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TPG Week 151: When Dialogue Doesn’t Pull Its Weight

| November 15, 2013

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Welcome back, one and all! We’ve got Brave One Frank Martin entering The Proving Grounds once more! This week, we have the gregarious Samantha LeBas in purple, and I’m forever alluring in Red, and we see how Frank deals when confronted with

 

Horny Death

 

Horny Death (5 Pages)(This title is ridiculous. God, I hope this is a comedy.)

 

Page 1 (5 Panels)

 

Panel 1

An overview/establishing shot of a large, grassy field in the middle of the day. The stereotypical scene is a meeting of two leaders before a gigantic medieval battle. On either side of the field rests two cavalry armies on horseback standing ready for battle. In the middle of the field are two figures meeting one another also on horseback. The shot is far enough away to distinguish what is going on, but not close enough so that we can see details from the characters, just their silhouettes. (You need to give us some idea about how we might be able to discern one faction from another visually, and you should probably tell your creative team who these fellows are. Which army is on the left/right of panel? You’ve done all right here; time and place are accounted for, camera position mentioned, we even have an idea of the era in which this takes place, but we need more. Place your characters, define them visually, and flesh out the scene.)

 

GENERAL/CAPTION(Are these really meant to be captions? If we see the characters on panel, why aren’t these speech balloons? Are you trying to account for distance? A tail on a balloon would still be helpful.)

This is your last chance, Baron. Turn you(suggest ‘yourself’), your men,(no comma needed) (It’s the Oxford comma. I personally love them, but it’s the author’s choice.) and your ridiculous steeds around(suggest comma) or face complete and total slaughter.”

 

GENERAL/CAPTION

The King has tolerated your fantasies of conquest long enough. Your rebellious tantrum ends here.”(This is all very calm, for medieval shit-talking. I would throw in some exclamation points, then, I am a very passionate punctuationist.)

 

GENERAL/CAPTION

Go back to your femininely decorated castle and pamper your army of ponies.” (I cannot imagine this coming out of a General’s mouth on the field of battle)

 

BARON/CAPTION

Never.(Suggest separate balloons) My province has been looked down upon and laughed at by the entire kingdom for far too long.”(You might consider some rearranging here, all the prepositional phrases at the end make it a little wonky. Consider trying ‘the entire kingdom’ [the subject] at the beginning, to get rid of the passive voice and break up that string of phrases.

A general note about this panel: there are way too many words in it.)

 

Panel 2

Now down in the middle of the field, we see a low shot of the GENERAL laughing while on horseback. He is decked out as a war torn knight of the kingdom but resembles more savage barbarism than civil nobility. His horse is jet black and also dressed for battle.(Which side of the field is he on? What can we see in background? A knight of what kingdom?)

 

GENERAL

HAHAHA! Of course you have! Just look at you.

 

Panel 3

Contrary to the General’s low shot, we now see a high shot of the BARON. Compared to the General’s hardened warrior look, the Baron is attractive and wears armor (no helmet) purposed more for flashiness than combat. The main feature of the shot is the Baron’s steed, an all white, beautiful unicorn with a long, rainbow colored mane and tail. As opposed to the General’s armored horse, the cheery looking unicorn barely wears anything other than a saddle and bridle.(You say the General is a Barbarian, and the Baron is attractive. These two do not necessarily contradict one another. I can see that you mean that he is refined, elegant and not scarred by war. Why don’t you say something like that. Some idea of the men’s relative ages and builds might be helpful, too.)

 

GENERAL (off panel in front of the Baron)

I don’t normally speak of what lies between a man’s legs, but with a sight such as that, one would be a fool not to question your manhood entirely.(This does not follow a line of logic. I think you are playing on the idea that the unicorn and the Baron’s manhood are both between his legs, which is a good basis for a joke. Somehow the humor gets away from you.) (I got the joke. Male humor? Dunno.)

 

Panel 4

A close up of the unicorn and the black horse facing off. The black horse has a deathly serious stare on his face while the unicorn looks pleasantly indifferent.

 

BARON (off panel above unicorn)

It’s ignorance like that which you’ll learn to regret.

 

GENERAL (off panel above black horse)

And if I don’t?

 

BARON (off panel above unicorn)

Then I’ll be taking your head as a trophy.(I do not think you will have room for all the dialogue you want in this panel, mainly because horse faces are long and thin and that may affect the shape of the panel. Also, how will the Baron know that the General regrets his ignorance? Maybe he should demand an apology instead?)

