Welcome back, one and all, to another installment of The Proving Grounds! This week, we have another entry from Brave One Solomon Steen. We have Liam Hayes in blue, I’m the guy in red, and we’re all going to see what Solomon has learned in
Log line: A woman frames and blackmails a Senator.
Eris A child of New England WASPs in her mid-20’s, she has a thin smile and high round cheeks. She wears her thick, straw-like hair in a bun and wears rounded, oversized glasses. She’s dressed like a capitol hill intern: gray blazer, black skirt and stockings. She’s wearing a few old-world-style rings. (For those who don’t know what a WASP is, it’s a White Anglo-Saxon Protestant. Now you have a place to start your research.)
Sen. Harold Park A middle-aged Korean American with a distinct beer belly. His pendulous cheeks, thick fingers, and very broad build altogether suggest a life of casual indulgence. His suit and tie are rumpled.
(I have a headache already. This is nothing to do with the script, just pointing out why I may seem grumpier than usual.)
Panel 1 Late on a moonless night, a modern road lit by a smattering of streetlights runs around the shore of a frozen lake beside a snow-dusted forest. The guardrails are encrusted with the black admixture of snow and asphalt. There are a few cars traveling in either direction. (So far, so good. I can see this. Good start.)
Title Fait Accompli
Panel 2 Side-view (driver’s side) of the back half of a police car on the road. Eris is in the driver-side rear seat. She is absentmindedly drawing shapes in the fog from her breath on the window with an uncuffed hand. (Hmm… Maybe not. I would have liked to see this police car on the road in panel one. This would place us in your world better.)(How can we tell this is absent-minded?)
PARK [off panel] O-okay…
Panel 3 Inside the car: Park is in the passenger-side rear seat. (I have a feeling we’d have seen him from the previous angle.) His forehead is pressed against the back of passenger seat. (For a second I thought you meant his chair, which would mean he’d be facing backwards. This could just be me being stupid.) His hands are cuffed behind his back. His bullky winter coat rests on the middle seat. Eris’s purse is beside it. A metal grate separates the passengers from the off-panel driver. (How is the bulky winter coat and the metal grate in the same space? Presumably the metal grate is in the middle? Either way, we’d have definitely have seen the grate in the previous panel.)(I have something to say at the end of the page.)
PARK I call Barbara… Tell her. Tell her I… (Why’s he talking in the present tense. That’s odd. Intended?)(It also seems like pidgin English. The first sentence. I don’t think an American senator would speak pidgin English.)
Panel 4 Park is staring down at the floor between his feet with his wet, bloodshot eyes. He is quite sweaty.
NO COPY (Why? This is perfect panel for some dialogue. There’s nothing else going for it.)
Panel 5 He looks down at the rear passenger-side door. His eyes are closed and face is screwed up. He is exhaling in an effort to calm himself. (This is awkward. It isn’t going to come across in the way you want it to. It’s going to look like he just stopped mid-sentence and is now angry at the door for some reason.)
PARK (SFX) Hhhhh (This is dialogue, not SFX.)
Panel 6 Park has sat up, his face pointed toward the ceiling. His brow is knotted, eyes shut.
PARK First. I call Thompson. Get Judge Harris. He gets the 2nd circuit nomination if he commits to seal –– (I have no idea who these people are or what any of this means.)
Panel 7 Eris, calm, (We can’t see her expression from this angle.) is holding a smartphone with the screen towards Park. He’s facing her, staring quizzically.
ERIS Harry? Watch this before you start making plans.
PARK Who the hell are y–
Umm… I’m not sure what’s happening. We’ve got two people in the back of a police car, and one of them is talking about people we don’t know. Additionally, panels 4-5 add nothing to the story. I hope this make sense soon, because this start is a turn-off.
Okay, we have P1 down.
No, I’m not interested. Not in the least. There’s a minor mystery to get the reader to turn the page, but there isn’t much left beyond that.
The biggest thing about this page is a lack of awareness of confined space. It isn’t something that new writers think about too often, because they don’t run across it too often.
When you’re in a confined space, you have to think about where the camera is going to be. When you’re inside a car, you can only place the camera either outside the car or in an empty space inside the vehicle. The only other option is to do pov shots, because the space is occupied. To do otherwise is to make the vehicle larger than it’s supposed to be on the interior, and that’s what we could be seeing here. That’s at least how I feel, especially with panel 3. Panel 4 could be shown, but I don’t think panel 5 can be. Not while still being in the car.
Confined space can be tricky, because you have to almost be hyper-aware of your surroundings: low ceilings, not a lot of elbow room, and if you add more people in the car, you have less space to put the camera.
It’s a challenge. One it doesn’t seem like Solomon is quite ready for.
