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TPG Week 267: Gumption, But No Story

| February 6, 2016

TPGFeatured_02

Welcome back, one and all, to another installment of The Proving Grounds! This week’s Brave One is Anh Diep. Aside from me being the curmudgeon in red, we also have Ryan Kroboth with the pencil assist. Now we’re all going to see what Ahn brings us with

Captain NightForm

(Note: There were some character descriptions at the very beginning that I cut out. They were more akin to rpg characters that were quickly rolled up rather than characters that were meant to be played for years to come: very vague while being strangely specific. They would give some direction to the artist, but not that much.)

Page 1

Panel 1:

It is dusk. The planetary rings are visible in the purple cloud-streaked sky. Captain Sylen Benevolen is standing on a cliff edge with Iyeon, his winged black panther. Helmet in hand, he is gazing across a mist filled abyss at the Dark Temple of Mymosule. There is a green moth on his shoulder.

Panel 2:

Inside, Lady Umia is being carried down a corridor in a cage by the black garbed acolytes of Mymosule. Lighting is provided by wooden torches. The acolytes are armed with daggers and rifles. On a wall, a green moth is watching.

Acolytes (chanting): Mym-mo-sule Mym-mo-sule Mym-mo-sule

Green moth (telepathically): Lady Umia is in danger, we need to help her quickly Sylen. (Comma-fail and run-on sentence.)

Panel 3:

Back outside on the cliff, Benevolen has donned his helmet and is climbing onto his winged panther.

Benevolen (telepathically): On our way.

P1 is on the books!

I’m not going to be setting the Line of Demarcation on P1. It doesn’t deserve that. However, there’s precious little that actually happens and is interesting on this page. Precious little.

Three panels, and what happens?

The first panel establishes something of where we’re at (not on Earth). The second panel shows that someone may be in trouble—even though the person isn’t putting up any kind of fight. Then the final panel shows the Brave Man coming to the rescue. Because the Brave Man always has to rescue the Damsel. (The Damsel’s job is to be in distress. The Brave Man’s job is to save her. So far, we’re right on target.)

From a paneling perspective, this isn’t that bad. The dialogue has no subtext, but when people are in trouble, that happens. The real problem is that there is no pace. Or, put another way, the pacing is terrible.

What are the stakes? Who are these people that we should care about them? What happens to the Damsel if she isn’t saved? What happens to the Brave Man if he fails to save her? What are the consequences of any of these actions? Dunno. Nothing has been set. The characters are doing what they’ve always done, and there’s no subtlety about it at all.

Page 2 (No page break. No Flawless Victory. Really, every single one of you who fail to have a Flawless Victory over a simple page break deserve to have your scripts thrown in the trash. Format is easy. It’s the easiest part of scripting.)

Panel 1:

Benevolen is flying on Iyeon out towards the tower with the swarm of moths flanking them like huge bat wings. The mist is swirling in their wake. (What swarm of moths? Where did they come from? I don’t know if English is your second language or not, but if it is or if it isn’t, you have to learn how to use the definite article “the”. English is a difficult language to learn, let alone master. But the way you have written this, that swarm of moths have always been there, and they’re just following the Brave Man as he does his thing. This isn’t true. They’ve just appeared, right in this panel. They’re magically delicious in that they’ve teleported in from nowhere. At least the mist is supposed to be there.)

Panel 2:

Inside the Dark Temple, the acolytes carrying Lady Umia have entered a circular, black altar chamber with a stone table at it’s centre. The table has metal manacles bolted to it. At one end of the table is a stand holding a curved black dagger. There are around 100 acolytes surrounding the raised altar. There are no windows and the only light comes from wooden torches on the walls and on 2 torch stands at the altar. (Where are these people? You’ve said they’ve entered, but didn’t place them. And in order to show 100 people, you’re going to have to pull out. Possibly way out. Mr. Kroboth? Methinks this is thine cue.)

Panel 3:

Elsewhere in the Dark Temple, two acolytes armed with rifles are patrolling a torch-lit corridor.

P2, and we have another short page.

There’s nothing wrong with short pages. There may be reasons why these pages are short. Maybe it’s a webcomic and there are screen sizes to reckon with. I don’t know. (I peeked ahead, just to get a panel count. So far, there are only three-panel pages here.)

Here’s what I do know: You aren’t doing yourself any favors by not having anything of real worth happen in each panel. Three panels per page? Then you have to actually tell the story using words. If you don’t use words, things will get skipped.

Where are we? When are we? Who are these people? What are their beliefs? What are they to one another? Who’s the villain? Why are they the villain? How does the environment they’re in affect the story? Is the environment impacted by the struggle between hero and villain?

These are good questions to both ask and answer of yourself. Of course there are more questions, but this is P2, and not a single one of these questions have come within an arm’s length of being answered. This means your story is uninteresting, because no one besides you knows anything about it—and most of it is still stuck in your head, despite what you’ve written so far.

Oh, and this is a fast read. Why? Because there aren’t any words in the form of dialogue to anchor the reader to the page You add more words to read, the reader stays around longer. The trick is to be interesting, and that’s done by choosing words that will best fit the story you’re trying to tell, while at the same time not overwhelming the reader with unnecessary backstory that drones on forever and not creating artificial drama. Everything should flow.

Yes, it’s a lot more complicated than it sounds.

Page 3

Panel 1:

The patrol enters a high-ceilinged, corridor. There is a ledge above and behind them. (So? You’ve only given yourself three panels. There are better ways of using that space.)