 

Panel 5

Over the shoulder shot from behind the General as he watches the Baron on his unicorn walk back to his troops, which the silhouettes of can be seen in the distance. The unicorn’s rainbow tail (and hence his white ass) is the main subject of the shot.

 

GENERAL

The only trophy you deserve is from a handmaiden’spageant, you delicate priss. (I would say beauty pageant, as the word can mean a variety of things)(Here, I disagree. “Handmaiden” grounds it more in the time, whereas just “beauty pageant” makes it seem more modern.)

 

BARON

So be it.

 

(Okay so about the ‘femininely decorated castle’ line: I am not sure that interior decorating had the same connotations of effeminateness in the Middle Ages. Also, if ‘ponies‘ is meant to be a placeholder for the soldiers, the fact that they are on horseback will make that confusing. The aww-snap-ness of the dialogue never picks up.

 

Let’s talk about talking smack.

 

What do you want the audience to do when they read an insult? [My personal goal is always *raises eyebrows, exhales, says ‘damn’*] One of my favorite comic lines of all time comes from “Ultimates”, it’s Cap’s fanfrickintastic: “Do you think this A on my head stands for France?” What makes that great? It’s that reaction I describe above right? You are no where near that now. Even though there is humor that line, it still has a very real shock value.

 

Think about what you are trying to get through in the subtext of these insults. Is the General implying that the Baron’s men are soft? lazy? weak? not manly? There has to be a better way to get this across. Think on this one a little while. It’s not there yet.)

 

P1 down, and let’s see what we’ve got:

 

We’ve basically got dialogue that isn’t doing its complete job.

 

The panel descriptions could be a little better to get across the scene—here, the descriptive words should have been used to greater effect to show the dichotomy between the two leaders. That’s an easy fix, though. The harder fix is the dialogue.

 

I’m going to sit on the fence when it comes to panel1 . If it is pulled out enough, I would also go for the captions. When pulled out a lot, captions work better. Pushed in at a certain distance, then word balloons are better. A lot of that will depend on the distance the artist puts it.

 

Staying with this for a moment, if this is the largest panel and it is pulled out enough, then there is enough space in the panel to accommodate the dialogue. However, if the artist pushes in to a word balloon level, then there may be too many words in there. Again, it depends on the art.

 

Now, let’s get to what was said.

 

I’m not a fan of the dialogue. Like Sam says, there isn’t enough bite here. Insults are meant to sting. These are more like moth wings—annoying, but not harmful. Picture Spider-Man, but he isn’t funny. Doesn’t seem right, does it? Neither does this. You know that it’s supposed to be funny, you know that insults are being hurled, but they have no bite to them.

 

I watch a lot of old movies. (I seem to say that a lot lately.) I was watching The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex, starring Bette Davis and Errol Flynn (and Vincent Price had a small role), and noticed that the insults hurled were heartfelt and stung—and could be felt e’en today. You could see the baiting and the trapping and you could feel the dislike in the air of certain characters for others. The movie was set in Elizabethan times, made in 1939, and still has the power to move people nearly 75 years later.

 

None of that is evident here. You have to go stronger, you have to go a bit more extreme. Show that dichotomy between them in all ways. This is because you’ve just started the story, and it is very short. You don’t have the luxury to be subtle.

 

The dialogue feels a bit grounded for its time, which is a great thing, but it needs to pull its weight. It isn’t doing that here. As it stands, there isn’t really much of a reason to turn the page, except out of habit. Doing things out of habit is lazy. Let’s do it with deliberation.

Page 2 (5 Panels)

 

Panel 1

A long, wide shot of the Baron’s side of the field as his unicorn trots back to his army of unicorn riding men.(Can we see the Baron in this shot?)

 

BARON/CAPTION

I’m sure some of you will go home and claim today was a victory.”

 

BARON/CAPTION

But you’ll be wrong.”

 

Panel 2

The Baron has reached his cavalry army, all of who wear similar battle garb to his own. The troops are mainly in the background while one of the soldiers is handing the Baron a flashy and stylish helmet.

 

BARON/CAPTION

After all…”

 

Panel 3

Over the shoulder shot of the Baron putting on his helmet while looking at his troops, who are the main subject of the shot. They look ready and waiting for battle.

