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TPG Week 157: When Stories Turn Into Hack Jobs

| December 28, 2013

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Welcome back, one and all! This is the final installment of TPG of the year! Let’s take a moment to look back and thank all the Brave Ones who have submitted this year:

Jon Parrish (3x), Conner MacDonald, Sam Roads, Joshua Gorfain, John Lees, Ronnie Massey (3x), JP Redding, Michael Arlain, our own Steve Colle (3x), also, our own Yannick Morin, Matt Cartmell, Dan Watters (2x), Aaron Richmond, Liam Hayes (2x), LJ Wright, Chris Gerwell, Greg Matiasevich, Schuyler Van Guten, Chad Kuffert, Danos Philopoulos, Joseph Veronese, Ryan Kroboth, Darren Higham (2x), Jayson Cardwell, Trevor McNeil, Jourdan McLain (2x), Chad Handley, Rich Douek, Frank Martin (4x), Sarah Kaplan, Sonja Smith, Justin Martin, Fred Duran, Austin Feliciano, Steven Applebaum, Doug Wood, Paul LaPorte, and Will Robson.

Thank you all for submitting, some of you time and time again, and for making this column what it is. We do this for you, and we cannot do this without you.

I also want to take some time to personally thank my two co-editors: Steve Colle, who goes around in blue, and Samantha LeBas, who is clad in purple. The two of you make my job that much easier, and I am very glad that you’re here.

This year’s final installment is the third time around for Brave One Ronnie Massey. Let’s see how she fares this time around. I know that some of you were also looking for Sam, and I’m sorry to disappoint, but it’s just going to be me alone this week. So, let’s see if there’s anything hiding in

Sheep’s Clothing

Page One (5 Panels)

Panel 1: We’re outside on a sunlit day, looking at a small, white wooden church. There are cars filling a small parking lot that is surrounded by trees. A lone woman is standing near on the stairs near the entrance. (*1: See ref for church exterior) (Old woman, young woman? I understand it’s a church, but how is she dressed? Is she white, black, hispanic? In order to get all of this, the camera has to be out fairly wide. Not a bad opening, but you have to give the artist just a little bit more info.)

PASTOR (OFF PANEL): And so, my brothers and sisters, we must always be mindful of the bad elements within our midst. (Off panel where? Is this a tent revival? If so, where’s the tent? Is the pastor speaking from outside? Or, is this dialogue coming from the church? I don’t think this needs a voice-over caption, but it does need a note to the letterer saying where this is coming from.)

PASTOR (OFF PANEL): Beware the wolf in sheep’s clothing.

Panel 2: We’re inside the church, looking out over the congregation from the pastor’s point of view. The door at the rear of the church is slightly ajar, and the woman from outside is standing in front of it. (*2: See ref for church interior) (Dropsies already. Not good.)

Panel 3: Inset into panel 2. This is a close-up of the pastor’s face. He has one eyebrow lifted.

Panel 4: We’re looking at the pastor standing behind his podium in the pulpit. The pastor is sweating and looks nervous. Behind him we can see two men, the deacons, sitting in their chairs. Behind the deacons we can see the choir standing, wearing their robes. (*3: See picture for how the pulpit and surrounding area should look) (There’s no descriptions for these characters. If you don’t care what they look like, say so where the artist can see. I don’t know yet if I can extend the benefit of the doubt as to whether or not you have character descriptions in a separate document. I don’t know who’s the focus of the story as yet.)

PASTOR: Brothers and Sisters, please excuse me for a moment.

PASTOR: Deacon Frye, if you will.

Panel 5: This is a wide view of the pulpit area. The pastor has his head lowered, and is walking away from the podium, heading toward a door to the left. Deacon Frye is walking toward the podium. (This isn’t the best way to end this page. There’s not much interest to turn the page. A minor mystery, but I don’t feel that it’s strong enough.)

P1 is on the books.

It isn’t that strong, as a page goes. Technically, it’s okay, and only needs a tweak here and there.

No, the problem here is the storytelling. And it isn’t even a problem, not yet. It just isn’t as strong as it should be.

