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TPG Week 167: Know The Story You Want To Tell

| March 7, 2014

TPGFeatured_04

Welcome, one and all, to The Proving Grounds! This week, we have a Brave One who’s no stranger to these parts: Frank Martin! We also have Sam LeBas in purple, I’m in red, and let’s see what happens when Frank goes

 

Over the edge (5 pages)

 

Note: this is a joker/batman “what if” story with replacement characters. Their names are for editorial purposes and do not actually appear in the story.

 

Midnight Marvel (abbreviated as MM)- batman archetype. I have no particular look in mind for him. Just make sure he’s dark and brooding in his batman-esque costume.

 

Zobo – joker archetype. I envision more of a Bozo looking clown than the joker. Wearing a baggy, colorful one piece and a big red afro wig. Maybe some big clown shoes too.

 

Girl – nothing special. Just a typical twenty-something girl in trouble. (that’s charming.)

(This could all go in a separate document, or at least a separate page.) (While true, I have no real problem with these being here, because it’s a short story and the character descriptions are short.)

 

Page 1 (5 panels)

 

Panel 1

A close up of the Midnight Marvel’s gloved fist in mid-motion coming straight towards us as a punch.(What’s the setting here?)(No need for a close-up. I can see the background blanked out, with motion lines showing the speed. This gives more momentum to the fist. Adding a background lessens the impact.)

 

Midnight Marvel/caption

If there was one thing my father taught me…

 

MM/caption

…it was that a man is nothing without his principles.

 

Panel 2

A close up of the fist colliding with the side of Zobo’s jaw. The clown’s mouth is all contorted from the blow as spit and blood shoot out. Behind the caption, Zobo’s diabolical laughter echoes in the background. (Here is where one of two things needs to happen: the background needs to start coming in, or there needs to be bright colors to denote impact. And the panels cannot be too big.)

 

MM/Caption

A man needs something to believe in.

 

ZOBO

HahHahHahahAAha(Can you laugh like this while spitting blood? I don’t mean is it logical, I mean is it possible.)(It’s about timing. I like the laugh, but there’s no reaction to the impact, so the laughter is disembodied. There should be a reaction to the punch here.)

 

MM/Caption

Something to hold on to.

 

SFX

Bam

 

Panel 3

Another close up, this time of MM headbutting Zobo. MM’s teeth are clenched as his head is leaned forward having just finished the attack. Zobo’s head is rocked back from the blow while a tooth and splatters of blood fly through the air. Zobo’s laughter continues.(Where is this taking place? We still do not know.) (Yeah. Too many close-ups now. We need to have a setting, unless there’s a special reason it’s being hidden from the reader. I don’t think there is. I’d love to be proven wrong.)

 

MM/Caption

Without honor. (This caption doesn’t go along with anything that’s been said previously. I think you skipped a step here. If you put the previous caption together with this one, it turns into nonsense.)

 

ZOBO

WooHoOOhhoOo. (This is starting to degenerate, and we’re only on panel 3 of P1…)

 

SFX

Wack

 

Panel 4

Final close-up of Zobo, this time with the sole of MM’s military style combat boot kicking him dead in the face.

 

MM/Caption

Without decency.

 

ZOBO

HeeHEeeehHEeeHe.

 

SFX

Pow (Pow? Really?)

 

Panel 5

Big reveal shot of the two characters. Zobo lies flat on the ground on his back. His smiling face is battered, bloodied and bruised looking straight up as Midnight Marvel stands over him clenching his fists in anger and ready to strike some more. They are in a large (mostly) empty warehouse (I say mostly because while for the sake of this panel there is nothing in the background, in the center of the warehouse there is a table set up that plays a part later in the story). A turned over office chair (one that rolls and spins) is on the ground near Zobo.

 

MM/Caption

We’re nothing more than animals fighting for our place on(in) the food chain. (His father said all of that? None of this makes sense, and I’m hoping that’s on purpose. That would mean the headache is intentional, which I can then sorta-kinda understand. I can live with an intentional headache. Unintentional headaches? That would make my head ‘splode, and you’re better than that.)

 

ZOBO

HahAWoooHehEHahWoOHa

 

(Right now, this voice over feels very disconnected from the action. I hope you don’t use this voice over the entire time.)

P1 is down! And it isn’t looking good for the home team.

So, there’s a series of closeups, sans backgrounds, and then we get a background in the final panel.

