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TPG Week 244: Pacing Problems

| August 29, 2015

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Welcome back, one and all, to another installment of The Proving Grounds! This week, our Brave One is no stranger to these parts: we have Ronnie Massey stepping in! We also have Liam Hayes in blue, and I’m the cheerleader in red, and we’re all going to see how Ronnie did with the

Superhero Retirement Squad

A note first: we’re coming into another round of writing challenges that ran on Digital Webbing. This one was on superhero sadness, and the rules were thus:

No more than five pages

The superhero has to fail

The word “forsooth” has to be in the dialogue

There has to be a fish somewhere (take that as you will)

A knitted sweater must be an object

This has to end on a sad note

Got it? Let’s go!

Characters

Phaze: 34, Male, Mixed Race/African American and Caucasian. A fourth generation hero that can make his body intangible as well as increase his molecular density. Younger brother of Ramjet.

Ramjet: 36, Male, Mixed Race/African American and Caucasian. A fourth generation hero that has super strength, speed, invulnerability, and flight.

Bolt: 33, Male, Polynesian. A third generation hero with super speed. Cousin to Jolt.

Jolt: 33, Male, Polynesian. A third generation hero with the power to teleport. Cousin to Bolt.

Radio Control aka. RC: 35, Female, British/Caucasian. A fourth generation hero with a host of mental abilities.

Zephyr: 38, Male, Caucasian. A third generation hero with wind powers that allow him flight, among other things.

Hydro: 29, Female, Caucasian. Hydro is a powerful super villain and nemesis to Zephyr. She has water manipulation abilities.

Deputy Carlson: 54, Male, African American. Senior officer on the scene.

Deputy Manning: 29, Male, Caucasian. Off duty officer that is second on the scene.

(Five page and nine characters? Ouch.) (It’s a bit much, I agree. There will be a lot of standing around, methinks.)

Page One (6 Panels)

Panel One: We are looking at a large flatscreen tv. On the screen we can see a female newscaster, CINDY COVINGTON, sitting at her desk, holding a small stack of papers, as she stares forward at her audience. On a screen behind her we can see RAMJET and HYDRO fighting in a rural area. Ramjet is flying through a grey, storm cloud filled sky, heading toward Hydro, who is standing atop a column of water, ready to deliver a punch, with a fist that is covered in water. (You want all of that to be seen on a screen inside a screen?)

CAPTION: “The world knows who we are. Our faces sell newspapers, and our exploits keep people glued to their tvs (TVs). Whenever we save a life (Comma.) our names become trending topics on Twitter and Facebook. ”

CINDY COVINGTON (ELECTRONIC VOICE FROM TV): This is Cindy Covington, interrupting your regularly scheduled program with live, drone footage of an altercation between the superhero known as Ramjet, and the criminal that calls herself, (No comma.) Hydro.

Panel Two: We are looking past a rear view of PHAZE, who is seated on his couch watching tv. We can only see the edges of the tv, but can see Hydro flying back, as if she has been hit. On the wall behind the tv we can see various pictures of different people. Some men, some women, but because of the distance, we can’t make out the features very well. We can see one picture of two men standing beside each other, but again, can’t make out the faces. None of them are in uniform, but rather ordinary clothes. (Framed pictures?)

CINDY COVINGTON (ELECTRONIC VOICE FROM TV): Our affiliates report that this is happening on the outskirts of small town called, McKirkelville, about eighty miles west of Metro City. (No comma.)

No caption for panel two?

Panel Three: Waist-up, straight-on view of Phaze as he holds up his cellphone, with a finger pressed to the touch screen. He’s looking straight ahead in the direction of the tv, not at the phone.

CAPTION: “We superheroes save the day and the public loves us for it. But would they, if they knew what happens when the cameras stop rolling?” (A few things wrong with this caption. It has two independent beats to it. Split it in half and put the first sentence in panel two. This’ll also help the second sentence to stand out on its own. It’s strong enough for its own panel, and putting it with more text just buries it.)

SFX: MUSIC NOTES COMING FROM THE CELL.