The fix is in the dialogue.

Here’s the strange thing: there are no wasted panels here, but the dialogue is all padding. Ronnie gets in the name of the story, but no one really cared, because there’s no buildup to it. It’s just flapping out there.

And then the rest of the dialogue doesn’t do anything besides tell the audience that something may be going on with the pastor, but again, no one cares, because you haven’t built up to it. You’re moving faster than you need to in order to get somewhere, and in doing so, you aren’t setting up the story properly.

The fix is in the dialogue. What should have happened is that the story should have opened in the middle of the sermon, with something pithy being said. Then we get inside the church and we see the pastor doing his thing. Then the pastor sees the woman, and he interrupts himself, walking off.

Another thing that should have been done, from a storytelling point of view, is that there should have been a better place to position the woman. She should have been seen as going toward the church instead of seemingly waiting by the stairs for someone to come up; there also should have been an eye-lock between the pastor and the woman. That would have helped the storytelling immensely.

Instead, we’ve got weak tea. This should have started off a lot better than it has.

 

Page Two (4 Panels)

Panel 1: This is a close-up of the top of a door. It is slightly ajar. (Where is this door? And I’m going to call it right now: this panel is padding.)

SFX: CREEEEK

Panel 2: We’re inside a small, dark, bookshelf-lined office. We’re looking over the back of an office chair, past a large desk that is strewn with papers and a large, open book at the pastor, who is leaning against the door. He’s covered in sweat. (If he’s leaning against the door, the door shouldn’t be ajar, now should it? The last time I leaned against a door that was ajar, I busted my ass because the door then opened wide. I’m willing to give the benefit of the doubt that the door swings the other way, and he’s not busting his ass but closing the door. That’s first. Second, you said it was the middle of the day. Unless he’s got some really heavy drapes that are already closed, or the office is windowless, I’m not seeing why it would be dark in there. And the camera angle is wrong. In order to get all of this, we’re going to have to be further back and higher than the back of the chair. The higher up and further back you place the camera, the more of the desk you’ll be able to see. And the book comes into play on the next page.)

PASTOR: I never believed…

PASOR: …I am a man of God, and all this time I never believed.

Panel 3: Inset into panel 4. This is a close-up of the pastor’s hand, locking the door. (No. You don’t want this as the inset. He’s locking the door here, but walking away from the door in the larger panel? That’s terrible storytelling. What does the inset have to do with the rest of the panel? Not a damned thing, and it should.)

SFX: CLICK

Panel 4: This is a side view of the pastor as he walks toward his desk. He’s got a hand half-out of his pocket, and can see the hilt of the athame that he is pulling out. (*4: See ref for the athame)

PASTOR: Dear God in heaven, please forgive me for my shortcomings…

Whoa, Nelly!

Okay, first off, this is a bad page. Not terrible, but bad. Panel 1 is padding, and panel 3 has nothing to do with panel 4, which it is inset to. That needs to be fixed. The storytelling on this page is bad.

Now, the athame (pronounced ah-them-may or ah-tha-may for you non-pagans out there). Here’s my problem with the athame and the priest’s dialogue: castor oil and vinegar. Normally, oil and vinegar taste good together. However, castor oil is disgusting to taste, and mixing it with vinegar won’t give you nightmares, but you’ll still wish you hadn’t done it.

If the priest never believed, why is he praying to Yahweh now? (That’s Jehovah for you non-Bible reading folks, or the god that most of you pray to without really knowing or thinking about a name.) If he’s going to be a pagan in his heart, why go through the trouble of becoming a priest? (Athames are used by pagans.)

Generally, becoming a priest is an involved process. Now, if being pagan was his religion as a child, that’s one thing, but to come at it later in life is another. I’m Just wondering which it is. And to just start praying now, after not believing for however long, strikes me as extremely opportunistic. Because here’s the thing: Yahweh is not a forgiving god. Ever read the Old Testament? Not a lot of forgiveness in there. If Yahweh were forgiving, then we’d still be in Eden. Jesus is the forgiving one. (And no, 1+1+1 =\= 1. You cannot be your own son.) After years of not believing, do you think that sudden prayers to another, unforgiving god are going to be answered?

