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TPG Week 274: Learning In A Resubmission

| March 25, 2016

TPG Forbes-Kroboth

Welcome back, one and all, to another installment of The ProvingGrounds! This week, we have something of a treat: a resubmission! It doesn’t happen around here that often, so I’m always happy when a writer resubmits something. It lets us all see what they’ve learned and how they’ve grown. This week, our resubmission comes from Anh Diep, and you can find his first submission here. We also have Steve Colle back in blue, Ryan Kroboth with the pencil assistance, and I’m the crotchety guy in red. Let’s all take a gander and see what Anh has learned with his resubmission of

Captain Nightform

Page 1 (3 Panels)

Panel 1:

Establishing shot. It is dusk. The planetary rings are visible in the purple cloud-streaked sky. Captain Sylen Benevolen is standing on a cliff edge with Ion, 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 and the ground around him is blanketed by green moths. (It’s pretty clear, based on the components in this panel, that the camera isn’t in front of him, but it definitely helps to establish in your description where you see the camera being, whether beside him in profile or behind him. It also wouldn’t hurt to guide the artist on your character’s position/posture/stance to help show his state of mind. Is he standing in a power pose or “I am great and will save the day” pose? Does his posture reflect concern? Tell the artist.)

Green moth (telepathically): We have counted 107 invidividual individual acolytes so far inside the whole temple, Sylen. (I suggest you separate the following dialogue into another balloon.) They have guns and daggers. We cannot defeat them all.

Sylen (telepathically): I cannot let them harm a single hair on her head. Those acolytes are evil people. They were founded before the Breaking Of The World and their rituals are horrific. (I’m experiencing an information dump. Evil people? Horrific rituals? Founded before the Breaking of the World? It just seems like you’re forcing this instead of letting it come naturally.)(That searing pain you all felt in your brain? That was the shoehorn as Anh tried to cram information into the panel for your benefit. That slightly nauseas feeling you have is because it didn’t go down quite right. However, he’s on the right track! Previously, the first page had no information at all. This is a good change. It just needs refinement.)

Panel 2:

Establishing shot (He’s learned! A change of location means that an establishing shot is necessary. I like it when writers learn.). Inside the temple, Lady Umia wearing a thin white gown is being carried down a corridor in a cage by the black garbed acolytes of Mymosule. (“Black-garbed” can mean any number of different types of clothes or outfits. Are they armoured? Are they in ceremonial robes? Elaborate.) (Hopefully, this information is in a separate document that the artist will have. I can see that happening. And looking back at the previous script, at the information that I cut out, a basic description of these characters was there. I’m good with this and with that.) Her eyes are wide and she is grasping a locket that hangs around her neck. Lighting is provided by wooden torches. The acolytes are armed with daggers and rifles. (I assume that you’re leaving the design of the rifles to your artist, correct? Have you provided enough details to him/her that will allow them to see what you are seeing? I don’t think so.) On a wall, a green moth is watching.

Acolytes (chanting): Mym-mo-sule Mym-mo-sule Mym-mo-sule (I’m not going to rage-quit over the lack of ending punctuation. Why? Benefit of the doubt. I can see this possibly as a sound effect, or an open word balloon with tails pointing to several mouths. As a sound effect, it doesn’t need punctuation. As a word balloon, I’d add an ellipsis. It could go either way, and this is one I’d leave to the letterer to decide. Why? Because I want to see how it looks on the page before making a final decision. This is a rare time when it’s good to leave your options open. That’s why there’s no rage-quit. There’s nothing to rage over.)

Green moth (telepathically): Lady Umia is in a metal cage. They are carrying her to the sacrificial chamber! We need to help her quickly (Missing comma) Sylen! (I also suggest getting rid of his name at the end here. Go straight for “We need to get to her quickly!” It’s more urgent.)

Panel 3:

Full shot. Back outside on the cliff, Sylen has donned his helmet (When did he don it? It would be better to have him putting it on here instead.) and is climbing onto his winged panther.