 

BARON/CAPTION

“…how could a man claim victory from(change to for) stomping an ant.(Delete period, add question mark)

 

Panel 4

Shot overlooking the field from behind the Baron’s army of unicorn riding soldiers. The Baron is at the front of the cavalry line. They are all looking in the distance at the outline of the General’s army.

 

BARON/CAPTION

No. Today was not a victory.(change period to comma, change ‘but’ to lowercase.) But a message.”

 

BARON/CAPTION

A message to the King(suggest comma) and all who deny us the respect we deserve.”

 

Panel 5

Close up of the Baron’s screaming face.

 

BARON/CAPTION

That if they don’t give it to us…”

 

BARON

Charge!

 

BARON/CAPTION

“…then we will take it from them.”

(You are mixing metaphors and making leaps in logic that are hard to follow. First, this is not a victory because it is too easily won. Then, it’s not a victory because it is a message. Then it is a means to get respect by any means necessary. Then it is about taking the respectability of others. This provides little exposition. What new information do you offer here? The unicorn-riders won, which is hard to parse out because of the off-panel dialogue that is occurring in the… future? Could be the past, I guess… . Who is talking? The audience never finds out, you don’t give any notes to the letterer to identify these captions as the Baron’s; it’s a mystery, but not the good kind. We have already established that the entire kingdom does not respect the unicorn fellows, and that they are planning on fighting for respect. Does any dialogue on this page move us forward?)

 

Um…P2.

 

Methinks Sam is a little confuseled. All of the captions are labeled, and all of the captions on this page are labeled as being the Baron’s, so…yeah. I’ll call confusion and keep it moving.

 

I don’t like the mix of voice-over captions and spoken dialogue coming from the same person when that person is actually on the panel. I think that convention comes off better in film than in comics. It isn’t something I would try here. Instead, I’d do it more like a diary entry or a chronicle, if it had to be done at all.

 

I’m with Sam, though: there are some leaps that are taken that just don’t necessarily make sense. Especially when it comes near the beginning. This seems like it wants to be a rallying speech, but then it seems like it wants to be a speech given after a hard-fought battle.

 

In the end, like Sam, it comes off confuseled. It doesn’t know what it wants to be, and that’s terrible.

 

Once again, we have dialogue not pulling its weight.

Page 3 (5 Panels)

 

Panel 1

A long overview shot of the battlefield as the two side sides are charging towards one another.

 

BARON/CAPTION

One day this land will tremble at the sight of us.”

 

Panel 2

A side shot of the Baron leading his charging army of unicorns. The unicorns are showing their teeth as if they are getting angry.(I have no idea what is included in this panel. Incredibly vague description.) (Unicorns, but no riders? War, but no weapons?)

 

BARON/CAPTION

They’ll see us coming and cower (back to their beds.)(Why back to bed? Are they tired? Weird choice.)

 

BARON/CAPTION

But until then…”

 

Panel 3

A shot from alongside the Baron’s unicorn looking ahead (pretty much the unicorn’s perspective) at the General’s approaching army, which is now fairly close.

 

BARON/CAPTION

We will not stop.”

 

BARON/CAPTION

We will not quit.”

 

Panel 4

A head on close up of the Baron’s unicorn, now in a bloodthirsty frenzy. His crazed, bloodshot eyes are leering and he’s grinding his teeth in a fierce show of rage. His head is slightly lowered, ready to attack with his spiky horn.

 

BARON/CAPTION

We will charge through this kingdom like a storm.”

 

Panel 5

A head on close up of the General’s horse riddled with fear.(Is this really the image that is going to make people turn the page? It’s the least interesting image on the page.)

 

BARON/CAPTION

And leave nothing but terror in our wake.”

 

(I hate to say this, but this seems like padding. Nothing has happened on this page.)

 

P3 on the books!

 

Here’s the shame: we’re only 3 pages in, we have a battle that is about to happen…

 

And I’m bored.

 

Terrible, isn’t it?

 

I’m not into it, and because of that, I’m having a hard time concentrating on the story. I’m thinking about my stomach because I’m slightly hungry, I’m thinking about the time I get off from work because that’s where I’m working on this script, I’m thinking about the shows I’m going to watch when I get home because the X-Factor messed up last week and I want to see how they fixed it this week, and what was I just doing? Oh, yeah. This script. What just happened? I think they’re about to fight. What was the guy saying? Don’t know, don’t care, because I’m not feeling it.