Now, how large is the athame, and how large is the pocket it was hidden in? What is he wearing that he’s got an athame on his person as he delivers a sermon?

The athame is throwing me out of the story. We still haven’t seen it yet, but it’s P2 and my mind is blown (as opposed to ‘sploded) by the story, and not in a good way. Let’s see if any of this gets cleared up on the next page.

 

Page Three (4 Panels)

Panel 1: This is a close-up of the book. It is an old, yellow-paged, leather-bound book. The open pages show medieval images of demon possessions. (*5 See refs for images)

Panel 2: We’re looking at the pastor as he’s leaning over looking at the book. We can see the athame resting next to his hand. We can now see that there is a window behind the pastor’s desk, which is covered by long drapes. (That window? Magically delicious. It should have been mentioned earlier. At least the long drapes are mentioned, making it dark in there. Good work on that.)

PASTOR: …And give me the strength to do what needs to be done. (Here’s what I want you do to, Ronnie. I want you to stand up, start a sentence, do three turns, and then continue the sentence as though nothing happened. That pause in the middle? That pause was panel 1. There shouldn’t have been a pause. Take this dialogue and put it in panel 1, and then come up with something for panel 2.)

SFX: KNOCK KNOCK

Panel 3: We’re looking past the pastor at the door.

PARISHIONER (OFF PANEL): Pastor! Are you alright in there? You left so quickly. (First, try using a question mark after Pastor, rather than the exclamation point. One is yelling, the other is questioning. How would you rather be addressed? Okay, pet peeve time. I don’t have a lot of them. Not really. I really hate “women” being used as a singular (I’m a sexy women.), and I hate the misspelling of pique (most use peek or peak), and I strongly dislike use of alright. Most of the time, like now, it’s wrong. Most reject the word outright, as a misspelling of all right. Want to be on the safe side? Use all right. I’m not going to get into the why’s here—I’m not an English teacher—but there are reasons. Look them up. If you don’t want to use all right, as well as save some space in the word balloon, try using okay as an alternative.)

PASTOR: I…I’m fine. I’ll be out shortly.

PARISHIONER (OFF PANEL): You don’t sound fine.

Panel 4: This is a close-up of the doorknob. It looks like its melting. (Heat waves? Smoke? Any sound effects?)

P3, and really, with only four panels and the low amount of dialogue, this story is moving too fast. Add dialogue to slow down the pace.

It feels like you’re trying to make a page count, and that’s a bad thing. So far, it seems like you have enough story, you just need to add some dialogue to help in the telling of it. Help the artist out. Let the dialogue carry more of the story.

 

Page Four (6 Panels)

Panel 1: We’re looking directly at the pastor. He’s standing in front of his desk, holding out his arm and has the athame pressed to his arm. (I’m not seeing this clearly. You’ll have to explain in more detail. Also, what’s his facial expression?)

PASTOR: Stay back! I know what you are!

PASTOR (BURST): STAY BACK!

Panel 2: We’re looking at the door. There is a group of parishioners gathered there. There is a small boy, maybe 10 or 11, standing in front of everyone. He’s got his hands held out, as if to calm down the pastor.

BOY: We’re worried about you, pastor…your sermon today…

BOY: …Please, put down the knife.

Panel 3: Inset into panel 4. This is a close-up of the pastor’s arm as he cuts himself. (Uh huh. What’s he wearing? Long or short sleeves?)

SFX: SLIIICK

Panel 4: We’re looking at the pastor. His cut arm is flung to the side. We can see blood flying through the air.

PASTOR: Ephesians 6:11-12 – Put on the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil!

PARISHIONERS (OFF PANEL, BURST): NOOOOOO!

Panel 5: We’re looking at the group standing in the door. Some of them are covered in drops of the pastor’s blood. Where the blood is, the skin is smoking. The boy is hunched over, clawing at his smoking face. We can’t see it clearly because of his hands.

