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TPG Week 201: Stories Need Real Endings

| October 31, 2014

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Welcome back, one and all, to another installment of The Proving Grounds! This week, we have a new Brave One in Jose Pereira. And for added bonus, today is my wedding anniversary! Nine years to my lovely wife. I love you, sweetheart.

 

Okay, enough. We’ve got Samantha LeBas in purple, I’m in the mellow red, and we’ll all see if Jose goes

 

Beyond

 

Page 1

 

Panel 1: A small, human-made, civilian spaceship slowly propels itself on a path towards the Proxima Centauri star system. Its engines shine bright blue, as the black and white ship makes its way across the vastness of space. The ship looks strangely unscathed by the rigors of space travel, like it just came out of the assembly line. A futuristic United Nations logo can be seen on the side, and bellow it the name of the ship: “SS Aurora”. (Prosaic. My problems with prosaic panel descriptions are twofold: first, it generally leads to moving panels; and second, if you’re writing multiple scripts a month, writing like this can slow you down. Get in and get out. Most of this won’t be important to the artist. Schuyler: rewrite this panel description in forty words or less.)

 

Caption — November 28th, 2185.

Caption — 4.1 light-years from Earth.

 

Panel 2/3/4 (I have a small idea of what this means. A small one.): Zoom in on the observation room, located three quarters of the way down the front of the ship. A man and a woman are having passionate sex in zero gravity (Any idea of how difficult it is to have sex when you don’t have anything to push/pull against? Anyone? I understand the visual, and I’m not denying it the power of it. I’m just talking about the practicality of it.). They move around the clear, glass-like, spherical room like ballet dancers, dancing to their own tune (Aaaand…moving panel. See what I mean about prosaic panel descriptions?). The close-by star brightens the pristine-looking room. The man is Mission Commander Jack Russell(like the breed of dog? Is that a joke?), a tall, muscular American, sporting a buzz-cut, an American military tattoo on his upper-left arm, and a large scar that runs diagonally across his back. The female is Medical Officer Catherine Mendes, the Mission Psychologist. She’s a little shorter than Jack and in good physical shape, but she’s not a model. Her hair is dark brown, cut at shoulder-length, and her eyes are blue and intense. Catherine writhes in ecstasy as Jack touches her softly. The whole thing feels like female-oriented, soft-core porn. (Most of this can be cut out, because it will be in the character descriptions you’d be giving to the artist before they ever set pencil to paper. Other stuff? Moving panels and cannot be drawn. And unless you name these characters, no one will know or care who they are and their positions in the crew.)

 

Panel 5: Cat looks very close to orgasm as Jack locks eyes with her.(Can we see Jack in this panel?) (How is the reader supposed to know she’s close to orgasm? Is this her o-face?)

 

Jack — I love you, Cat.(I ask if we can see him because if we can’t this is OP)

Cat — I…

 

Panel 6: Cat closes her eyes with pleasure. (Moving panel.)

 

Cat — I’m…

 

(I have been trying to think of that it is about this scene that annoys me so much, and I think I have finally come to an conclusion. You would not see a writer do this with an action scene, no way, Jose. You would not have the phrase, ‘this should look like a male-oriented hard-hitting action movie’ in a panel description, normally. No, I can promise you, every punch, kick and throwing star would be accounted for. You just gloss over everything, it seems kind of like cop out. This scene sets the tone for the book, is there implied nudity or do we see it? Is there anything about the scene that separates it from the rest of the story? You could end up with naked, floating Swan Lake, with what you have written here. If you are going to open with a sex scene you are going to have to write a sex scene, instead you have written about one.)

 

So, we come to the end of P1.

 

There’s really only one reason to turn to P2: sex. Simply put, sex sells. It’s an easy shortcut.

 

Know the thing about sex, though? It’s not going to sell well in a comic shop. They’re going to have to put it behind the counter, or bag it and tape it, making sure kids can’t get into it easily. If this were to go through Diamond, they’d have to put it in the special adult section, which is different (and much slimmer) than the Previews catalogue we know and love so well. This means you won’t be able to sell it easily.

 

Now, about that story…

 

What story, you ask? Well, so am I, to tell the truth. There’s no story here. There are two people having sex, and there’s little incentive to turn the page except to maybe see what each of them is packing.

