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TPG Week 258: When The Rewrite Is Still Bad

| December 7, 2015

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Welcome back, one and all, to another installment of The Proving Grounds. This week, we have Brave One Galen Schulz returning with a rewrite! It doesn’t happen often, so here’s the link to the original, and we’re going to go through this and see what’s what. Liam isn’t with us this week, so it’s going to be all me in red, with a pencil assist from Ryan Kroboth.

Let’s see what changes have been wrought with

High Water

Page One (six panels)

Panel 1, thinner at one end, full wide panel looking down from extreme distance (I have no idea what this means. Ryan? I know it’s early…). A high cliff at the end of a jungle-y land mass with ocean surrounding it can be seen below and trailing into the far distance. This entire west coastline is seventy foot cliffs with very narrow sandy strips at their feet. Abandoned Longshore, thickly walled with stone, is perched about 100 yards from the edge of the cliff. The jungle is close around the abandoned town, and Fortune and Silver Gull are nearly abreast of it, with only a couple sails up (at least mainsails). The sun is a couple hours above the water, so shadows are longish. (Yeah. A show of hands: how many people read this and had it devolve into wah-wah-wah, wah-wah, wah-wah wah waaaaah wah? Just raise your hands. Hold ’em high. I want to make sure I get an accurate count.)

ASHLEY (OP): (Is this really off panel? OP from where?)

Y’know…

Panel 2 is a little thicker and complementary to panel 1’s geometry (This doesn’t mean much.. Maybe I shouldn’t do this with a headache…), full wide, showing a closer view of the cliff and town. The wall is crumbling in places. Any buildings in town are squat, single-story affairs with roofs sloped away from the ocean if they have roofs at all. In the western edge of town is a raised scaffold, occupied by Ashley in the center. Greco, Marques, and Yezst are in a group a little ways away in the otherwise deserted square (okay if it’s too far to tell who’s who). The scaffold has stairs on the south side. Prewitt in hawk form is flying left to right over this scene, middle distance. (Yeah. I’m going to stop here. I’m at work, I have a headache, and I don’t feel well. This is just compounding it.)

ASHLEY:

I don’t think I ever noticed–

Panel 3 is the top-left quadrant for the next four panels (Quadrants? I have no idea what you’re talking about.). Show a close up of Ashley with a noose around his neck. Grimacing cough. Three days of stubble and older bruising mottled with newer on his face. (This is the first time we’re ever explicitly told that Ashley is hanging. Is this a scaffold, or a gallows? I know that they’re the same thing, but one has a definite meaning and connotation, whereas the other doesn’t. Basically, you’re confusing your artist because they don’t know what to draw because you aren’t being clear with your vocabulary, which is a horrible thing to say about a writer. Why are you hiding information from the artist? Panel 2 now looks different because of the information you’ve given in panel 3.)

ASHLEY:

*cough*

Panel 4, second quadrant. A full body view of Ashley on the gallows (NOW you want to use the correct wording. It’s the next day and I no longer have a headache, but this could make it start to come back.) standing with hands tied behind his back and the noose around his neck. His coat is scuffed and dirty, his shirt shows wear and stains. If possible, put Prewitt’s shadow stretched out on the scaffold next to him.

ASHLEY:

Just how fat you are, Greco. (Why is this dialogue here? Why not move it up to the cough? I think it’s because your pacing is off again.)

Panel 5, third quadrant. Greco and cronies grouped together, Greco turned from their conversation with a scowl. The other two look nervous, one up at Ashley, the other at Greco.

GRECO:

That mouth is what got you into this mess, Captain.

Panel 6, Greco stomping up the stairs of the gallows, we’re behind and below him. The wood’s warping. (This is the fourth panel, no? What “quadrant” is this supposed to be? Or did you just forget?)

SFX (from boot):

klump (What for? What does this do for anything?)

GRECO:

The only thing keepin’ me from strangling you while I hauled your useless ass across half the damned Island…

P1 is down.