PARSHIONERS: AAAAHHHH!!

Panel 6: This is a full body view of the boy. His hands are clawed at his side; fingers are talons, as he sneers at us. His face is severely burned in places, his hair in tufts on his head.

BOY: That was a mistake.

It’s finally getting better. The question is, will you hold a reader’s attention long enough to get here? I don’t know.

Page Five (5 Panels)

Panel 1: We’re looking at the pastor. He’s cutting his arm again and there is blood streaming down his arm, dripping to the floor.

PASTOR: My mistake was not believing. (And he still isn’t believing. He’s cutting himself with a pagan tool.)

PASTOR: Yours was trying to take over this church. (What? Where did this come from? This line of reasoning is like the athame: it comes out of nowhere.)

Panel 2: Inset into panel 1. This is a close-up of the floor. We can see a line of blood, soaking into the carpet. (Too many insets. It has to be used sparingly in order to be used effectively. This is the third one in five pages.)

Panel 3: Side view of the room. The boy has stepped farther into the room and is looking down at the carpet. We can see the pastor as he heads behind his desk. (How is he heading behind the desk?)

BOY: We are everywhere…in the classroom influencing your children, in the pulpit shepherding your flock.

BOY: We are many…

Panel 4: This is a close-up of the boy’s face as he talks. His face is now fully demonic, with lizard-like eyes, and cat-like features.

BOY: …And you don’t have enough true believers, or blood to stop us.

Panel 5: We’re looking at the pastor. He’s smearing his blood on the book and the book is smoking.

PASTOR: This book is over five hundred years old, and the ink is rumored to be demon’s blood.

PASTOR: I wasn’t sure, until today.

BOY (OFF PANEL): Burn the book, why should I care, because of the decrepit blood of a fallen comrade?

This story has gone off the rails. What was once interesting has quickly jumped into the realm “too silly to care”, because nothing makes sense.

What’s the inciting incident? Where’s the woman? What was the entire purpose of showing her in the beginning? What’s the purpose of this story? Why is he suddenly a believer?

Ever notice, folks, how belief in Yahweh is supposed to be a panacea? And it’s only a specific, ritualistic type of belief, too. Anyway…

Page Six (6 Panels)

Panel 1: We’re looking at boy and the parishioners behind him. All of them are now in their demonic forms. (This is like the movie Constantine, except blood was used instead of a large cross and a fire suppression system.)

BOY: He shouldn’t have gotten caught by humans. (Bah! More nonsense, but nonsense that should have been in the previous page/panel.)

Panel 2: We’re looking at the pastor. He’s holding the burning book and smiling. (Holding the book how?)

PASTOR: No, you should care because this is an old, wooden church…

Panel 3: We’re watching the (burning) book as it flies through the air.

Panel 4: We’re looking directly at the screaming parishioners. The book is on the floor in front of them, and the floor has burst into flames. The boy is hiding behind a large man that is pointing at the floor. (It’s the 60’s, and floors automagically burst into flames!)

PASTOR (OFF PANEL): …and the floors are soaked with acetone. (Acetone? Really? Acetone. It’s like you gave up. You went full-hack in order to finish this. This is terrible. Acetone, folks, is a main ingredient in paint thinner. Now, the floors are soaked in it. And no one smelled it…)

PARISHIONERS (BURST): FIRE!

PARISHIONERS: Moloch, help us!

Panel 5: We’re looking through the flames at the boy. He’s enraged and pointing at us. He now has horns and glowing eyes. (More hackery. If they were full-on demon, why is the boy still changing/evolving?)

BOY/MOLOCH (MONSTROUS TEXT): Your human shells will heal, idiots!

BOY/MOLOCH (MONSTROUS TEXT): Get him!

Panel 6: We’re looking at the window. The drapes are pulled down and the pastor is escaping through the window and all we can see are his legs, as his body is half-out. We can see his blood covering the window sill, and the wall around it.

PASTOR: You can try, but you won’t make it past the barrier of my blood! (More hackery, disguised as terrible dialogue.)

