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TPG Week 175: Inciting Incident Needed

| May 2, 2014

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Welcome back, one and all, to The Proving Grounds! This week, we’ve got a Brave One who is no stranger to these parts: novelist Ronnie Massie! We have something we don’t often see around here: a resubmission! We’ve also got Samantha LeBas in purposeful purple, I’m wearing the rarin’ red, and let’s see how Ronnie handles

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(modern era?) filling a small parking lot that is surrounded by trees. A lone woman(This needs more detail, there is a great deal of difference between a ninety-year-old Korean woman and a twenty-year-old redhead, you haven’t told us who we are dealing with here.) is standing near on the stairs near the entrance. (*1: See ref for church exterior)

PASTOR (OFF PANEL): (add ellipses) And so, my brothers and sisters, we must always be mindful of the bad elements within our midst.

PASTOR (OFF PANEL): Beware the wolf in sheep’s clothing. (This dialogue isn’t coming from OP, it’s coming from the church. Either have the balloon tails point at the church, or think about making these captions instead.)

Panel 2: We’re inside the church, looking out over the congregation from the pastor’s point of view. (Give us an estimate of how many people are there, what type of congregation this is, and are any key characters in this panel?) 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)

NO COPY

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

NO COPY

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,(Again, you are introducing nameless characters without giving any details on thier appearance. You should consider including at least minimal detail so these people look like.) sitting in their chairs. Behind the deacons we can see the choir(how many members? Are they holding hymnals? Any expressions on their faces?) standing, wearing their robes. (*3: See picture for how the pulpit and surrounding area should look)

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.(Deacon Frye? You didn’t name him the first time he appeared on panel.)

(Have you really created any tension or suspense? I am not sure you have. This might be a great place to foreshadow the immenent calamity, instead of just showing us the setting and introducing a vague character. Instead we have character mush, you have named and described no one. Deacon Frye has been named, but you haven’t even clarified if he is the man on the left or the right of the pastor. You are creating a character mush, no one has a definite identity or description or obvious purpose at this point. It’s confusing here; I have read ahead, and it remains confusing.)

So, we now have P1 on the books!

There are two main problems here. The first problem is the lack of character descriptions, and the second is a lack of dialogue.

I’m not worried about the main character, the preacher. He should be described in a separate document, or through email or something. Maybe even at the beginning of this one. No, I’m with Sam in that everyone else needs to have some sort of description, and I do mean everyone: the deacons, the flock, the woman. Is this a predominantly Black church, or is it a White one? How is the congregation dressed? How old are they? What about the deacons and the choir? There isn’t enough of a description of them to even perform a sketch, so the artist doesn’t have a starting point. You don’t need a lot of words, but enough so that the general idea is gotten.

The second is the lack of dialogue. You need more of it, and you should have maybe only a single silent panel. Two is overkill. If he’s preaching, let him preach! Halla-LOO-yah and thank ya JaySUS-ah! He’s got to GET UP in order for him to—heh—get down-ah! Let him shake those raf-ters-ah! Let him be HOLY and PIOUS-ah!

Or, let him be reserved. Let him speak calmly about Jesus sending the apostles out as lambs among wolves, spreading the word that the Father loves them, if man would just love Him back, and so on and so forth. The dialogue here is lazy, and that needs to be fixed.

If you have the dialogue, have him speaking, and then the woman comes in and interrupts him, causing him to leave, then you’ve created some tension. What he’s saying doesn’t have to be germane to the story (kinda forcing the theme down people’s throats with what he does say, dontcha think?), but the interruption works better if he’s speaking.

So, the pacing is off a bit.

Page Two (4 Panels)

Panel 1: This is a close-up of the top of a door. It is slightly ajar.

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.

PASTOR: I never believed…

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

Panel 3: Inset into panel 4. This is a close-up of the pastor’s hand, locking the door.

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(capitalize), please forgive me for my shortcomings…

(I am having a hard time believing that there are ancient religous relics in a little white country church, but I’ll go with it.)(That’s where people hid them! Don’t you watch bad movies, or is that just me? Books and papers go to the secret Vatican library, and relics are either in a warehouse or in out of the way parish churches. Got to get you watching more bad religious movies, Sam…)

This is a better P2. I can get with this.

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) (Is it the Book of the Dead? It’s bound in leather (cow flesh, but could be human), but is it written in blood?)

(NO COPY)

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.

PASTOR: …And give me the strength to do what needs to be done.

SFX: KNOCK KNOCK

Panel 3: We’re looking past the pastor at the door.(Over the shoulder shot?)