 

I’m not feeling the dialogue at all. I know what it’s supposed to be doing, but like the previous page, it still doesn’t know what it wants to be. Sam calls the page padding, but I wouldn’t go that far. If the dialogue was doing its job, then this page wouldn’t be padding. It would be the precursor to battle that it’s supposed to be.

 

Emotions on animals. I’m not a fan of them. It’s easier to get “emotion” from a dog’s face. Humans seem to be able to read emotions on a dog’s face easily. Cats and kittens are set to either cute, curious, or haughty. Horses? That’s going to be even harder, methinks. That’s simply because we don’t read them very well.

 

I can get the anger. Anger/madness is easy to see in an animal. Fear, especially from a horse, is going to be more of a challenge. I don’t think it will come off well. You have to deal with the bridle and bit, and that takes some control away from the animal and passes it to the rider, so emotions will be harder to “see.” While fear is a nice, clean emotion on a human, I think your artist is going to have a devil of a time portraying that in a horse. Rolling eyes, bared teeth, and maybe rising on their hind legs may be the best you get. Would that come across as fear to the reader? I don’t think so. I think it would come across as the acceptance of the challenge.

 

 

Page 4 (5 Panels)

 

Panel 1

Big panel at top of page. In the foreground, the Baron’s unicorn is impaling the General’s horse through its eye. Blood shoots and gorges out from the eye as it sprays in all directions. Behind the foreground, the next unicorn in the line is leaping forward and impaling another horseback soldier. The rest of the background shows the clashing of the two cavalries as the battle begins.(This would have been a better page turn. It’s no great shock that this is where that sequence is going, no one is turning the page to see if the horse makes it. I mean, maybe I am psychic, but I saw it coming. If you give us this on a turn, we may at least be curious to find out what happens next.)

 

NO COPY

 

Panel 2

These next few panels will be random action shots from amidst the battle. This first one is of a soldier holding a shield out in fear. A unicorn’s horn has pierced through the shield and the tip is only inches away from the soldier’s body, who has an expression of terror plastered across his face.

 

BARON/CAPTION

There will always be those who judge us by how we look.”

 

Panel 3

A soldier lies on his stomach in the grassy field as a unicorn pierces his back with its horn. The soldier is screaming in agony with blood dripping from his mouth. A shot of blood from the wound is also splashed across the unicorn’s face as well.

 

BARON/CAPTION

They will laugh.”

 

BARON/CAPTION

They will mock.”

 

Panel 4

A soldier is on his knees holding his neck, which has just been slit open. Blood is seeping out from the laceration as the tip of a unicorn’s horn has just finished a slicing motion across the man’s throat.

 

BARON/CAPTION

And one by one…”

 

Panel 5

A soldier is lifted up off the ground by a unicorn that has just impaled him from behind. The man is looking down in anguish and pain at the horn protruding from his chest.

 

BARON/CAPTION

“…they will die.”

 

(I have nothing to say. “My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic!” will never hire you now. Congratulations.)

 

P4, and like Sam, I don’t have much.

 

It’s all the same: the dialogue is the weakest part of this story.

 

I’m still bored, I’m still unengaged, and really, I’m just hoping it gets better at the very last page. I don’t think it’s going to make it, though.

Page 5 (4 Panels)

 

Panel 1

The battle is now over. The Baron’s army, still on their unicorns, stands as an audience all facing one direction amidst the carnage of the battlefield. The once pristine unicorns and soldiers are now drenched in blood and mud. Below their hooves rests the mutilated and disfigured bodies of the General’s men.

 

BARON (off panel in front of soldiers)

Because of the magnificent creatures we ride, they see no reason to respect our wishes.(Respect our wishes? What wishes? I thought this was about a lack of respect…)

 

Panel2

Same scene as previous panel except from opposite angle. (What do you mean opposite angle? I thought you meant this would be from the army’s POV, but the general is still off panel.)

 

 

BARON (off panel in front of soldiers)

They think nature has gifted our mares and stallions with nothing but elegance and grace.

 

Panel 3

Shot from behind the unicorns as the soldiers listen to the Baron, who stands at the front of the group far in the distance as a silhouette.

 

BARON

But now the King knows that beauty isn’t the only thing in the eye of the beholder. Now he knows…

 

Panel 4

A shot of the Baron standing triumphantly on his unicorn. Like his soldiers, he too is drenched in blood. But the key sight of the panel is the General’s severed head spiked atop the unicorn’s horn.

