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TPG Week 169: Write For The Gap

| March 22, 2014

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Hello, one and all, and welcome back to The Proving Grounds! This week, we have a returning Brave One in Schuyler Van Gunten! We also have Samantha LeBas in purple, and I’m in the fiery red. Sam is a bit under the weather, so she did what she could. Let’s see what we have when Schuyler tells a tale of

Mystiker—David and Goliath

(Just a quick note: Schuyler added a list of characters and their descriptions to the beginning of the document. I stripped that out.)

PAGE ONE (five panels)

Panel 1. Front shot. Daytime. Two Aztec warriors stab their spears through a third warrior in the center. The spears cross through his chest. The center warrior has purple eyes and maybe some purple decoration. They are on the top of an Aztec temple and it appears as though it could be a ceremony. (1300 A.D.) (Where is the camera here? )

CAP (David): (Consider adding the word ‘I’ here) DREAM A DREAM…(Should the word ‘of’ be here?)

CAP (David):

OF ONE THOUSAND DEATHS. (Suggest changing this period to a comma) Okay, I have found the word ‘of.’ You have tabbed instead of hitting return, I think. For some reason, the first word of each line of dialogue is right aligned in the document I received. I am correcting it as I go as best I can, but be aware that your keyboarding choices made this a tough read, and made some of your work get lost.)

Panel 2. Profile. James Watt the knight with purple decorations kneels before a king in the throne room. (1200 A.D.)(Knight is a really broad term here, might want to give a little more information, even looking back at your character doc, I think you need to think about this scene and this character’s appearance a little more What is the POV here? Are there any other people present? What is the king doing?)

CAP (David):

A DREAM OF KINGS.(Suggest changing period to comma)

Panel 3. Daytime. Ramses II an Egyptian pharaoh rides on an Egyptian chariot through the midst of battle; he has purple eyes and regalia. It is the battle of Kadesh, which is a massive Chariot battle. This is a greener area of the Middle East, very near to a lake. (2000 B.C.) (In the words of Dr. Samuel Beckett, “Oh, boy.” We are going to talk about these aesthetic choices at the end of the page. Stay tuned.)

CAP (David):

A DREAM OF PHARAOHS.

Panel 4. Daytime. Modern Green Beret Mystiker rides a boat through a South American Jungle. He fires an automatic crossbow at natives in the jungle. The natives fire arrows back. (1990’S A.D.)

CAP (David):

A DREAM…(delete ellipsis, add space)OF ONE THOUSAND SLINGS AND ARROWS.

Panel 5. Leuthar the barbarian Mystiker stands in a pile of bodies that stretches as far as the eye can see. He stands at the sight of a massacre. He is surrounded by his own fallen comrades and Roman soldiers. The massacre took place on some hills in what would today be lower Germany. The Romans were the ambushers and the victors. (500 B.C.)

CAP (David):

IF YOU COULD SEE THE THINGS THAT I HAVE SEEN.(I think the word ‘could’ is out of place here.)

(I tried to hold my notes until the end of this page, because my sincere feeling is that the visuals have to be scrapped. The more I read, the less the idea worked for me. Let’s talk about why.

There has to be a way for you to get your point across without asking an artist to become an expert in various types of warfare and specific historical battles, while reducing what could be five splash pages into a single five-panel page. These are all crowd scenes, each one requires a lot of research and even more information than you have given here.

On top of the level of difficulty represented here, I have to question its effectiveness. This lacks personal connection, these are anonymous characters in abstract situations that appear disconnected from one another. How will this draw readers in; how will it help them invest in this story?

You want to connect this montage with the purple eyes, but I have to tell you, in the middle of a crowded field of battle like the one described in panel 3, I don’t think that detail can be brought out in functional way.

You need to consider this carefully, and spend some time trying to figure out another way to get your point across. This page is not going to draw readers in, it’s not going to start your story, and it is going to drive any artist insane.)

Okay, P1 is down.

Like Sam, I’m not happy.

