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TPG Week 144: Words On Paper

| September 27, 2013

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Welcome, one and all, to another installment of The Proving Grounds! This week, we have a new Brave One in Sarah Kaplan. We’ve got Steve Colle dressed smartly in blue, and I’m ever-menacing in red, and we both see what Sarah does with

Blood, Bone, & Startlight

(Note: there were some page layout images at the top of each page that Sarah provided. They didn’t survive the transfer process of this column.)

Exos = nasty aliens that come in a variety of shapes and sizes. I would discuss that with an artist in the planning stages. (Are they an alien race like MARVEL’s Skrulls or are they a group or organization of mixed races, like a military or mercenary group?This needs to be clarified, because if they’re the same race, they shouldn’t look that different beyond subtle changes like having wings and not having wings.)

Page One (splash)

Sarah, I’m going to italicize all of the areas that divert my attention from the panel description on this page and bold what I see as actual cinematic direction. Hopefully, this will show you just how confusing the writing is and will guide you to better isolate the important components in conveying information to your artist.

Splash. An Exo slams Kara Morgan(eighteen years old in this prologue, hair buzzcut, wearing sleep t shirt and shorts)against a wall with one arm on her chest and one on her hands, which it holds over her head.(Having the character description injected into this sentence, bracketed or not, intrudes upon the flow of the information. It should be separate.) The Exo is roaring at Kara, spittle flying from its mouth. Her head and legs are to the left of the rest of her body due to the sudden force of the push.(This last sentence is confusing the way it’s written. Also, just how important is this positioning?)

The Exo has six limbs, two arms and four legs. It wears armor over its back and hips. It is covered in chitin except for its face and arms. The skin of the face is ridged (think Klingon forehead but all over), with the ridges stretching toward the chitin, and there is a bleeding gash across its chin. Its abdomen’s curvature is the reverse of a human’s, as though it had ribs pointing backwards. The two sets of hips at the base of the abdomen face in opposite directions. A ridge of raised tissue runs down the midline of its front. Its arms are sinewy, with small ovoid chitinous plates covering much of them. The whole creature is about seven feet tall.At its feet are a dropped assault rifle and a bloody utility knife. (Odd combination, but let’s see where you’re going with it.)

Kara is eleven years younger here than she is at the beginning of the story proper. The only other differences are her hair, less muscle (though still a visible amount), and the absence of the scars on her left shoulder and eyebrow.Her face is contorted in fear and anger. (It’s easy to write “fear and anger”, but how do you draw both emotions simultaneously? In my opinion, you can’t, as they are two completely separate emotions. Try acting out what you’ve written and you’ll see what I mean.)

Around them is the wreckage of a barracks room with fourteen (Why such a specific number?) corpses (of various human types (What do you mean by this?) but the majority Ryonan (What exactly are “Ryonan”? I looked up the word and got basketball team reference. Is that what you were trying to say?), ages 18-25, dressed as Kara is). Another Exo, similar to the first but bipedal and with ridged flesh all over rather than chitin and wearing more armor (Why do they look similar, but different? I don’t understand the purpose of this aspect of your character design.), steps toward a raised male hand just visible behind an overturned bunk.

I’ll tell you honestly, this is a lot of information that completely detracts from the directness of the panel description. I strongly suggest that you have your character profiles completely separate from your panel information. I seriously had a hard time trying to decipher exactly what was happening. (And he wasn’t alone. I’m going to play Riders on the Storm. One seems to be brewing, and The Doors seem like a perfect accompaniment.)

CHITINOUS EXO:

RAAAARGH!

SFX: Whump!

KARA: Uhhh!

When writing your script format, it’s better to maintain a consistency of the speaker and text either stacked or side-by-side on the page. Though not worth taking points off, it’s consistently inconsistent in the script. One or the other, please. (Steve is kind. I’m taking points off. Consistency is stupid-simple.)

This page seems unnecessary as a splash. The image itself could have been better served as the first panel leading to other actions. There is nothing here to warrant an image this size, especially given the lack of text on the page. It could be a hook if there was more to it, visually and through text, such as captions, more dialogue, or even a title and credits, but not like this.

P1, and what do we have?

Well, we start out with a splash page. And to be honest, it isn’t doing much. Let’s take a trip, shall we?