I’m all for giving the benefit of the doubt, but really, I’m tempted to set the Line of Demarcation somewhere around panel 3. My reasoning is simple: information is being kept from the artist. That, and the first couple of panel descriptions are just devolving into a buzz for me. Makes me actively not want to read it. It’s making me actively want to stop trying to visualize what’s supposed to be going on.

I’ll say this: I’m not interested.

The pacing is still off. We start with a wide-out view and then come in, which is good, but then things are getting drawn out. What should have been five panels is now six, and really, what’s happening in the six panels isn’t that interesting.

Here’s what you did: you cut off the dialogue at the end of panel 6 in the hopes of getting the reader to turn the page. However, you didn’t create a page-turn. You didn’t create a page turn because you didn’t create any real interest. The only thing you did was cut off the last bit of dialogue. What’s interesting about that? What real buildup is there to warrant the reader turning the page?

It’s boring, and it’s badly paced. The dialogue is supposed to enhance the pictures, causing the reader to want to know more. There are things said here, but it isn’t interesting yet.

Stop hiding information from your artist. If some guy’s head was supposed to be in a noose, that information should have been in panel 2 at the latest. If he’s supposed to be standing, that information should be there, too. None of the actual information needed is there until past when it’s needed. We don’t know he’s got a noose around his neck until panel 3, and we don’t know that he’s standing until panel 4. It’s just bad storytelling because you haven’t stopped to think about what you’re asking the artist to draw.

Page Two (six panels) (Woohoo! Page breaks!)

Panel 1, Greco on the scaffold with Ashley, looming and pointing at him, mean smirk. Ashley’s glaring.

GRECO:

Has been the thought of you standin’ right. (You need to learn better punctuation. Greg, what would you have done instead?)

GRECO:

There.

ASHLEY:

Oh, please. You going to tell me who paid you yet?

Panel 2, the rest of the tier, Greco with mock surprise, hand to heart.

GRECO:

Why, Ashley, I’ve been wantin’ to kill you since a month after I joined your crew. (Nice. I like how the name came in organically.)

Panel 3, closer on Greco’s face, grinning.

GRECO:

The, uh… Sponsorship only made it sweeter.

Panel 4, show both of them again. Greco has turned back towards his compatriots but is still within arm’s reach, serious look on his face. Ashley is addressing them as well, frowning.

GRECO:

Marques, get on the wall at the gate. Come back when you see the dust of those carriages. Yezst–

ASHLEY:

You know he’s just going to betray you two. Those fat hands of his will find themselves holding all–

Panel 5, Greco throwing his weight into a right-handed punch deep in Ashley’s gut, speed lines and all that, Ashley is almost blown off his feet, eyes popping.

ASHLEY:

HRKFF!

Panel 6, from in front of the scaffold, Ashley is hunched as much as the rope allows, teeth clenched in pain. Greco’s greasy hair has become disheveled and is hanging across his forehead. He looks very maniacally satisfied. Greco’s right hand is clinched near Ashley, and he’s bent a little towards him. His left hand is pointing at the sunset. In the extreme deep distance, through a crumbling section of wall, we can see the horizon. (Nope. Rin, why am I saying no, and what assumptions am I making in order to say this? What has to happen in order for Galen to have what he wants, and what didn’t he do in order to have it?)

ASHLEY (strained):

Fat. You’re fat. Can’t believe I ever saved your fat, greedy ass.

GRECO:

Say it while you can! By sunset, your mouth’ll be too full of your swollen purple tongue!

P2, and I want to say that this is going better than the last time around. At least we’re getting to things faster.

We ended P1 with what was hoped to be a page-turning moment, but we got weak tea instead. P2 continues that same weak-tea. It’s even worse, really. There’s no payoff for what was said at the end of P1. Not enough to cut off the previous dialogue. It’s a problem with knowing what’s interesting. That’s not good, now is it? Knowing what’s interesting is supposed to be the province of the writer.