This page is a waste. It doesn’t do anything to bring in the reader. It doesn’t do its job. In order to get the purple eyes (what is it with purple eyes? Warren Ellis did the same thing with FreakAngels), you’re going to have to get in close to the characters. Getting in close means you’re going to lose most of the scenery. So, what you have to do is make up your mind as to which is more important: the timeframes and the action going on in it, or the characters themselves.

And speaking of the timeframes, how is the reader supposed to know which is when? They aren’t. What they’re going to see are scenes and maybe tell a few different timeframes, but most of the readers are going to put it into three distinct timeframes: the time of the pharaohs, the dark ages, and contemporary. That’s it. Five panels, three timeframes.

As for the images, how is the reader supposed to know where these are taking place? Two of them will stand out: the knight will be placed in Europe, and the chariot will be placed in Egypt. Again, you have five panels. The reader will be lost on at least two of them. They may get the Aztecs.

The dialogue, combined with the imagery, doesn’t work. Luckily, it isn’t a case of you trying too hard. I don’t get that sense, and that’s a good thing. However, the dialogue isn’t doing the job it needs to. It isn’t pulling the reader in.

As an opening first page, this isn’t good. What is the purpose here? What is it that you want the reader to do? You want them to turn the page, of course. How do you get them to do that? By being engaging. This, Schuyler, isn’t engaging. This is just boring, and boring is death.

Cut this page. It isn’t doing what you need it to do.

 

PAGE TWO (five panels)

Panel 1. Nighttime. A Mystiker that has been radiated beyond human recognition. His body is bulbous and too big. His hands too big even for his oversized body. His brow grows over his eye a little on one side. He is on his knees in the desert. His hands rest knuckles down on the sand and his chin rests on his chest. He looks defeated. (2930 A.D.) (Is this incarnation a contemporary of David’s? If not I think he goes on page 1.)

(This guy is really important for the next issue.)

CAP (David):

IF YOU COULD BE THE MEN THAT I HAVE BEEN… (Here again, the word ‘could’ seems weird, I would consider changing these lines to something like: ‘If you had seen the things that I have seen, If you had been the men that I have been,’.)

Panel 2. For the first time we see our protagonist, David. He is sleeping, on a bunk in futuristic barracks. He is curled up with his fists clenched. A purple light glows from under his eyelids. This panel should only show David’s bunk. (3020 A.D.)(So the burning man seems to belong on page 1)

(The bunks are created by the Yamato Corporation. The barracks were created for technicians originally. There may be corporate logos on the bunks or in the barracks. The logo looks similar to the Yamaha symbol. Except instead of spear like objects it could resemble some kind of galactic map.) (I don’t care about this. This should be talked over either with the artist before they ever put pencil to paper, or with the letterer. This is a logo/signage, and as such, is more in the bailiwick of the letterer than the artist.)

 

CAP (David): WOULD YOU EVER SLEEP AGAIN?(‘Would’ might need to be ‘could’ here. Also, he is sleeping in the panel, so it looks like the answer is ‘yes.’)

Panel 3. Zoom out. There are many bunks with sleeping soldiers.

(David’s bunk is one of the bottom ones, near the middle. These soldiers belong to Wolf Squadron which is comprised of 20 men. However, the panel does not need to show all twenty bunks.)(Why is this in parentheses?) (Great question. There is no adequate answer for it.)

CAP (David): BECAUSE(comma) WHILE OTHER MEN GET THEIR REST…

Panel 4. A cyborg Mystiker stands over a bomb in a dilapidated factory. The bomb has a timer and there is only seven seconds left. (2090 A.D.)

NO COPY

Panel 5. The Mystiker runs from the bomb that is already detonating. The explosion is a strange blue color.(Why does this guy get two panels? This throws your pacing off, not that I was 100% on board with the pacing to begin with.)

NO COPY

CAP(David):

I DREAM A THOUSAND DIFFERENT LIVES… (But he is sleeping, just not resting, right? May need to rephrase this.)

