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TPG Week 194: Science Fiction Needs Research

| September 12, 2014

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Welcome back, one and all, to The Proving Grounds! This week, we have a new Brave One in Chelsea Smith. We also have Liam Hayes returning this week in blue, I’m the wild one in red, and we’ll see if Chelsea is good enough to really invoke the Bard in

A Clone By Any Other Name

 

PAGE ONE (Five panels)

PANEL ONE:External view of a space station floating in space. Ships of all shape, color, and size flock around it. (I admire the freedom you’re giving your artist here.)

1 CAPTION: GamedeSpace Station. It’s (Cutting out “it’s” makes this flow better.) pretty much the busiest spaceport this side of the Milky Way.

PANEL TWO: Trucker-esque aliens in uniforms and spacesuits mill about, sipping on coffee-like cups and chatting as technicians plug in a ship in the background with electrical power cords. (Where is this? Inside the space station? If so, where, what and why?)

2 CAPTION: Planning on (Again, cut out “Planning on” for a smoother read.)hopping from one solar system to another? Plan to refuel here. (Combine that second line with the first and cut out “plan to”.) Word of warning: (Don’t use colons, semi or otherwise, in dialogue.) it’ll cost you an arm and a leg. Interstellar travel is not cheap.(I’m not too particular about colons. There are times when they’re necessary. Semi-colons, however, do not belong in comic book dialogue.)

PANEL THREE:Two sour-looking aliens – one humanoid, one wholly alien – sit across a table from one another, each with an entourage. (What are these people wearing? Or doing? Or expressing?) On the wall behind them we see a view of space and whizzing ships. (I’m in a white void, because we’ve never been properly placed inside. And for all of that, I’m getting a bit of a feeling of the Mos Eisley cantina. Call it Mos Eisley-lite, though.)

3 CAPTION: Want a neutral ground for your diplomatic negotiations or shady business deals? (Though let’s be honest, they’re basically the same thing.) (Don’t use brackets in dialogue either. Do you know somebody who uses brackets when they talk? Me neither.) (I do. Brian Bendis did it in some Avengers stories. I don’t mind the parenthesis. It’s a nice way to give the feeling of an aside.) Gamede’s the place to go.

PANEL FOUR:Harried looking parents, humans and otherwise, walk their kids through the halls. One child wails (The child wails but no sound comes out since there’s no dialogue attributed to it.) as it clutches a cup with a crazy straw. One parent holds a holo screen like a typical tourist brochure. To one side, we see a sign directing people to visit the Interstellar Mineral Museum in English and several other languages.

4 CAPTION: It’s even a vacation spot. We boast the best indoor museum of alien minerals from around the galaxy. Spoiler alert: (Colon alert.) It’s a rock museum. But people actually come from all over just to check it out. (You’re getting awfully wordy here. Especially since you’re talking about a museum for some reason.)

PANEL FIVE:At last, we come to the food court, where humans and aliens of all sorts eat food of all sorts. (What? Why is this important? Who cares who’s eating what if it matters not to the story?)

5 CAPTION: It’s a pinnacle of inter(Dash.)species cooperation. The station of the future.

6 CAPTION: That’s probably what makes it the perfect place for me: (Colon.) a clone.

Already, I’m not feeling it. You’ve spent a lot of time focusing on random uninteresting details such as rock museums and family vacations. You basically gave us a tour, only to follow it up with a lackluster hook. For a space station full of aliens and a future time setting, a clone really isn’t that big of a deal. If this was set in present day, for instance, you’d have my attention.

Okay. We’ve got P1 on the books, and things aren’t looking good for our heroine.

First, a rant.

Solar system.

There’s only one, folks, and we’re in it. Here’s your science lesson for the day:

Our sun’s name is Sol. We are in the system of planets that has formed around the that particular star, thus, we are in the Sol-ar system. Other star systems will be called by different names. Learn this, and your stories will be more authentic. Look to Star Wars/Star Trek for pop culture guidance, if you wish.

If you’re doing science fiction, learn the first in order to strengthen the second. What you’re doing is inherent in the name: science and fiction. Know your science so your fiction is better.

Rant done.

Now that that’s done, I’m going to say that I’m unhappy with P1. The reason is simple: I’m not placed well inside the space station (not placed inside it at all, really), and I’m not induced to read more than the first page. It’s boring.