Now, we have the dialogue. Again, it seems like there’s pidgin English going on, which would be a shame if that’s true. There are some stereotypes that just don’t sit well with me. I’m not a prude. I make lots of jokes about being Black, and I make racial jokes with my white and Mexican co-workers. It’s all in good fun.
However, there are some things that don’t sit with me. I’m looking at it as pidgin English because Solomon seems to have a command of the language. I’m all for giving the benefit of the doubt, but I’m not seeing it go that far this time. Not when it seems to happen twice, and when there’s another person speaking, and their speech seems fine.
Anyway, I’m not overly impressed with what’s here. There are missed opportunities to tell the story. I’m not drawn in.
(No page breaks. And I have run out of break puns. My streak has been broken.) (No page break? No Flawless Victory.)
Panel 1 The screen of the smartphone: Park is on a wide urban sidewalk in a wealthy neighborhood during a light snowfall. He’s shaking hands with a uniformed police officer: a young, lean black man on the short side.
OFFICER [VIDEO] Again, Senator, it is such an honor.
PARK [VIDEO] Son, my head’s big enough as it is.
SFX [VIDEO] prii prii prii (Huh? What’s this?)
Panel 2 Screen: The video has zoomed in on Park. He is awkwardly reaching for his coat pocket, clearly flustered.
PARK [VIDEO] Sorry, let me check this.
SFX [VIDEO] prii prii prii (A phone? What phone sounds like that?)
Panel 3 Screen: Park has his hand in his pocket and is making a confused expression.
SFX [VIDEO] prii prii prii
(This panel does nothing.)
Panel 4 In the backseat of the police car: Park stares at himself on screen. His eyes are wide as he pieces together what happened. (I’m glad someone knows what’s happening.) Eris holds the phone between them.
PARK You. It was you…
OFFICER [off panel] Sir? (Is this in the video or reality. It’s confusing to say the least.)
SFX [off panel] prii prii prii
Panel 5 Screen: The video shows Park staring at the officer, dumbfounded, as he holds a palm-sized bag of cocaine.
PARK[off panel] The two of you!
PARK [VIDEO] This- this isn’t mine.
SFX [VIDEO] prii prii prii (What the hell is that?)
Panel 6 In the car: Eris gestures one hand toward Park (motion lines); she has set the phone in her lap with the other. Her eyes are closed and eyebrows are raised, as if she’s explaining something obvious.
OFFICER [off panel] Sir, I’m going to need you let me take a look at that.
SFX [off panel] prii prii prii
ERIS This has already been sent to a third-party —
Panel 7 In the car: Park, face tight with anger, gives Eris a deathglare.
ERIS [off panel] who will release it to the public when we reach the station.
Well, now I’m even more confused. There are bits of dialogue happening off-panel in a video and bits of dialogue off-panel which aren’t and my head feels funny.
From what I can gather, this Eris person placed drugs on Park who then took them out of his coat for some reason in front of a police officer. Now, it took me a while to figure that out, since this is told in the an awkward, disjointed fashion. Eris may be the character’s name, but you’re the one who seeding discord.
P2, and I’m still not impressed. (Not that it takes a lot to impress me.)
Since this is P2, this is where things should start coming clear. What’s clear here? Not much.
I don’t mind having to zoom in in order to see the scene. What I’m worried about is the fact that you have seven panels on here, and you’re basically doing a panel-within-a panel with a few of these. I wouldn’t necessarily call them insets, but you have to show certain things like the fingers holding the phone, the phone itself, and then the scene. On top of that, you also have the dialogue. Very, very tight on a seven panel page.
This page illuminates some things, but not others. It doesn’t really do much for me. I’m not intrigued enough to really want to read more. I don’t care where it’s supposed to be leading me.
I tried watching Mad Men on Netflix. I was going to binge watch it. The first episode didn’t grab me at all, but I thought that it would be akin to Breaking Bad, where there was some interest, but the show itself didn’t really interest me. It was just slow to pick up, but when it did—wow! I couldn’t stop, and I saw why people lauded the show. Mad Men didn’t do that for me, no matter how much I lust Christina Hendricks.
The West Wing was much different. I was grabbed from the opening scene—and this is another show that I came to extremely late. I binged it on Netflix and I couldn’t stop, forgoing sleep sometimes because it was just so good. I’m not really into politics, but this was just awesome writing. Totally enthralled.
This, I’m on the second page and I’m just not feeling it at all. I’m bored. I’m not intrigued at all. I’m wondering if I should floss my teeth and get my toes waxed. “Interesting” things are happening, and I can’t bring myself to be bothered.
Panel 1 Eris looks at Park over her tented fingers. He’s practically spitting his response at her. (What happened to the phone?)