(This might be the place to try to really tie the idea that David has BEEN all these men together visually. I am not sure… maybe show the character in the dream being hurt, and have sleeping David react in the next panel? Do they have the same scars? Maybe do something with reflections? You need a concrete tie here. It’s still muddled.)

P2, and I’m still unhappy.

This page doesn’t do anything, either. It’s nothing more than more of P1.

There’s another way to do this. Personally, I believe that this story starts out wrong. It should have two things going on: a look at the barracks and who’s sleeping, intercut with the dream that’s happening. If you were to start outside and slowly move in, as you moved, there would be the mystery of the place and what it is, as well as why these images are there.

Another thing—for the dream panels, they need to have a differentiating border around the panel. The reason for this is simple: it sets it apart and lets the reader know that there is something going on with these panels. Then we can have the “reveal” that these are dreams, and there’s someone talking to us.

The dialogue needs to have more punch. Right now, it isn’t interesting. It isn’t boring, but it isn’t interesting. And there isn’t enough of it.

PAGE THREE (five panels)

Panel 1. The edge of the blue explosion hit him. The half that was hit is evaporating into smaller parts. What looks like tiny bubbles…

CAP (David): …AND A THOUSAND DIFFERENT DEATHS. (I think this may go on page 2.)

Panel 2. Back in David’s time…All the soldiers have been woken up and are putting their high tech body armor on. The lead soldier (Javar) is already fully armored. Javar is calling out to his soldiers. David is still getting out of his bunk. The bunk above David belongs to Ryan. Ryan is almost fully armored already.

(The armor should resemble medieval armor in some ways, because that comparison will be necessary later. The armor was created by Yamato and has its logo. The logo can cover the entire chest or it can be small, over the heart. It is important that it is on the chest though. Also important to note that this panel needs only a couple soldiers not all 20.) (This is a scene, not a panel)

CAP (David): AND IN THIS MOMENT OF CLARITY.

JAVAR (yells): LOAD OUT!(Out or up?)

CAP (Editorial):

3020 A.D.

Panel 3. The Yamato soldiers start running out the door. David is trying to move towards the door still pulling one of his boots on.(This is not a still image. Where is the camera, how many people are in the shot?)

JAVAR (yells): TIGER SQUADRON IS BOGGED DOWN BY TWOENEMYUNITS! THEY HAVE ALREADY SUFFERED SEVERE CASUALTIES!(If you want words to be emphasized by a letterer, you should underline them in the script, instead of using boldface type.)

JAVAR (yells): BRING YOUR GAME FACES!

(What happened to the voiceover?) (Dropsies.)

Panel 4. Outside the door is their transport truck. Javar stands at the front of a line of soldiers shoving them in. The sun is rising, it reflects off the truck, it is blinding. The truck is super advanced, it does not have wheels.(There is not enough information here. There is no angle, are we seeing this truck from the side or the rear? Where is the camera? How many people are in the shot? What is the terrain around the truck like?)

CAP (David):

I CAN SEE CLEARLY…(This is redundant, delete the word, ‘clearly.’) (And here I was, about to start singing…)

JAVAR (yells): GO! GO! GO!

Panel 5. Wolf Squadron loads out of the truck into carnage. There are other Yamato soldiers there already fighting. The truck itself is receiving damage as they load out. A Yamato soldier was mortally wounded and is lying right outside the truck where they are loading out. (How many people? Are they holding weapons? What is the terrain like? What is hitting the truck?)

(The enemy soldiers cannot be seen on this panel.) (This should not be a paranthetical. This should be in the rest of the panel description.)

CAP (Editorial):

TEN MINUTES LATER…

CAP (David): …THAT I HAVE LOST MY SANITY.

(A plot doesn’t HAVE to be linear, but things do kind of need to happen. Right now there is no logical order to what is happening, no context or information being provided, and no narrative. I am a little concerned, but this is page three, so, maybe it all comes together on page 4?)