SFX (COMING FROM PHONE): I NEED A HERO!

Panel Four: Same as previous panel, but now Phaze has the phone held to his ear.

CAPTION: “Would the friend requests stop coming if people knew that sometimes even the best of us can have a bad day? That the strongest of us can crack.” (That last period shouldn’t be one. It should be a question mark. And the more I read the captions, the more I feel like this is an internal monologue, and not the voice-over caption you’re making this out to be. The first caption felt that way, and it only grows more intense as they continue.)

MOM (ELECTRONIC VOICE FROM PHONE): Sammy, it’s Mom. Turn on the news.

PHAZE: I’m watching, Mom. Ramjet is really giving it to Hydro.

Panel Five: This panel is the tv screen. The footage of Ramjet and Hydro is being shown. Hydro is in the process of swinging her fist at Ramjet, who swinging a fist, also. A huge, body-sized fist made of water that is connected to the column of water underneath Hydro, is coming at Ramjet, also. Behind Hydro we can also see a bolt of lightning shooting from a stormcloud, heading for Ramjet.

NO COPY (These captions are dropping a lot.)

Panel 6: This panel is a black box with a small white circle in the center, as if the tv just went dark.

CAPTION: “Would they hate us if they knew that when a superhero breaks, we stay broken?”

CINDY COVINGTON (ELECTRONIC VOICE OFF PANEL): (It’s not off-panel, is it? It’s on the TV, just off-screen on the TV) I’m afraid we’re expecting (Experiencing?) technical difficulties and have lost video feed from the drone.

CINDY COVINGTON (CONT. ELECTRONIC VOICE OFF PANEL): We’ll be back after a short commercial break.

PHAZE (OFF PANEL): Mom, I’ve gotta go.

Not a bad start. There’s some ambiguity as to what’s actually happened and why Phaze has to go, but this can work in your favour. Also, you’re missing a time of day.

P1 is down!

So far, we have the superheroes, but what does P1 really do for us? Not that much. We have captions that are formatted like voice-overs but are more than likely an internal monologue, and we definitely have a case of the dropsies.

For those of you who are new or who have forgotten, dialogue comes in a few distinct flavors: spoken, captions, and sound effects.

Spoken is simple. That’s what you see in word balloons. Sound effects are also simple. That’s where you get the sounds of things happening, like gunshots or screeching tires.

Captions aren’t so simple, because they also come in distinct flavors. You have the omniscient narrator who often gives us a location or what’s happened before or someone’s inner turmoil or thoughts. You have the internal monologue where you have a character going over elements of the story. Finally, there’s the voice-over caption. This is where a character is speaking out loud to another, but they aren’t visible in the scene. They are often at a different location.

It is extremely easy to tell a voice-over caption from all the rest because of the quotation marks. That’s just a visual cue without having to actually read any of the words. In general, this is the only time you’ll see quotation marks in comics. (There are others, but I’m trying to keep this simple, and the others are few and very far between.)

When reading the captions, I get the sense that this isn’t a person talking to someone else. This sounds like an internal monologue, and if that’s the case, the quotation marks are wrong.

There’s also a case of the dropsies: places where you’re expecting a caption, but one doesn’t appear. The dropsies appear very frequently with newer writers because they’re still trying to find a way to tell the story. Knowing what to put in or leave out becomes challenging without doing it for yourself.

More could have been done with this first page. It isn’t overly interesting. More dialogue could help. It needs to be sold, since the action on the page isn’t going to cut it.

Page Two (5 Panels)

Panel One: We are on the main street of a small, rural town looking at a row of red brick shops. We can see a bakery, SWEET EATS, a drug store, MAHAFFEY’S, and in the middle of the two, a pet shop, FURBABIES. The windows have been shattered on all three of the stores, there are broken bricks and debris on the sidewalk, dust in the air. Mahaffey’s has the most damage, what we can see. Huge chunks of the visible walls have been destroyed. The door has been knocked off its hinges. The signs for all three shops are hanging by one chain, sideways. On the sidewalk and in the street we can see 4-5 people, a mix of men and women, who are in the process of running away from the destruction. The people are dressed for cool weather. They are bleeding, and have cuts and scrapes on them. (Which direction are they running? I presuming from left to right.)

