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TPG Week 237: Punctuation Is The Key To Clarity

| July 11, 2015


Hello, and welcome back to The Proving Grounds! This week, we have a new Brave One in Justin Jakimiak. We also have Liam Hayes in blue, and I’m the guy ranting in red, and we’re all going to see how Justin treats

Drexler & Shadow

I’m already annoyed. You sent in two scripts and I edited the wrong one. An oversight on my part, sure, but the two scripts didn’t help matters.

Liam is talking about the fact that Justin didn’t follow directions. He sent over the script in a format that’s not accepted here. He didn’t get a response, and when he inquired, he fixed it. However, Liam still did the wrong one at first. This is the correct format. And now, I’m putting the curtain back. Few may clap eyes on the great and powerful Oz!

Overview: This is a political action adventure story with sci-fi elements to it. It would be really cool to have some noir elements in the art work, high contrast elements and intermingled color and black and white, but I don’t really care, whatever you like doing. I leave thematic elements, designs, and layouts up to you (mostly). Feel free to tweak layouts as necessary, and get as creative with panel layouts as you like, blending, combining, panels or adding insets detailing actions, or adding sfx wherever you deem necessary. (This isn’t part of the comic script. This is what you will discuss with your artist. Keep in there.)

Page one

1.1) Establishing shot, high above the Tepuis of Venezuela, shrouded in clouds, at sunset. (If we’re shrouded in clouds, how do we see the landscape?) Camera is behind a sleek futuristic looking helicopter, with small turbines in wings and tail, cabin is set below the wings (use your imagination, make it look good, a pivotal piece of technology in this world is organic nanobots). (Grammatical errors in the first panel description. Hold onto your seats, kids.)

Shadow (from back of helicopter): Well (Comma.) here we go again….

Shablurgahgurgah (letterer: drawn in stylized text spilling out of it’s bubble, pukey colors) (Be more succinct.)

Jones (Pilot): Aight (Comma.) back there boyo? (The comma would be in the wrong place if Liam had his way. And that’s not Liam’s fault. He’s from the UK. For those of us who know American slang, aight (or a’ight) is short for “all right.” So it would be, from Liam’s perspective, “all right, back there boyo?” That’s incorrect. The comma should be after “there.” It’s still a comma-fail, it’s just in the wrong place.)

(This is another balloon? Label it as such with another tag.) Be glad you weren’t in the outfit back when ah flew a Blackhawk, (Stop.) this ‘ere craft floats smoother’n giselle’s ass next to that old clunker. (His accent is too thick for clarity. Use light touches for flavour. Don’t overspice.) (Again, I disagree. We’ve just started. It hasn’t gotten annoying yet.)

1.2) Shot from behind the cockpit, (Behind it? Are we in it?) Jones on the left, dressed in modern military duds, but with an old leather bomber cap and goggles (a testament to his years) (Huh?) his big mustache is visible from behind. Drexler’s Legs are rested up on the control panel (all touchscreen), his hands behind his head like he’s relaxing in a beach chair. (Are these guys sitting in chairs? You skirted around saying it. Always be clear.) (I can’t visualize the camera placement. Thus, I can’t visualize this panel.)

inset: from drexler’s perspective, he’s relaxing with his legs up, he is browsing a craigslist style webpage, looking at a koto (japanese harp), and has various random browser tabs open. (Why? Who cares?)

Drexler: And they didn’t have seats like these (Stop.) did they (Comma.) Jones?

Jones (off-panel): *hh* (What’s that supposed to be? More like a stiff board up the arse.

Eyyyy, Andy boy! Watch where yer yakkin eh? (Huh? Who’s Andy?)

Drexler: Hey (Comma.) Shadow! Did I tell you since you gave me these bitchin new limbs I can play pretty much any instrument?

1.3) Midshot of Shadow in the back corner of the bird, (Where, exactly?) camera is above us, hunched over down on one knee, clutching his brown bag of vomit (This sentence, taken objectively, makes zero sense.). He has short, spiky, brown hair, and is dressed in all black, stealthy looking technical gear, he has a sidearm on his hip, but that is his only weapon. (Describe reoccurring characters outside of the script proper.)

Shadow: (under his breath) Well (Comma.) now all you need to do is learn to hack and rewrite lines of code… dumbass. (Why does that make him dumb? Shadow is an asshole.)(All of this dialogue is off-panel.)

(Shadow:) How much longer to the drop zone, Jones?

1.4) Small panel from outside helicopter. Paper bag being tossed from the window, spewing a trail of vomit while blowing in the wind. (What use does this panel serve, except to be gross?)