What’s the tour about? Why do we care about the tour? Does this location have anything to do with the story? It kind of feels like you’re clearing your throat, Chelsea, and I’m not interested in it. What I’m interested in is a story that grabs me and brings me in.

It feels like padding. I could probably cut this first page and start the story a little later.

Also, there’s no spoken dialogue here. We’re being told a story instead of being part of the story, experiencing it as the protagonist does. It’s a lean back experience, as opposed to a lean in one.

The good news is that the dialogue is readable. A small polish, yes, but it’s readable. Now, it just needs to be interesting.

PAGE TWO (Four panels)

PANEL ONE: Flash to a photo of a cheerful human woman in a lab coat in the arms of a massive toad-like alien. (A photo? Is it in someone’s hand, photo-frame or screen? Otherwise this is just a panel, surely? The reader will have no context for this being a photo. Also, where are these people? What’s the background? What’s the toad wearing?)

1 CAPTION: Believe it or not, clones are pretty common. (I do believe it.) Like how on Earth, half of all the French people are descended from William the Conquerer. Well, that’s about how many non-Earth humans are clones. (This is confusing. There are as many clones as half the population of France? Is that what you’re trying to say? If so, the population of France is 66,616,416. Halved that’s 33,308,208. Given the est. world population of 7,259,598,565, the amount of clones is 0.4%. And that’s without factoring in the population growth in your future with non-earth humans. That’s pretty uncommon. See what a little bit of research can do?)


2 CAPTION: We’re really popular with inter(Dash.)species couples who can’t have kids naturally.

(You’re being wordy again. However, there are only four panels here, so you might just get away with it.)

PANEL TWO: The human and toad-like alien (What are they wearing now?) stand in front of a buildingwith a sign reading CRISTHOLM CLONING. (Where? On earth?) The mother beams, (“Beams” isn’t really a clear expression. It’s halfway there.) holding a swaddled baby (What’s baby doing? Sleeping? Crying?) while her toad-like husband holds an overstuffed baby bag. (I take it they’re leaving? Where are the doors? Where are the other people? Is this a street-scene? It has to be, in order to see the sign. Your panel descriptions aren’t clear enough.)

3 CAPTION: For instance, my parents didn’t want to wait for an (Cut “an”.) adoption. (Comma instead of a stop.) So they picked me. Apparently my DNA came from some concert violinist. (This doesn’t make any sense. Surely what they did was basically adoption? Why didn’t they use their own DNA for the baby? Seems to me that’s what a parent would want.)

PANEL THREE: In another picture, we see them posing in a family picture. Our little heroine, Tix, leans against the kitchen table, grinning toothily, one cheek resting on her hand. Her parents smile warmly behind her. Tix is about 8 years old. (There’s no scene here. Apart from the kitchen table which tells me we’re in a kitchen. A future kitchen? A kitchen on a space station? Where? And what are they all wearing?)

4 CAPTION: Worse, (That implies violinist DNA is bad. Is it bad? I don’t know.) they named me “Tix”, which means “Greatness” in Dad’s language. He wanted me to be the violinist. (“The violinist”? I don’t think that’s how DNA works. She can become a violinist, but not the one she inherited DNA from.)(Someone needs to watch The Boys From Brazil, at the very least. Read some harder sci-fi in order to understand something of how cloning should work.) Mom wanted me to be a scientist, like her.

PANEL FOUR: In a pose mirroring the little girl, a 20-year-old Tix (I presume you’re discussing character designs with your artist beforehand?) leans on the counter of a fast food joint. She wears a striped red-and-yellow polo shirt and a dumb paper hat. Her expression positively screams “I am bored and I hate my life.” (You’re asking a lot of your artist there, especially since they’re just going to go with a simple bored expression.)

5 CAPTION: So (Cut “so.) working in Gamede food court’s probably a step in the wrong direction.

 

I’m very bored. Why is she telling me all this? Where’s the story? What’s the hook? Why am I reading this?

P2, and like Liam, I’m bored. Not only am I bored, I’m disgusted. Why am I disgusted?

Because no research has been done on anything. You’re just writing, and with science fiction, that can’t happen.