This is bad. You’ve given up, so I’m giving up. The rest is for the completists.

Page Seven (5 Panels)

Panel 1: We’re outside the church. There is smoke coming out of a window. The woman from page one is standing near the doors and they are chained. The pastor is on the side of the church, coming toward the front. He’s looking back, holding his bleeding arm. (Okay. I can semi-understand this. She shows up, then ducks back out. At least, that’s what I hope.)

PASTOR: My church…

WOMAN: Is sticks and stone. You can rebuild.

Panel 2: The pastor is standing in front of the woman, looking at the chains on the door.

PASTOR: They are demons from hell. How do you know the flames will kill them? (Why didn’t you know, padre?)

WOMAN: It wouldn’t if they were in their own bodies.

Panel 3: Inset into panel 5. This is a close-up of the door. A clawed hand has burst through the door. (Like an alcoholic, another drink! Instead, it’s another inset.)

SFX: WHAAAM!

Panel 4: Inset into panel 5. This is a close-up of the hand. Another clawed hand has grabbed it from the outside. (Ooh! It’s a two-fer!)

Panel 5: This is the largest panel. We’re looking at the pastor. He has a bit of a smirk on his face, and is holding the severed, clawed-hand in his own bloody hand.

PASTOR: The damn things just don’t know when they’ve lost.

This lost interest for me as soon as you reverted to hackery, Ronnie. Sorry. You’re better than this.

Page Eight (5 Panels)

Panel 1: We’re looking directly at the woman. She looks horrified and is pointing.

WOMAN: Your hand! Your blood worked against the possessed!

WOMAN: How…if you’re like them?!

Panel 2: This is a slightly angled view of the pastor. We can see the shadows of wings behind him against the church.

PASTOR: I am nothing like them! I WAS and AM ordained by my father to do his work. (But you carry around a pagan tool, and you don’t believe? I don’t have the words for just how stupid this just became. What is it that you don’t believe?)

PASTOR: I just choose not (to) because you humans aren’t worthy of the effort. (You choose not to believe? I don’t think it works that way. Not even willful ignorance can say that 2+2 doesn’t equal 4. It’s like being black, and not believing in black people. It doesn’t work if you already know. Again, the movie Constantine, but with an absurd twist.)

Panel 3: This is a side view of the woman. She looks like she’s stumbling away from the pastor, and she has a hand pressed to her heart.

WOMAN: You-you’re an angel. (How about some emotion in the dialogue to go with her acting?)

WOMAN: If you don’t fight demons, why help us? Why now?

Panel 4: We’re looking directly at the pastor. He looks more sinister than angelic. Now we can see his huge, pristine, white wings.

PASTOR: They were getting sloppy, and I don’t do sloppy…

Panel 5: This is a side view of the pastor and the woman. The pastor has grabbed the woman by the throat.

PASTOR: …Or witnesses.

Let’s just run it down.

Format: Flawless Victory.

Panel Descriptions: Need some work. Not bad at all, but they need some work here and there.

Pacing: Meh. Add more dialogue to the beginning. That would help slow down the pace.

Dialogue: It was fine, until it went to full-on stupid. Ever see Tropic Thunder? The dialogue and the story very quickly went full retard. I’m sorry to say it, but it did. There wasn’t enough of it in the beginning, and then leaps and bounds in logic were made that I just couldn’t follow. Full retard. Not good.

Content: This is not a good story. It went from semi-interesting to Friday the 13th, because you did nothing but hack out the ending. Not good at all, Ronnie. Not good at all.

This needs a rewrite into something that actually makes sense. I liked the ending a bit, but yeah, it needs a rewrite.

The good news is that Ronnie had some photo reference attached to the script. Everywhere there was a reference, there was a pic for it. Good work there.

And that’s it, folks! Thank you for your hard work this year, and we look forward to seeing you in the next!

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

Also, we’re still close to running out of scripts. We have only enough scripts to take us through the end of the year! 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.

Click here to make comments in the forum!

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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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