pretty close to Thief One as he climbs out of the window. His face is obscured by a large duffel bag.

 

THIEF ONE: Man (Missing comma) this thing is heavy (Missing period)

RATBOY (OFF PANEL): Want me to hold that? (This could have been used for the last panel of Page One, having the unknown voice coming out of nowhere.)(Yep. Extremely good call.)

PANEL THREE: Closer on Thief One. The top of the bag is now level with his nose and mouth.
THIEF ONE: Look (Missing comma) kid (Missing comma) just forget what you saw before things turn bad for ya. (This completely destroys the credibility of your protagonist. You spend so much time building him up with the whole Rat Plane landing that once you get to here, you’d expect the thief to be cowering in fear. Instead, the thief just dismisses him as an annoyance. Here’s where you’ve killed your story.)

PANEL FOUR: The bag now at waist height, Thief One is face to face with RatBoy. RatBoy is a fourteen year old teenage boy of medium build and as tall as the thief’s shoulders. He is dressed in a black armoured costume with a mask that hides everything but his mouth and chin area. It also has large rat like ears on the mask colored a dark pink while on the back, attached at the base of the spine, is what appears to be a segmented metal “tail” that is colored the same kind of pink. On his chest is a yellow image in the shape of a rat with it’s tail under the body (Here, you’re providing the artist with a description of what Rat Boy looks like, but you’ve already provided a visual reference as a link at the end of Panel 1. What’s the purpose of doing it again?)(Wasting everyone’s time and getting on the editor’s nerves.)

RAT BOY: Turn bad?

 

RAT BOY: They already have.

Like I said, fluff. You had the opportunity to have Rat Boy show why he should be feared, but instead, you destroyed the character. It’s not even a joke, like the thief saying “You gotta be kidding me…” And you had such build up on Page One with the line “I heard he took out seven other guys over the weekend.” If that were the case, don’t you think the same thief who said it would be a little more scared? Another problem is the pacing, where you start the page weak and spend three more panels moving the bag down the thief’s body to a weaker finish. Then there’s the dialogue. Not only is it unnatural, it’s ineffective. It wasn’t well thought out, but then again, neither was the story to this point.

P2, and really, I’m not even in the mood to pull my hair out. By now, we all know this is going to be crap, so we’ll just take that as a given and roll with it.

 

As Steve said, this page is really nothing but fluff. The first panel should be cut in its entirety. The second panel should be moved to the end of P1. The last two panels don’t do anything at all to reveal character or to progress the plot.

 

Every panel, folks, should be doing one of two things, if not doing it simultaneously: revealing character or moving the story forward. If the panel doesn’t do either one of those, then it isn’t a good panel and either needs to be re-thought or cut. What is the purpose of panel 1? Someone, anyone, tell me. This is a serious question. What does that panel do to reveal character or move the story forward?

 

I’m not even going to get into the logistics of a teenager being wealthy enough to buy a plane or have it made. Hopefully, there’s a Rat Man or even a Rat Woman somewhere in there. A Rat Woman named Luce Blaine, because it’s original…

 

P2 probably should have been a splash page, revealing Rat Boy in all his resplendence. (I even managed that with a straight face.) As it is, this page doesn’t work. It’s fluff of the highest order.

PAGE THREE (Five Panels)
Here’s where you continue the destruction of your character, both on the page and in the eyes of your reader. How can we care about the hero when he is so easily dismissed and dispatched of? Give us something to cheer him on with.

PANEL ONE: Back inside the store RatBoy is flying backwards through the broken window (When did he go inside the store? I thought Thief One had exited the store with the bag and that’s where he met up with Rat Boy.) (Let’s look at it another way, Darren: if the thief is exiting the store, that means the store is behind him. If the hero is in front of the thief, then the hero is facing the store. There isn’t a page-turn here, our eyes simply move over to the right. This means there isn’t enough time for the hero to get beaten up and then thrown through the window, let alone go through it backwards. This means what you’ve just done is impossible.)
SFX: WOOOMP (What is this for? What’s he hitting to cause this sound?)

PANEL TWO: Thief Two is staring down at RatBoy who is currently on his back on the floor.

THIEF TWO: Don’t tell me (Missing comma)(Not necessary. I see where you’re going, and it could be used to give a pause, but it isn’t necessary. Writer’s prerogative here, and I try to err on their side whenever possible.) this is that Rodent Kid that everyone is so afraid of?