BLEEDING RUNNING MAN 1: Get the sheriff, we’re under attack!

BLEEDING RUNNING WOMAN: Help!

BLEEDING RUNNING MAN 2: Get out of the way!

Panel Two: Angled, rear view. We are in the street behind two of the runners, looking at them go. Past them we can see a squad car with its lights flashing, parked in the center of the road. The driver, DEPUTY CARLSON, is standing next to the car, and is in the process of closing the door.

*NOTE TO ARTIST: He should be wearing a wide-brim hat as part of his uniform. (Why is this note here? This should be part of the panel description proper, not as a note.)

SFX (COMING FROM SQUAD CAR): WHOOH-WHOOH-WHOOH

CARLSON: Get home, people!

CARLSON (CONT): Lock your doors and stay there!

Panel Three: Profile view. We are outside of the shops and can just see the front of the parked squad car. Coming from the left is Deputy Carlson, who has almost reached the door of Furbabies. He has one hand on his holster, and is pushing back his hat with the other hand. Coming from the right is DEPUTY MANNING, who is mid-stride, running, and is not a uniform (What is he wearing then?) but wearing his weapon. (I presume you mean he has a holster on.)

DEPUTY CARLSON: You got here quick.

DEPUTY MANNING: I was fishing down at ol’ man McKirkle’s.

DEPUTY MANNING (CONT): Is this really a S.C.D?

Panel Four: We are inside of the shop, (Which one?) looking past Ramjet. He is on his knees, with his head hung forward. This is a very close view that only allows us to see a 4th of his body, at the most. We can see Carlson standing in the open door with a hand across his eyes as he looks into the darkness. We can’t see much of Carlson’s face as his back is to the light.

DEPUTY CARLSON: Don’t know yet. I–

Panel Five: This is the largest panel on the page. We are looking at a full body shot of Ramjet, on his knees in the center of a small crater in a tiled floor. His eyes are wild with unshed tears. He has the mangled body of a little girl, no older than 5, in his arms. She is wearing a pink, knit sweater with a large butterfly on one shoulder. Close to them, on the ground we can see the remains of a broken goldfish bowl, with two dead fish among the glass.

*Note to Artist: The girl’s body should be mangled so that even a seasoned cop would be shaken.

DEPUTY CARLSON (OFF PANEL WHISPER): Sweet baby Jesus.

RAMJET: She’s okay, right?

RAMJET (CONT): I’m a hero, and I save people, so she’s got to be okay.

That’s a pretty decent story hook, there. I’m not so sure about the people running away. Where were they running from? The shops? To where? Towards the camera? That could use some work.

P2, and we’ve got what seems to be the failure, setting up the sad note for later. We also have the fish and the knit sweater. Really, we just need the word “forsooth”, and this will have hit all the notes necessary for the challenge.

I like this page. I think it does its job nicely. I think I would have changed the first page to reflect this fight more. Show the fight and show the drone covering the action. Voice-over captions for the call between mother and son, and the internal monologue as well. Then the drone gets destroyed, the newscaster comments on it, and the conversation between mother and son ends. If you do that conversation in captions, it preserves some mystery and gets readers turning to P2 while also giving some action instead of having the “screen” between the reader and the action by having it take place on television rather than being part of the action.

This page works on a lot of levels. I’m liking this page. The only thing is that the captions are gone.

Page Three (6 Panels)

Panel One: This is close-up of Carlson’s head as he vomits.

SFX: BLEEECCCCK

Panel Two: We are outside of the shop, Carlson is leaned over with on hand on his stomach. With his other he has reached up and grabbed Manning’s arm to stop him from going inside.

DEPUTY CARLSON: No, son. *Groan* You don’t wanna go in there.

DEPUTY CARLSON (CONT): My car. Get on the horn and call the sheriff. Tell ‘em we have confirmed superhero collateral damage, with property loss…and four civilian deaths. (We didn’t see any other bodies.)

