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TPG 149: Being Vague Is Not Your Friend

| November 1, 2013


Welcome back, one and all, to The Proving Grounds! This week, we have a new Brave One in Austin James, son of our own Cesar Feliciano, who’s the artist on The Red Ten. With Samantha LeBas in purple and myself and red, we’re going to put Austin through his paces with


IMMORTAL / James / 1



1. (Close-up on female mouth. Wry grin formed.) (See this? The parenthesis around the panel descriptions? I personally find it strange for formatting, but I’m not going to ding him on it as long as he’s consistent.)

THE FALLEN*: The sins of our fathers

THE FALLEN*: (2) Such a misplaced notion.(What is a misplaced notion? There is not a full sentence here, where is the contradiction? You have one half of an idea, and nothing to contrast it. I would use an entire [or paraphrased] quote, like: The sins of the father are to be laid upon the children – Shakespeare “Merchant of Venice,” act III, sc. V, l. 1 [Obviously, you ARE NOT going to put that notation in your text] and keep your second line of text.)

2. (Side-view shot. The figure is cloaked and hooded. She is walking up a rocky mountainside.)(Very minimal description here, you should probably include the time of day and year, let us know if we can see her face or not, tell us if she is on a path or climbing a rock-face, and tell us if the cloak is a rag or luxurious and rich. That all seems kinda important.)

THE FALLEN*: It was the sins of us mothers that plunged this world into darkness.

3. (Rear-view shot. There is a corridor of twisted, nearly leafless trees as she nears the mountaintop. She is at the threshold of the corridor.)(Having trouble picturing this.) (And she’s not alone.)

THE FALLEN*: Our children…(delete ellipses, add comma)our magnificent creatures(comma) inherited a world already damned.(If the word choice ‘creatures’ is meant to foreshadow, you might want to change that.)

THE FALLEN*: (2) With no hope in sight. (Consider deleting this line. Is it needed? Is it obvious?)

4. (Straight shot. Only the mouth is visible. The eyes are glowing blue. With one hand she braces herself on the last tree and with the other hand she pushes aside a branch at forehead level as she exits the corridor.)(If only the mouth is visible, then we cannot see the glowing blue eyes. Do you mean under her hood, as in everything else is in shadow, or do you mean that the panel is cropped above her lip line. Also, why can’t she have a name or at least, I don’t know a pronoun? What’s wrong with her mouth? her eyes?)

THE FALLEN*: Doomed to suffer through the ages(comma) and repeat their mother’s(mothers’) sins.

(I am not sure if ‘The Fallen*’ is the person we see on panel, or an omniscient narrator, or a character speaking off panel, or a collective consciousness narrating [which could be cool]. I’m this confused and I have the script in front of me. Exactly, precisely, nothing has happened. I have no reason to turn the page. We don’t have a character, or a name, or a setting, or a clear conflict, or a mystery. You seem to be attempting the mystery angle, but what is on the page is not enough. We don’t know the stakes, so we cannot assess the danger, or importance of what is happening; we don’t know the history. so we can’t see what has been lost. We don’t know the character, so we cannot relate. And we don’t know what’s happening, so we cannot care what happens next.)

P1 is down, and while I’m not totally in the same camp as Sam, I’m having some of the same problems.

The first problem is simple: there isn’t enough information here for the rest of the creative team. You can have a loose panel description, and that’s totally acceptable. What you cannot have, though is a panel description that leaves more questions than answers. Here’s the situation: either you are in constant, close contact with your artist, or your artist is going to be asking you a lot of questions. The former is a good situation, but the latter is not. One way or the other, though, this script isn’t doing its job, and that’s on you.

So, the panel descriptions are both too light on the information, and they are describing situations that contradict each other. You have to fix that.

The dialogue… Meh. I’m not feeling it that much. It feels like you’re trying too hard to be both mysterious yet inviting. It isn’t working for me. What works? More dialogue on the page. You have the space, so you should use it to better effect.

For whatever reason, I find it easier to cut having too many words than I find it to add words once I’m done. Garrulous characters are easy for me to cut back on. Taciturn? There has to be something else on the page to keep readers interested. Fake atmosphere isn’t going to do it.

*NARRATION—Caption Boxes (No. This is simple, and has lost you a Flawless Victory for formatting. I’m decently lenient when it comes to formatting, but there are things that are just slaps in the face because it’s lazy. This is lazy. If the dialogue that has gone before is supposed to be in captions, then say so on the line. The letterer shouldn’t have to guess what the asterisks are for. Why is it lazy and has pissed me off? There is more than enough material out there that talks about how to “properly” format a comic script, as well as format elements. You don’t even have to be a reader of Bolts & Nuts to find the information. It’s out there. Lack of simple research is frustrating.)

IMMORTAL / James / 2 (Know what else is frustrating? Not knowing how to use your tools. If you don’t know how to put in a header or a page break, like what should have been done here, then it is your responsibility to learn. It isn’t difficult at all.)


1. (A solitary leafless tree stands but a few feet from her at the top of the mountain. A crow is perched on it cawing)(We might need SFX to let us know that.)

THE FALLEN*: Countless millenia(millennia) later (Ending punctuation. What makes writers think this is optional is beyond me. Totally.)

