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TPG Week 239: Another Talent Hunt Failure

| July 24, 2015

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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 Osvaldo Padilla, who’s sending us another Top Cow Talent Hunt submission. We have Liam Hayes in blue, and I’m the jerk in red, and we’ll all see just what caliber of entries are submitted as Osvaldo takes us

TITLE: Talent Hunt: Hunting with Aphrodite IX

PAGE 1

PANEL 1: Aphrodite IX lies asleep, her head propped against a red rock in the scotched earth shit-dessert (I’ve had a few of them. Mostly from fast food restaurants.) of the Northern Territories. (The familiar Green/White Captions denoting Aph’s inner dialogue will be labeled “Caption (Aphrodite)” throughout.) (Why is this jumbled into the panel description. Separate it for the clarity and direct it at the letterer.)

(We have no time of day. Also, what is the character wearing? If anything?)

1. Caption: Earth, the Northern Territories. The year 2802.

PANEL 2: Her eyes open wide in terror. There’s a knife in her hand, she considers it intently. (Nope. Wasn’t there in panel one when we should’ve seen it, so it isn’t there.) It’s a familiar instant for her; this phantom panic when she awakens. (This is prose.)

2. Caption (Aphrodite): Where am I? What have I done?

3. Caption (Aphrodite): For most of my life, this is (was) all I knew. I would wake up, guilty of murder and having no memory of what I had done. Back then, my knife would be dripping blood, the handle drenched in crimson sin. (Did you want the knife in panel two to be dripping in blood? You didn’t say that.)

4. Caption (Aphrodite): Thankfully, that’s over now. Now, I’m discovering myself. Writing my own moral code. Reading old books. Doing a little whittling. Canning. Yoga. And Hunting.

(Odd. The first of those captions she is unsure, but the second and third cut straight to retrospection. It’s jarring, as if you’ve broken tense between the 2nd and 3rd captions. Make the first caption actual dialogue, and this problem is solved. Then we’ll know the captions are happening after the fact for sure and a piece of dialogue will ground us in the scene.)

Not the best opening. Character wakes in a desert with a knife. Then she tells us about her yoga schedule. I also don’t like the retrospective captions. They tell us that this problem, as vague as it was, is already solved.

Judging from this first page, I can tell we’re going to be encountering issues with prosaic descriptions.

So, we’ve got P1 on the books!

Just like the previous Talent Hunt entry, the submissions editor didn’t get off the first page. Actually, they didn’t get out of the first panel description before tossing it and moving on.

I say it time and again, folks: spelling is important. I don’t harp on it too hard in the panel descriptions unless it’s a barrier to understanding. There’s a distinct difference between “desert” and “dessert”.

Okay, so just going by his name alone, I’m going to say that English is a second language for Osvaldo. That being said, if English is your second language and you’re submitting to an English-speaking publisher for a contest, then it would behoove you to get a native English speaker to look over your stuff. While having that person be an editor would be ideal, the person who looks at it should at least be a reader. This way, they can see that “scotched dessert-earth” should be “scorched desert-earth.”

The opening is boring. Character wakes up in the desert. Why does that earn an entire page? Why does that earn an opening page? What about this says “turn the page for something more interesting or to answer your question”? Nothing. It’s boring, and boring is death.

Then there’s the captions. They aren’t working. Obvious exposition that doesn’t do much to draw the reader in. It’s so obvious that it’s almost painful. It’s very direct, and it should come from the side in order to get the reader interested. If you come at things from an angle, hinting at what you mean without blatantly saying it, things are then much more interesting.

So, now that we know why this wasn’t picked, let’s see what else is in store.

(No page breaks means you’ve broken any chance of a flawless formatting score.)

PAGE 2

PANEL 1: A panorama of the world as it was left to us. (Of the entire world? Figurative language doesn’t work in panel descriptions.) An expanse of dried, cracked helplessness. To the west of this open panorama in the left foreground, the long white figure of the most perfect woman (Say who this is.), with one hand she sheethes (spelling mistake that still gets the meaning across) her knife (Into what?) and with the other lifts her binoculars (Magical binoculars, go!) to her eyes. She looks across the expanse to the east — maybe two miles — to a small pond (practically a puddle, really) at the edge of a large flat rock formation. (We can see this, from two miles away? A winged animal, the size of a Texas longhorn. I won’t restrict you too much here, draw the animal of whatever delightfully twisted dreams may populate your sleepy time. Just know that the animal is prized for its parts. Its meat is a delicacy. The fine canvas of its wings is used for tenting and as fire-resistant sheathing. Horns, fur, flesh, feathers — whatever you come up with, all the parts of this animal are coveted by dwellers of this dessert. This “dragnot” is revered for its beauty and usefulness — not to mention its cunning and determination. (You described the creature but didn’t place it in the scene or tell us what it’s doing.)(Generally, this panel description cannot be drawn. It started off being able to, but in the end, it can’t.)