It’s 1997. Heroes For Hire has just been rebooted, and the first few issues started in media res: a splash page full of action, with some text to say what was going on. Something to catch the reader up on. Then the story would continue.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I love a good splash page. I love to be sucked into a story right from the outset. Gets my blood pumping, gets me interested. I like it.

What I don’t like are splash pages that don’t seem to do anything.

What we have here is a splash page that isn’t doing much to live up to its potential. Sure, you have an alien bullying a girl, so there are questions to be asked about that, but it’s lacking in text. There’s no real drive here to turn the page. No incentive.

The reader is turning the page because they’re used to doing it, not because they’re intrigued by the story. It’s lackluster and lazy. And there is so much to do here! You have alien races to explain, where they are in the universe, characters to introduce… In essence, you have to start building the world. You didn’t do that.

The script is a set of instructions for the creative team to help you tell the story for the reader. Let’s break that down.

The script (this) is a set of instructions (directions) for the creative team (the people doing the work you can’t) to help you (the writer) tell the story for the reader (the audience). While this first page has major problems, the biggest one is that you forgot the last part: you forgot about the audience. That’s never a good thing.

The panel description here is terrible. It’s almost totally unusable.

As for the format… Consistency is key. Like I said, Steve is kind in giving you a pass. I can’t, because it’s simple. Be consistent. That’s a good portion of the battle right there.

 

Page Two (three panels)

Panel 1. Profile of Kara’s head impacting with the wall behind her. (Her head has already impacted on the previous page as she was slammed into the wall. That is, unless this is a second impact, as if the alien had pulled her back and slammed her again, but that would require another panel between the last page and this image. Otherwise, it’s nonsensical.)

SFX: Thunk!

Panel 2. Profile of Kara’s head hanging forward, blood dripping from her hairline down into her visible eye. (Why is there blood dripping down the front of her head and why wasn’t this seen in the first panel of the story?) (My own head just ‘sploded.)

Panel 3. Shot from the chitinous Exo’s point of view: Kara looking up at the Exo’s face, mouth and eyes wide open in an enraged yell. She has gathered her legs under her to kick out. (Just how long are this alien’s arms that he can see her legs when looking at her face? I’m envisioning a scenario where Batman’s nemesis, Clayface (or even MARVEL’s Sandman), has his opponent pinned against a wall six or seven feet away. The gaze would still be above the waist, so the legs wouldn’t come into play. In other words, this doesn’t work.)

KARA:

Go to hell!

The pacing of the story, as of now, is lacking. You have four panels so far that have nothing really going on. Kara’s been slammed against the wall, seemingly slammed again (though I doubt that’s what happened), bleeds in a silent panel, and then tells the alien to “Go to hell!” Slow and definitely not warranting four panels, let alone two separate pages.

P2! And the terrible just keeps on coming!

Okay, here’s what we have: nonsense, turned up to about a 4. Know why? Because the pacing is off.

P1 has her being pushed against the wall. Large action that starts the story. I can dig it. Then we go to P2, and we close in on her, and her head bangs against the wall. I don’t have a problem with that. P1 was her in mid-push, and P2 panel 1 is the culmination of that. So I’m good there.

Where the nonsense starts is she hit the back of her head, yet she’s bleeding from her hairline in front of her face. Imp-ossible. That blood should have been there on P1, to show they’ve been scrapping for a little bit before the story opens. This just takes a little bit of forethought on your part, Sarah.

Panel 2 is not only farfetched, but totally unnecessary.

Panel 3 is also unnecessary, because besides being impossible to draw, the only thing it’s showing is that the girl is defiant.

We’re on P2, and there’s no hint of a story as yet, or of introductions. Your readers are quickly losing patience. This is action that is both drawn out and lacking substance. This entire page could have been insets to P1, and that would have gotten things moving along somewhat. This page? Padding. And padding is terrible.

 

Page Three (three panels)

Panel 1. Kara’s legs are straightened parallel to the ground in a kick. (This tells me that you’ve missed an action, as at some point you’d need to show her legs braced against the alien’s body and then forcing out. We couldn’t see her legs in the previous panel and they weren’t in position on the first page, so you need to add a panel in there.) The Exo is in mid-stumble backward. In the background the other Exo’s head is now pointing toward the altercation, with motion lines to show that it has swung around quickly.

SFX for kick: Wham! (This sound denotes that he has hit something or that something has hit him, but that isn’t the case, is it? She braced her feet against the alien’s body and pushed from what I gather, which wouldn’t have a sound. It would make more sense to have her make a sound of exerting herself here instead.)