RATBOY: Just put the stuff back before things get nasty (Missing period)

THIEF TWO: He looks like a wimp. (This line isn’t good all around. The first line is addressed to both the hero and the other thief. This line is only addressed to the other thief, and it seems unnatural, especially placed after the hero’s line as it is. It isn’t working.)

PANEL THREE: RatBoy is on his hands and knees as he tries to pick himself up. Thief Two has one foot in the air held ominously over RatBoy’s back.

THIEF TWO: You know I used to crush vermin like this back in my old job.

 

RATBOY: I said put the jewellery back.

PANEL FOUR: Thief Two has stamped down hard on RatBoy’s back forcing him back to the ground. There is a crazed look in the thief’s eyes.

SFX: STOMP!

PANEL FIVE: Again RatBoy is on his hands and knees. Thief Two is a few steps back.

 

THIEF TWO: Hey man, get a load of this kid. (Comma-fail.)

 

RATBOY: I won’t warn you again.

 

THIEF TWO: He’s got guts. I’ll give him that.

 

This is bad. You’ve spent an entire page pacing out nothing of worth. On top of that, we don’t care about the supposed “hero”. There’s no hope to grab onto. If you’d had Rat Boy dispatch of Thief One when they first met and THEN had Thief Two catch him by surprise and beat him down, that would have made sense, but you didn’t do that. And again, the dialogue just isn’t cutting it.

 

P3.

 

More fluff. Nothing of real moment happens.

 

Wait. That’s neither true nor fair. This page shows a few things.

 

First, it shows that your hero seems to be badly “trained.” It also shows that he’s no threat. It also shows that the foes aren’t really bad guys. They threw him into the store and stomped on him once. Big whoop. They’re not even carrying guns (which is supremely improbable, because every thief thinks ahead to carry a gun “just in case.”). So, these aren’t really bad guys. Not henchmen bad, or even acting-out-of-desperation bad. On a scale of 1-10, the’re about a 1.5. They’re al dente bad.

 

And it seems to me that your hero is al dente, too.

 

But five panels to do a lot of nothing? You’ve got to step up the pace.

PAGE FOUR (Four Panels)

Finally, we’re getting somewhere action-wise, but now it’s Page Four. Is it too little, too late?
PANEL ONE: Thief Two’s left leg is swung right back as he aims a kick towards RatBoy’s stomach. RatBoy’s head is turned towards his attacker. (This should have happened a lot sooner instead of putting your protagonist through the ringer. Introduce this panel right after Rat Boy is attacked by Thief Two so we see he recovers quickly instead of having him go through three panels of being kicked in the back.)

THIEF TWO: This should teach the brat to interfere. (Weak and needless dialogue.)

PANEL TWO: RatBoy’s mechanical tail has wrapped tightly round Thief Two’s kicking leg

THIEF TWO: WHAT THE…??? (This should read as “What the–?!” The double dash makes it interrupted dialogue as opposed to trailing off, which is what the ellipsis mark does. Also, you don’t need to over-exaggerate the response with three question marks. Add an exclamation mark to the mix as I’ve done above.)

 

RATBOY: You should have listened when I was playing nice. (Why would he be “playing nice” to begin with? He’s outnumbered by two larger men, so wouldn’t he subdue them quickly and expediently?)

PANEL THREE: RatBoy is now crouched, his back straight. His tail still has a hold of the Thief Two’s leg forcing the man to hop on one leg (This entire panel is unnecessary, especially including the dialogue. Get rid of it.)

THIEF TWO: Yo man get back in here and get this thing off my leg (I’m seeing William Shatner. However, instead of yelling Khan, he’s yelling PUNCTUATION!)

THIEF ONE (OFF PANEL): I’m coming. (These guys sound extremely calm.)

 

 

PANEL FOUR: RatBoy is now on his feet. His tail is holding the man’s leg even higher. Thief Two is close to flling (What is this word?) (Flipping, but totally misspelled.) backwards. Behind RatBoy we can see Thief One looming ominously with a metal bar raised above his head. (First of all, where did Thief One get the metal bar? Second, wouldn’t it make more sense to have him coming at Rat Boy from the front? Right now, you have Rat Boy saying his lines without looking in the direction of Thief One.)

 

RATBOY: You sure this is the way you want it?

 

RATBOY: Okay. (Weak and ineffective dialogue.)

 

P4. This is like the reverse of Oz. Instead of being the great and powerful, this is the weak and terrible.