Sylen (telepathically): Ion, let us infiltrate the temple and hide until they open the cage. Then we will rescue her from that hellish place. (Enter stereotypical heroic dialogue. I have no problem with him getting ready for action, but his speech is over the top. He’s also stating the obvious: Let’s do this and then this. Work on his dialogue to make it more natural.) (There’s bad dialogue, and then there’s terrible. This is terrible. I hope there are enough barf bags. We may all be in for a bumpy ride.)

Ion (telepathically): Aye (Missing comma) Sylen (Missing comma) and in the process, I will rend the acolytes to shreds. (So it isn’t just the hero, but his trusty flying panther sidekick who also speaks like that. This tells me it isn’t just a focus on how your main character speaks in stereotype, but generally bad dialogue. Too bad… pun intended.)

Okay, so I’ve got a general idea of what the story is about and you’ve started it in the middle of things. I guess my problem with your current info is that there’s no backstory so far to tell us why we should care about what’s happening. Hero wants to save damsel in distress. Check. But why? Is she his queen, his wife, his daughter, his general’s wife, his neighbour, etc.? What is his motivation for saving her other than being heroic for the sake of being the hero? You haven’t told us anything of note in the dialogue save the dumping of situational information. If he cares for this woman, tell us more than “I cannot let them harm a single hair on her head.”

I question the use and need for telepathy between your characters. What’s the purpose? Why can’t they speak out loud? If it’s for private communication so no one hears their plans, perhaps that works, but you’d need to show other beings standing around them. Or maybe the air is so thick on this planet that sound doesn’t carry, so all beings communicate telepathically (kind of like how sound is muffled under water) (Water is actually a great conductor of sound because it’s so dense. A sound can travel for miles in water. Whale song. Dolphin song. Air, being thinner, isn’t as great a conductor of sound. And there’s your science lesson for the day, folks!). In other words, if there isn’t a good reason for the telepathy, then have them speak out loud.

The top and bottom panels are of the Captain on the cliff, which means the middle panel isn’t so much a scene change as it is panel that exists to show a vision of the situation they will face. I would suggest treating this in a similar way visually as a flashback: create a different panel shape, change the colour scheme, use a faded effect, anything that will create in your reader’s mind that clear distinction of this image existing as part of the flow of the action instead of interrupting it. Tell the artist. Another thing I suggest is having the green moth’s dialogue in a special caption box with quotation marks around the text. This shows speech coming from a source that isn’t present in the represented scene (as I’m assuming there is a collective mind amongst the green moths, right?).

To be honest, three panels on this page is a waste of space. Your panels don’t need to be large to show what you’re describing. That, and your minimalist dialogue. Fill it up!

P1 is on the books!

This is a better page than the first submission. I’ll say that right off the bat. Why is it better? Things are described better and we’re given something of what’s going on. It’s not enough, but it’s something.

Part of the problem is the fact that it’s still basically the same thing as the first submission: Brave Man standing heroically, Damsel being distressed, and Brave Man deciding to Be Brave. It’s the exact same panels as the previous entry. So, while something was learned, not enough was learned or else there would have been more of a change. A change from the three panel pages of this story? Possibly not. But definitely something better could have been done with these three panels.

Steve is definitely right about the dialogue. I’ve had horse-pills that were easier to swallow than the dialogue here. Which puts me into a strange quandary: the dialogue is better than the previous entry because it’s telling us something (not enough, but something), but at the same time, it is oh-so-terrible. I mean, so bad that fines should be levied because of it. I mean, round hole, square peg, and a wrecking ball is being used to force it in. Another pass on the dialogue is definitely needed.

So far, that’s the worst part about this. The panel descriptions are better, but the dialogue isn’t even Saturday-morning-cartoon or weekday-afternoon-cartoon bad. It’s like fourth-circle-of-Hell bad. (I’ve seen 8th circle of Hell dialogue. You’ve all been spared that. You can thank me by sending appropriately aged Scotch. At least 18 years. It should be old enough to vote.)