Panel Three: We are behind the squad car, looking past it as Manning heads toward it. We can see both sides of the street and at the far end, a stop light. (We can see Manning walk from the shops towards the car but we can also see both sides of the street at the end? How is that possible?) (Small town. Short stree.) There is a truck there, about to head into the danger zone. Carlson is looking toward the truck. While we can see shops across from the main three, we can’t make out what type they are. (Remember that we read from left to right. So what we need to do is to establish where the “danger zone” is, and what the direction of travel is for the truck. That hasn’t been done, so I’m hazy as to what’s actually being shown. Mr. Kroboth: could you lend us a pencil? [And I’m starting to think you should be paid in some sort of compensation for this. Shoot me an email.])

DEPUTY MANNING: Yes, sir.

Panel Four: Rear view of Carlson, standing in the middle of the road with his hands up. (What’s the lorry doing? Just sitting stationary in front of him.) (Ah! Two things: Again, Liam is from the UK. “Lorry” means a truck. Second, said truck is traveling from right to left. At least, that’s how I’m seeing it.)

DEPUTY CARLSON: Sorry, the road is closed! Turn around and go home!

Panel Five: Slightly-angled, front view of Manning, who is standing in the open door of the squad car, talking on a police radio, holding a finger up, as if he is telling someone to wait a minute. Behind him we can see three more squad cars, (Whoa, where did these come from? We need to see them arriving at least.) there are 6 officers standing near their open doors. (Teleportation.)

DEPUTY MANNING: That’s right, sheriff, four.

SHERIFF (COMING FROM RADIO): Alright, I’ll get on the line with the governor. This is his call.

SHERIFF (CONT. COMING FROM RADIO): In the meantime, barricade downtown. Check the shops and make sure they’re empty. If someone has a cellphone, tablet, anything at all, confiscate it. This is a total blackout.

Panel Six: Largest Panel. This is an aerial view of the downtown area. We can see that the block with the shops was just one of two blocks. In all we can see the main road, as well as an intersecting road between the two blocks of buildings. People are here and there on the street and sidewalk of the other block, all looking toward the action. Some of the people are holding phones in the air, obviously taking photos. Some officers are pulling orange and yellow barricades from the trunks of the cars, while some are walking toward the people. Behind the three cars, we can see even more police have arrived. (This is a bit of a jump. No, I think this will have to come on a page turn at least.) (Or a caption can be used in order to show the passage of time.)

OFFICER HEADING TOWARD THE PEOPLE: Sorry, folks, I’m gonna have to take those. (Small town, and the deputy doesn’t know everyone? Or is it big enough that they can’t? With only two streets that compose the downtown area, I’d say that they should know everyone. I could be wrong, though.)

RANDOM WOMAN: I don’t think so. This is my private property.

OFFICER HEADING TOWARD THE PEOPLE: Don’t sass me, now. Just hand it over. All of you, hand them over!

Hmm.. Kind of a boring page. Is it really needed? Pretty sure you can cut it with no great loss. And what’s with the lorry? Does it actually serve the story somehow?

P3. and I’m with Liam. This page doesn’t serve much purpose. Who’s the focus of the story? Or what? It’s P3, and we seem to have shifted the focus, and that isn’t good.

We’ve also totally abandoned the captions, as is what happens when we have the dropsies. It wouldn’t surprise me if they showed up again on P5.

This page is fluff. It can be cut without losing anything, methinks.

Page Four (7 Panels)

Panel One:This is an overhead view of ZEPHYR flying through the air.

SFX: WHOOOOM

Panel Two: Pulled back view of the area in front of Furbabies. We can see BOLT standing in the road in front of the shop, with motion lines and a few faded images to show that he just ran there. We can also see JOLT standing next to RC. There is a cloud of smoke around them to show that they teleported in. In the center of the group there is Zephyr, who has just make a three point landing. We can’t see any officers or other people at all. (I don’t know how well that is going to come across in one panel. You may need to split this up into a few panels, and then show them all outside he building.) (I can. I think she set this up decently. Maybe panel 1 should be different, though, to show Zephyr in the act of landing. That would take up the jump in time that’s between panels 1 and 2, which is what Liam is really objecting to.)