1. Caption (Aphrodite): It takes me a second, but I remember what I’m here for. For once, there is not a fight to be had. If we’re here to reestablish humanity, it’s time to start acting human again. So I’ve taken some time for myself. I’ve been leisurely tracking this animal for more than a day. But it’s time to wrap this up and head back. (63 words in this caption. Not too many, per se, but still, it’s too many because it doesn’t do anything to break up the disparate ideas presented here. Time to start acting human, but taking time for herself? Leisurely tracking an animal, but now she’s pressed for time? This should be at least two captions, and it should have a sentence that bridges the two ideas.)

PANEL 2 A small panel. TS on Aphrodite’s face. She’s dropped the binoculars. (The caption here is Red on Black to denote Aph’s processing. (These captions will be labeled “Caption (data)” throughout.)

2. Caption (data):

Target: Dragnot.

Miles pursued: 187

Weight estimate: 627 lbs.

Top speed: 124 mph

3. Caption (Aphrodite): Bastard’s smart and fast, but he’s got to be getting tired. (Why?)

PANEL 3: A small panel where we get a good look at the dragnot. It’s a marvelous specimen of what god’s greatness can accomplish with man’s tinkering. This is a long-ago product of the Gen. The Dragnot is untamable and like any invasive species, it has survived by taking its host by surprise. (What did I tell, ye? Prose.) (Yep. Nothing after the first sentence can be drawn.)

PANEL 4: The beast pulls a thrashing fish from the pond. (Pond or a puddle?)

PANEL 5: Aph has taken off running at a clip toward the beast. She’s moving fast. Her moves are smooth though, producing little sound, (That’s good, for a soundless medium.) her fleet feet practically glide on the sand. (More prose. This can’t really be shown. Movement can only be implied.) The animal is none the wiser as it pins down and dismembers its meal (Right here is where this becomes a moving panel.). The caption here is Red on Black to denote Aph’s data processing. (Throughout, we’ll label these captions: Caption (Aprhodite data).

Caption (Aphrodite data):

Target distracted.

Distance to Dragnot: 1.12 miles

Time to acquisition: 1.2 minutes

4. Caption (Aphrodite): My siblings will love this. Tasty meat, warm beautiful hide, and those gorgeous feathers. … That’s what families do for each other, I think. We acquire. We gift and share. That’s what families are supposed to do. Right?

I’ve lost interest. Not sure what’s happening, to be honest. She woke up with a knife, presumably guilty of murder, and now she’s hunting. What? Is there something I’m missing? Was the first page a flashback but you forgot to tell anybody?

Your captions are large block of uninteresting text. Chop them up instead of beating the reader over the head with them.

P2, and I’m bored.

I honestly and truly don’t care what happens. The question that the reader will ask is this: why am I reading this? What’s going on here that’s so important that I’m being forced to read it?

The answer is simple: nothing. There’s nothing happening here that’s even remotely interesting. So you’ve bored the submissions editor before you’ve been able to bore the reader. Congratulations: you’re right in the middle of the slush pile with the bulk of the entries they’ve gotten.

There also aren’t any page breaks, which means you don’t even get to stand out from the crowd in that small instance. They’re not going to remember anything about this at all. Not even how boring it is.

This page is a second reason for the editor to decide not to continue to read it, if they somehow made it off the first page.

PAGE 3

PANEL 1: With knife in hand, Aph pounces on the dragnot. (Thin and vague. What’s happening? You’re set on describing how to character runs for some reason, but not the actual action?)

PANEL 2: Just as she’s about to make contact, a bullet catches her in the shoulder. (To what end? Does it damage her? I presume she’s not human? Does the bullet bounce off? Be more specific.) She’s thrown off balance. The dragnot startles. (Panel 1 has her pouncing ON the beast, and this panel has her being shot in midair. These are two things that are opposite. If she’s shot, what’s her reaction?)

1. Aph: Yah! (Is this her reaction to being shot, or her hunting cry?)

PANEL 3: As the dragnot takes off in flight, its kick catches Aph squarly on the side. (And she doesn’t respond to it, at all?) Her knife flies from her hand.

PANEL 4: She’s is laid out on her back, propped up on her elbow. (If she’s laid out on her back, how can she be propped up on her elbow? I get what you’re saying, but words mean something.)

2. Aph: Who the hell shot me!(?)

PANEL 5: T’Mark emerges from behind a boulder. He points a hand-cannon squarely at Aph. (Moving panel.)