SFX for shot: ka-ta (Now I’m confused. What is making this sound and what do you mean by “SFX for shot”?)

Panel 2. Kara is reaching for the chitinous Exo’s dropped gun. The chitinous Exo is lunging forward from it knees and reaching toward Kara’s face with one of its arms. (Two things are happening here that don’t make sense. First, you’re missing the action of Kara dropping to the floor after pushing the alien away. Second, you have the alien lunging forward, but last we saw he was stumbling backwards. When did he regain his footing? Again, you’re missing at least one panel, two if you were to divide up the actions from the individual characters.)

In the background, the fleshy Exo is shooting where the head of the man holding up his hand would be with an assault rifle, bringing the bodycount to fifteen. (How is this added feature important to the exchange between Kara and the lunging alien? It’s unimportant to what is the real focus of the scene. Take it out.)

Panel 3. Kara holds the rifle up in front of her with both hands. There is a visible muzzle flash. Speed lines extend from the end of the rifle to the far side of the chitinous Exo’s head, which is exploding in a shower of green ichor. Several bullets are in mid-flight both to the left and to the right of what’s left of the Exo’s head. (Okay, so what I’m seeing in my head is two separate camera shots, the first being a profile. The second appears to be a facing shot of the alien’s exploded head, as you have the extra shots fired to the left and to the right, captured in “mid-flight”. You need two panels to convey this.)

SFX: Katakatakata! (What kind of rifle has continuous fire?)(The fully-automatic kind.)

Kara: Aaaaaah! (Her screaming out like this is doing absolutely nothing for the visual. You could simply leave the SFX as the only sound and you’d be more than fine.)

I’m going to be completely honest, Sarah: I’m bored and I’m only three pages in. The bad pacing, the missing actions, and the lack of text (especially text that should pull me into the story) is making this reading experience drag out. Now, in the script you’ve sent us, I notice there are concept drawings of the page layout, with angled panels here and straight panels there and so on and so forth. This leads me to believe that you have some form of artistic background. What I’m also getting is that you’ve spent more time on page design and not enough time on developing your story. I’m going to continue because there are only three pages left and they, too, are fast reads, but with something like this, I’d usually stop here.

P3, and nothing that even comes close to redeeming this story has happened.

I’m not going to call this page padding. What I am going to call it, though, is a very fast read. It’s P3, and we have no idea who any of these people are, what they want, why they’re doing what they’re doing…nothing. Why is that? Because there’s no copy: no 3rd person narrator to bring us up to speed, no 1st person inner monologue, no ship’s log, no diary, no nothing. There’s no copy.

We have a girl killing aliens, and that’s all we have. Definitely no Earth, Wind, and Fire here. (Special “know-prize”, courtesy of Ryan Kroboth, for those who get the reference.)

I understand the reason for the low panel count. You want the action to seem fast. I get it. But here’s the thing: no one cares. You haven’t given us an ounce of anything to work with to even begin to care. Really, all we have are badly written panel descriptions.

 

Page Four (five panels)

Panel 1. Kara is falling to the floor after trying to push herself up to a sitting position. A streak of ichor shows where her hand slipped, upsetting her balance. (You’re striving for drama, but it’s coming across as forced. Besides, how did the ichor land so close to her when the alien’s head exploded?)

Panel 2. Shot from above of Kara’s face with impact lines showing that her head has just hit the floor. Her teeth are clenched and her eyes squeezed shut. (Again, needless and forced “acting”.)

KARA: Awk!

Panel 3. Shot of Kara’s shocked face and the bullet that has just whizzed by inches from her nose. This should be a low angle shot, almost a profile. (You see? This is where the page SHOULD have started. The second Exo has wasted two panels in getting his shots in after the first alien had his head explode. Why not cut to the chase?)

CAP:

This isn’t real. (Why did you wait so long to get this line of dialogue across? This would have been perfect for the first panel of the story, as it would set everything up. Not that it’s a dream, but rather that it’s an unbelievable situation. Double meaning in this line would have drove the story forward more than the way you currently have it. Use dialogue as a set piece just as you would a prop or other form of visual foreshadowing.)

Panel 4. Kara has rolled so that she is facing the remaining Exo. Her eyes are squeezed shut and she is holding the assault rifle in both hands. Motion lines and an arc of bullets show that she has swung the gun in an arc in the general direction of the remaining Exo while firing. (This, again, should have been in at least two panels. Look what you have: She rolls into a facing position to the remaining Exo, then squeezes her eyes shut as she swings the assault rifle in an arc, firing “in the general direction” of the alien. That’s more than one action.)

