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TPG Week 177: Laziness Is Not Becoming

| May 17, 2014

TPGFeatured_07

Well, it’s another installment of The Proving Grounds! This week we have Chad Handley, who’s no stranger around here. This week, though, I’m by myself. So, let’s dive right on in!

PAGE ONE

1 – 3/4 shot of CANTOR firing on an indoor shooting range.

She looks more like a librarian than anyone who should be shooting a gun.

She wears COKE BOTTLE GLASSES so thick they make her eyes appear comically large on her face. (These two paragraphs are unnecessary, as they should be part of a character description document. Chad should know better than this. The artist is going to work out all the character descriptions before they put pencil to paper.)

A gaudy red BRA STRAP clearly visible on her shoulder; a mismatching, brown SLIP protruding under her wrinkled dress. (This is necessary, although why it’s important hasn’t been made relevant yet. So far, this panel description is very light on necessary information.)

A FIELD TRAINER looms behind her, arms folded, watching her take her shot. (Ah! So we now have a camera angle, even though it’s inferred. Good.)

Caption

THEN.

Field trainer

Impressive grouping, Cantor. What accounts for this sudden improvement?

Cantor

Well, sir, you accused me of being too cerebral on the range. I turned that so-called weakness into a strength. (I have no idea how it’s possible to be too cerebral, but this is a bad opening salvo when it comes to dialogue.)

 

2 – CANTOR’S POV looking downrange at her man-shaped paper target. A tight grouping of bullet holes right around the bull’s-eye.

Overlaid are graphics of EQUATIONS corresponding to the math Cantor is doing in her head while shooting. Formulas for distance, velocity, bullet drop, etc.

 

Cantor (O.P.)

When I reduce each shot to a rudimentary physics equation, the bull’s-eyes follow from mathematical necessity.

3 – Behind Cantor and the Trainer, looking downrange. The Trainer is hitting a button on a wall just over his head. In the far background, pop-up targets are swinging up into place on the range. (This cannot be drawn. You want the camera behind your two characters to look downrange, but then you have the trainer hitting a button that is magically delicious in that it appears above his head. Where is the wall? Behind him? Are they in a booth? You said indoor range, but you didn’t describe the setup. This is lazy, and because you’re being lazy, you’re setting your artist up for failure.)

FiELD TRAINER

No time for an algebra test in a fire fight, Trainee. You’re here to develop the muscle memory to shoot accurately on INSTINCT.

4 – CANTOR’S POV, looking downrange. Now there are multiple pop-up targets, some shaped like GUNMEN, others shaped like CIVILIANS.

Motion lines indicate the pop-ups are MOVING on tracks.

Again, we see graphical representations of the math Cantor is doing in her head, but the equations are FUZZY, or end in QUESTION MARKS, or have LINES drawn through them.

FieLD TRAINER (o.p.)

Pick your target!

CANTOR (O.P.)

Just a moment… um…. Weight times…NO, velocity times…

FiELD TRAINER (O.P.)

No time for that! Shoot!

5 – CLOSE on Cantor, hands shaking, rattled, aiming downrange. The Field Trainer’s mouth is coming in from just off panel, screaming relentlessly into her ear.

FielD TRAINER

You are being fired upon, Trainee! The next one kills you, or your partner —

CANTOR

— Sir, I don’t respond well to pressure —

FIELD TRAINER

— Shoot!!!

6 – INSERT of Cantor’s weapon firing.

CANTOR (O.P.)

AAAAHHHHHHH!

7 – CLOSE on a pop-up CIVILIAN target in the shape of a pig-tailed little girl. She’s sporting a fresh, smoking hole in the center of her head.

FIELD TRAINER (O.P.)

Better luck next year, Trainee.

FIELD TRAINER (O.P.)

Back to your cubicle.

P1 is down.

Mechanically, this page is okay. I’d cut out the unnecessary character describing (notice that Cantor is described in detail but the trainer is not), but other than that, this is mechanically fine.

It falls down when it comes to great interest.

If she’s good enough to visualize mathematical equations on how to shoot, then she should be good enough to do it with multiple targets.

And then she forgets on how to do things?

I understand that this was supposed to be showing her being “cerebral,” but in the end, it only shows her being incompetent, but not in the way you really want.

Have you ever fired a gun? I have. I’ve fired the M16A2, a 9MM, a shotgun, an Uzi, an RPG, a crew served weapon… Being in the military has given me a decent overview on how to fire a weapon and the mechanics involved in it. With ever weapon that I’ve ever had to qualify with, I’ve qualified expert.

While this isn’t impossible, it’s a bunch of mumbo jumbo. It’s like you saw an episode or two of Numb3rs, said that looked interesting, and decided to have your character do something like that, but in her head. Or, you took a play out of Marvel’s book with Amadeus Cho, but wanted it to be to a lesser degree.