 

So, the hero finally starts to fight.

 

Okay, here’s the thing: your hero isn’t menacing. Sure, he’s dressed as a rat, but he isn’t menacing. Spider-Man? He can be menacing, even in the bright colors. (He was more menacing in the black, but I digress.) Batman? He’s the king of menace. There’s a lot of menace that can be had with most heroes. It’s the air that they give. This guy? Menace-less, as evidenced by being thrown through a window and getting stomped on.

 

But now he wants to fight. And the fight is dragging, but instead of lots of panels that have to be cut down, you’re dragging it over pages. There’s no reason that this should have been four panels. Not for what’s going on. You lower the count when you want to have lots of action, and you raise the count when you want to slow things down. Here, things are slow, but the count is also low, which is adding to your page count for no reason. Everything you’ve done so far could be put into two pages, if properly paced. But really, no one cares. You took too long to get interesting, and you’re just wasting space.

 

Let’s see how long you drag this “fight” out for.

 

 

PAGE FIVE (Four Panels)

Here’s where you introduce more unnecessary panels that just elongate your story for no reason.
PANEL ONE: RatBoy has turned and swung a punch at Thief One who in turn has easily dodged it. At the same time this has caused Thief Two to go into a painful front splits. (Why can’t you just have Rat Boy succeed at something here? He finally has Thief Two off balance and now he’s missing the chance to stop Thief One. What is up with that?)

PANEL TWO: Thief One has grabbed RatBoy by the shoulders

THIEF ONE: Come here (Missing comma) ya little brat.

PANEL THREE: Thief One looks furious as he has RatBoy pinned against the wall, his arm pressed against the teenage heroes hero’s throat. (Where did the wall come from? How far away from it were they before this panel happened? What’s happening to Thief Two who is still trapped by Rat Boy’s tail?)

THIEF ONE: Lets see you act tough when I choke the air outta ya.

 

RATBOY: Got you where I want you.

 

THIEF ONE: Whatever kid. (Again, three lines of needless and weak dialogue.) (And comma-fail.)

 

PANEL FOUR: RatBoy has kicked the man in the front of the leg just below the knee. The man’s leg has snapped back at a weird angle and there is now a bone protruding. (Now here’s what you should have jumped straight to instead of waltzing around with the three previous actions. Thief One is coming at Rat Boy with the bar and our hero kicks his knees out from under him. Plain and simple, making Rat Boy a force to be reckoned with. By the way, do we need the bone to be protruding to get the idea the leg is broken? No.)

 

SFX: KERRACK

 

THIEF ONE: AAAAAAHHHHHHH!

 

 

P5. It’s like we’re in the Wonderful World of Fluff. (Anyone remember Disney’s Wonderful World of Color? I just dated myself, didn’t I? I’m not that old, people. I just have varied tastes, and I remember things. Remember Jan Michael Vincent as a Tarzan-like character who goes to a college to compete in sports? Good times, good times. Hey! It also had the father from Good Times in it, too! John Amos. He was also in Beastmaster, which was another good movie. Not Disney, though. What does this have to do with anything? Nothing at all, but it’s more interesting than the script we’re going through, isn’t it? Who wants to play Six Degress of Marc Singer?)

 

This page should have been on P2. The fighting should have been actual fighting. And, really, as soon as you have bone sticking through a wound, this is no longer for kids, so we’ll talk about that in the run down.

 

But, really, this is a necessary page, in that you need to have a fight of some sort in order to showcase your hero. However, it’s coming way too late, because you’ve wasted the little investment and interest the reader had by showing just how not-ready your hero is.

 

Where’s the army of rats? I’m expecting them somewhere. Mechanical or real, it doesn’t matter. They’re coming.

 

PAGE SIX (Four Panels)

And here’s another page of fluff, where nothing of importance happens.
PANEL ONE: Thief One is lying on the ground in a foetal position, holding his broken leg up against his chest with both hands. (Needless panel. Get to the important stuff that will forward your story.)

THIEF ONE: Son of a … he broke my leg. (Exclamation mark, even though the line is completely redundant.)

PANEL TWO: Looking from behind Thief Two’s head. Thief One can be seen on the floor holding his leg. Behind him is a deep dark shadow in the middle of which are the two white glowing eyes of RatBoy. For a kid in a costume he looks absolutely terrifying. (I honestly don’t see this happening, especially given how ineffective Rat Boy has been throughout this story. You’ve given no reason for anyone to fear him.)