P3, and there still isn’t a story to be found.

We don’t know who the story is about, why we’re getting their story, if they’re interesting, what their name is, or anything pertinent at all,. What we’ve got is dialogue that is barely serviceable around action that is unfathomable, and no plot.

It’s P3, and there still doesn’t seem to be a story forthcoming. It’s wasteful.

You’re trying to set up the world and inject backstory, and I get it. However, here’s what you’re not understanding: the audience doesn’t care about it yet. They haven’t been with the story long enough to care about backstory. They just want to be told the story. So, tell the story. Write for the gap.

The gap is a lot of things, to tell the truth. Right now, the gap is the point in time when you’ve moved a character to a place where the audience is intrigued about how they got there, and are ready for backstory. That is the gap—the expectation of enlightenment that will deepen the story. You’re trying to open the gap with the first image, but that isn’t working. When you write for the gap, the audience has been primed and is ready for the piece of information that will make them that much more a part of the story.

Write for the gap.

 

PAGE FOUR (five panels)

Panel 1. Bird’s Eye View. David stands in the midst of battle enemy lasers flying past him. A laser just struck his rifle which is smoking in the panel. His own unit his taking cover behind the van they arrived in. Javar yells at David. The enemy soldiers fire from and take cover behind a small hill.

(The enemy soldiers are Starman Corporation. Their logo should resemble Starbucks. This detail is probably not visible in this panel.) (I’m going to tell you now: if you have a paranthetical, you’re wrong.)

JAVAR (yells): DAVID! GET BEHIND SOME COVER, YOU JACK@$$!(I have a hard time with the convention of editing cursing this way, it reminds me of the Tasmanian Devil, and seems slightly comedic. Also, I don’t know if jackass is really a curse word, it is the name of an animal. You might be being overly cautious.)

Panel 2. Identical scene except they are all wearing knight armor and the van has become a carriage, though there are no horses. The lasers all look like arrows and the guns themselves crossbows.

(All the scenes with medieval knights are dated roughly around the 12th century. The front of the carriage just rests on the ground.)(Does David look like his medieval counterpart, or is it him in armor?)

DAVID (yells):

I SEE A WEAKNESS IN THEIR MAGIC, SIR REYNOLD!

JAVAR (yells): MAGIC?! SIR REYNOLD?! DAVID! IT’S ME,JAVAR!

JAVAR (yells): HAVE YOU F*@#ING LOST IT?! GET YOUR @$$ BEHIND SOME COVER!

Panel 3. David lifts a large rock, the biggest he can really throw. (In the middle ages or in his time? What do his surroundings look like?)

NO COPY

Panel 4. He is throwing the rock.

NO COPY

Panel 5. The rock struck an enemy soldier. The soldier’s armor explodes as the rock hits him.

NO COPY

(This could be the first time we can see the Starman logo. The Starman logo should look similar to this but with more of a space travel theme. The woman could be an astronaut with stars behind her.) (Why? Why is Starbucks evil? Why are you referencing a corporate logo?)

Action without story is noise. Right now, this is very noisy.

There’s no story.

Guess it’s time for one of my own.

I was in lust with a lesbian.

While I was in the Marine Corps, there was a woman whom I got along with really well. She was funny, witty (really, these are two different things), intelligent, and had some nerd-cred. Very easy to talk to and share laughs with. She was also attractive. Had everything exactly where I liked it.

This was during Clinton’s time in office, so “don’t ask, don’t tell” was all the rage.

We went on dates, and while nothing ever came of them, I felt they were fruitful to my desires. She knew I liked her and that I wanted more than friendship, but she never let it go that far.

I wasn’t the only one on the hook. There was another guy who wanted to date her, as well. It was something of a gentlemanly competition between us. There was never any reason to get upset with one another if she was spending time with the “other guy.” It was just the way things went.