I’m not a fan. I could be, but I’m not. How could I be a fan? Panel 1 could be a big panel, showing the fist, and then the rest of the impact panels could be smallish, until the final panel where we then have the background. I can see that working, but I’d really rather see some backgrounds starting to creep in in the panels. Or, reverse it: a background in panel 1, and then have the backgrounds fade out in the impact panels, and then have the background in the final panel. That would work, too. So there are options.

That final panel? Needs a light source.

The dialogue.

Yeah, I’m going to give you until the next page to either prove to me that this guy is crazy, or prove to me that you’re capable of writing utter trash. Because the dialogue on this page is crap. It starts out okay (I wouldn’t call it strong), but then it makes an extremely weird leap that makes me think you missed something while writing.

If the character is crazy, then you need to show a bit more of that. If he isn’t, then you missed something, and should be flogged.

The laughing is too much. It seems to be coming from nowhere, as Sam said, because there’s no reaction from the beating he’s taking. If there were some reaction, then it places the dialogue more within the confines of the “now” encapsulated by the panels. Right now, even though they’re coming directly from the clown’s mouth, they’re going to seem like it’s they’re just floating there, because there’s no reaction.

P1 isn’t a loser, but definitely needs some work.

Page 2 (4 panels)

 

Panel 1

This panel is the first in a separate timeline taking place prior to that of page 1. The time change will be represented by a faded filter or border around the outside of the panel. In this night time panel, MM stands in front of an entrance to an open fairground with a cheesy name such as “Fun Land.” Off to the side of the entrance we see a TV screen with Zobo’s smiling face on it.(Suggest stating how much earlier this takes place.)(This isn’t going to work well. You haven’t established much of a timeframe within the first page, so trying to do a flashback is going to be tricky.)

 

MM/Caption

But principles are not a testament to the man. (I am not sure what this line is supposed to mean. Sure they are, if his actions reflect those principles, right? Maybe: But principles alone are not a testament… But a man’s principles alone are not [his legacy] [enough]? This needs some further thought.) (So you’ve swung back to something that kind of makes sense, but not in the overall sense of the comic. Panels 1 & 2 of P1 made sense, and then it devolved into crap. Will this page follow the same pattern? Let’s see.)

 

Panel 2

A close up of the TV screen. Now Zobo is standing off to the side of the screen with his hands out as if to display what’s behind him, which is a young, terrified girl gagged and strapped to a table with a series of knives on chains dangling over her (the table I referred to on Page 1). Behind her we can see a digital clock on display counting down. It reads “00:(0)9:56″ (Two digits for each denomination of time)

 

MM/Caption

Anybody could(can) say they live by a code.

 

Panel 3

Close up of MM’s face. He looks stoic, strong, confident and unafraid.

 

MM/Caption

That they would die fighting to uphold a cause.

 

Panel 4

A long shot of MM running headlong into the fairground’s entrance. We can actually see what lies in wait for him inside, which is a gigantic maze of obstacles and traps. These could be absolutely ANYTHING. A pool of alligators, swinging pendulums, a ball pit (like at Chuck-e-cheese), lasers, obstacle courses. You get the picture. At the far side of the fairgrounds (at the end of the maze) lies a warehouse, the same warehouse where the present timeline takes place.(You need to tell your team more about the function that this maze will perform. How many obstacles you need, or if you need them for the plot at all. Otherwise they might design something with 3 challenges when the script demands 4 or 5)

 

MM/Caption

But it’s the times when those principles are challenged…

 

MM/Caption

…that truly make up who we are.

 

(I’m not sure on the tense you want to use in this voice over. It’s jumping around a lot with it. As far as I can tell, MM is repeating things his dad told him in the past. His father, presumably, was using the future tense. If that is the case, I would use the future perfect tense throughout this monologue. Whatever tense you use, make the conscious effort to use it consistently.

 

This entire monologue reads wonky. You might want to try separating the dialogue on a different page or in another document and look at what you have written as a complete text. Make sure that everything flows, that each line has a clearly defined subject, and carries grammatical meaning.)

 

Yeah, what she said, because you’ve failed to make sense here.

 

Do this, Frank: read only the dialogue on P1, and then only the dialogue on P2, and tell me if it makes sense and flows. If you say “yes,” then it’s time for a checkup with the men in the white coats. If you say no, then tell me where you went wrong.