Well, sure it can, if the concepts are pretty easy to establish. Once you start going deeper into other things, though, anyone with a slight hint of a clue about cloning and DNA are going to eat you alive. I could do it, but that’s not my job here. Just understand that you’re not doing yourself any favors if you don’t do your research.

If you’re going to do a science fiction story, you have to do the research. It’s that simple.

These panels are still light in info that the artist will need in order to do their job effectively. Panel 1: you say it’s a photo, but who’s taking the picture? If all three of them are in the photo, someone has to take it, yes? These things have to be thought through.

Where are the patrons? Where is she in relation to the patrons? See how that works?

The bad part? You’ve turned your character into a chatty Cathy, and while the dialogue is readable, it’s also not doing much of anything to tell the story. You’ve revealed character, but now it’s time to move the plot along.

It’s P2, and there’s still no reason given as to why we’re reading this.

If this is a character piece, what’s the purpose of it? (Hint: here’s where the plot comes into play.)

I’m bored. Bored is not good.

PAGE THREE (Three panels)

PANEL ONE: We see a slightly wider shot of what turns out to be a fried food joint (Didn’t you already say it was a fast food restaurant?) with a sign reading NEBULA BURGERS. An alien abduction-esque light suddenly (This is comics. There’s no suddenly. There is or there isn’t.) shines down upon her. (I’m not getting a sense of place here. What are we seeing of the restaurant? Where is the light coming from? Through the ceiling? Is there a ceiling? What is Tix doing? These questions need to be answered.)

PANEL TWO: Tix glances up, not startled so much as irritated. (Shot?)

TIX: Oh crap.

PANEL THREE: None too gently, Tix is sucked upwards, very abduction-style, limbs flailing. Her hat falls off. (Moving panel and missing expression.)(I wouldn’t call this a moving panel. I can see this panel in my head, except for the white void we’re all in.)

 

This page would work better with the “oh crap” hook as the last panel. It leaves us with a minor mystery as to what’s happening and why it’s bad. Still, the story seems to be finally starting at least.

P3, and we’re going to start with a definition:

Glance: A rushed or hurried look.

Know what that means? It means that panel 2 is a moving panel, because you can’t glance. Not with a look. Not in comics.

The main problem with this page is that we’re in a white void. We’re never firmly established anywhere, and without that information, we’re in a white void. The only thing that was ever firmly established was the space station. Everything else? It needs to be described.

The problem with science fiction is that when you’re describing things, in order to give it the feel you want, you have to describe things that are around. Unfortunately, a lot of writers aren’t good enough to describe whats in their imagination, while at the same time, not overloading with unnecessary information. It’s a balancing act, and Chelsea keeps falling.

The good news is that something finally happens. The first two pages? Fluff, for the most part. They can be cut. I’d go from the outside in, skip most of the tour, and end P1 on the adult Tix. Have some dialogue that actually moves the plot along, and then P2, the abduction.

The only problem with the abduction? It’s happening on a space station.

If this were on earth, it would be out in a field, or in someone’s house. They’d float right out the window or something. Space station? First, it’s space. The aliens are going to have a hell of a time getting her through metal and whatever transparent material you’re using as windows for outside views, because none of that opens without endangering everyone else. (Because science.)

If she’s in the front, being abducted during her work shift probably isn’t the best idea. Not in front of everyone. It’s bad PR for whomever’s doing the abducting. If she’s in the back, then I can kinda get behind that. At least not everyone can see.

Lastly, she’s pretty nonchalant about the abduction. That could be a plot point. Let’s see.

PAGE FOUR (Five panels)

PANEL ONE: Tix shoots up from a hole in the floor, finding herself in a dark, crummy office with a door in the back corner. On the door is a cheesy motivational poster with a three-armed alien giving three thumbs up. Just next to the door is a chair. She is still flailing, but she has her bearings. (Moving panel. There’s two separate actions here. Tix coming up through the hole and Tix being in the room and getting her bearings.)

TIX: Look, Mr.Mordon, if this is about the Verdarian, I couldn’t serve him the special! It has wine slugs in it and that’s like giving chocolate to an Earth dog. (She says a lot for someone shooting up into a room. That action shouldn’t take as much time as she has to say this.)

PANEL TWO: Tix lands roughly in the chair, (How did she land in the chair from the hole? The beam was just taking her up.) still blurting out her defense. (Redundant.)