The good news is that this is making much better sense than the previous entry. Things still aren’t paced as well as they could be, but it’s making sense and things are moving. The biggest problem on this page is not knowing where characters are placed. (This is the only real hint Rin is getting, because for me to say more would be to give the entire thing away.)

I do like how the names are coming through organically. That’s always a good thing.

Let’s see it continue.

Page Three (six panels)

Panel 1, same time as previous scene, Leyta is at the starboard railing of the Fortune, looking down. There’s a rope ladder that she’s about to start using trailing down to the water and a longboat. Tom’s hand is on her shoulder. Down in the boat is Arman. (Schuyler: What direction is the boat pointing in order for the side to be correctly identified as starboard as well as have the camera seeing everything here?)

All but Tom and Cid in this page would be battle ready, Leyta with her usual unique armaments.

TOM:

Are you sure you can trust that letter?

LEYTA:

I have to, Tom. Even if it was forged, Prewitt confirmed seeing Ashley up there.

Panel 2, from out above the water on level with action from previous panel, watching Leyta swing a leg over the railing while she talks to Tom. You can angle it so that if we see anyone else behind Tom, it’s just the tops of their heads. Mainmast should be on the right, we’re closer to the stern. Any sails that could be visible should be furled since they’re at anchor, currently. The longboat’s visible, too. (I don’t know where you want the camera placed. Greg, why am I saying this?)

LEYTA:

Tad’s bringing some volunteers from the Silver Gull. Twenty-two all together should be plenty. (This isn’t making much sense. There’s information missing.)

TOM:

I don’t like this, Leyta.

LEYTA:

Just in case that letter was from the King, make sure to keep an eye out for the navy.

LEYTA:

If you have to run, we’ll meet you in Rutland Green.

Panel 3, same shot, except now Samuel is on his way down. Tom is leaned over the edge, calling down to Leyta who is in the boat. Leyta is cupping a hand and calling back up to him.

TOM:

Leyta! Kill those mutinous rats for me, would you?

LEYTA:

I always hated Greco, anyway! Raise the flag so Tad knows we’re moving!

Panel 4, Leyta sitting down in the very back of the boat, crossing her arms and frowning.

LEYTA (thought):

What the blue hell are we into now, Ashley? Not only did the King, or somebody pretending to be the King, know what was happening, he knew where you’d be taken. (A thought balloon? Really? It feels out of the blue. Someone give an idea on how to fix this. Not the balloon itself, but the feeling that it came out of the blue. What would you do in order to keep this, right where it’s at, but make it so it feels like it belongs?)

Panel 5, the boat is rowing out with 14 people (Leyta, Gideon, Cid, Aerick, Arman, Ben, Hadwin, Henrik, Faye, Nyx, Ramsey, Samuel, Quimby, and Patrick, for reference) but you don’t need to get close enough to see everyone. Ben and Gideon would be a little obvious, though.

LEYTA (thought, from back of the boat):

And I want to know what you have to do with an auction.


CID (small):

You guys are splashing me.

NYX (small):

Shut up, Cid.

Panel 6, smaller, from the beach, in the far distance is Fortune on the left and the Gull on the right, still at anchor. Coming closer to us are the longboats from each. Leyta’s is closer.

LEYTA (OP):

I trust Prewitt informed you and the Gull?

P3.

Remember when I said things were making sense? All of that went right out the window with this page.

This page is supposed to do something. It’s supposed to say that the man in the gallows isn’t alone. That there are people there for him. It’s also supposed to make some sort of sense. This…doesn’t.

This makes no sense. There’s information missing. It doesn’t even feel like the tail end of a conversation. It feels like things are said that are meant to be cryptic, because being cryptic is the way to get people interested.

This only works if what’s being said is interesting. If it isn’t interesting, then it’s just hot air. And it feels like everything except Cid’s line is hot air—and the levity imparted feels like the only authentic part of this page. It stems from something.

And that’s the problem with everything so far. You’re trying to start with some kind of in media res, but since there’s no action, it’s like you started telling a story and got a few pages in, then cut the first few pages out and didn’t adjust anything in order for the reader to get grounded in the story.