PARISHIONER (OFF PANEL): Pastor! Are you alright in there? You left so quickly.

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.

(What do you have against naming characters? This script should be the most clear versoin of this story. This is the teacher’s manual, the answers should be here. This is only going to get more complicated from here.)

Ronnie has learned some lessons well!

Overall, this is a nicely constructed page, and well-placed. The melting doorknob gives a nice “oh shit” moment, forcing the reader to turn the page to find out what’s going on.

The only thing this page needs is more dialogue. Sell it more.

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. (Like he is going to cut his wrist?)

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(how many?) 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.(When did the door open? Is the boy the parishioner who was speaking on the previous page? What is the boy’s expression like.)

BOY: We’re worried about you, pastor(capitalize)…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.

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.(You sure? He’s shooting blood out of his arm like it’s a super soaker. I dunno…)

PASTOR: Ephesians 6:11-12 – (Add opening quotation marks) Put on the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil!(Add closing quotation marks.)

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. (On all of the people?) The boy is hunched over, clawing at his smoking face. We can’t see it clearly because of his hands. (Are his hands smoking too?)

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.

(So, I am not sure about your imagery. You need to go back and think about the demon figure a little more. What is beneath the skin? Can you offer reference for the appearance of the demon when it is not in disguise so that an artist might be able to create a hybrid here that makes sense?

Where is all this action taking place? Is the pastor in the office while the parishioners are in the hallway? I am having trouble following the logistics here.)

This is a riff of Constantine (film, which was okay despite the lead actor’s inability to emote). Forget the “can it work” angle for a moment, and think “does it work.”

Does this page work? Well, there are some problems to overcome.

The first is “what is the priest wearing?” You see, cloth is decently good at absorbing liquid, and blood is a highly viscous substance. If he’s wearing long sleeves, I don’t think the slash is enough to get the effect you want it to have. Not unless he hit an artery, and I don’t think he did.

If he’s wearing short sleeves, then the slash is fine, but you have to worry about the timing. It takes some time for a wound to bleed enough to get what you’re going for, and I’m just not seeing it.

So, no, this doesn’t work…but it could.

The doorknob is melting. He knows he’s going to be attacked, have him cut himself then, and pool the blood in his hand, or a cup. This, then, can be flung at the mob at the door.

Yes, it can work, as long as you think it through some more.

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.(Where is he cutting his arm?)

PASTOR: My mistake was not believing.

PASTOR: Yours was trying to take over this church.

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.

NO COPY

Panel 3: Side view of the room. The boy has stepped farther into the room and is looking down at the carpet.(Is he still transitioning to appear more demonic? What is happening to him visually?) We can see the pastor as he heads behind his desk. (What is the pastor’s expression like?)

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 (consider adding the word ‘all’ here).

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,(change comma to question mark, capitalize because) because of the decrepit blood of a fallen comrade?

(Why was he not sure about the demon blood until that moment? You are starting to seem less sure of the story here.)

With P5, we now come to the meat of the problem with this story.

There is no inciting incident. Nothing happens that can be definitively said to have started this sequence of events. Someone walks into the church while he’s preaching. So what? Happens all the time. Ah, but he recognizes this person, and he leaves the pulpit. Again, so what? The deacon is going to start speaking about some last-minute news about the church possibly needing a new roof, so the collection plates may be handed out, or Sister Jenkins’ boy is in jail and needs prayers, or Sister Washington has the cancer and really needs their prayers. Not once do we see the congregation react to his leaving the pulpit, so there was no reason to melt the doorknob off.

This page may serve as a beginning of an explanation as to what’s going on, but it doesn’t explain why it’s happening.

Without the inciting incident, all is lost.

The questions to ask, then, are quite simple, but challenging to answer. Who are these people, what do they want, and how far are they willing to go to achieve their goals?

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.

BOY: He shouldn’t have gotten caught by humans.(This disrupts the line of reasoning. I would suggest deleting this line, or tacking it directly onto the preceding line ‘a fallen comrade who was caught by humans?’ So that the pastor’s response in an answer to that question.)

Panel 2: We’re looking at the pastor. He’s holding the burning book and smiling.(Is the book flaming or smoking? When did it catch on fire?)

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

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

NO COPY

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. (Moving panel.)

PASTOR (OFF PANEL): …and the floors are soaked with acetone. (Why? When did this happen?)

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.(How will we know that this is the same boy/demon/Moloch creature, can you include some consistent visual cue.)

BOY/MOLOCH (MONSTROUS TEXT): Your human shells will heal, idiots!(I thought they were all in demon form now.)