 

The prosaic panel descriptions are killing you, and killing me, as well. I knew that they would lead to moving panels. It takes a lot of control to be prosaic and not write one. Control you already showed you don’t have.

 

Cut down on the prose, and stick to still images that can be drawn. Don’t give character motivations, because that won’t be evident in the script. It’s going to slow you down and will end up leading to panels that can’t be drawn. The entire purpose of the script is to be drawn. Give the team something they can work with. They can’t work with this.

 

Page 2

 

Panel 1: The sex scene was all a fantasy inside Cat’s head. She’s actually in her bunk, masturbating under the covers. Cat opens her eyes. There’s some sweat running down her face. She wasn’t able to achieve orgasm, and looks sad and defeated.(This is more like 3-4 panels. One panel to reveal she is alone, one to show her eyes closed, one to show her reaction, and possibly one to tell us why she stops? Is she interrupted?) (Moving panel.)

 

Panel 2: A group photo, taken back on Earth, that’s been ripped to only show Cat and Jack, is glued to the top of her bunk. Jack has his arm around Cat and they both look very happy. Appearance-wise, they looked like they did in the fantasy. They’re wearing their astronaut fatigues.(Are the lights in her room on? How do we know that there were more people in the photo?) (What does her bunk look like? Is the picture above her head, or above her face? See the difference?)

 

Panel 3: Cat gets out of bed. Above the bunk reads: “Medical Officer – Dr. Catherine Mendes, MD, PhD”, with the Portuguese flag next to it. She looks much skinner (“Skinner”? Really?) than in the fantasy, almost to the point of malnourishment. Her hair is longer and she looks like hasn’t showered in a long time. She’s wearing shorts and a tank top. There’s no one else in the room, but the other five bunks are all decorated with faded, dusty personal items, and the beds are all unmade. There’s litter on the floor. The room is lit by a single, dim, flickering light.(Yeah okay, say this bit about the light at the beginning of the scene. Also tell us where the light is, it will influence the look of the scene.) (You can’t show a flickering light in a static image. You need to have at least three panels to show a flicker: one on, one off, one on. This makes it a moving panel.)

 

Cat [VO] — Mission Log: Day 9077.

Cat [VO] — Today makes 24 months since the incident that killed the entire crew.(Where is this coming from, is she recording it now? Might need quotation marks depending on your intent.)

 

Panel 4: Cat, wearing a ragged, dirty sweater, trousers, and boots, walks of the room.(Walks of the room? Oh, wait, walks out of the room? Okay, into where?) She carries a satchel with assorted tools.(Why did she change clothes, or when for that matter?) (Large jump in time, which I can get behind, but what’s this panel here for? And really, she’s not washing? Even Will Smith washed in I Am Legend. This should have been her washing.)

 

Cat [VO] — The solar panel array remains offline, despite my best efforts to repair it. Life support systems are mostly operational, but I don’t have enough power to access the guidance system or power the engines.

(This is a little slow, but we get some important information. It’s not padding, but the visuals are pretty far from compelling.)

P2 ends, and really, we’re not caring.

There are three things going on here, really. Two are from a story perspective, and the other from the storytelling perspective.

From the story, the interesting thing is that the crew is dead and she isn’t. That’s always fun. Isolation for two years has turned her into something of a slob.

Then, there’s the “Captain’s log” you have going on. It’s a Star Trek shortcut, meant to ease the reader into the story very quickly, catching them up so that they don’t have as hard to work at anything. In comics, it’s both boring and lazy, especially when she doesn’t give a reason as to why she’s keeping the log and reminding herself that she’s alone out there.

The show Dark Shadows always started out with a narrator. The first few seasons was the nanny, and it always started out with “My name is Victoria Winters,” and then it went on to give a florid account of the previous episode or two in order to set up that day’s episode. The opening text of your story reminds me of that, except we don’t know when she’s doing the recording. That’s the thing about narration: there often isn’t a real timeframe to anchor it.

The third thing is storytelling. You don’t know how to tell an interesting story, and you don’t know how to do it in still images.

Learn how to tell the story in still images first, and then learn how to be interesting within the format. I know it’s only P2, but really, you have me wanting to punt a puppy with the moving panels.