ERIS Unless, of course, we can come to an understanding.
PARK We? Who the hell are you?
ERIS Ms. Prynne. Pleasure’s mine.
(Didn’t he question who she was when he got put into the car with her?)(I don’t know. I wouldn’t think so. I probably wouldn’t. Not with being as agitated as he was.)
Panel 2 Viewed through the metal grate separating the front and back half of the car (driver off panel): Park hatefully barks at the driver. Eris, disappointed, shakes her head (motion lines.) (So there’s a grate separating both the driver and the passengers in the back?)(That is a bad last line. It won’t come off well at all.)
PARK And you! I demand your badge number.
ERIS Harry, let the officer focus on the road. (The officer isn’t focusing on the road if he’s trying to see what’s on the phone. You know—the phone that wasn’t collected into evidence and that is in her possession, so he more than likely won’t be seeing it anyway.)
Panel 3 Eris has her index fingers pressed to her lips, her right eyebrow raised. Park is puffed up with anger.
PARK You think you’re clever, planting that trash, but no one will buy I did this.
Panel 4 Eris has spread her arms and hands to pantomime a headline. She wears a sarcastic smirk. (This is another case of not knowing you don’t have that kind of space in the back seat of a car.)
ERIS “Holy Drug Warrior Victim of Devious Conspiracy.” That’s how this will play? (And this dialogue doesn’t match the action.)
Panel 5Eris’s smirk has faded. Her arms have fallen a bit.
ERIS Occam’s Razor, Harry? Hypocrisy is an easy sell. Let’s talk endgame.
Panel 6 Eris makes a sweeping gesture with her right hand (motion lines), her left arm folded against herself. Park faces the window on his side, his back to her. (Again, you don’t have that kind of space back here.)
ERIS If you play ball, I can offer a dignified, financially secure retirement — (You’re using double dashes incorrectly.)
PARK Offer me what I earned on my own.
ERIS for you –– (What are these dashes?)
PARK The Devil’s always generous.
Panel 7 Park seethes at his reflection in the window.
ERIS [off panel] and Barb.
(This whole interrupted dialogue exchange in panels 6-7 in painfully awkward. Let her speak and then let him speak. Simple. Only interrupt for good drama-related reasons.)
This is going nowhere. Get to the point. Currently, you’re just gesturing. Actually do something. Quit expelling hot air into the readers’ ears.
P3, and what little care I had went out the window.
Solomon is learning two lessons here: first, the lesson about enclosed spaces. Remember, folks: you not only have to contend with the confined space, so movements will be constrained, but you also have to deal with dialogue.
The next lesson is about being dramatic. I wouldn’t say he’s trying too hard to gain reader interest, but he’s definitely trying to be cryptic.
Being cryptic only words when you’re being interesting, and being interesting means an action or dialogue has to reel people in. Neither is happening in this piece.
You know those first-person mysteries that people love, where the private eye is the narrator? Any idea why those are so popular and difficult to solve? Because the character knows more than you do, and they don’t tell everything they know. It looks like Solomon is trying that here, but we’re not inside someone’s head, so we’re finding out as Harry finds out.
What do we know? Not much: Harry may have had drugs planted on him, and he’s under arrest while some woman talks at him. Do we know anything else? No. Nothing that interests us. And we’ve got 3 pages of this.
Panel 1 Park has his back to Eris. His shoulders are hunched. Eris has folded her arms and is waiting patiently.
Panel 2 Park’s forehead is pressed against the window.
PARK You want me to resign?
ERIS [off panel] Uh, no. A Senate chairmanship is far too valuable. (And now we finally find out he’s a senator.)
Panel 3 Eris is holding up her phone again. She holds it facing Park. The preamble of a contract is on the screen. (So what? This panel doesn’t do anything. Well, this entire piece isn’t doing anything.)
ERIS There are documents at the station. You don’t cooperate? They let me bleed you dry.
Panel 4 Eris is holding the phone with one hand. She has splayed her fingers of her free hand to suggest something going up in smoke.
ERIS Sign them, and all evidence of what happened tonight? (Break.) Pff.
Panel 5 She holds the smartphone in front of Park. Her finger is resting on the scrollbar on the screen.
ERIS All I ask is a handful of votes (Ending punctuation. Else you’ll tempt the might of the Forbes.) (Insert rage-quit here. And, Line of Demarcation.)
Panel 6 Park considers the screen. Eris still has her finger on the scroll bar, helping him to peruse the document.
ERIS and protection for key bills I don’t want tabled or gutted in committee.
Panel 1 Park is still reading the document. The light from the screen casts his face in stark relief.
PARK …You’re overestimating me quite a bit.