 

BARON

So is fear! (This last line does not work, for me, at least. Here is what you are trying to play on: beauty is in the eye of the beholder/now, fear is in the eye of the beholder. This line lacks punch. I think it may have to do with the redundancy of the lines’ structure. ‘Beauty isn’t the only thing in the eye of the beholder’ tells us that there is something else in the eye, right? So you don’t need ‘so is’ in your next line. That means you need to work on that final line. It’s hard to match something with that phrase. That adage means that beauty is subjective. Do you really want to say that fear is subjective? Or are you trying to say that what is beautiful can also be fierce? Or that the unicorn fellows have replaced beauty with fear, or made beauty mean fear? Figure that out, and then try to tackle this line again.)

 

(I am not sure that this is a story. I feel like it is an excuse to show unicorns killing people, which possesses a sort of a ironic charm, to be sure. However, I don’t know if you make a strong enough case for the purpose of this story. It seems like a fable, a short story with a moral. But what is the moral? Things that are cute can be dangerous? Yeah, I have seen Rogue kick ass before, this is not news. If you think about it beauty often correlates with physical fitness, so, this battle’s outcome should come as no surprise. To get the irony of this victory across in a meaningful way, the unicorn follows should be pacifist monks, or children, or old men; not young, able-bodied, wealthy, trained warriors. I am less than shocked that they won this battle [maybe because you told us on page 2 that they had done so] but you have hardly accomplished the, ‘you can’t judge a book by its cover‘ theme that you seem to be attempting.)

 

Let’s just run this down.

 

Format: Flawless Victory! (And, really, I wasn’t expecting anything less.)

 

Panel Descriptions: A little vague, but that will come with more experience. This is going in the right direction. The panel descriptions are easily the easiest things to fix here.

 

One thing about the panel descriptions, though: you talk more about the unicorns than you do their riders. That’s a mistake. It’s like the Baron is leading an army of unicorns, instead of men who have unicorns as steeds.

 

Pacing: Meh. Let’s break it down, because pacing can be tricky.

 

From largest to smallest, pacing is the number scenes in a book, the number of pages in a scene, the number of panels on a page, the number of words in a panel.

 

Pacing is also what is said in a scene. This is very important.

 

Again, you have voice-over captions alongside regular dialogue. The question that is asked, then, is chicken and egg: which came first?

 

When does the voice-over take place, in relation to the story? You don’t have the same type of voice-over at the beginning as you do in the rest of the story. The captions cannot take place concurrently, and there isn’t any indication that the battle takes place in the past except for in the captions. The pacing, therefore, is confused, and it shouldn’t be.

 

It’s like you tried to treat the story as a short film on paper. It doesn’t work that way—especially with a piece as short as this.

 

The pacing started going off the rails on P2, and never recovered. The more the captions went on, the worse the pacing got, because the timeframe got more and more muddled.

 

Dialogue: This is easily the downfall of the piece. It easily does things that it should not. The voice-over captions confuse the timeframe that this happens in, but that’s now a dead horse. Let’s say something new.

 

The dialogue is ineffective. It lacks bite, it lacks the rallying and rhetoric that a leader of military men would be expected to have, it lacks the ability to keep reader interest.

That last part is criminal. If you can’t keep reader interest and you’re doing almost all voice-over dialogue, then there’s a deep problem. The dialogue needs a re-think. A very deep one. It is bringing down the entire piece.

What to do instead of the captions? I don’t know. Part of it depends on the timeframe you want this to take place in. Is it a victory speech, meaning the battle is already done, or is it a rallying cry meant to whip them up into a frenzy before the battle? The purpose of the speech will inform you as to what to do with the captions.

Once you figure that out, you should be home free.

Content: While I’m interested to see the unicorns, the piece didn’t hold my interest as a whole. What was the point? Like Sam, I couldn’t find one, and that’s not good. Was there a beginning, middle, and end? Sure. But there was no discernible point. The point changed at least twice, and because of that change, it gets lost. That means the story is not good. As a reader, I’d be wondering what the hell is going on.

Editorially, this needs a rewrite. We’d need to talk about what we wanted the writer to walk away with after having read the story, and then we’d talk about how best to get to that place. We’d also have a discussion about what the point of the story is. While a dual purpose can be served, one of them has to be a secondary purpose. They both can’t be the main purpose, and that’s what it looks like you tried to do here. That’s a no go.

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

Also, we’re dangerously close to running out of scripts. We have only 1 script in the queue! If you want to have your script critiqued and don’t want to wait, now is the perfect time to do so!

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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