THIEF ONE: God my leg, my leg. (Terrible dialogue.)

 

PANEL THREE: back outside in the street looking at the store. Thief Two is leaping through the window. His eyes are wide with fear. (He’s going back into the store? Why?? Get him the hell out of there if he’s so damned scared!) (He’s leaving. It just could have been clearer.)

 

THIEF TWO: Sorry (Missing comma) man (Missing comma) you’re on your own.

 

PANEL FOUR: Closer on the store window. RatBoy is standing facing us, a stern look on his face. His left hand is holding a small black box up to his mouth. (It really doesn’t matter which hand is holding the box, does it? And why is he calling in “the rats” when he has Thief Two cornered in the store? On second thought, why does he need them to begin with if he’s suddenly supposed to be “absolutely terrifying”?)

 

RATBOY: Send the Rats. Pursuit and Capture mode. Minimum Damage (Missing period.)

 

What from this page has redeeming qualities? Nothing. All of it could be taken out without losing anything important to the scene. Get on with it.

 

P6.

 

I called it.

 

Listen, folks, this is what I do: I don’t look forward and then go back. I don’t peek. I take the scripts one page at a time and comment on them from there. You’re seeing my thoughts on the page as they come to me. Read, comment. Read, comment. That’s how I do this.

 

Now, I want you to couple that with the fact that I’m not that smart. Really and truthfully, I’m not. I’m fair-to-middling. About average. So, for a guy like me, who’s of average intelligence, to say that there’s going to be a rat army before the rat army appears usually means one of two things: either you telegraphed it, or this is badly written.

 

I’ll give you this: you didn’t telegraph it.

 

So far, this scene looks like it could have been done in three or four pages. Let’s say four, to include a splash page. That means you have a lot of padding here. It isn’t good.

 

What does this page do? It tells us that the hero has help from at least one, possibly two places. The first, obviously, are the rats. The second is whomever he’s speaking to. Is it a person, or a computer? That, and whether or not the rats are real or mechanical, are what remains to be seen.

 

This page can’t be lost, so I disagree with Steve there. It needs to be combined. If there are rats going into pursuit and capture mode, this page can’t be cut. The gist of it needs to stay, but it definitely needs to be combined with the other pages.

 

Padding. Fine Young Cannibals. It isn’t too hard to make the connection, is it?

PAGE SEVEN (Four Panels)

PANEL ONE: Wide shot of the street. Thief Two is running away from us in the distance. (When did he leave the interior of the store?) But our eyes are drawn to the Rat Plane. A hatch has opened from underneath and around one hundred small black robotic rats with glowing red have begun pouring out onto the street below like something from a horror film. (Why have these rats come from a plane instead of an alleyway? Also, this seems like just an excuse to incorporate some so-called “cool gadgets” into the mix. Definitely unoriginal. Let your character be what matters to the story. Give him more power and substance.)

PANEL TWO: Thief Two is running towards us. Behind him we can see the Rat Plane and the army of robotic Rats swarming towards him. (Is the Rat Plane swarming towards him, too? That’s how it reads.)

 

PANEL THREE: Close on several of the Rats. Their mouths have opened and metal tendrils are now whipping out of them like obscene silver tongues. (Are they rats or frogs? Why would you have them have tendrils for tongues instead of playing off of their tails like you did when Rat Boy grabbed Thief Two’s leg? Not making sense at all.)

 

PANEL FOUR: Another wide shot of Thief Two falling to the ground into a sea of robotic rats.. Several of the rats have wrapped their “tongues” around his legs tightly while others have already began to swarm over his still falling body.

 

THIEF TWO: YAAAAAA (Exclamation mark)

 

Your pacing is the only thing worthwhile about this page. You’ve succeeded in breaking down the four key visuals leading to the end of the page. That said, the concept is weak and adds another needless dimension to who Rat Boy is. It’s obvious you’re concentrating too hard on making him a Batman-esque character, but you aren’t putting enough focus on the boy behind the mask. If he had all the wonderful toys to begin with, why didn’t he just have the rats attack the thieves in the first place instead of failing miserably to fight them himself? I don’t get it.

 

P7.

 

Remember the Underdog cartoon? Near the end, the Narrator would say, “Looks like this is the end!” and then ominous music would play. That’s just what ran through my head. We’re getting near the end of this, which is good. Right now, I’m on cruise control, saving my sanity, because otherwise, I’d be a gibbering pile of goo right now.