 

As action goes, this page has no problems. I have no problem with the panel descriptions. The dialogue…

 

Frank! You’re better than this. I expect better than this. It’s like this is a piece from a very younger day, cleaned up a little, but generally just bad. I know what you’re capable of, and it is much better than this.

 

If I weren’t already wearing glasses, this could make me go get a pair. Not good.

 

If this piece is less than two years old, then you should be ashamed of yourself. More than that, then I can look at it as a stepping stone. A before and after thing.

 

The dialogue in this piece is killing you (and me!) so far.

Page 3 (6 panels)

 

Panel 1

This is an action page which alternates between the two timelines. The first panel is back in the warehouse during the present. Midnight Marvel, who has a look of pure rage, is in the process of picking up Zobo by his clown outfit, who still lies on the floor flat on his back.(You can give the information about the timeline in a separate note at the beginning of the page and go ahead and include the second time line in that note.)

 

MM/Caption

There will always be those who want to see you fall.

 

Panel 2

Back in the past, MM is running through the various obstacles of the maze. This first panel I envision is of him diving through swinging pendulums like you would see in an ancient dungeon. (So this is happening like 10 minutes earlier?)

 

Note: the exact action in the “past” panels for this page is not important. They could change depending on whatever obstacles you incorporate into the maze on page 2. Or you could put any obstacle you want really. Whatever I put down is merely a suggestion.(See this is the kind of thing you should say when you first ask for a maze.)

 

MM/Caption

Bottom(hyphen)feeding vermin(comma) who take pleasure in the failure of others.

 

SFX (of swinging pendulum)

Woosh(You need to make sure this changes to reflect the artistic choices that actually end up on the page. Just something to keep in mind.)

 

Panel 3

In the present, Zobo is flying in the air towards us with a big, tooth-missing smile on his bloody and battered face. Behind him, MM can be seen in mid motion having just tossed him across the room.

 

MM/Caption

And its(it’s) in our ability to overcome their challenges… (I have no idea what the hell this means.)

 

Panel 4

In the past, MM continues his way thru the maze by going through another obstacle. He is jumping over a pool of water with a crocodile snapping underneath his feet.(Okay see, here is another instance where you need to refine your direction on this montage. It does matter what is happening here, because it needs to be a physical challenge. You don’t want him playing chess or something.)

 

MM/Caption

…both physical…

 

SFX (of croc snapping his mouth)

Snap

 

Panel 5

In the present, we see a low shot of Zobo lying on his side with MM’s boot stepping on his cheek, squishing his face into the floor. The low shot has MM towering over Zobo and still clenching his fists.

 

MM/Caption

…and mental…

 

Panel 6

In the past, we have a shot from above and behind MM as he’s seen jumping through a high up window in the warehouse with glass shattering everywhere. Below him on the warehouse floor is the girl strapped to the table with a series (a lot) of knives dangling from chains attached to the ceiling high above her.

 

MM/Caption

…that define(s) our legacy. (This is another reason you need to write out your monologue in complete sentences before cutting it up into panels. It’s easy to lose track of subject verb agreement when you have three panels between your subject and your verb.) (She’s talking subject/verb agreement, which is great. Me? I’m talking sense. This makes none.)

 

SFX

Kshhh

 

(I think you are going to need very clear visual cues that these timelines are separate. This could easily become jumbled, try to make sure these are very distinct incidents or this will lose a great deal of emotional impact.)

 

P3, and while we have action, we don’t yet have a story. While we have dialogue, none of it is good or explanatory. None of it is exposition, which is both good and bad. Bat-guy has to go rescue woman from the klown. Fine. There’s no cause and effect here. Why did the klown kidnap the girl? Why is bat-guy beating the klown so hard? Where are the reasons for this? Those reasons are where the story lives. This? While it’s implied that the hero has to save the day because it’s the right thing to do, it’s missing the elements that make this a true story.

 

I’m not seeing the need to split the timeline. This could have been easily told as a linear story. The story is actually suffering because of the split. If you had told it in linear fashion, giving an inciting incident, you could have built tension and your internal monologue would have more impact. Right now, it’s meaningless.

 

Spouting gibberish doesn’t help your cause.

 

The real crime here is that none of the internal monologue makes sense. It should, and at times it sounds like it does, but then it doesn’t gel when read altogether. Want the reader to start bleeding from the nose as they strain to parse meaning from this? Leave it the way it is, and that’s what will happen. This needs to be fixed.