THE FALLEN*: (2) On the field of the great and final battle(If this is the name of a specific battle, capitalize it.) (My tolerance for missing things you learned while in school is quickly eroding…)

2. (Close-up on the crow. It is salivating with its beak agape.)(I did a little research, and it seems that birds only drool if they have yeast infections, or if they are feeding their young. You may want to reconsider this image.)(This is what writers do: they write things without doing much research, basically saying “wouldn’t it be cool if…!”, but then not doing anything cool with it. Birds drooling? I hope it’s at least semi-important, because otherwise, no one will care.)

THE FALLEN*: Our children stare into each others eyes with unbridled hate.

3. (Side-view shot. She is now standing next to the crow. She is in the foreground and the crow is slightly in front of her.)(Way too vague, and if she is in foreground, the crow cannot be in front of her.)

THE FALLEN*: Call it the End of Days.(change period to comma) (No, leave the period as a period. Commas are not ending punctuation, and the writer hasn’t shown anything near mastery of the language to call it a conscious choice to use anything but a period.)

THE FALLEN*: (2) Ragnarok(comma)(Period, or any type of ending punctuation.)

THE FALLEN*: (3) The Apocalypse(add ellipses)

(This page is pointless.)


Page two is three whole panels of absolutely nothing that pushes the story forward.

This entire page? Possibly, maybe, only the dialogue can be saved. The “actions”? Not so much. And yes, I say that with the full understanding that this is an epilogue to a story that I don’t have any other information on. That’s how useless this page is.

IMMORTAL / James / 3 (Header and page break.)


1. (The crow takes off from its perch)

2, 3. (Her cloak begins to transform.)(Might not hurt to expound on this a little, does the cloak turn into her wings or just vanish?)

4. (Full-figure. Wings revealed. She is beautiful. Grayish blue-hued skin. Angelic markings on her face, arms, and chest.)(What is she wearing? What is her expression? How is she positioned?) (Wings? Where did the wings come from?)

5. (She takes off after the crow above the mountaintop. The crow is in the distance)

6. (She is now flying next to the crow.)

(This could and would gladly, I am betting, hold the dialogue from page 2. I like the idea of this imagery, but you need to flesh out the visuals.)

Like Sam, I also believe that the dialogue would have fit better here. That, and more dialogue, because this is a silent page. While it’s better that this silent page is near the end, really what needs to happen is you need to add more dialogue. You have to stick the landing, or else everything you did beforehand counts for nothing.

This sounds more like a whimper than a roar.

IMMORTAL / James / 4-5 (Page break)

1. (Double Page Splash. She is hovering over the mountaintop. The valley below is filled with soldiers. On the far side a flaming gate with a is being guarded. The flames are white and tinged with blue.)(You are going to need way more than this. What is the gate attached to? How can we tell one faction from the other? Who is guarding the gate? What era are the soldiers from? What kind of weapons do they have?)


THE FALLEN*: And we mothers must be punished.

(Having read this last page, I like the work more. However, you take too long to get here. Your format is messier than it needs to be. Insert page breaks, don’t just hit enter. You number some lines of dialogue and not others, be consistent. You’ve put an asterisk by her name, but no footnote, why is it there? I don’t mind a sparse book (you should realize it’ll be a fast read) but a lot of what she is saying seems repetitive or immaterial. You could completely cut the first two pages and get the same point across as long as you include a line about this being the mothers’ fault.)

Luckily, this isn’t brain-meltingly bad. Let’s run it down.

Format: You lose points on consistency. Consistency in format is one of the very few things you are totally in control of. It isn’t difficult or challenging to be consistent. You can just look back and see what you did before. Or, if you change your format to something better…you just go back and change everything else. Simple.

You didn’t do that. No Flawless Victory for you.

Panel Descriptions: These are basically too vague to be of any real use. As a writer, you have words. Use them. Don’t be scared. You can give the artist freedom, but they have to have more than a really vague idea of what it is you have in your head. Be fair.

That double-page spread? You’re missing some words. That entire thing is five sentences long. How can you be missing words? Words that help with understanding.

You have a lot of work to do. Research the Bolts & Nuts archive. There’s an entire treasure trove of information in there. Put it to good use. It’s free. The only thing it will cost you is some time and effort.

Dialogue: First, there isn’t enough of it, second, there isn’t enough of it, third, there isn’t enough of it, and fourth, learn to use ending punctuation.

Don’t get me wrong: comics do not need dialogue. The storytelling can be clear, and not a single word needs to be said. However, when you add words, the story then does something else. It should be a visceral reaction. Your job, then, as the writer, is to ensure that reaction happens. You have to choose the correct words that will engender the reaction you’re looking for. Part of your job is to know which words, how many words, and when to use those words.

Think of writing like telling a joke. You have to have a setup, you have to have a punchline and you have to have timing. Ever hear someone tell a joke, but do it badly, totally screwing it up? That’s what this is like: a screwed up joke. You didn’t use enough words to effectively set it up, so the payoff doesn’t have the impact you want.

More words, and ending punctuation. You learned how to use punctuation in elementary school. That hasn’t changed.

Content: I can’t say too much about the content here, because I have no real idea as to what the story’s about. Would I read it? I don’t know. All I got was the end, and that end wasn’t enough make me want to read more. It was a very fast read, even with the wasted pages. I’d need to see more of the actual story before saying yea or nay about wanting to read the story. For all that’s wrong here, I think that’s a fair assessment of what I’ve read.

Editorially, this needs a complete rewrite. I’d need to see the beginning in order to make the ending have a better impact. Does the entire story need a rewrite? More than likely. If the entire thing is like this, I’ll say more than likely.

It definitely needs more work.

 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 for rate inquiries.

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