1.5) Close up on Shadow checking his watch. His watch is projecting a 3d map of one of the Tepuis, a “blinking” red light reads “600m”. provoking a sense of urgency, evident in Shadow’s expression. (Why did he ask if he can just do this?)

Shadow: Jones! you idiot, we’re 600 meters from the drop!!! (One exclamation mark. Otherwise they lose impact. Especially due to non-moments like this.)

1.6) Same midshot as before, (The one of Shadow?) this time with Jones on the left looking back, and reaching up for his goggles, (Didn’t he already have Googles on?) a look of excitement on his scraggly mustachioed face. Drexler is jumping out of his seat, ready for action. (How? In which direction? Doing what?) He is wearing a long sleeve version of Shadow’s uniform, and carries no weapon. (No he isn’t. We already saw him and he didn’t have it then. You didn’t give it to him. He’s naked!)

Drexler: It’s party time (Comma.) chumps!

1.7) full width panel. mid shot from behind Drexler and Shadow, standing before a wide open side door, looking over the edge, poised to jump, from here we can now see that Drexler is about a head taller than Shadow, Drexler’s hand is at Shadow’s back. (ready to push him) (Really? Is asking for a period to end this sentence asking for too much?)

Jones: Fifty Meters!!

Shadow: Oh man… I hate this shit.

Drexler: Don’t you worry little Shadow… (Comma-fail.)

This needs a lot of work already. There are so many technical errors. There’s no real hint of what’s going to happen, either, so no hook.

P1 is down.

I’m not impressed.

The panel descriptions are muddled, people are asking questions that they can easily find the answers to, and characters are being described when they don’t necessarily need to be. That’s the big stuff. The stuff that needs to be worked on in order for the artist to really do their job. This is the stuff we, as editors, should be focusing on.

Instead, we’re forced to deal with the fact that Justin, like a very good portion of the writers who have come through here lately, doesn’t know much about punctuation. And we’re forced to deal with that, because in punctuation lies clarity.

It’s like this, folks: when you’re clear and a mistake is made, it’s easier to fix and talk about, because it’s know what you were going for. When you’re unclear due to incorrect or missing punctuation, then we first have to parse what’s meant, and then fix that before fixing the other problem. You’re making it a two-step problem instead of the single-step that it should be.

We’re not here to be english teachers. We’re here to be editors. You have to do your job so we can do ours.

(No page breaks. The break is a lie.)

Page two

2.1) As big a panel as possible, half page maybe? (As big a panel as possible means there’s only a single panel on the page. Let the artist know what you want, and they’ll endeavor to give it to you.) Camera below a terrified looking Shadow who’s just been pushed from the bird, with a delighted looking Drexler seen behind him, just beginning his jump. It is now dark. (Why is it dark now?) (Teleportation! Time compression! Time-aportation? I don’t know anymore, except that it’s bad writing.)

Drexler: It gets easier every time!!!

Shadow: AAAAAAAAAAHHH!!!!! (big cool letters!)

(Again with the exclamation marks. You’ve made them about as powerful and exciting as a cup of lukewarm tea in an ocean of cold piss.)

2.2 – 2.5) row of small panels (insets maybe) (I hate the “maybe.” It smacks of indecision. Why not just tell the artist to draw whatever they want, and you’ll work around what they drew?) detailing the transformation of their suits into squirrel-suit style gliders. The nanobots in their suits reassemble to form the glider suit, choose your angles, start close up and zoom out maybe? (Lazy. Don’t expect the artist to do your work for you.)

2.6) birds eye view from behind of D & S gliding toward a large tower, that is a pie shaped, the narrow end is facing the reader, the perspective should maximize the effect of the tepui’s size. (Huh? A pie-shaped tower? What? The narrowed edge towards us? Huh?)

Shadow: You know (Comma.) I would kill you if I thought it was possible.

2.7) Same birds eye view (make one panel if need be) (Lazy. Are they in the same place?)

Drexler: I’ve already died once, empty threats don’t really phase me these days. (That comma should be a period.)

Not even going to ask how they’re talking through high speed and rushing air.

This page is over-populated. You want a half page panel with three insets and two other panels. That’s a lot to cram in. I’m not saying it can’t be done, but you’re going to lose detail and focus. Do we need to see the suits change? Does anybody care?

P2, and I’m still unimpressed.