 

The reader stops here. It doesn’t make sense, and there’s no real story. They’ve given up. However, because Sam is hard charging (and because this is short), we’ve forged on!

 

Onward, huskies!

Page 4 (6 panels)

 

Panel 1

This page takes place all in the past. The first panel is from behind MM as he has just landed in the warehouse with falling glass still all around him. His head is looking up at the girl on the table and behind her we see the timer now at “00:00:02”

 

MM/Caption

I once believed that to be true.

 

MM/Caption

That one man’s resolve has the power to change the world.(I feel like this should be past tense, since he ‘believed’ it, consider changing ‘has’ to ‘had’)(No. The tense is right. One of the few things right about the dialogue.)

 

Panel 2

MM is now running and reaching out towards the table, still a ways away, as the clock reads “00:00:00.” The girl is looking up at the knives in terror. (Where’s the camera? Where is the best place to position the camera for maximum effect?)

 

MM/Caption

I tried to be that person.

 

MM/Caption

To rise above the filth I stood against.

 

SFX (of the chains)

Click

 

Panel 3

A shot from the side of the girl’s face, still in terror, as she is looking up at the knives (so we are basically seeing her perspective). The knives have been released from their chains and are free falling towards her. (Is this the best position for the camera? What’s the mechanism to release the knives?)

 

MM/Caption

(suggest connecting to previous line with ellipsis)But I’ve learned after years of abuse…

 

MM/Caption

After years of being beaten and broken…

 

Panel 4

A straight on look at MM (side shot of the table from the other side) as the knives plunge all over and into the girl’s body. The gagged girl has a look of fearful pain as blood shoots from her wounds. MM has a shocked look of disbelief with his jaw completely dropped.

 

MM/Caption

…nothing ever changes (replace ‘changes’ with ‘changed’).

 

SFX

Kshhh

 

Panel 5

Kind of a side shot from behind MM as his head is turned and looking towards his right side. His teeth are showing as he is clenching with complete rage. In of in the background of the shot, we can still see MM is standing in front of the table, where the girl’s lifeless body now rests limp and bloody.

 

MM/Caption

There’s only so much a man’s will can take….

 

Panel 6

A medium shot of Zobo sitting in the office chair (seen on page 1) gleefully smiling as he playfully spins around in the seat with his knees up off the ground.

 

MM/Caption

…before it snaps.(Can will snap? Would the word ‘resolve’ make more sense here?)

 

(Why are you using no dialogue? Why are there no character names? You could do a lot more with the tension you are creating.)

 

P4.

 

While the dialogue starts to come into focus, there’s still no story here.

 

It’s already too late, but this helps a little bit.

 

This page is about the panel descriptions. Really, it’s about camera placement. I don’t think the camera is placed effectively in two of the panels here.

 

Here’s what I would have done/suggested:

 

Make the story linear, and start in the lair of the hero. Have the clock already started, but with no reference for it yet. He goes through, gathering clues, maze, traps, while the timer is running in every panel. Then we finally see the clock itself and the reason for it, and it comes into focus. Then when he fails to save the victim, we see something of the beating, or we imply the beating, and have him taking the limp and badly beaten figure of the klown into custody, or we see the klown being zipped into a body bag and bat-guy being led away, and end it there.

 

We’d have to have an internal monologue that actually makes sense, though. This took too long to come into focus. You’ve already lost reader interest, because none of it connected for three pages. That’s way too long.

Page 5 (6 panels)

 

Panel 1

Now in the present, we’re back to where we last left off. We see an over the shoulder shot of MM looking down at Zobo still on the floor smiling like a maniac. Only now, Zobo is leaning forward towards MM with both hands out in front of him with palms up. Resting in his palms is a pistol. (I won’t even ask where it came from… Nope. Not gonna do it, and you can’t make me!)

 

MM/Caption

No matter how hard we fight it…(suggest deleting the word ‘it’) (Yep. Because what is “it”? [I just had an image of Pennywise flit through my brain. Points for those who get the reference without looking it up.])

 

MM/Caption

…our victories and triumphs will always be overshadowed…

 

Panel 2

A medium shot of MM reluctantly reaching for the gun. His hand is paused in mid air, and he has a look on his face like “do I really want to be doing this.”

 

MM/Caption

… by our failures and defeats.

 

Panel 3

A close up of MM’s hand grabbing onto the pistol from within Zobo’s palms.