BOY/MOLOCH (MONSTROUS TEXT): Get him!

Panel 6: We’re looking at the window. The drapes are pulled down(like curtains are drawn, or the curtain rod is off the wall?) 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. (This panel has too big a jump in time. This should be two panels: one pulling the drapes down, the other of him going through the window.)

PASTOR: You can try, but you won’t make it past the barrier of my blood!(Does he need to say this, or can you just show it? He’s diving out the window and giving needless exposition, there is something forced and inauthentic about the idea of this.)

(Here you are doing a lot of telling instead of showing. You tell us that the burning book will set the wooden church on fire, that his blood will create an impassible barrier… Do you need to say that?

Flaws in your logic are starting to crop up. Inconsistent language, like saying that the parishioners are all in demon form, then calling one of the parishioners a ‘man’ makes it hard to follow. The pastor seems to have come to a sudden realization and thought on his feet, and then we find out that the floor has been soaked in acetone ahead of time, which would indicate that he had foreknowledge of what was going to happen. I am getting lost here.)

For a priest who didn’t believe, he sure did do a lot of preparation.

Remember in the Karate Kid, when Daniel and Mr. Miyagi are on the boat and Danny is training. We already know that Daniel is training for two reasons: one, so he can stop getting his ass kicked on a regular basis by the school bullies, and two, to impress Elizabeth Shue. (Hell, I’d learn how to fight to impress her, too!) Anyway, knowing the first and suspecting the second, Miyagi asks Daniel why he trains, and Daniel answers “So I won’t have to fight.”

The training is insurance. It’s learning to do something, just in case something happens. (And speaking as a former insurance agent, insurance is the only thing you pay for that you don’t get immediate recompense for. Everything else you pay for, you can see the immediate use of. Insurance is there for “just in case.” Think of it like a fire alarm or fire ax: in case of emergency, break glass.)

Certain religions can be seen in this light, too. All religions that find its basis in Judaism are like this.

Now, anyone who has done the least bit of studying knows that Christianity is a mix of other religions, and is pagan in its practice. It follows much older practices that were the province of pagans of its day. As it spread, it adopted those other religious practices in order to make it more palatable to the common people.

I say all of this to in order to state that I don’t have a problem with a priest of some undefined Judeo-Christian faith carrying around a pagan weapon, and knowing something about magic that isn’t clearly defined in the Bible.

We still have the problem of not really knowing why this action sequence is happening. Hopefully, we’ll get to it soon. Hopefully, that will also have an explanation of why he doesn’t believe, and yet prepared for something in a purely pagan way.

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.(When did the chains get there?)

PASTOR: My church…

WOMAN: (Add ellipses) 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?

WOMAN: It wouldn’t if they were in their own bodies. (Again you said they were all back in demon form on page six, panel one.)

Panel 3: Inset into panel 5. This is a close-up of the door. A clawed hand has burst through the door.

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.

NO COPY

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.(So does the pastor now have clawed hands?)

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

(Yeah so why would an angel not believe in demons? I feel like you have suddenly been dropped in a different story with different characters and a different mythology. This has stopped making any sense to me.) (Nail. Head.)

What can I say about P7 that hasn’t already been said by Sam?

Let’s go back to Constantine. John is trying to buy his way back into heaven, and Gabriel keeps telling him that’s not how it works. John took his own life, and knows for certain that there is a heaven and a hell. He doesn’t have belief, he has knowledge. These are two distinctly different things.

This priest, whoever or whatever he is, doesn’t have belief, he has knowledge. There is no need for one if you have the other. Forgoing the deep science of it, we know that water is wet. We don’t have to believe it, because we know it. If it’s extremely cold outside and you have a weak battery, you hope (belief) that your car will start. You will not have knowledge of will it or won’t it until you turn the key in the ignition.

So, the problem is that the priest doesn’t have to have belief, because he has knowledge. His belief should be of a different order, but that isn’t talked about. And it should be. A discussion of that could help raise this from mediocre horror fare into something altogether different. There is a distinct difference between Constantine and Legion (another so-so action/fantasy/horror movie). Constantine deals with the belief of men, and Legion with the belief of angels.

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!(Are they actual demons or humans who are posessed?)

WOMAN: How…if you’re like them?! (And a giant leap in logic…)

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(capitalize) to do his work.

PASTOR: I just choose not (I think that you are missing the word, ‘to’ here) because you humans aren’t worthy of the effort. (I don’t even know what this sentence is referring to, in or out of context.)

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. (Should this be a statement or a question? Which way would work better?)