TIX: And the cooling pipe thing was clearly an accident. I mean, it was broiling in there. I didn’t think fiddling with the system would actually freeze the fryers. (Balloon break for better effect.) Or Jerry.

PANEL THREE: Behind his desk, Mr. Mordon sits slumped in his chair, his face in shadow. (Where’s this desk come from? Is Mordon alien or human?)

TIX (OP): Please don’t just sit there like that, you know it freaks me out. You’re usually yelling by now. (If he’s usually yelling, how does she know that him being quiet freaks her out? No, cut that bit. Just have her make note of his unusual stoicism.)

PANEL FOUR: Frustrated, Tix jumps to her feet and slams her hands on the desk. (Moving panel again.Reword it so it isn’t.) Everything on the desk jiggles, even Mr. Mordon in his chair. (Instead of showing everything jiggling, which will be done with motion lines and look odd, have the focus on the force of her slam.)

TIX: Mr. Mordon!

PANELFIVE: Mordon slumps forward, a huge burn marring half of his face now visible. Tix jumps back with a screech. (There’s not going to be enough implied motion here for this to be very effective. I recommend you have him fall forwards and land on the desk, exposing his burnt face. I’d also split Tix’s reaction into another panel. Having her in this one limits the view we can get of both Mordon’s face and Tix’s fear.)

TIX: AAAAAAAAH!

 

Moving panels and a lack of place. Is it really necessary? Also, that abduction beam thing was executed awfully. Can’t you just cut to the office? There’s a little interest to be had on this page, however. I want to know why this guy is dead. I still don’t care that she’s a clone, though.

P4.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: learning to think in static images is a learned skill.

Understand this, folks: generally, as soon as you put the word “and” to an action, it becomes a moving panel. As soon as it becomes a moving panel, it cannot be drawn. Static images.

More dialogue here that doesn’t do much of anything except take up space. Readable? Sure! But what’s it doing? Not a damned thing. You’re just talking and talking, but you’re not getting anywhere.

I’ve had a few coworkers at some of my jobs that I just really hated to talk to. The reason? They talked a lot, but didn’t say anything. Talking to them was a chore, and I literally found it tiring.

Tix is a lot like that. She’s running off at the mouth, but not saying anything, and it’s tiring.

What does any of this have to do with her being a clone? What’s the story about?

PAGE FIVE (Seven panels)

PANEL ONE: Tix runs for the door with the poster on it. (With fear?)

PANEL TWO: Tix freezes, her hands on the knob as a new voice speaks up. (This is not going to have the effect you want. It’s just going to look like she’s taking as long as the dialogue would take to say to open the door. You need two panels for this. One showing her hand going to open the door with a little bit of dialogue, and the next with her hand relaxing or releasing the door knob with more dialogue. Motion needs to be contextualized by series of panels.)

GRISLOW: Bet you never thought you’d see old Grislow again, did you? (Three you’s. Cut the last one.)

PANEL THREE: Glancing over her shoulder, Tix sees a human man in a sleek space suit lounging against the desk, smirking evilly. (Where did he come from? Hiding under the desk is my guess. Why was he under the desk? I don’t know.) He holds a gun in one hand. (A future gun? Is it a pistol? What’s he pointing it at?)

(What’s the angle here? Due to Tix’s lack of expression, I’m going to say we’re behind her, looking over her shoulder. I could be wrong.)

GRISLOW: Sorry about the manager, but (Cut everything before this.) you should have known better than to bring others into this. (Balloon break, since you’re changing concepts.) Now, you’re going to go back to your ship and (Comma instead of “and”. Breaks up the repetition.) leave quietly and let me get through my day.

PANEL FOUR: Tix continues jerking on the doorknob, (I’m not going to make a joke here, but I am going to say that this is a moving action in a static medium.) her eyes wide with fear.

TIX: Look, pal, I have no idea what you’re talking about. You’ve got the wrong girl.

GRISLOW: Oh (Comma.) please. (Where’s the guy? He isn’t placed in the panel.)

PANEL FIVE: Grislow sneers, holding his gun up.

GRISLOW: I’m not gonna fall for your…

PANEL SIX: A sudden, (Again with sudden. Suddenly can’t be shown in comics.) pensive expression crosses Grislow’s face as he genuinely considers it. (Considers what? Either way, everything after “face” is pointless.)