I don’t like scripts that are filled with the words maybe and perhaps. Make a decision. You’re seeing something in your head, so put it down! You’ve already given the disclaimer to the artist at the top to do what they think would be best—why do you need to take away your own power by being wishy-washy with the panel descriptions? Do your work.

Or don’t. Instead of doing it panel-by-panel, do it more of the Marvel method and go plot first. “Graeme, this is what I want to see on this page: Greenock kung fu’s all over Bless Bless, until Bless Bless jumps off the bridge to escape. Let’s call it at least three panels, but if you can fit five, I’d be happy.”

See what that does? That frees you up from having to choreograph anything, leaving it all up to your artist. You can then put in some dialogue notes for yourself, so you can come back to it and start writing the dialogue when the art comes back.

There is no one right way to create a comic. However, there are plenty of ways to get it wrong. Be bold. Make decisions. Decisions can always be corrected. Being indecisive can kill you, though.

And what really happens on this page? We traveled in time, people jumped out of the chopper. I don’t care. I’m not invested. There aren’t any stakes yet. The stakes are being set right now. But because that is the case, no one cares. One of your characters is a jerk, and the other seems to have a fragile stomach. How much fun is that? Not much, so far. We don’t know what they’re doing or why they’re doing it, and there isn’t enough enjoyable banter for this to be fun yet. (There’s some banter, but it’s painful, not playful.)

Dialogue is hard. Don’t let anyone ever tell you differently. Dialogue is hard, and you have to be prepared for that. Sometimes, it’s as flat as a board, and just as stiff. The dialogue here has some elements of that.

Let’s see how far this goes.

Page 3

3.1) camera is close to the tepui, as if standing and looking along the edge, (So we’re on top of it?) we see them approaching the LZ, their wingsuits spreading out like parachutes to slow them down for the landing. The bizarre natural features of the tepui can be seen on the left, D&S coming in on the right, entering the “forest of petrified gods”. (What’s that “forest of petrified gods” bit about? Did you just want to let us know you did some research? Get this in through dialogue if it means so much.)

Time to do some visualization, along with counting.

P1 is on the right, as soon as you open the book. You turn the page, and that means that P2 is on the left, and P3 is on the right. Even numbers on the left, odd numbers on the right.

So when we read a book, we read from left to right. Generally, when writing a comic script, the first thing mentioned is on the left, and then we move to the right, from foreground to background.

Everyone with me so far?

Since we read from left to right, why are you putting the tower on the left and the people on the right? Unconsciously, you’re leading the reader back to P2, instead of pushing them toward the right which is more natural? It doesn’t make sense to me.

Shadow: Yeah, no need to remind me.

You haven’t forgotten who brought you back (Comma.) have you?

Drexler: There you go again, making it all about you and your infinite generosity.

Shadow: Come on, let’s just get this mission over with. (Come on? While they’re basically falling? Not only do you not have a sense of how to say what to say, you also don’t have a sense of when to say what to say. Used the way it’s used here, it means “follow me”. Kinda hard to do that from their position.)

3.2) D&S from behind, suits shown in mid transition back to normal. The silhouettes looming over them. (Silhouettes of what? What are the guys doing?)

Drexler: Right,

Well your man couldn’t have picked a creepier rendezvous point.

Shadow: I picked the place.

Drexler: Seriously? Were you trying to get us stranded?

Shadow: We have to make sure it works.

3.3) Looking sideways at D&S. D is closest to camera, faces barely illuminated. A dark silhouette of a man is standing beneath a mushroom-esque tower. (What? I’ve lost all sense of place? Where are we? I thought we were on the top of a Tepui? Where did this mushroom tower come from? What is going on?) (I thought it was nighttime. Where’s the light source? It’s like you forgot the timeframe you were writing in.)

Drexler: Make sure–? (No question mark.)

Shadow: Shut. Up. Drexler. (Why is he staccato here?)

Carlos: (from the shadows) So, the great Shadow and Drexler have made good on their arrangement.

3.4) D&S on left side, facing Carlos on right, who has now stepped out of the shadows. He is a stocky venezuelan dressed in camouflage, with a bandana tied around his left arm. Drexler stands confidently, while Shadow cowers behind him, his body language is evident of someone in a pant shittingly nervous situation. (Again, I thought it was nighttime. Where’s the light source that allows him to step out of darkness?)

Drexler: Actually (Comma.) it’s Drexler and Shadow…

Shadow: Shut. Up. Drexler. (whispering, small irritated looking letters.) (Irritated letters? Again, why is he staccato?) (Generally, the letterer’s note should go before the colon.)

Carlos: Have you brought me what I asked for?