SFX:

Katakatakatakatakata!

CAP:

This isn’t now. (Not liking the passivity of this line given the context of the scene, and besides, it doesn’t sound natural.)

Panel 5. Shot from above: at the bottom of the panel, KM lies, still holding the gun. Her mouth is open in a pant. At the top of the panel is the body of the fleshy Exo. A lucky shot to its neck has killed it, spraying ichor to one side of it. (First of all, this would have been better served as the result of a page turn, the answer to our anticipation, such as it is. “Did she hit it?” “Is it going to continue its attack?” “Is there going to be more action?” [The answer to that last one is “No”.] The thing I don’t like about this last kill is it happened too fast. She kills the first Exo in a hail of bullets that causes it’s head to quickly explode after pushing it away. THEN, you kill this alien in the exact same way without so much as a hands-on attack. It’s again at a distance. Convenient that a hail of bullets killed this one, too. Not good.)

CAP:

I need to wake up. (This line is a MAJOR stereotype. It’s cliché and severely overused. Definitely try to come up with a better, more imaginative dialogue.)

Jimmy page four, and I don’t care, my interest’s gone a-way!

My cousin wrote a book, based on a play-by-email game rpg he ran some years ago. The start of it is very good. It’s interesting, and pulls you in. Then, mistakes start creeping in: changes in the point of view, information that the reader both doesn’t need and won’t necessarily understand, too many characters, and I believe because of the service used, some of the wording was changed because of expletives. There is just a lot wrong with the book.

That book, however, is still more interesting than this. It starts out with tension, and as soon as other characters start being introduced, he takes too long to get to the point, but it’s still more interesting than this.

You wait until P4 to have anything approaching meaningful dialogue. We had to wait ten panels for something that wasn’t either a grunt or a sound effect to be said. That’s way too long. Readers stopped caring on the previous page. Why? It’s going too fast. You haven’t done anything to anchor them to the page, or have them identify with the character. You do that with words, and you don’t put any on the page until now. However, it is too late, and there isn’t enough effort made to capture the reader and make them stay for the rest of the story.

There are lots and lots of questions to be asked, but no attempt is made to answer any of them. The inverse is also true: no attempt to build any mystery around the questions is made, either. It’s straight action, but due to the lack of context, it’s dull.

The camera movements are poor. The last panel here is a perfect example of that. It fails on multiple levels. Since there was never any proper establishing shot done, we barely know where we are. A barracks room? I’ve lived in several different kinds, so I have some sort of idea as to what one could look like. Have you? Actually, it doesn’t matter one way or the other: this is just lazy. You don’t describe the setting at all. No attempt is made. So having the camera showing what I assume to be a top-down view doesn’t help any, because the artist has no idea as to where to place anything, because you didn’t do enough in telling them where this is. Even if you want to give the artist leeway so they can do their thing, they will still have questions to ask in order to get a sense of place. This is what you should have provided here.

The camera angle here is also poor because while I understand that you’re trying to show the aftermath of “carnage,” a top-down view doesn’t show her mouth open effectively. A bird’s eye view from a corner doesn’t get what you’re looking for, either. And, really, having her mouth open in a “pant” without any context of showing her exertion isn’t going to come across well, especially if she’s on her stomach. People who are tired don’t pant on their stomachs unless they are too sick/dying to turn over on their backs.

So, nothing makes sense.

 

Page Five (three panels)

Panel 1. Floor level view of Kara’s face, eyes open. She looks ready to cry. There is ichor splattered all over her, and pieces of chitin are scattered on the floor. (Where did the ichor come from? Twice, she’s shot from a distance, yet she manages to get that stuff on her. I don’t get it.)

Panel 2. Shot of Kara’s scrunched closed eyes. (You had a perfect opportunity for a cinematic transition when she closed her eyes on the previous page and continued the closed eyes here. If you had foregone the first panel on this page, we would have been left with the question of “Was this a dream or did this really happen and it’s a memory?” I would have even suggested that this panel be completely black as opposed to showing her eyes. This would have created a more effective segue.)