GRISLOW: Wait…you (You.) wouldn’t happen to be a clone would you?

PANEL SEVEN: Tix’s face falls as she stares at him, affront overcoming fear for just a moment. (Veering dangerously into prose territory here. Stop that.)

TIX: Now that’s just rude.

GRISLOW: You’re right. (Where’s he in this panel?)

 

This is a much better way of introducing the fact that she’s a clone. That whole backstory could be summarized in that one “are you a clone?” line. Not only that, if you cut the backstory, you wouldn’t be repeating information the reader already knows. Plus you’d solve your little case of the dropsies. As for interest levels, you’re losing me again. I hope more story is coming soon.

We’re onto P5, and while there’s something of a mystery, I don’t really care.

Your new character is chatty, too.

Really, there’s nothing here to grab the reader. Aside from the lack of real pacing and real information for the artist and real interest for the reader, there isn’t anything here.

 

PAGE SIX (Six panels)

PANEL ONE: A shot blows the smiling face right off the motivational alien from the poster.

PANEL TWO: Grislow smirks widely, holding up his now smoking gun.

GRISLOW: Yeah. What’re the odds, right? (Break.)You had me going there for a second, Vida.

PANEL THREE: Tix screams (There’s no scream in the dialogue.) and jumps away from the door as another shot flies over her head, burning another hole in the poster.

1 CAPTION: This is what I get for ditching school.(Pickupsies? Is that the opposite of dropsies?)

PANEL FOUR: Tix lands on the hole (By its very definition, one cannot land on a hole.) in the floor where she’d been beamed up and holds up her fist to pound on it. (Expression? Also, have her actually pound her fists. Preparing to do so will look odd.)

2 CAPTION: Oh geez. Mom and Dad were right. Space Stations are terrible, terrible places.

PANEL FIVE: Grislow pushes himself lazily off the desk as he levels his gun at her head. (How does he point his gun at her head from the desk? How far is the hole in relation to the desk exactly? Is Tix on-panel? If so, what’s her expression? Why do we need to see him push himself off the desk? Why not just a close up of Tix’s face with the gun pressed against her head?)

GRISLOW: One more chance, Vida.

3 CAPTION: I swear to God, if I get out of this – (Ellipsis. You’re going for a continuation, not an interruption.)

PANEL SIX: The hole opens op (Typo.) and Tix falls through, just as a shot from Grislow’s gun flies over where her head was. (You sure love your moving panels.)

4 CAPTION: –I’m so getting out of Gamede!

P6, and really, it’s little more than a collection of moving panels. It’s not even interesting.

 

PAGE SEVEN (five panels)

PANEL ONE: Tix crashes down from the ceiling, right where she was before. (More description needed. Another panel needed, in fact. You need one of her falling and another of her landing.)

PANEL TWO: Frantic, she launches herself over the counter, scattering food every which way to the dismay of customers and employees. (This is the first time we’ve seen these guys. Even in the wide shot of the place there was nobody else described or placed.) The cashier, evidently alien, (And evidently magic for appearing into the scene.) shouts after her in dismay.

CASHIER: Tix, what the frickell!?

TIX: Sorry, call Javin to cover my shift! (She hasn’t the time to get all that out. Nor the composure, I reckon.)

PANEL THREE: Tix tears across the food court as fast as she can.(Thin description. Her expression? Is she looking back at her pursuer? What’s around her?)

PANEL FOUR: The cashier and the customers stare after her, completely baffled.

CASHIER: What the–

PANEL FIVE: The portal opens and Grislow falls through, already shooting. The customers scatter, eyes wide and screaming. The cashier ducks, arms thrown over his head. (Huh? Moving panel to the extreme. This can be shown, but you need to reword it.)

CASHIER: AAAAAGH! (You said the customers are screaming but you only have the cashier screaming, who I’d argue we can’t even see since they’re ducked behind the counter.)

 

I’d be mildly interested by now if you hadn’t had wasted two pages boring me at the beginning and had them telegraph your story. I’ll talk about what I mean by that at the end.

More moving panels. It’s getting worse, to tell the truth.

PAGE EIGHT (seven panels)

PANEL ONE: Tix veers around the corner out of the food court, just barely escaping a flurry of shots aimed right for her.