She finally ended up with my boss. They moved in together, and while she maintained her own bedroom, it wasn’t used. (Don’t ask, don’t tell.) I still refused to believe that they were together, even after having a dinner party at their place (because I’m both thick and slow), until she came to me and told me that they were together and that she wasn’t interested in anything more than being friends.

About 10 years later, I find an address book with her name and phone number in it. Wondering if they were still together, and feeling nostalgic, I called. Lo and behold! I reached the person I wanted, and we talked! It was good! They’re still together, they had a child together, and they just seemed to be happy. She then told me that she never meant to hurt me, and it got deep for a bit, but it was all good. I told her that I didn’t take it personally, and that it was okay. It was good.

See that story? It got you interested in the first line, there was some progression, even a digression, but it stayed on point. If you were to take it and turn it in to pages, I would have hooked you on the first page, and everything said after that would just continue to back up the first page.

The first line created the gap, and then I filled in the backstory. You cannot always do this. Sometimes, you need a bigger buildup in order to create the gap, but once it’s there, the reader is then ready for the information you want to give.

Write for the gap.

 

PAGE FIVE (five panels)

Panel 1. Javar turns to the other soldiers readying them for the charge.

JAVAR (yells): FOLLOW DAVID’S LEAD! GRAB SOME ROCKS!

Panel 2. David gets hit by an enemy laser in his chest. His fellow soldiers begin hurling rocks. (Guns don’t work, but rocks do?)

Panel 3. There are many explosions along the enemy line, and an enemy soldier yells for retreat.

ENEMY SOLDIER (yells): RETREAT!

Panel 4. Ryan, Tony, and Javar stand around David, who is lying on the ground.

(Helmets on or off. Up to the artist.)

TONY: DID YOU F*#@ING SEE THAT?! THAT WAS INTENSE! HE FADED TO BLACK!

RYAN: DAVID? YOU OKAY?

CAP (David): THEY CALL ME DAVID. LIKE FROM THE FIGHT WITH GOLIATH…

Panel 5. David gets up while responding.

DAVID: YEAH, MY ARMOR TOOK SOME DAMAGE THOUGH…WHAT HAPPENED?

JAVAR: THEY RETREATED. HOW DID YOU KNOW THEIR ARMOR WOULD EXPLODE LIKE THAT?

CAP (David): I HONESTLY DON’T REMEMBER WHAT HAPPENED…

Five pages. None of it matters anymore. Let’s just run it down.

Format: I had no problem with it, although I saw one thing that Sam was talking about earlier. However, since everything had its place and was consistent, this gets a Flawless Victory.

Panel Descriptions: Schuyler has a problem. The problem is simple: he doesn’t visualize when he writes. For the most part, the panel descriptions are white voids. That isn’t good. It’s like, after the first page, things got fuzzier and fuzzier, until there just wasn’t anything really there to hang your hat on when it comes to seeing the locations. They aren’t described. This needs to be worked on. I actually thought we had this particular problem beaten.

Pacing: There isn’t much of one. It’s P5, and I’m still waiting for the story to start. That’s too long to wait. The dialogue didn’t help the pacing one bit, either. It didn’t hurt it, but it definitely didn’t help it.

Dialogue: Meh. I’d cut it out wholesale, and put other, more pertinent dialogue there instead. Again, what’s here doesn’t hurt the story, but it doesn’t gain the interest of the reader. They’re held in suspense, wondering what they’re reading and why. They search for clues in the dialogue, and they aren’t forthcoming. When that happens, they put the book back and continue to browse. Not good.

Content: As a reader, I’d be disappointed in reading this. A good comic shop will read every book that comes in, so they can speak intelligently on them. I don’t believe an owner would have good words to say about this, if they stocked it at all. It would need some vigorous work to change the mind of a retailer if they were to see a preview copy of this.

As an editor, this would need a rewrite, along with a conversation about what you want the issue to do and how to achieve that goal. Right now, it isn’t doing that. It is extremely flat, and there’s no story in the first few pages. Nothing to hold interest. That has to change.

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.

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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