 

Mechanical rats. So, he was talking to the plane, which kinda vomited up the mechanical rats. Rats that have tendrils for tongues.

 

As Steve said, it makes no sense. Visually, rats are known for their menacing look, and huge teeth. Those teeth can be used to gnaw through a lot of things. Given that these should be metallic teeth, they should be able to gnaw through even more. You could have made them cool by playing Inspector Gadget with them (“Go go rat-tail!”), but instead, you go and have them do something completely un-rat-like in using their tongues to capture the guy.

 

Oh, and you went from hero comic to wanna-be quasi-horror movie. It isn’t working.

 

Have you seen the movie Kickass? Guy decides to become a hero, despite having no powers or training. He stumbles into backup. (And, really, Hit Girl stole the show because of her foul mouth.) Anyway, Kickass seems to be more of a hero than this guy. He knows he has no training nor any cool gadgets.

 

You, on the other hand, have created a character that has a plane and an army of mechanical rats. Instead of leading with his strengths, you decide to go in the opposite direction and have your character get his ass kicked by a couple of guys…for no reason. That is not drama, nor is it good sense. It’s bad storytelling.

 

At least this page isn’t padding. Like Steve said, it’s well-paced. It just comes way too late for anyone to care. I stopped caring at the end of P1. This entire scene really just seems to be an exercise in bad storytelling.

PAGE EIGHT (Three Panels)

PANEL ONE: RatBoy is stood over Thief Two who is now wrapped head to foot in a thin metal cable. He is looking up at RatBoy with fear in his eyes.

RATBOY: You should have put the stuff back when I said told you

RATBOY: …Oh and the name is not Rodent Kid. It’s ‘RatBoy’. (This is terrible. Sure, you finally name your character after eight pages, but it’s staged, unnatural. And by the way, why did you put quotes around ‘Rat Boy’?) (Oh, and by the way…comma-fail.)

 

PANEL TWO: Close on RatBoy, the Rat Plane in the background behind him. (Why? What’s he doing? What’s his expression say?)

 

MAX (OFF PANEL): Young master (Missing comma) my sensors indicate that local law enforcement are on the way. I think perhaps it is time for us to leave. (Should Max’s voice be electronic?) (How would local law enforcement know to come? What tipped them off? Could it be the silent alarm that was never mentioned? Can I give a no-prize to myself? Is that infringing on Marvel too much? How about a Know-Prize? I like that, better. I shall be giving these out in the future.)

 

RATBOY: Coming (Missing comma) Max.

 

CAPTION: MAX – The Rat Networks Network’s central AI system (The Rat Network?? My God, that’s funny in a ridiculous way!) (Hm. At least someone thought it was funny and got some enjoyment out of it. I just thought it ridiculous. At least make it an acronym.)

 

PANEL THREE: The Rat Plane is now high above the street. Down below we can see three police cars have pulled up to the scene, one of them right next to Thief Two who is still tied up in cables. (How were the police notified of the incident? You never had an alarm go off and never had anyone call 911 to send them in. This is just plain convenient.) (Like the hero, they’re psychic.)

 

MAX (FROM PLANE): Cloaking mode enabled (Missing comma) sir.

 

RATBOY: Good. Now lets go home, (Period instead of comma) I have school in the morning. (This is the only good line in the story, I’m sorry to say.)

 

I’m going to let Steven wrap things up from here.

 

Let’s just run this down, because we all know that this page is just another study in teriblosity. (I really need to create, curate, and disseminate my own dictionary.)

 

Format: Flawless Victory! This, seriously, is the only good thing about this script. Eminently readable from a formatting standpoint.

 

Panel Descriptions: These need work. Clarity in some of them, but most of them just need to be thought through better. And really, P1, where you had that whole mix-up with time…that wasn’t good. This is easily fixed, though, with more study.

 

Pacing: Crap. That’s the best way to put it, without getting vulgar. It started on P1, and got worse from there. The thing with time (that I’ve already covered), and then just dragging out the scene for eight pages… Wow. Three pages should have been condensed down into one. This scene should only have been half as long as it was. Let’s say this is a 22p book. You’ve taken up over a third of the book on nonsense. A third. That’s horrible. And, really, the only thing that happened was that your hero got his ass kicked before deciding to fight back, and then it wasn’t even really a fight.

 

Singers putting on a show have choreographers for a reason. They aren’t dancers, they’re just mimicking the moves. Martial arts movies also have choreographers, because it’s a dance. What you need is to let the artist do the choreography here, since you haven’t yet learned to do it yourself. That would be best.