3. T’Mark: I will kill you right now, whore.

4: Aph: Hey! That’s harsh, T’Mark. Seductress, yeah, sure. Tramp, if you want to be rude. But whore? (Can she be seen in this panel?)

5. T’Mark: You murdered my people. Forced the remaining handful of us to scrounge through the desolate zone. (Exposition!)

PANEL 6: His face in a snarl, T’Mark is a sliver from pulling the trigger.

6. Aphrodite (Off-panel)(Is she “Aph” or “Aphrodite”? Consistency.): Assuming that all that were true (and it’s not), still, the word whore, technically does not apply. It’s disrespectful.

7. T’Mark: I’m not arguing semantics with you. I was hunting that beast, then I found you at the same game. God brought me to you to kill you today. I have no doubt.

I still have no context for any of this. I feel like you’ve shoved us too far into the deep end without a paddle. Pull back a bit. Ease us into the story.

P3, and we have yet more reasons for this to get tossed.

Moving panels are expected out of rookies. It’s like saying cops have power trips. It may not always be true, but it’s what’s expected. I expect rookies to have moving panels.

I also expect rookies to have panels that don’t make much sense, or contradict themselves. I expect rookies to have panels that cannot be drawn.

Also, I expect rookies to have painful exposition. Don’t get me wrong—I’m very happy that this isn’t torturous to read. Very, very happy. But at the same time, it’s like a jab that snaps your head back in reading it, because information just seems to come hot and heavy and without any context. And context is key. Context is what will keep the reader turning pages. Right now, they’re only closing the book.

There’s no Line of Demarcation here. There’s a story being told, and it isn’t crap. It’s just not told well at all. There’s a difference.

PAGE 4

PANEL 1: From beind T’Mark, Aphrodite’s head is turned skyward. She’s grinning.

1. Aphrodite: That’s sweet.

2. T’Mark: I won’t look away (Comma.) you treacherous slag. (I don’t get this line. What is he saying? He won’t look away when he kills her?) (No. It looks like she’s trying a variant on “there’s someone behind you” by looking up. That’s all. This trick won’t work well, depending on the distance between the two of them.)

PANEL 2: Reverse angle, a wider shot reveals Artemis IX launching himself, pulling a flip from about 20 feet up on the rock formation. (Huh?) (Yeah. I’m with him.)

PANEL 3: Artemis’ forearm, covered in a solid metal plating, smashes into the side of T’Mark’s face.

3. SFX: Smack!

PANEL 4: From behind Artemis, we see him flip backwards, away from T’Mark. Artemis pulls a sleek stripped-down crossbow from his back. T’Mark is reeling, but rallying to charge Artemis. (Moving panel.)

3. T’Mark: Grrrrr!

PANEL 5: T’Mark lunges. A blast from Artemis’ energy crossbow catches the genetically modified hulk squarely in the chest. (I really hope you’ve described these characters elsewhere.)

4. Artemis: Easy there, tiger. (What is Artemis doing in this panel? Hanging in mid-air?)

PANEL 5: T’Mark is knocked out, smoke coming from his wracked body. Artemis stands over him, but looks over at Aphrodite IX. She’s lying sideways with her head casually propped on her hand, a wide seductive smile on her face.

5. Artemis: You’re lucky I was coming down to check on you.

6. Aphrodite: Not really, I had this guy. But it was cute to watch you come to my rescue.

I have no idea who there characters are, what they’re doing, and why. Which is why I simply don’t care what is happening.

P4, and although we have some action, no one really cares. The “fight” is over quickly. Reminds me of a Mike Tyson fight back in the late 80s, but those were better than this. Even though Mike was unstoppable for a while and those fights were done before they started, this is just badly written.

I’ve never read Aphrodite IX. I don’t know anything about the character. I’ve seen her, but I’ve never picked up an issue. All of these characters are new to me.

Nothing here, from the internal monologue that has mysteriously gone away (bad case of the dropsies, because the captions could have been used to give the reader info on the characters) to the banter serves to bring the reader in. We don’t care to know more, because we’re not engaged. This is just boring.

How to fix this? Write a different story.

PAGE 5

PANEL 1: The burley T’Mark is bound to the ground by a net draped across his body, strapped down by steel stakes. (Where are the other characters? What are they doing? Artemis is here, at least, since he speaks.)

1. Caption: Later.

2. T’Mark: If you kill me, my people — women and children — will not eat. Release me, and I promise to swallow my hatred and walk away from you.