 

Page 3

 

Panel 1/2/3: Cat walks down the main corridor, on her way to the engineering and maintenance section, at the far-end of the ship. On her way there, she passes through the science labs, the observation room, and the garden. The lab is full of powered-down, hi-tech gear, and decaying carcasses of starved, white mice, in their cages. The observation room’s glass shell looks breached, as if shots with an automatic weapon. The garden is full of rotten and dead plants.(I hate this combining panels thing. Like a lot. (And she’s not alone. This is lazy.) Where do these captions go? This is not comic writing. Why? If glass is breached in outer space, don’t you die? I don’t understand. Where are the crew’s bodies? We have mouse bodies, where are the human bodies? Wouldn’t they be all over the place? Did Cat dispose of them all on her own?)

 

Cat [CAP] — The Aurora continues to drift through space, everyday a little closer to its intended destination. We would’ve reached it by now, if things hadn’t gone so wrong.(Does it matter what the intended destination of the ship was? Feels like it should. Why don’t you share?) (Here’s the thing about space: unless there’s some gravity out there to slow the acceleration, you’re going to continue to move at a constant speed unless you have thrust. Thrust in a single direction makes you move faster. Physics. Yes, I know, realism isn’t the point. Drama is, which is why we have sound effects for space battles, even though there’s no medium for sound to travel through in space. However, if you did even a little bit of research on your science, your fiction should be that much better.)

 

Cat [CAP] — Rations are running low. I estimate 2 to 3 weeks before I run out of food. The water-recycling filter is broken, and I don’t have the spare parts needed to fix it.

 

Cat [CAP] — I wonder what will kill me first, hunger or poisoning…(Why poisoning? Oh, wait, from the water? Okay. Maybe say that? It’s unclear as is.)(You can live for about seven days without food. You can only live for about 3 without water. So, it’s pretty easy to know which will kill you first. And as a medical doctor, she should know that. This is 2014, not 1963 where you can get away with a shoddily written script for a sci-fi movie. People today are a lot more savvy about everything than they were then, despite the fact that I wonder about our continued existence after watching shows like Cops, Maury Povich, and Duck Dynasty. (Okay, fine, I’ve never actually watched Duck Dynasty in my life, and have no intention of ever watching it. But you know what I mean.) Don’t let your characters reveal your own shortcomings as a writer.)

 

Panel 4: Cat enters the engineering and maintenance section. It’s a mess. Open panels and wires sticking out everywhere. Some of the hardware looks shorted-out.(Explain this, what does this look like?) Reams of paper pile on the floor, diagrams (of what?) and handwritten post-its stick to the walls.(What do they say? Anything important?)

 

Cat [CAP] — I think I’ve fixed most of the damage needed to restore the solar array(comma) but who knows if I can get it working again.(This line is awkward. No one knows if she can get it working. She’s alone. She’s probably tried to fix it before, yeah? Maybe focus on how she’s struggled with it?)

 

Panel 5: Cat opens the toolkit and takes out a futuristic-looking screwdriver and a torch.(What’s in the background?) (Moving panel, and it does nothing to reveal character or move the plot along. Padding.)

 

Cat [CAP] — A ship full of tech geniuses, and I’m the one who survives… Any hopeful thoughts of success feel like a knife stabbing me in the heart.

 

Panel 6: On her hands and knees, she crawls inside a small, tight duct, holding the torch in her mouth. Her hair is now wrapped in a bun. (Where’s the camera? Where did the duct come from?)

 

Cat [CAP] — Some days I just wish for a hull breach to suck all the air out and end me.

 

(It would not take that much more effort to separate that panel description, and it would make everyone’s life easier. One panel in the observation room, one for the garden, one for the lab. Why are you not describing any camera angles?)

 

P3, and not one interesting thing is done or said. Except for that puppy I punted, of course.

 

Since it’s my anniversary, and since not a damned thing is going on here, I’ll tell you how I met my wife.

 

I was married, but separated from my ex. I had tried to put it back together, moving from New York to Virginia in order to be closer to her and our kids. We went out to lunch after I moved, and she got a phone call from the guy she was seeing at the time. She answered the phone, had a short conversation, said “I love you,” and I was done. I no longer tried to put us back together. It was over.

 

I’m not a guy who likes to be alone for long. And I guess desperation could have been smelled on me. There were a few ladies that had caught my eye, but none that I really wanted to spend copious amounts of time with. Then I joined a dating site, and had a few dates. I’d see who had looked at me, and I was looking at some of them. I always wrote to those who had looked, basically to say thank you for stopping by. It was the polite thing to do.