 

Dialogue: Most of it was fluff and didn’t push the story forward or reveal character. Most of it. However, except for one or two parts, the dialogue wasn’t crappy. It wasn’t hard to read at all. It wasn’t overblown, it wasn’t mind-numbing, and it wasn’t terrible. Bad, yes, but not terrible, and not crappy. I think that if you didn’t draw the fight out as much, and if you really thought the story through and got into the shoes of each of your characters when they spoke, then the dialogue wouldn’t have been bad. You just need to put more thought into the characters and what they’re saying, because your readers are going to unconsciously wonder if they’re believable or not. The longer you drag things out, the longer they have to decide, and once a mind snaps shut, it is very difficult to get it to open again.

 

Most minds, though, would snap shut on P1. Mine did, and you didn’t do anything to try to open it, afterward. Actually, you only gave me more ammunition to keep it closed.

 

Content: Here’s where the crap really hits to rotating blades…

 

Let’s start with the title/name: Power Pals. Sounds like kiddie-fare, doesn’t it? All-ages. However, as soon as you have a non-cartoonish hero (I can’t bring myself to say his name) kick someone and break their leg, having bone protruding, it is no longer for kids. It is no longer all-ages. As soon as you try to go for horror movie, it is no longer all-ages. This makes the title a lie. Just like Metallica (Of Wolf and Man), I feel a change… You need a different title. Something that speaks more to the characters (of whom we’ve graciously not met the second, who, I’m guessing, is a Superman analogue).

 

Then, there’s the name of the city, which I will have to open up my skull and pour Drano on in order to clean it from my memory. That is a terrible, terrible name that also speaks to kiddie-fare. This isn’t.

 

Then there’s the character. I’m going to call him Luce Blaine, because that’s basically who he is. Luce really has more money than sense, trying to fight when he has no skills, instead of sending the mechanical army to fight for him. You didn’t showcase Luce in any way that was good for the character. He is ineffective, and except for the highly improbable fact that the guys weren’t carrying guns, he’d be dead. Shot in the face, and the story would have ended before it even began. Hell, he’d probably be more effective if he were a ghost. At least that may have been interesting.

 

Luce must be extremely well-off (read: billionaire) in order to afford the toys and the training in order to fly the Batplane… Sorry. Comicbookian-slip. Why hadn’t he trained his body as well, we’ll never know. At least Bruce knew what he was getting into, and trained his body to be able to protect himself as he fought crime. Luce? No such luck.

 

Now, the story. There are problems.

 

The first problem being the fact that Luce is psychic. With no alarm, silent or otherwise, how did he know where to show up, and when? Where did that information come from?

 

Then the actions of both the hero and the villains make absolutely no sense. I’m tired of harping on it, really. The storytelling is just terrible.

 

Then, there’s the punctuation. I don’t have the words, so I won’t use what I don’t have. Learn to use punctuation. Go back to elementary school if you must, but learn to use basic punctuation. R-E-S-P-E-C-T. Just a little bit.

 

Editorially, this needs a re-think, before we even get to doing a rewrite. Re-thinking from the top, to make sure everything is appropriately named and placed and thought through. Then it needs to be plotted out, and from there, you can start writing. Hire an editor to keep you on the straight and narrow, though. Someone who’ll call you on your crap, tell you why, and have you work harder to make it better.

 

Everyone has a Batman analogue. Batman is a badass and is beloved by everyone. I’m basically a Marvel guy, and even I love Batman. So I get it. But if you’re going to do it, you have to think it through. This isn’t thought through, and a competent editor will be able to help with that. As it stands, though, there isn’t a single part of this (aside from the format) that says “good story.” You’re going to have to work harder for that.

 

(And now, I have a Denis Leary song stuck in my head. I know it, and I can live with it.)

 

That’s all for this week, folks. Check the calendar to see who’s next!

 

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Category: Columns, The Proving Grounds

About the Author ()

Steven is an editor/writer with such credits as Fallen Justice, the award nominated The Standard, and Bullet Time under his belt, as well as work published by DC Comics. Between he and his wife, there are 10 kids (!), so there is a lot of creativity all around him. Steven is also the editor in chief and co-creator of ComixTribe, whose mission statement is Creators Helping Creators Make Better Comics. If you're looking for editing, contact him at stevedforbes@gmail.com for rate inquiries.

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