3. Artemis: I don’t think you should be setting any terms. You’re lucky she asked me not to kill you.

PANEL 2: Aph pushes past Artemis and kneels before T’Mark (Moving panel.). We can make this a larger panel with side panels that provide flashbacks to the events that T’Mark is referencing. T’Mark, enraged as he tells his story, should be the center. (You can’t show multiple flashbacks referencing backstory. And don’t make your artist pick through your exposition to get them.)

4. Aphrodite: T’Mark, I don’t expect you to understand, but I never meant for any of this to happen.

5. T’Mark: You worked for them, for the Cyborgs. Murdered our royals. Intoxicated and seduced Marcus. Colluded in the attack that exterminated our population. For these crimes, the Gen have called for your head. For this, whether by my hand or that of my remaining countrymen, you will die Aphrodite IX! (More exposition!)(I just threw up a little in my mouth… Anyway, first he wants to be let go, then he vows he will kill her in the very next panel? Yeah, I’d let him go, too…)

PANEL 3: From behind T’Mark, looking up at Aph. She’s sympathetic and sincere.

6. Aphrodite: I was being controlled by the Cyborgs and forced to manipulate and assassinate. That’s not me any more. But I know you don’t believe me, so I can’t let you go.

PANEL 4: She’s stood up and grabbed her bag of gear as well as T’Mark’s. She addresses a grinning Artemis. (Where did these bags come from?)(They’re magically delicious!)

7. Aphrodite: You want to join me for a hunt? (What kind of hunt? She has time to hunt again? I thought she had stuff to do. What happened to the stuff she had to do?)

8. Artemis: A chance to finally get some alone time with you again after a few hundred years — yes, I’m in.

PANEL 5: A medium shot on the helpless T’Mark.

9. T’Mark: You’ll leave me to die?

10. T’Mark: Of course, of course you would, Aphrodite IX: mistress of the holocaust. (This is such a terrible last line.)

Should I have read a primer before coming to this script? This story can’t start here, surely? Things are happening and what seems like a lengthy backstory is being explained, but I couldn’t care less. There’s no context for this. There’s no reason for anything that’s happening.

I think you’re weren’t keeping the reader in mind as you wrote this, which is a terrible mistake to make. Rewrite this for clarity and for the reader’s sake. Get us in with a context and a character motivation, and leave all that random backstory for when its actually needed.

Let’s just run this down.

Format: No Flawless Victory here. Page breaks are important things, especially for a submission.

Panel Descriptions: These need work. You’re all over the map with them: some are vague and almost useless, some are moving panels, some can’t be drawn. You’ve got magically delicious items that just show up out of nowhere. There aren’t many panels here that can just be drawn. As a writer, this isn’t a good thing to hear. These need a lot of work.

Pacing: The pacing here isn’t bad. It’s boring, but it isn’t bad. You tried to start out with a bit of self-reflection, then you tried a little action, and then you tried to wrap it all up. The effort is admirable, and the story has a definite progression that can be seen and appreciated. The problem is that, like I said, it’s boring. Not in a predictable way, it just isn’t engaging. That is mostly down to the dialogue.

Dialogue: I’ve read a lot worse. I’m not saying this is good by any stretch, but I’ve read a lot worse.

The problem with the dialogue is twofold. First, it’s too blunt at times. Instead of being a bit oblique, it’s just straightforward all the time.

Second, none of what was here was interesting to read. I understood everyone’s motivations, which is a great thing. However, none of it was interesting at all. This was a boring read, with the best line being “easy there, tiger.” That’s saying a lot, because you didn’t say much of anything at all.

There was also opportunities that were missed when it came to introducing new characters. Aphrodite could have named characters and some attributes via captions as she looked at people. Definitely a missed opportunity.

Content: As a reader, I was bored. This was a vignette, attempting to show Aphrodite as a character in the midst of change. It doesn’t really do much of anything, because she gets lost in her own story. Know what happens to her? She gets shot, she gets called a name, she acts sultry, but she doesn’t do anything for herself. She’s not a force in her own story. She’s acted upon, instead of acting. That’s not what a main character should do. Feminists would eat you alive because you treat her as a sexual object who’s unable to fight her own battles, needing to be saved.

Editorially, this needs a rewrite into something much more interesting. It can be done, but you have to treat the character with the respect she deserves. She’s not supposed to be a damsel in distress. She’s supposed to be a badass. Why sideline that in favor of some fleeting sexuality?

The story has to reach a point, and if you’re trying to show how she’s changed, then you have to provide her with a dilemma of choice, and have her make the better, harder decision. This will build her character in the eyes of the reader. She cannot be passive in her own story.

This holds true for any main character in any story. If their name is on the book, they shouldn’t be passive. They have to act. Otherwise, they don’t deserve to have a book named after them.

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.

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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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