 

One woman who had stopped by was a chiropractor. She lived relatively close. We had started talking, and had some things in common. Another who had stopped by was a woman who lived in California. I wrote her, too. She seemed interesting. Older than myself, and we had some things in common, as well. She didn’t write back immediately.

 

When she did write back, after about a week, we started to hit it off. She liked my sense of humor, and I liked that she liked my jokes. We talked about a lot of things. And then we found out that we worked for the same company. It’s like we were destined to be together, right?

 

Lots of conversations went on. I told her about the chiropractor, and that I was going to go out on a date with her, and she hoped that I had a good time. Well, that’s what she told me. She wanted me to have fun, but not a LOT of fun. When I got back, I didn’t tell her all the details of the date…there are just some things you don’t do…and we continued to talk.

 

Finally, it was time to see each other. We had been talking on the phone every day for a couple of months, and this was after emailing each other every day for a couple of weeks. I flew out to California on Halloween to see this woman who had so intrigued me.

 

I land in California, and as I’m riding the escalator down, I see her: tall, red-headed, wearing a jeans jacket and shades. She stood out immediately. I smiled. She smiled, too. We said hi, we hugged, and we waited for my luggage.

 

She wouldn’t look at me! She wore her shades inside, and she wouldn’t look at me at all. I tried talking, and she’d engage, but she wouldn’t look at me. Was I ugly? Too short? Too thin? Did she not like me? Find someone else? (There was a guy who was very interested in her at the same time I was, and he was right there, whereas I was across the country.) Did I waste my time in coming?

 

Turns out, she was nervous. Very nervous. The shades were a barrier, and she didn’t want to look at me because she couldn’t stop smiling when she did. She really enjoyed being next to me, and was looking forward to spending the time with me.

 

We had a blast for the days I was there, and then she moved to be with me in December. We lived together for two years, and then she accepted my marriage proposal.

 

Well, I was still married, technically, as was she. We both got divorces, and then turned around and got hitched.

 

I can’t say it’s been all peaches and cream. We’ve had a couple of rough patches. But I’ll tell you this: it doesn’t seem like we’ve been together for 11 years. Maybe five or six. Time flies when you’re having fun and when you’re still in love. The honeymoon isn’t over.

 

We’re perfect for each other. We complement each other very well. She’s strong where I’m weak, she’s weak where I’m strong. We don’t sweat the same stuff, and we don’t sweat the same way. Not necessarily opposites, but different enough and respectful enough of each other to make it work. She’s my best friend, my Reason, and I love her totally. I’m looking forward to spending the rest of my life with her.

 

I love you, Lenora Forbes.

 

And that, my friends, is more interesting than what the script has here.

 

Page 4

 

Panel 1: Cat reaches the end of the duct. It’s a cubicle-sized room full of circuit board arrays. Some of the boards look like they’ve been repaired, while others lie broken and in pieces on the floor.(Why would one need to crawl through a duct to get to a seemingly important location on the ship?) (Reminds of of Event Horizon, as well as 2001.)

 

Cat [CAP] — I’ve thought about doing it myself, but every time I try, I hear his voice, in that disapproving tones(delete ‘s’) of his, telling me not to be a coward, to keep going…

 

Panel 2: Cat attaches a microchip to a circuit board with the help of the screwdriver. (Really? I mean…really? I don’t even have the words.)

 

Cat — It’s all up to you, little guy.(It seems like this microchip is her last hope, looking at the way she is going on about it. Maybe build that idea up a little?) (Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi…)

 

Panel 3: Cat flicks a switch on a control panel next to the array.

 

Cat — Come on…

 

Panel 4: Nothing happens. Cat punches the control panel out of frustration. (Moving panel. Someone tell me why.)

 

Cat — Fuck, fuck, FUCK!(If you want a word to be emphasized, underline it.)

 

Panel 5/6: The ship rumbles and shakes. Cat is thrown around the room like a puppet. (Lazy. And why two panels of it?)

 

NO COPY

 

Panel 7: The rumbling stops, and the ship has power again. Cat is on the floor, sporting some fresh bruises, looking at the buzzing electric activity going on in the circuit boards. She looks utterly surprised at her success.(Bruises wouldn’t appear that quickly. I think this panel needs a cap or dialogue.)