PANEL TWO: She continues running, throwing a glance over her shoulder. (Expression?) At the far end of the hall, someone in a space suit just like Grislow’s, but with the helmet on, walks calmly toward her.

1 CAPTION: What did I ever do to deserve this? This has got to be one of those anti-clone activists. Well, he’s not getting this duplicate so easily!

PANEL THREE: The person in the spacesuit grabs Tix’s hand. Tix reels back.(I’m getting an odd sense of disconnection here. Tix is running, presumably at full speed in fear for her life, but this guy manages to grab her hand? You see what I’m saying? There’s a loss of inertia that’s throwing me out.)

PANEL FOUR: In a panic, Tix punches the spacesuit person right in the helmet. (What happens to the punchee? Unaffected due to the helmet? Any damage incurred on the helmet?)

SFX: WHAM!(Nope. You can’t just begin sound effects at your leisure. Where are the sound effects for the gun?)

PANEL FIVE: Tix reels back, nursing her aching fist. (Expression?) The spacesuit person is not impressed. (How is that presented? It’s all very well telling us this, but comics are about showing. How is the artist supposed to show this in the art?)

TIX: Ow…

SPACESUIT: Well, that was stupid.

PANEL SIX: Close on their faces. The spacesuit person pulls a frightened Tix closer.

SPACESUIT: Now you can come with be (Typo.) peacefully or I can stun you. Your choice.

TIX: No way! Are you out of your–

PANEL SEVEN: Tix and the spacesuit person duck as new shots fly over their head. The spacesuit person is already drawing a gun. (From where is this gun drawn? This might not be a problem if you’re describing characters with your artist prior to the script.)

TIX: Okay okay okay! (Exclamation points for each of these okays.)

 

I’m going to stop here. From a technical standpoint, you need to work on your panel descriptions. There are moving panels and missing descriptions all over the place. I was always grasping for a sense of place, which I shouldn’t need to. I get the impression you’re visualizing these panels in your head, but they’re not translating well onto the page. There’s a fine line between not doing your job properly, and giving freedom to the artist. You’ve crossed that line.

The story itself shows minor flashes of interest, but is let down by the poor pacing and your own technical limitations. We really didn’t need that intro. Not one bit. Everything in it was best left untold for the time being. The fact you revealed that Tix is a clone pretty much telegraphs the entire story. Basically, Tix is a clone who shares DNA with and is mistaken for some wanted criminal/hunted hero type etc. There’s plenty of storytelling and thematic potential within that premise (Does our DNA dictate who we are, for instance) but you haven’t the skills to reach it. Cut that beginning and fling us into the thick of it. Explain Tix’s backstory as you go. Without revealing that she’s a clone straight of the bat, you can keep it as a surprise reveal.

Let’s run this down!

Format: Flawless Victory!

Panel Descriptions: These need a LOT of work. Chelsea started out with still images, but then those devolved into moving panels. It was pretty sad to see, and it is easily avoidable.

Want to write a still image? Pause the movie in your head and describe what you see. If you’re using the word “and”, more than likely you’re wrong. Generally, as soon as you use the word “and,” you’re describing two different actions, and as soon as you describe two different actions, you’re writing a moving panel that cannot be drawn.

This is a huge problem, because most of your script cannot be drawn. It tells me that you aren’t seeing things as panels, but as a film in which you’re trying to capture the salient moments. (Salient!) Still images. These are your friend.

The second thing about still images is the language. Nothing is happening “now.” Everything is happening in the immediate past. So if you use vowels that are past tense, you’ll more than likely not be writing moving panels. (More than likely. It isn’t a guarantee.)

The best defense against moving panels is understanding what they are, and then doing whatever you can to make it a static image.

The moving panels are your secondary problem. Your primary problem is that you don’t do a good job of establishing a location. Establishing shots are important. They have to describe Who, Where, What, and When. You can break this up over a few panels, but it has to be done. We should be able to get a sense of where we’re at and what’s going on.

The only time—the only time—I had any real inkling of where we were was P1, panel 1. After that, I was in a white void and just lost. That’s terrible.

The artist is working off of two things: what you tell them, and their imagination. Their imagination is sparked by what you tell them. If you don’t give them enough information, then how are they supposed to do their job?