I understand that this is P3, but there is information missing that shouldn’t be. There’s no real exposition, and what there is is couched cryptically.

You have to do better, Galen.

Page Four (seven panels)

Panel 1, Tad’s about to beach in his own boat, Leyta is facing seaward and waiting on the beach. He’s at the very front, about to hop out into the tide. Give him a saber on his hip. All but Quimby and Patrick from her boat are arrayed behind her. Scatter some lanterns or torches among them, just one or two, and also make sure people are outfitted with weapons (rifles, sabers, pistols). Except Cid, he gets nothing. Gideon should have a rifle, for sure.

TAD:

We heard the plan.

LEYTA:

Good. Let’s get going. I have a traitor to deal with.

Panel 2, the boat has beached and we’re looking at it head-on, Tad and Leyta are at the bow of it, looking at each other, braced against it, getting ready to push it back into the surf. Tad should look zealous, like usual, Leyta frowning. Sebastian, Gorthon, Stev, Devan, Drogo, Sasha, Hedo, Gaines, and Devod are all piling out of it while Langston and Dorsey are still in it. The boat Leyta and co. arrived in would be in the distance, rowing back. All 11 of these other people (and that first boat) don’t need to be in the frame, but for reference, that’s where things are. They would also be armed with weapons and lighting. (This is panel 2. Why are there 110+ words here? What’s so important that it needs so many words?)

TAD:

I want to kill Greco. I want that right. He took Ashley, Leyta. He took Ashley! I have to– (Is this really what you want to say here?)

LEYTA:

I want you focused on the rescue, Tad. That’s the point of this. Ashley will be glad to see you. Don’t worry about Greco and the others.

Panel 3, small, the boat is being rowed out. Leyta is walking away. Tad is staring at the back of her head. If you can manage to make Tad look obsessed, that’s awesome.

TAD (whisper, filling all the white space in the bubble):

bleedhimflayhimgrindhimmakehimscreammakehimpay (Line of Demarcation. This just turned into crap. Congratulations.)

Panel 4, full wide, the group, now numbering 22, is marching up the beach to the right. Leyta is leading, walking backwards. At the right side of the panel is the beginning of the switchback that leads up fifty feet of the seventy foot cliff. This strip of beach they’re on is narrow and rises steeply to that switchback. It doesn’t matter what order you have them in, but about 2/3rds the way back in the group have somebody turning their head to the last third. (Ryan? Here’s what I would like you to do: either draw this panel, or explain why you’d be reluctant to draw this panel.)

LEYTA:

Plans last until the first shot’s fired. We’ll stick to what we have until the madness ensues. Follow my lead. (Last time, I dinged you hard on being nonsensical with the timing of going over the plan. Right now, you can’t win, because I’m going to ding you for not even attempting to give information as to what the plan is.)

RELAY (head turner): (I have no idea what this means, either element or the “clarifier” after it.)

She said…

Panel 5, they’re strung out on the switchback trail. Cid is right below Leyta on the trail, they’re looking at each other. Ben should be in line right behind Cid. Don’t put any vegetation on the trail, but barnacles would be okay near the bottom.

CID:

So, Longshore? I’ve never even heard of this place.

LEYTA:

Because Longshore’s been dead longer than you’ve been in Veloz, Cid. It only lasted a generation.

BEN:

It was a test by King Saul in his early days to see if they could expand without a harbor.

LEYTA:

The six-masted idiots built it on a stormward cliff and then wondered at the wind blowing over their wall.

CID:

Oh.

Panel 6, small, they’re all further up the switchback trail. You can zoom out, or have it be more from below. The angle should make the tunnel entrance at the top visible.

NO COPY

Panel 7, small, same shot, the group is slightly further along.

CID:

My feet hurt.

BEN:

Shut up, Cid.