Basically, this page is bullshit, because if the trainer was doing their job, she’d have learned the mechanics of shooting. There are no mechanics here, just failed mathematics in an attempt to make the story interesting.

If you want to make this page more interesting, ditch the “trainer”, mention her ditching mechanics such as proper grip, sight alignment and sight picture, in favor of something she’s trying to do instead. This will stop people like me from calling bullshit, because they’d then at least understand that you’re attempting something different.

While I’m not just ready to put the book back on the shelf, this first page has me rolling my eyes.

 

 

 

 

 

PAGE TWO (What the hell, Dell?! No page breaks? No Flawless Victory for you!)

1 – Establishing shot of a large, non-descript corporate building. (Lazy. So damned lazy that I’m almost speechless. What does the building look like? Where is it located? What’s around it? What time of day is it? Damned lazy.)

CAPTION

FBI Field Office, Springfield, Illinois…

Cantor (O.P.)

That firearms exam is a mathematical absurdity! (No, you just never learned the mechanics of shooting. Don’t let your character be stupid.)

2 – Inside the office, Cantor paces, fuming, through the office, preoccupied with her failure. (What office? What does it look like? Even something rudimentary, Chad. This is just [everyone, now] lazy…)

Her SUPERVISOR, arms folded, leans against a cubicle and watches Cantor steam. (No clue what the supervisor looks like, either. Because, you know, they’re not important, and as such, don’t require describing in Chad’s world.)

CAPTION

Encryption Specialists Division.

CANTOR

Only 11.578% of active FBI field agents are ever involved in a shoot-out, and only 3.68% of those involve civilians in the line of fire! (Meh. I’m not a fan of the percentage sign in dialogue. I wouldn’t call it wrong, but I’d definitely call it unpopular.)

Cantor

Do you know the statistical probability I’ll ever be involved in a shooting matching the exam parameters in a given year?

Supervisor

I bet I’m about to find out… (If you had the supervisor acting, then their facial expression would have matched this line of dialogue.)

CANTOR

76,532 to 1! They might as well test our ability to be hit by lightning!

3 – Angle on Cantor’s Supervisor, with a satisfied grin on his face, extending Cantor a flash drive. (If you weren’t being lazy before, we would have at least known that her supervisor was male…)

SUPERVISOR

Cantor, you’re clumsy, you have 20-80 vision with your glasses ON, and in my twenty years in the intelligence community, you have, hands down, the worst case of allergy-activated asthma I’ve ever seen. (This, ladies and gentlemen, is what we call “exposition.” A necessary evil, yes, and somewhat clumsily handled. This is all telling us how she’s so bad, so we can sympathize with her and her struggles so that it will all be worth it when she somehow becomes badass. Not crap, but not good.)

SuPERVISOR

You’re not a field agent. You’re a GEEK. And that’s all you’ll ever be. (And he’s insulting as well?)

 

SUPERVISOR

Coded communication from a high-level target. Upstairs needs it decrypted.

4 – Cantor sullenly sits at her cubicle, typing with one hand while raising her ASTHMA INHALER to her face with the other.

CANTOR

…Waste of my potential… (So, she’s bad as a field agent, for all of her intelligence, doesn’t understand the need to be field rated with a firearm, and has the nerve to complain on top of that? This is not a character that I’m liking.)

5 – Same angle. As Cantor takes a breath from her inhaler, her eyes go WIDE.

6 – On Cantor’s computer screen, we see the following decrypted message:

Message

Meet me across the street from Gosset Park TODAY. NOON. I’ll be the blonde carrying an UMBRELLA.

7 – On Cantor, looking at her watch, and smiling.

CANTOR

I’m taking my lunch. (Of course she goes. It’s what happens in bad storytelling.)

P2…

There are two things that are wrong with this script so far.

The first is that you’re being damned lazy, Chad, and laziness is not going to get the job done. Laziness will only make your artist ask the questions that the script is supposed to answer.

You can do the shorthand of panel descriptions as long as your establishing shot gives all the information that’s necessary. You’re trying to cut to the chase, but you can’t. One way or another, your “shortcuts” are going to bite you in the ass.

The second thing that’s wrong with this script is the fact that your character, so far, not very sympathetic.

Now, don’t get me wrong: you don’t have to sympathize with characters at all, but they at least have to be empathetic, meaning you have to be able to empathize with them.

Personally, I can’t empathize with her, and that’s a failure on your part as the writer.

She’s an FBI agent, doing desk work, wanting to be more than she is, and I understand that. Everyone can understand that. But then her trainer fails her by not teaching her the mechanics of shooting (your fault as the writer), her supervisor tells her things she already knows (your fault as the writer), insults her by calling her a name (your fault as the writer), and then gives her work to do. She fails herself by knowing she’s bad, but blaming the system for her failure instead of taking responsibility for her own shortcomings (your fault as the writer). Then, she does the predictable thing with the information she receives: she goes out on her own to “prove” she’s a field agent.