 

NO COPY

 

The End

(Looking at what is actually here, you have a ship going nowhere and a protagonist talking to no one. Is that interesting? No, really, you tell me. You’ve established the stakes in some ways. She’s running out of food and water, she’s the last person left. Okay, sure. Why is she going where she’s going? Is her mission important? If she is more than 2-3 weeks from her destination, it doesn’t matter if things are working now, she’s still dead, right? There’s simply not enough information here to make any kind of point. Her existence seems miserable, and the only reason she offers as to why she keeps going is that her boyfriend would be disappointed if she killed herself. I don’t think you’ve told us a story.)

 

I know a story hasn’t been told. But let’s run this down.

 

Format: Flawless Victory! That’s really the only good thing about this piece.

 

Panel Descriptions: They were prosaic to start, and then while they were no longer prosaic, there were still a lot of moving panels.

 

Understand that comics is a static medium. Your characters cannot move. You have to give the illusion of movement by describing actions as they have just happened. If you catch them in the midpoint of an action, pausing it like a movie and describing what you see, you’ll notice that you’re using a lot of past-tense verbs. If you describe the action as though it has just happened, you are then describing a static image.

 

Another important thing is do not be lazy. Combining panels is pretty high on the laziness scale. (Highest? Not using capitalization or punctuation. I’ve seen it.) Separate your panel descriptions into something an artist can actually use. When you combine a panel, you’re giving up control to your artist, telling them to depict something in the captured moment of their choosing, not yours. You can definitely do that in a plot-first script, and you can give up control every so often if you don’t care about something, but this piece is only four pages. You don’t have the space to not be picky about what’s being shown.

 

Don’t be lazy.

 

Pacing: There is no pacing. No real pacing. In order for there to be pacing, a story has to be told. There’s no story here, because there’s no action that has consequences that are fulfilled and bring closure. Look at the questions Sam asked, and then ask yourself if you’ve told a story where a reader can walk away and be satisfied.

 

I watched Inception, and I didn’t care for the ending too much. I watch a film to be told a story, not to be told a story and then decide for myself how it ends. Great movie, but it needed a definitive ending. However, that ending, while ambiguous, would answer the questions posed in the movie, one way or the other. So even if you answered the question for yourself, you had enough to go on about how the movie itself would really end.

 

This piece doesn’t do that.

 

Where are they going? Dunno. Why are they going? Dunno. How long before they get there? Dunno. How did the ship get damaged? Dunno. Why did the crew die? Dunno. Why is she making a log? Dunno. Who is the log for? Dunno. How does the ship being repaired affect the ending of the story? Dunno. Lots of questions asked, with a single answer given to all of them. Not good at all, and I could have asked more questions.

 

There’s no story here, just a bunch of actions that kind of resemble a story. That’s why there’s no pacing. There needs to be a story in order to have pacing. What is here, though, is bad, because nothing of interest happens. And then there are a couple of panels that don’t do anything at all to push the story forward or reveal character.

 

This just isn’t good.

 

Dialogue: There is only one thing that the dialogue did here that was interesting. It told us that the crew is dead. That’s it. Well, two things. The second isn’t as pleasant. It showed that you aren’t as smart as your character, and that you don’t know even a little bit in order to pretend to be as smart as they.

 

I read an interview with Mark Waid some years back. He was writing Captain America for the first time, and it was amazing. He said that he was continually surprised in writing Cap, because Cap always seemed to be two steps ahead of him. Sure, your characters can be more intelligent than yourself. It happens all the time. That’s part of the fantasy. But you have to sell it. I’m not sold on her being a medical doctor. You didn’t do even the barest amount of research in order to sell it. That’s your shortcoming, not the character’s.

 

The dialogue is boring. While there was only one thing of interest that was said, there was nothing compelling that was said. Not a single thing. In the end, the reader is going to be upset that they wasted their time in reading this. None of the dialogue points to anything. It’s a failure.

 

Content: Again, as I reader, I’d be pissed. I’d wonder who edited this, who published it, and why it was able to get through in this state. Then you’d get a nastygram from me about it.

 

Editorially, this needs a complete rewrite. First, I’d talk with you to see what you wanted to do in this piece, and then we’d work together to make that happen, plotting out the story first on a page by page basis, and then letting you loose on it. This is, of course, after you’ve learned to write in static images.

 

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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