CAPTION: Twenty minutes after Ramjet fought Hydro. (See this? This means you can use the same technique to show the passage of time on the previous page if necessary. However, this caption still means the previous page is unnecessary.)

SFX: SWOOSH (I don’t know where the sfx are supposed to go.)

BOLT: Alright, all news trucks in the area are now out of commission.

SFX: FWAAP

JOLT: RC and I have gotten all the injured to the hospital.

SFX: SWMAACK

ZEPHYR: The no fly zone is in place, so we’re ready.

Panel Three: This is a closer, profile view of Zephyr, who is now standing and looking back with surprise. Behind him we can see a semi-transparent Phaze, who looks as if he is stepping out of Zephyr’s body. (Huh? Stepping out of his body? What are you trying to show here?)

PHAZE: Not quite all of us, but as soon as I’m solid we will be.

ZEPHYR: Phaze?! How–

PHAZE: The news. You never watch. I knew you’d try to leave me out, so I hitched a ride.

Panel Four: Aerial view of the block. We can now see that the officers are standing guard at the blockades, all of them standing at attention. RC is has a hand on Phaze’s shoulder. Jolt is looking toward Furbabies. (And Zephyr?)

RC: You don’t have to be here for this, Phaze.

PHAZE: The squad is five members, not four, besides, we don’t know if he’s gone. Have you taken care of the locals? (I’d change the second comma to a period. This is what editors are for.)

RC: *Sigh* Yes, I’ve seized their minds and wiped the town. The world will know only the cover story we present the media.

Panel Five: We are looking at the group of heroes, who are gathered in a semi-circle with Phaze in the center. Phaze has a hand on his chin. All of them are wearing grim expressions.

JOLT: Alright, RC, give us some good news.

Panel Six: This panel consists of an inset, which is of RC’s, totally black, left eye. The remainder of the panel is the rest of her face. Her right eye is wide and filled with tears, and she has her hands over her mouth, as if to keep from screaming out loud.

RC (SHAKY TEXT): The shock wave from his crash killed everyone inside. He-he thinks the girl is his daughter. She’s wearing a sweater just like the one Rya wore at her last birthday party. (That’s a bit of a stretch. Why does he think the girl is his daughter? You’ve just broken to seal of believability for me.)

RC (CONT. SHAKY TEXT): His mind is broken. There is no coming back from where he’s gone.

So, he crashed through the roof of the pet shop? Why was the destruction mostly on the other shop, then? Why weren’t we shown the roof with a hole in it? That would’ve helped clear up some confusion, at least.

P4, and this really does it for me. P3 is padding and needs to be excised, post-haste. Also, again, there are no captions. Except for the small pacing problem at the beginning of the page and cleaning up some of the language in the panel descriptions (some extra words or wrong forms of words, but nothing that affected the clarity of what was being said), this is the best page yet. (Then again, I’m also watching Grey’s Anatomy on Netflix, so it could be that I’m in a good mood.)

Page Five (7 Panels)

Panel One: This is a profile view of Phaze, as he takes a step toward the shop. Zephyr has grabbed his arm to stop him. The other heroes are looking to toward the ground, all of them crying.

ZEPHYR: Phaze-Sammy, (This should be something more along the lines off “Pha… Sammy”) you don’t have to do this.

ZEPHYR (CONT): One of us can retire him.

Panel Two: Rear view of Phaze, who is right at the door of the shop, looking back toward his friends as he pulls his mask off.

PHAZE: He’ got super speed, strength, can fly, and he’s damn near invulnerable. No mental institution or prison will ever be able to hold him.

PHAZE (CONT.): And If he thinks Rya is hurt, he’ll give his all to protect her. I’m the only one that can do this.

Panel Three: We are inside of the shop, and for the first time we can see the level of destruction inside. The bodies of three adults are inside, the shopkeeper draped across a counter, and the girl’s parents, behind Ramjet. There are animal cages with various animals, all dead. There are light fixtures hanging from the ceiling, pools of water from various broken tanks, and a huge hole in the wall connected to Mahaffey’s, that Ramjet crashed through. Ramjet is still on his knees, folded over the body of the girl.