This is something we’ve all seen before. I’m waiting for the twist, but I don’t think we’re going to get there before I cut you off for being boring and making your character stupid.

 

 

PAGE THREE (I’m shocked that you haven’t learned about page breaks. And disappointed.)

1 – Cantor’s POV from inside her car of a SUSPICIOUS MAN in a HORRIBLE BLOND WIG carrying an umbrella on a bright, sunny day. (Where? What does it look like. Lazy…)

CaNTOR (O.P.)

Target identified…

CANTOR (O.P.)

Okay, girl…

2 – Cantor opens her car door and an oncoming BIKE MESSENGER SLAMS INTO IT, spilling his delivery of AZALEAS, and knocking off Cantor’s GLASSES. (From which direction? And that’s just the beginning. This should have been two panels. Where’s the camera? Lazy.)

CANTOR

Time to shi-IIIIIIIT.

BIKE MESSENGER

HEY!!!!

3. On the ground, as the Bike Messenger struggles to his feet, and Cantor, squinting, feels around the ground for her glasses, which lie CRACKED AND BROKEN in the foreground.

BIKE MESSENGER

The fuck, lady?!

Cantor

Goddamnit! My glasses!

BIKE MESSENGER

Did you just say “time to shit?” (From this line forward, none of the dialogue is apropos to this panel.)

CANTOR

What? No! I was saying “shine” and you–

BIKE MESSENGER

— You did! You said “time to shit!”

4 – On her feet now, Cantor is pulling her BROKEN GLASSES onto her face, and is just now registering that the Bike Messenger, now getting back on his bike, is holding FLOWERS. (When did she find them? Where did the flowers come from? Magically delicious.)

BikE MESSENGER

It’s called the Bicycle Lane, C-WORD! Respect it! (C-word? Was that you, or was it something with the program?)

CANTOR

Whoa! That’s totally uncalled… oh, God… are those azaleas?

5 – Cantor stumbles away from the Bike Messenger, holding her chest with one hand, while using the other to bring her purse to her face.

 

CANTOR

Not….*GASP!*…. now. *GASP!* PLEASE….! *GAAAASSSSP!*

6 – Close on the Suspicious Man, eyebrows raised, as he looks back over his shoulder at something ridiculous. (So far, this entire thing is ridiculous because it’s so contrived.)

CANTOR (O.P.)

FB…*GASP*….FBI…. *GASP!*

7 – Close on Cantor, holding a shaking gun in one hand, while holding her purse up to look for her inhaler with the other. (Where did the gun come from?)

CANTOR

Free… *GAAAASSSP!* FREEZE! (Too much gasping. There should be some wheezing and/or coughing in there, too. Have you ever heard someone having a bad asthma attack? I hear it all the time because of my job. Wheezing is definitely part of the course.)

 

P3, and most have put this back on the shelf.

We have more laziness when it comes to the panel descriptions. I’m in a white void, and I hate being there. This is worse than the previous two pages, because there’s more laziness on display. I’m repeating myself, and I know it, but if you don’t show the gumption to actually write a useable establishing shot, why should I put in the effort to not repeat the “lazy” mantra?

Why are things popping up, being magically delicious? I don’t get it.

Your pacing is off on this page, too, because you’ve got too much stuff going on in one or two panels.

I think you’ve gone out of your way to show just how bad she is at this, which makes me think you’re going to go too far in the opposite direction to show how much of a badass she is.

I’m hoping you don’t do a Captain America with her. I’m getting that feeling. It isn’t a feeling I like.

 

 

PAGE FOUR

1 – The Suspicious Man, bewildered at the sight of Cantor, and not exactly sure what’s going on, nonetheless grabs a HOSTAGE, who also looks more puzzled than afraid. (Hostage? Moving panel. And rubbish, on top of it.)

Suspicious man

Did she say “Free” or “Freeze?”

Hostage

I don’t know. Both? (Yeah. Because answering back happens.)

SUSPICIOUS MAN

Because, if the former, I’ll let you go, but… you know…

SUSPICIOUS MAN

Better to have a hostage and not need him…

2 – Angle on Cantor, looking up the barrel of her gun. She’s closing an eye behind a broken lens in her glasses, taking careful aim and FIRING. (Moving panel. Someone who isn’t Yannick please tell me why.)

CaNTOR

You’re…*GASP!* You’re safe, sir! *GASP!* Just don’t *GASP!* move…

3 – Angle on the Hostage as Cantor’s first bullet goes through his SHOULDER.

HOSTAGE

OW!!! YOU FUCKING SHOT ME!!!