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.(He doesn’t do witnesses? Would it be better to say something like, ‘I can’t tolerate sloppy [or sloppiness]… or witnesses’?)

(All right, you have lost all consistency. You need to start with a firm idea of where you are going. There should be some foreshadowing of where you are going. Maybe you need to have a stronger grasp of the mythology you want to work with. I feel like you are deviating from what you have set up and you are only eight pages in.)

P8, and the storytelling would be better if there was a solid base to support it.

We go from chicken-little priest to bad-ass angel, and there’s no real transition from one to the other. He just does what he does because he can. It’s storytelling, and it has to make sense.

In my yout (yes, I said “yout”), I was a gamer. I got into rpg’s (actual ones, not friggin video games) just before going into the Marines. My aunt bought me a game called Top Secret, and my best friend, my cousin, and I all played. We had a blast. (You try surviving a called shot to the face…with a bazooka!) Then I joined the Corps, and my first duty station was in Japan. A few months in, I met a guy in the barracks who was running a Marvel Super Heroes game (the original one, with charts and such). He invited me to join, and again, I had a blast. I was also invited to join an Advanced Dungeons and Dragons game. Still entertaining, but not as much as being my own superhero.

I get back to the states and I introduce my cousin and his friends to the game, and good times are had again. I also get introduced to another game (Mutants and Madmen?) by another Marine, and we have some fun with that.

Here is what happens with every story ever told in an rpg: your hero is low level, and has to go up against some big-shot character. They have to go through trials as they progress through the story, gaining experience, and through that experience, they gain more power, until they are (barely) able to beat the bad guy. Then they get experience points at the end to add to their stats. It happens with every game.

So, playing by those rules and applying it to comics, there are some characters who should be more powerful than they are (Spider-Man), and some who have become undefeatable (Batman). Applying an rpg spin to these characters means that they should be knocked down every so often, because they can’t change much from what they are. (Spider-Man gets a new suit/weaponry and then loses it, Batman has his back broken…you get the idea.) These characters don’t go from wimp to badass overnight. It takes time.

There was no time taken for your priest. Unbelieving wimp one moment, badass angel the next, with no transition. That has to be fixed.

And that’s the tale! Let’s run it down!

Format: Flawless Victory! Nothing else need be said.

Panel Descriptions: A bit light on the needed details when we started, but then got better as we went on. If you dress up the front, you won’t have as many problems on the backside.

Pacing: That’s one of the biggest problems here. You have a decent grasp of what should happen when (having the doorknob melt at a place where you’d have to turn the page to see what happens next), but there’s no inciting incident, and without that, you don’t have a story, just a bunch of actions.

As a novelist, you know that the inciting incident and the denouement are the most important pieces of any story. You’re missing one, and don’t really give much of the other. The ending is a bit of a twist in that we get the sense that the angel is going to kill the woman, and I like that you left it just like that, but in the end, it’s very “meh.”

Your pacing is off, not in a pagination sense, but in a story sense. There is no real reason for any of the things that take place to happen. How do you fix this?

Dialogue. I’m not going to go back and read it, but I believe you had more dialogue in the previous entry. At least, dialogue that explained more. This doesn’t explain much of anything.

I’m not going to beat a dead horse. More, better dialogue. That’s what I expect from you.

Content: As a reader, this story doesn’t make much sense. There are some glimmers there, but those are overshadowed by the nonsensical. I believe that if you fix the dialogue and add an inciting incident, this will be a much better read.

Editorially, we just need reasons for why these characters do what they do. Again, an inciting incident. (Wonder how many times I’ve said that in this piece. If I say it again, will it stick?) Inciting incident. (There. Let’s see.)

Also, you have to fix the dialogue. This could be interesting if this was about the priest’s faith as a supernatural being, questioning why he’s doing what he’s doing, instead of just going from scared to superhero. That’s not a fun transition. Not unless he has a magic word, and I don’t recall him shouting SHAZAM!

Finally, what is this story about? What do you want the reader to walk away with? The twist of angels killing humans isn’t that uncommon. Who are we supposed to empathize with? None of these characters, at the end, deserve any of our empathy, because they’re basically all ciphers.

This story has no real point. I think when you redid it, you scrubbed the point of the story away. Ungood.

Finally, folks, there were some figures attached to the script. I stripped them out. I just didn’t want you to think that they were mentioned but weren’t there.

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

Also, we’re getting close to the end of our scripts! Submit now, because the wait isn’t long!

Like what you see? Sam and Yannick are available for your editing needs. You can email Sam here and Yannick 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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