Panel 2:

The stone wall above and behind the patrol seems to be peeling away to reveal Benevolen and Iyeon as the chameleon-like moths that have been covering them disperse towards the flaming torches in the corridor. Benevolen’s head and shoulders are visible and Iyeon’s piercing green eyes are visible amidst the dark muscular mass that is his frame. (“Seems” is a terrible, terrible word in scripting. Things are either happening or they aren’t. That being said, there IS a way to use “seems” in a panel description. Greg: please rewrite this so that “seems” is used in an appropriate manner that can be drawn.)

Benevolen (telepathically): Extinguish the torches.

Panel 3:

The moths have smothered a couple of the torches, it is a little darker. Benevolen and Iyeon have launched themselves off the ledge and are about to come crashing down on the two unsuspecting acolytes.

P3, and this is going too slowly, which is funny when there are only 3 panels per page.

I’m going to admit something: I like the discipline shown of only having three panels per page. It takes guts to do something this restrictive. However, you also have to learn to tell a story within that restriction. You haven’t learned it yet.

Why are we here? What is the purpose behind showing the “how” of the rescue. There is a lot of story to tell, and you’re not telling it. This means we’re in the dark, and do you know what’s seen in the dark? Nothing. Do you know what can happen in the dark? Lots of things. That’s why it’s so scary.

But I’m not scared. I’m bored. I want to know the answers to my questions. Actually, I don’t even really want to know. I’m not that interested, because you haven’t made it your business to make me interested. Not good.

When you’re being this self-restrictive, the words have got to fly. The story has to be told in some manner. Fewer panels means fewer opportunities for the story to be told with pictures, so the words have to make up for it.

Tell the story.

Page 4

Panel 1:

Back in the altar chamber, Lady Umia’s cage has been set down next to the stone table. There are two large acolytes on either side of the cage. Kopath the High Priest of Mymosule is holding the dagger up above his head. A green moth is flying into the cage. (Where are these characters placed? Sure, the cage is down, but where’s the high priest? I say he’s in the commode. How are you going to gainsay me?)

Kopath: Behold the dagger of Mymosule!

Panel 2:

Lady Umia is holding out the back of her hand and the green moth has landed upon it. A slight smile plays on her lips.

(Why is this a silent panel? This is a perfect storytelling opportunity. Know what? It’s lost.)

Panel 3:

The cage is open and the two large acolytes have grabbed Lady Umia by the wrists and are pulling her towards the stone table. (See this jump in time? This is what happens when you’ve set yourself up to be so restrictive. There is a LOT of time in the gutters that should have been shown, but since you weren’t judicious in your thought process, you’ve squandered it. Rin, please rewrite this page, staying at three panels, to show a more judicious use of time. Remember, this panel is basically where we want to end up.)

Kopath: You should feel honoured young woman. There is no greater reward than to be offered to Lord Mymosule! (Comma-fail.)

Lady Umia: No! (I’m definitely a fan of putting a line between elements. It makes the script easier to read. It also means there is a less likelihood of the letterer missing something. Anyway, she’s putting up token resistance in words, but not in action. More can be done here.)

P4, and I’m still generally unimpressed.

This is all extremely familiar. See any adventure movie anywhere and you’ll see what I mean, especially during the 30s-70s. (Yes, right in my personal bailiwick of films.)

At least those films had something that this piece is lacking: context. Here, the story just (kinda) starts. I sound like a broken record, but without any kind of context as to what’s going on and who these people are, it is nearly impossible to care about anyone’s plight.

Also, look at the pacing here. If this were printed, this would be on the left-hand side of the book, since it’s an even number. This means that all the reader has to do is slide their eyes over to the right to see the Brave Man come swooping down to save her. It would be better if this were an odd-numbered page. This way, there’s a page-turn involved, and that helps to build the suspense a little.

If this is a digital/webcomic, then forget I said anything.

Page 5

Panel 1:

At the entrance to the altar chamber swarms of moths are spewing forth from the darkened chamber beyond. The moths are heading towards the flaming torches in the altar chamber. (Where’s the camera? What are the people doing?)

Panel 2:

A swarm of moths have smothered a torch, it now emits nothing more than a faint orange glow. There is still light from the other torches in the chamber. (Waste of space.)

Panel 3:

At the stone table, two swarms of moths have covered the torches on either side. The acolytes are looking bewildered. Lady Umia is smiling.

Kopath: What is this? (Where is he in relation to everything else?)

I’m going to stop right here. Time to run this down.

Format: Page breaks. Really, it seems to be the downfall of a lot of you.

Panel Descriptions: A bit light. These could use a bit more words in order to correctly place the characters in the panels and to say what they’re doing. Make sure you watch your wording so that the artist knows what to draw and how. You don’t want to make the artist look bad because you had something suddenly appear in the script that wasn’t there before.

Pacing: Horrid. Like I said, I like the gumption in restricting yourself to three panels per page, but you don’t come anywhere near close to telling a story with it. Five pages and there’s no story told. It’s just a set of actions, and there doesn’t seem to be any kind of explanation on the horizon. There’s no story here. That means this piece has no point.

Dialogue: There is nowhere near enough of it. Dialogue is where the story happens. Know what the dialogue says here? “Turn out some lights,” and “Be a sacrifice.” That’s all. Doesn’t sound interesting at all, does it?

Five pages, and there are 45 words in total in those pages. Less than ten words per page. None of those words come even remotely close to telling a story. Without people saying something and then backing up those words with deeds; without someone saying something and filling the audience in on what’s going on; without anything actually interesting happening that words can help illuminate…you’ve got a big pile of nothing. And that is not what someone wants to read.

Content: This isn’t crap because this isn’t a story. I’d be putting it back on the shelf and wondering who got tricked into publishing this. Not good.

Editorially, this needs a rewrite, and it needs one badly. The format of three panels per page is fine, but only if a story is being told. One isn’t. So this needs a re-think before a rewrite. And lots of words need to be added.

And that’s it for this week! Check the calendar to see who’s next!

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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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