3.5) Shadow standing face to face with Carlos, holding up an sd card in a plastic case. (Cowering to standing up straight? I’m not buying it.)

Shadow: All the names you need are on this.

Carlos: excellent… (Really? I didn’t say anything about the lack of consistent capitalization as long as it was confined to the panel descriptions. This, though, is unacceptable, because your letterer may use a sentence-case font. Capitalization? I really need to go over this?)

Shadow: however, the information is on a failsafe contingency of mine and my partner’s safe return, after, (Underline if you want emphasis. That goes for your caps as well.) you hold up your end of the bargain. (Again with the capitalization.)

3.6) Carlos taking the sd card from him. (Lazy.)

Carlos: Very well (Comma.) then, (Stop.) Follow me. (Wow. Know what? I’m done. Line of Demarcation is here, because you don’t know how to use a damned period. I’ve had enough. For more of my notes, head to the rundown.)

This becoming very boring. Also, things just keep popping in and smacking us in the face.

Page 4

4.1) Carlos stands back at the base of the mushroom shaped tower, Drexler & Shadow are behind him, both standing with arms crossed. Carlos has pulled what appears to be a ballpoint pen from his breast pocket. (Interesting…)

Carlos: They say that the rocks on this tower are the old gods, and that they were all frozen in time to watch over this land for all of time; (Repetition.) This is my home, these gods have protected me all my life fighting the oppressive regimes. (What? This doesn’t make sense.)

4.2) Camera behind Carlos, who has almost completely drawn an oval shape on the side of the mushroom rock, the pen leaves a trail of blue light on the surface. (Now the mushroom tower is a rock? Did I take acid before editing this script?)

4.3) Same angle. He divides the oval with a straight line down the middle.

Carlos: Who do you pray to?

4.4) The halves of the oval open up into a tunnel with a rung ladder. All characters have crowded around peering down into it. (Moving panel.)

4.5(5.1 if it makes more sense) (That’s your decision. The artist can have input, sure, but don’t put it in the script.) just a full length skinny panel, showing the three climbing down the ladder.

This has turned into a Daliesque nightmare. Why are they climbing down a ladder in a rock? Why don’t the characters question this? Is this normal? At least have them comment on it.

Actually, just delete all of this. This is just bad. And that fact that you willingly submitted it to editors full of spelling mistakes, grammar atrocities and punctuation misuse just shows how much you give a damn.

The most positive thing I can say about this script is that it was you getting the bad work out the way before the good work can come through. Start again, taking notes of our edits, and read a book on how to write. There isn’t much else I can say.

Guess I stopped a page too soon. I don’t care. This is crap. I don’t know what Liam has said on this page. I don’t know what he’s said on the previous page after I stopped. I don’t care. Because you put in a comma, and then you capitalized the next word. This is after missing other capitalizations throughout the piece. Go back to elementary school and learn what you should have. This is not difficult. This is not difficult at all.

Format: There are no page breaks, so I can’t give you a Flawless Victory. It looks like Liam put them in for you. You should thank him.

Other than that, make sure your lettering notes go before the colon, not after it and not after the dialogue. It wouldn’t have lost you the FV—I’m not that petty—but it’s something to keep an eye on. The key to format is consistency. You put one letterer’s note after the colon but before the dialogue, and you’ve put another after the dialogue. Consistency.

Panel Descriptions: These need work.

Understand what the camera angle is supposed to do. Visualization is key here. When you’ve got that, describe things from left to right. The script is supposed to help the artist, not confuse them.

Again, be decisive about what you want. Otherwise, you could end up with art that doesn’t reflect the script you wrote and the story you’re trying to tell. That wouldn’t be good, for obvious reasons.

Pacing: It could use a little help. I was on P3 when I stopped. Not much had happened. That can be fixed with dialogue. Interest can be gained through dialogue. There’s nothing interesting going on here except for an attempt at dialect—and that seemed to go right out the window with the bag of vomit.

Dialogue: Nothing of real interest was said. Not that came out of the characters’ mouths.

The lack of proper use of punctuation, though, is telling. Seriously, punctuation isn’t difficult. There are sources out there to learn it. And if you want to be a writer, it’s best that you do. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but if you don’t know how to use a damned period…

Content: As a reader, I’m bored. ‘Nuff said.

As an editor, I’m disgusted. We all know why, so I’m not going to beat that horse anymore.

This needs a rewrite. Be decisive and more interesting, and do it faster. You get that down, and get the other problem under control, and you’ll finally be able to tell a story in the medium.

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 for rate inquiries.

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