P4, and I’m ready to shut the door…

These two pages feel like padding. I feel like I could cut them and there wouldn’t be any harm done to the integrity of the story. That’s terrible. At least the Line of Demarcation has been set, and since we all know it’s crap, we can relax into it. Have a bit of fun. (Well, the rest of you can have fun. I’m stuck going over this…)

What happens if we skip over the setting of the rescue and then go right to the rescue itself? If we spend more time at the gallows and get some actual story in, and then get to the action of the rescue, I think that would be time better spent.

But these two pages? Padding at the most, badly placed at the least.

Page Five (six panels)

Panel 1, Gideon standing outside the tunnel entrance while Arman and Aerick are passing behind. Ben is standing at the far side of the entrance opposite Gideon in the background holding a lit torch, and is lighting the torch in Aerick’s hand. Gideon is looking thoughtfully at a heavily rusted winch system fastened to the cliff wall above the opening. Leyta is standing beside him, also regarding the winch.

LEYTA:

You’re thinking again.

GIDEON:

I worry about Tad. His time with Captain Quay doesn’t seem to have calmed him.

Panel 2, Leyta is looking (way) up at Gideon and frowning now. He’s still looking at the winch. Two more sailors are passing where Arman and Aerick were before, one lighting their torch on Ben’s.

LEYTA:

I don’t know what else to do for him. For now, he’s with me. I’ll channel his fervor in the right direction.

GIDEON:

I wonder what the Captain’s dream will look like in a century. Will his Orphans keep up his work when he’s gone? Or will it be like that machine?

Panel 3, Leyta’s alone, frowning at the winch. Gideon’s filing into the tunnel past Ben.

NO COPY

Panel 4, smaller, Leyta turning to leave.

LEYTA (thought):

I don’t have time for that crap, Gideon.

Panel 5, a shot from in front of Tad. He’s at the head of the group inside the tunnel. Give the tunnel a rough look, exposed beams overhead, obviously man-made. Torch smoke pools at the ceiling if you want. No worries if that’s not possible. Tad has a grim expression. You can see Hedo and Gaines behind him in line, Gaines with the torch. Others are obscured by the lighting and/or smoke. Tad has reached a T in the tunnel and he’s looking to his left. Leyta is pushing her way to the front between Hedo and Gaines, but is still mostly behind them.

TAD:

Left or right?

Panel 6, same shot but smaller frame, she’s standing beside Tad, looking right.

LEYTA (thought):

Gideon with his damn storming thoughts, now guessing games. I don’t have time for this.


LEYTA:

I’m not splitting us up. We’ll go this way.

P5. More padding. More cryptic speak. More nothing.

This is where I’m stopping. This is where most people would stop. Let’s run ‘er down.

Format: Flawless Victory!

Panel Descriptions: These need work. There are a lot of words in a lot of panels, but they’re not doing what they need to do. Words can be trimmed, but there’s also the fact that you’re hiding things from your artist. That isn’t good. Slow down and think. Visualize. Is what you’ve visualized the same thing you’ve said in the panel description? If the answer is no, then fix it. Now, have you said what you needed to say in the fewest amount of words necessary? If the answer is no, fix it. Practice it. Your artist will thank you.

Pacing: Terrible. Out of these five pages, three of them are padding, and none of them are propelling any type of story. The panel descriptions show the actions, but the dialogue turns those actions into a story, and none of that happened here.

Dialogue: It feels like there isn’t all that much dialogue here, and that’s because what’s there doesn’t move the story forward at all. Five pages, and what’s really been said? What do we really know? Nothing that moves the story forward. Nothing of any real interest. That needs to be fixed.

Dialogue is difficult. You have to use it to both reveal character and to move the plot, and you have to be interesting while doing it. It’s a challenge. Fail to meet it, and the book will fail.

Content: As a reader, we already know this is crap.

Editorially, this needs a rewrite, preferably with some editorial guidance. I suggest writing a plot for the issue first, and going over that plot with an editor. Let them suggest changes, get those changes incorporated to see if they fit/work. Once they do, go to scripting. Only once they do. If they don’t fit or work, keep going over it until it does.

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 [email protected] for rate inquiries.

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