Panel 2 Eris still has her finger on the scroll bar of the document. Her head is tilted and she’s smiling slightly.
ERIS 2nd circuit? You play this game well, when motivated.
Panel 3 Eris, face betraying her deep contempt for the man, watches Park read. (Pointless. This is a panel of a guy reading something that we’ve already seen. Think about that for a second.)
Panel 4 Park has leaned back, eyes closed, and is muttering into his chest.
PARK …jesus. christ. (Wow. Did you get bored? I’m glad it’s not just me.)
Panel 5 Eris has returned the phone to her purse. Park stares at her, exhausted.
ERIS And Mary. Amen.
There’s no threat of story here. No threat of anything. And there’s no inertia. The only thing moving in this story is the traffic in the first panel.
We don’t care about Park. How can we when don’t know him? We don’t know what he wants. We don’t know what that contract said. We don’t know what’ll happen because of any of this. We weren’t given a context or status quo that you could disrupt in the first place. This story has either started way too late or way too early. I can’t decide which. All I know is that it shouldn’t start here.
When was something interesting going to happen? And I don’t mean a bombastic action sequence, I mean something with ramifications; something to suggest what might or might not happen in the future. Something to hook the reading into saying, “I have to find out what happens.” This here isn’t it. Rewrite it until it is.
Let’s just run it down.
Format: No page breaks? No Flawless Victory. Which is a shame.
Also, I’m a fan of colons for dialogue that’s on the same line. This isn’t saying you’re wrong, I’m just saying I’m a fan of them. This means you don’t have to go through changes such as bolding and italicizing the elements. Or if you put them on a different line, that would work, too.
Panel Descriptions: These need some work. I stopped at the missing ending punctuation because you should know better, but it looks like this entire piece happens in the back seat of a car. Camera placement is tricky. It doesn’t look like you thought it through very well. I won’t beat that horse to death.
Pacing: This is a biggie. Like I said, I stopped because of the ending punctuation, and yes, this is crap, but it’s crap for a very specific reason: in the 3.5 pages I’ve read, nothing happens. Not one single thing of any real interest to keep the reader turning the page. That’s pretty sad.
You have a lot of panels per page, but you don’t do anything of any real use with them. What do these characters want that the reader can identify with?
I sent a short story over to an anthology called Western Tales of Terror. It was short-lived, and I’m not into westerns, but I tried my hand at it. I sent over a five page short that was rejected, but the editor saw something in it. I then got the worst piece of advice I’ve ever received: rewrite it to make it better, and I don’t have time to tell you what will do it.
The characters need to want something, and that something has to be identifiable by the reader. There has to be someone we’re sympathetic to. And an action has to happen that has to be resolved. None of that is here. (Granted, I didn’t read the last page, but we’ll come to that next.)
For short stories, pacing is about the number of pages in the story, the number of panels per page, and what is happening in every panel and page. Know what happens here? A woman talks at a man (not to, because “to” implies a two-way conversation) in the back seat of a car. That’s it. Where’s the interest?
This needs to be condensed. It’s short already, but since nothing happens, condensing it to two pages and actually have something meaningful happen would be best.
Dialogue: When you’re trying too hard to be cryptic, it’s easy to see. This is Solomon’s second time through, and while he’s made different mistakes, the dialogue still seems to be in the same trap where things are said but not much of it is pertinent or really leads anywhere. That’s terrible, and I hope it isn’t a trend.
I truly feel that all the dialogue could be ripped out and replaced. However, since nothing really happens, it’s hard saying what you could replace the dialogue with in order to make this a worthwhile story.
If the story actually had a purpose or went somewhere, it would be different. However, because he tried too hard to be cryptic, it just doesn’t go well. None of the dialogue I would keep. Maybe the intent, but not the words themselves.
The rage-quit: It’s pretty simple, folks. I don’t go too crazy over punctuation in the panel descriptions. However, every sentence needs ending punctuation. It’s one of the simplest things there is to do when writing. Even if you have a run-on sentence, you still have ending punctuation. But to not have ending punctuation in the dialogue? This is what the reader is going to see. They’re not going to see the script. They’re going to see the dialogue. It isn’t the letterer’s job to put in the ending punctuation, that’s your job as the writer. It isn’t the editor’s job to put in the ending punctuation, that’s your job as the writer. The more you can do for yourself, the better the editor will be able to help you, because they can then concentrate on other things. They shouldn’t have to worry about whether or not you know how to use a damned period.
Content: This is crap. Nothing happens. A reader would be well within their rights to avoid anything you’ve ever written, because there’s literally nothing to read here. It’s a waste of time.
Editorially, this needs to be rewritten. The story needs to have stakes and consequences, and it needs to happen faster.
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.
Category: ComixTribe News