CANTOR (O.P.)

Sir! *GASP* Remain calm and STOP MOVING! (What was that? Stop reading? I will, just as soon as I finish this scene…)

4 – The Hostage is shot AGAIN, this time in the leg. He doubles over in pain. The Suspicious Man puts his hands up, looks terrified.

HOSTAGE

What the FUCK?!! AGAIN?! (Yeah, I’m incredulous, too.)

CANTOR

Sir! *GASP!* REMAIN STILL!

HOSTAGE

I’m NOT! MOVING!

5 – The Hostage lies bewildered and bleeding on the floor. Behind him, we see the Suspicious Man running away. (Know where there’s a floor? Inside a room. Did we teleport inside a room? I don’t think so. Remember that words mean things.)

A bullet trail goes over the Hostage’s head, hitting an unseen bystander off-panel. (HUH?! I don’t have the strength. Yannick, please tell the class why this is physically impossible, and then please suggest a scenario where this is actually possible.)

 

UNSEEN BYSTANDER (O.P.)

OWWWW! OH COME THE FUCK ON! I’M ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE STREET! (Nope! If I have to read this, you have to be shot for it, even though you couldn’t know anything about the story, and thus, couldn’t possibly be saying this line of dialogue…)

6 – Angle on Cantor lining up another shot. She’s got her inhaler in her mouth with one hand, while shakily aiming her gun with the other.

People run screaming all around her.

CANTOR

If everyone could just…*GASP*… stop running and yelling…. *GASP*… That would be super helpful…

 

This is the end of the scene and the end of my patience. I did something I don’t normally do, because I wanted to see if I was right. And I was: she undergoes an experimental procedure, getting cybernetic enhancements to become badass. She became Captain America. (She’s toyetic, though: female, so her bust will be enhanced, and she’ll have weapons only the best toys get—light-up eyes, a mechanical arm and legs, and the arm does a karate chop AND has a kung-fu grip!) Actually, I’m wrong. She’s the female Inspector Gadget!

Anyway, let’s run this down.

Format: No page breaks means no Flawless Victory.

Panel Descriptions: Once again, they’re lazy. The establishing shots don’t establish anything, there aren’t useful camera angles for some of the actions you want, there are objects that just appear out of nowhere (being magically delicious), and there are some moving panels in there, as well as panels that aren’t well paced because they’re overstuffed.

Pacing: Generally, this is decently paced, except for a couple of panels here and there. The story progresses as it should, with only a hiccup here and there. These are all story mechanics, and this is not your problem. We’re going to talk about your problem in a moment. Part of the pacing problem is in the panel descriptions, the other part is in the dialogue.

Dialogue: This is the real start of your problems.

First, let me say that the dialogue is readable. The problem isn’t how you’re saying anything, it’s what’s being said, who’s saying it, and when they’re saying it.

Now, your main character: she’s an unlikable whiner. Again, she’s failed by everyone around her, which is a shame, because these are the people who are supposed to be building her up. You’ve set her up to spectacularly fail at anything that is remotely challenging, and you set up the expectation of failure in the dialogue.

Then there’s the kicker: you go from readable dialogue to over-the-top comedy/camp, without so much as a pit stop to make sure everyone’s with you. Having her tell people to stay still as she shoots? Having people yell about the pain and then remark about being shot? (All without acting, mind you. Few of the characters actually act in any of the panels.) The person across the street who’s shot? How are they hearing anything that’s being said, so that they’re a part of the conversation enough to actually jump in on the part of the conversation that she can’t shoot? How is it that they can harp on her inability to shoot after being shot?

You don’t start off with humor, so this attempt comes out of left field. It’s jarring, and will be called bad storytelling because you didn’t do anything to set it up.

So, again, it isn’t how things are being said, but what’s being said, as who’s saying it and when.

Content: This isn’t something I’d read. Not in its present form. The reason is simple: bad storytelling, combined with a somewhat worse version of a female Steve Rogers. It’s all predictable, with characters that don’t do their jobs, or a writer that didn’t do their homework, if not a little of both. I’m no gun expert, but if I can get the safety off the weapon, I can hit what I’m aiming at.

Editorially, I’d say this needs a rewrite. A story that isn’t so predictable, panel descriptions that aren’t lazy, characters that can be empathetic, and dialogue that fits the tone of the story. If you’re going for comedy, set it up correctly. If you’re not going for comedy, then stop trying to be funny. If you weren’t trying to be funny, then you have a lot more work ahead of you than you think. (In my peek ahead, there was another attempt at humor: the hostage who was shot died. His wounds? The shoulder and both knees. None of them fatal wounds, but he died anyway. And the back and forth between the woman and her supervisor was how this information was relayed, in an attempt at humor.)

Scrap it, know the angle you want to use on this story, and come at it that way.

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

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.

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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