 

MM/Caption

I could try to keep going.

 

MM/Caption

Try to carry on as the man my father raised me to be.

 

Panel 4

A straight on medium close up of Zobo, still smiling and sitting on the ground, with both arms out to his side like “come on. Give me your best shot.”

 

MM/Caption

But when you’ve already endured so much…

 

MM/Caption

…sometimes it only takes one… (one what?)

 

Panel 5

A close up of MM’s face wrought with despair. A single tear can be seen running down his mask.(a tear?)

 

MM/Caption

…to push you over the edge.

 

Panel 6

Close up of MM’s hand holding the gun as he fires.

 

SFX

Bang!

 

(How is this a what if? What if… what, Batman snapped? What if… he killed the Joker? How is this speculative? You are not pushing forward toward the new aspects of the story instead you have given us the same set up that has been building since The Bat Man first set boot on the streets of Gotham. Holy missed opportunity, kid. This is not the story, the story is the fallout. We know it aint easy being Batman, tell us something we don’t know.)

 

Fail. That’s what this was. Let’s run it down.

 

Format: Flawless Victory!

 

Panel Descriptions: Not bad at all. Some thought needs to be put into a few places, to get the most out of the story. Camera placement would have helped you immensely here. However, there were no moving panels, and the panels themselves basically did what they needed to do. No real complaints about that.

 

Pacing: I’m not a fan. The pacing is okay, but I wouldn’t have cut the story into two distinct timeframes. I think that hurt the story you’re telling. You lose impact with what you have here.

 

Starting off with the beating is good, but it isn’t the best start for the story you want to tell. To tell the truth, this isn’t the story you want to tell. Well, it doesn’t end where you ended it. You could have done more with this. You should have done more, but that has nothing to do with the pacing, except that it ended in the wrong place.

 

You still could have ended this in 5 pages by doing some compression. There’s no fat here, but there’s no story, either.

 

Dialogue: ¾ of what you said here was crap, and that’s terrible. I no longer believe the bat-guy to be crazy. What I believe is that you thought you were saying something, and then got lost in there somewhere, only finding your way out on P4. Then you got scared to go back and try to fix it, so you left it, causing aneurysms all over the the internet in the process.

 

Incorrect subject/verb agreements, incorrect tenses, missing parts, and some gibberish thrown in for flavor. That’s terrible, and you should be ashamed.

 

Here’s the thing: while understanding the the dialogue is there to give us more insight into the art, understand that the only real words being said are the internal monologue of the bat-guy. The only thing the klown does is laugh. What you’ve done is spent five pages trying to justify murder. I don’t think it holds up. Batman doesn’t always win. The JLA doesn’t always win. People die under their watch all the time. Screw what Marvel did with the Hulk, saying that despite all of his rampages, no one’s ever died due to whatever they pulled from their ass. It sounds good, but it’s bunk. You haven’t done enough in the dialogue to explain the final action.

 

What I suggest is to put quotation marks around what his father said. This will help to differentiate what his father says from what his own words are. Right now, they run together, and they shouldn’t.

 

Content: As a reader, I’d be upset in having read this. I like my stories to make sense, and there is little sense to be found here. I also like to have entire stories, and this story is missing a part. Maybe a couple of parts, depending on how you look at it.

 

Editorially, I have to agree with Sam: you missed an opportunity to actually say something about the bat-guy/klown dynamic. You could have, but you didn’t. You stopped too early, while at the same time didn’t go deep enough in the dialogue. It’s unsatisfactory.

 

As Sam said, the story isn’t about the bat killing the klown. The bat has already killed the klown. I’m sure you’ve read The Dark Knight Returns. This story doesn’t tell us anything new. (Unless, as I speculated earlier, this is an older piece.)

 

I’d make you rewrite this story, starting where you ended, and seeing where it takes us. What are the ramifications of killing the klown? Does he give himself up? What happens if he does? What happens if he doesn’t? You need to push, because this story doesn’t.

 

That internal monologue needs to be better, too. It has to actually say something. Justifications are fine, but they cannot be lame. What you have here is lame.

 

In all, this isn’t the story you want to tell. I know it feels like it, and I don’t often tell writers what they should be writing, but this isn’t the story you want to tell. It needs repercussions. You either stopped too soon, or you need to make P5 your actual P1, and continue from there. Either way you put it, this is not the story you wanted to tell.

 

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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