Panel 3. Shot with the same composition as Panel 1, but different content. Kara is the subject again, but she is twenty-nine in this panel, with chin length hair. She’s lying on a bed, though not a pillow. Her eyes are open. Her expression is less intense than in panel one, but otherwise similar. (Holy Hannah, this doesn’t work! If she’s lying on her stomach as she was on the previous page, the only thing we did was move in closer on this one, yes? She hasn’t moved. She then closes her eyes, and when she opens them, she’s in a different place, time has elapsed, and we show that with the change of scenery and some physical changes to her. But if she’s on a bed, where’s the wall? If this is the same type of view as panel 1, what can we see behind and around her? This just has no thought put into it at all. These are just words on paper.)

This page in ineffective for a couple of reasons.

First, as Steve said, you blew your opportunity to for a nice transition from one page to the other. Second, this is badly paced.

This is P5, which, as we all know, is an odd-numbered page. Go get a comic book. I don’t care what it is, just go get it. Open the front cover. That page right there? That’s P1, and it’s on the right. Turn to P2, and it’s on the left. How do you get to P3? You don’t turn the page, you just move your eyes over to the right. You don’t get to P4 until you turn the page.

All even-numbered pages are on the left, and all odd-numbered pages are on the right. In order to make a more effective break in the reader’s mind, this should be on an even-numbered page.

We’re on P5, and there still isn’t any hint of a story coming anytime soon.

 

Page Six(two panels)

Panel 1. Shot from above of Kara sprawled on a twin sized bed, blanket tangled around her legs and pillow on the floor nearby. (We still don’t know where this is. Why? No establishing shot done, and it doesn’t seem like one is coming, either. And depending on the camera angle on the previous page, we should have seen some of this.)

Panel 2. Shot from outside a panoramic window. Kara sits up on the edge of the bed, running a hand through her hair. Reflected on the exterior of the window is [Planet 1]. (What is this “Planet 1” in brackets?)

I wasn’t a fan of this story. It just didn’t flow correctly, had WAY too little text with WAY too many silent panels, and just generally didn’t pull me in in the least. You have your concept established as a prologue to a bigger piece, but it didn’t effectively do its job. I’d suggest a complete rewrite working from the ground up. Let’s see what Steven has to say.

Huh? My turn? We’re just going to run this down.

Format: Pretty close to a Flawless Victory. You weren’t consistent with your elements. Consistency is neither difficult nor challenging.

Panel Descriptions: Almost totally unusable. You fail on a lot of levels here, Sarah: no establishing shot or enough information given to the artist so they know where things are taking place; superfluous information given that has nothing to do with the panel at hand and that just detracts from the story and leads to confusion; imagery that is nonsensical within the context of the actions; some things have a definite Rob Liefeld quality to them (blood that appears and disappears with no reasoning behind it). Basically, they were just words on paper, without any thought put behind them. That’s a lot stacked against you. On the plus side, there were no misspellings.

Pacing: Terrible. This is an extremely fast read, due to both the low panel count and the almost non-existent dialogue. Then there are the misplaced panels, as well as the fact that nothing of any real import happened. You may think so, but how is the reader supposed to know that? They closed the book back on P3 because there was nothing to hold them.

Dialogue: There was none. None that was any good at its job. There were only two lines of real dialogue here, and they were ineffective. Dialogue is supposed to enhance the art, helping the art to tell the story. It does that in two ways: it moves the plot along, and it reveals character. Hopefully, it does both at the same time. This did neither.

Content: I wouldn’t read this. As a reader, I have to know what’s going on. I have to be invested. This failed to keep my attention from P1. As a reader, there was nothing here to make me want to go on.

Editorially, this needs a complete rewrite. I’d probably start somewhere else, and put more panels on the page and more words in the panels. There’s no reason for such a low panel count except unless you don’t have enough story for your page count, and you’re trying to make that up with the padding. These six pages are really about three. Not good.

Want to stop making this simply words on paper? Slow down. Understand that this is supposed to be drawn, and with that in mind, ask yourself if you’ve given enough info to the artist for them to do the job without asking you a bunch of questions. Here, that answer is “no.” Now, with the answer being known, you have to ask yourself what questions would the artist likely ask, and then start answering them in the script. Are you going to stop every question from being asked? Not at all. But the simple ones, the ones that the script should have answered? Not answering those questions is inexcusable.

 

And that’s it for this week! Check the calendar to see who’s next!

 

Like what you see? Steve and Sam are available for your editing needs. You can email Steve here, and Sam here. My info is below.

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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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