You only have to do an establishing shot whenever you change locations. After you establish the location, you can do what I call a panel description shorthand: just give the salient (!) points.

Imagine you’re in a house. You can describe the house from the outside, then go inside and describe what room you’re in. Describe where things are, where the people are, and what they’re doing. Then if you leave the room to go into another, you’ve changed locations a bit. Describe that room. If you leave the house altogether, describe the new location. If you’re done in that location and go back to the house, you don’t need to do another establishing shot, you just need to say what room we’re in.

But you have to establish the locations first.

Pacing: The best word for this is “terrible.”

The first two pages? Padding. There is the distinct smell of elderberries there. It doesn’t begin to get interesting until P3, and then, it’s only slightly so.

The big hook? That she’s a clone. Does that have any bearing on the first five pages? Not at all. Well, sure, it’s important to the plot, it’s part of why there’s shooting going on, but the fact that she’s a clone isn’t important right now. Like Liam said, it could be held for a revelation later. (And I’m going to have more to say about cloning later.)

Dialogue: Two things.

The first, there’s a lot of it, and most of it doesn’t do any good. After a while, it’s just buzzing. It isn’t funny, you’ve already established character, and you’re going to annoy your readership to death. I don’t know about anyone else, but I hate being annoyed. Honestly, I’d rather be angry than annoyed.

So you have to learn how to get in and out. Dialogue has to either reveal character or move the plot along. If all you’re doing is revealing character, your readers are going to be bored, because you’re not saying anything useful to the plot.

Dialogue is hard. Anyone who’s ever said differently is either lying, or they don’t know what the hell they’re talking about.

The second thing: you have to learn how to break up your dialogue.

Dialogue is very much like a paragraph: they have to be separated into thoughts. Or, you could separate some things to add emphasis.

Like this.

It isn’t the letterer’s job to break up your dialogue for you. It isn’t the editor’s. It’s yours. There are several places in here where the dialogue needs to be broken up into different balloons. Learn how to break it up.

Dropsies. I hate ’em. As I said a few weeks ago, it generally means you don’t know your character, because you start an internal monologue, drop it, and then pick it back up. A character should be chattering non-stop in your head if you’re doing an internal monologue. They should be hard to shut up. It should be so bad that the monologue turns into a drone, because it’s boring, and then you find that you’ll have to go back in and tear most of it out because it doesn’t do anything for the story.

What does the internal monologue do for this story? Not one blessed thing. You could remove it and not hurt the integrity of the story. (Of course, you could also cut the first two pages and not hurt the story, and that’s where the internal monologue is.)

Dialogue. It’s hard.

Content: Here’s where you really fall down.

As a reader, I hate it when a writer just sits down and starts writing without knowing what the hell they’re doing. “Ooh! A clone! I’ll write about that! What do I need to know… Nothing!”

Wrong.

Know what DNA does? It gives you “powers.” Smart? Stupid? Strong? Hair color? Lots of hair? Four arms? No arms? That’s what DNA does.

As a clone, they’ll look like the person they’re cloned from, but that’s about it. Personality is shaped by their environment. The pianist? That’s a learned skill. Doesn’t mean the clone will be able to play the piano well without practice. They could be a mathematician.

The Boys From Brazil. I’m going to spoil the movie: a Nazi hunter is searching for war criminals, and stumbles upon a group of boys who all look alike. Come to find out, they’re clones of Hitler, and the scientist who created them is trying to recreate the Fuhrer by shaping their childhood to mimic Hitler’s. The “mother” is of a certain personality, as is the “father.” The “father” is killed while at a certain age. They try to get the clones interested in art. All of this in an effort to get Hitler back.

I read a book series when I was a teenager about a woman who was the leader of a large corporation. She was continually “taped”, so that her memories would be held not only for posterity, but for clones of her. The woman is killed, and the clone is given the memories of the original at that particular age.

Hell, read Dune. The concept of the ghola is nothing more than a clone (although Herbert goes spiritual with it to some extent).

Editorially, this needs a lot of work. A rewrite, really, and not because the story is bad, and it isn’t even that badly told. You still have to learn what you’re doing in the medium. Read more books, write more scripts. Work on your panel descriptions. This is your base. Everything else flows from it. Once you get a firm base, everything else should fall into place.

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

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