RAMJET: Daddy didn’t expect the mean man to hit him so hard, but don’t worry. I’m going to make everything alright.

PHAZE (OFF PANEL): Davey, it’s me.

Panel Four: Profile view of Ramjet, who is looking at Phaze with tears streaming down his face. Phaze has dropped to one knee in front of him and has laid a hand on Ramjet’s cheek. He is also crying.

RAMJET: Sammy, it’s you.

PHAZE: Of course it is, big brother. Who else would it be?

RAMJET: Jessica. Where is she? Rya needs a doctor. Her mom always does the doctor visits.

PHAZE: Jess is waiting outside, but I need to talk to you first.

Panel Five: This panel is similar to the previous, but now Phaze has leaned forward to press his forehead to Ramjet’s.

PHAZE: Do you remember when we were kids, how we went through that Shakespeare stage and made our own version of grandpa’s oath for the squad. (This period should be a question mark.)

RAMJET: Sammy, Rya won’t wake up.

PHAZE: It’s okay. I’ll remember for both of us.

PHAZE (CONT): Forsooth, tis better to die protecting the many, than to live selfishly and harm one. (Here, since he’s reciting something, I’d put in quotation marks. And we got in the forsooth in a creative way!)

Panel Six: This is a close-up, silhouette of Phaze’s arm sticking out of Ramjet’s back, in his hand is Ramjet’s heart. (Ramjet has no response? No cry of pain?)

NO COPY

Panel Seven: Rear view of Ramjet, we can see the bloody hole in his back where his heart once was. Phaze is holding him in his arms, and has his chin resting on Ramjet’s shoulder. (What happened to the heart? Is Phaze’s arm still through Ramjet? There are tears running down his face. Behind him the heroes are gathered in a tight semi-circle, all of them crying.

PHAZE: I love you, Davey.

I have a few issues with this story. Firstly, why did the drone feed cut out? And how did Phaze know that meant he had to go there? How did he know any of what happened? It wasn’t broadcast. And why so many characters? Did you really them all? I don’t think you did. Also, what was the bit with the cops about? Why did they matter to the story at all?

This wasn’t a bad idea for a story. I like the idea of a hero who makes mistakes and must face the consequences. It’s interesting to say the least. Unfortunately, this wasn’t as well executed as it could have been.

Let’s run this down!

Format: Flawless Victory! It almost feels like Christmas!

Panel Descriptions: These need a little bit of work. Not much, just a touch. Just a little bit better visualization here and there, to place objects better so things aren’t confusing and there isn’t any unnecessary teleporting going on. Get that licked, and things will be very good indeed.

Pacing: This is the real problem of this piece. With a page of fluff that can be cut without any problem at all, there’s actually another page of story that could be told.

There’s also the first page. I understand why it was done this way, but really, there’s a better way to do it. Putting the action on a news broadcast is a mistake, I believe. The broadcast does what it’s supposed to in giving the character the information needed, but at the same time, it removes the reader from the action.

I believe a better proposition would be to do a voice-over, as I said, and possibly “pulling out” to show the television and the character watching it, and then going off to do what has to be done.

The extra page? (The page that can be cut.) That page can be used to explain the superhero fight and why it’s happening. So it’s a pacing problem that’s the real downfall here.

Dialogue: I have no real problem with it. It does what it needs to do, and had some heart to it. I liked the way the challenge word was incorporated. That was very creative. Made me smile. (I will not admit to any giggling.) The only real problem with the dialogue is the fact that it started with captions, and those captions were never picked up again. 

Content: As a reader, the story needs some help. It’s a little scattered with the news report and the deputy. They’re blunting the effect of the story.

Editorially, this doesn’t need much. A little more focus. I like it a lot, and I think all of the challenge requirements could be met with the changes. I suggest rewriting and resubmitting it, just to see what it would look like. This could easily fit in a properly themed anthology.

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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