Yes, some things should be plainly said. When we’re talking action, this is often the case. However, “plain” does not have to equate to “terrible.” This falls squarely into “terrible” territory. It needs lots and lots of massaging to coax it out of there.

Does P1 do enough to warrant turning the page? Not yet. We’ve got some stakes set, but we still don’t yet care for the characters. We still don’t yet know what’s going on. What we need is more information, the right information, told carefully. We get that, and then we’d want to turn the page.

Page 2 (3 Panels) (And what do we have here? A page break? Know what this means? More learning! Anh wants that Flawless Victory!)

Panel 1:

Long shot. Sylen is flying on Ion out towards the tower with the swarm of moths flanking him like huge bat wings. The mist is swirling in their wake. (If he were putting on the helmet in the previous panel, here he would definitely have it on. Or conversely, he could have been climbing onto Ion in the previous panel, still holding the helmet, and donning in in this panel as they fly. Different ways to get to the same place.)

Sylen (telepathically): Moths, you will need to smother the torches with your moth-dust and cover our escape. (More groan-able dialogue.)(Does everyone else’s jaw hurt? That felt like a right cross…)

Green moths (telepathically): Aye (Missing comma) Sylen.

Panel 2:

Inside the Dark Temple, Umia has been carried into a cavernous, circular sacrificial chamber. A central raised dais extends half way to the edge of the chamber. A mass of dark acolytes surround the dais. (Define “dark”. Skin colour, evilly motivated, what? You’ve already established the acolytes are evil and have determined they are dressed in black, so is this needed or is it just confusing?) This is a mid-shot of Umia facing to the right of the panel. (Still from inside the cage, right?) The silver locket still tightly grasped, she is staring wide-eyed at Kopath. Beyond and to the right of her we see a stone table at the centre of the dais. On the table are bolted black metal manacles. At the far end of the table is a stand holding a curved black dagger. Beyond the table is Kopath the High Priest facing us with a thin smile on his lips. There are no windows and the only light comes from wooden torches on the walls and on 2 torch stands at the altar. (I had trouble keeping track of all of the specificity in this description. Let it be known that if it isn’t clear the first couple of passes, then it isn’t written effectively.)

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

Umia: No! Please!

Panel 3:

Lady Umia’s cage has been set down before the stone table. There are two large acolytes on either side of the cage. Kopath is still stood at the far end of the table holding the dagger up above his head. (Showing it off, but not ready to plunge into Lady Umia, I assume. Describing how he’s holding it may clarify this.)

A green moth is flying into Umia’s cage. Umia is pressing herself back away from the altar, her eyes are wide with fear and transfixed on the dagger. (This panel is confusing to me. The cage was set down with her in it. She is pressing herself back away from the altar, which means she’s pressing herself against the wall farthest from the altar. Am I right? If I need to ask, is it clear?)

Kopath: Behold the dagger of Mymosule!

Umia: Please no!

I concur:

No! Please! Please no! Please, no more bad dialogue! Please, no more minimalist text telling us nothing! Please, no more three-panel pages of nothing!

This is a serious waste of space. Not only is it an extremely fast read for your audience, it isn’t moving the story forward either. In six panels, what have we really learned?

Another problem with this page is the fact you start it with the hero flying heroically to the rescue and then you leave him to concentrate on Umia’s predicament. Why have him in the first panel to begin with? This entire page (short as it is) should focus on her and tell us about her. Jumping around from scene to scene without real purpose (like providing a split page involving intercutting between the hero flying to save her on one side and her being prepared for sacrifice on the other to create a suspenseful “Will he get to her in time?” sense of anticipation) just gets confusing for the reader. And by the way, did you see what I did there? By putting the bracketed sample in the middle of the sentence, it cut the flow of the sentence itself, just like you’re doing with your scene jumps. Funny how that works.

And yes, I did notice that Kopath and Umia are actually speaking aloud. It must be the air quality in the castle making it easier to hear speech. No need for telepathy here…

P2, and we have a slight departure from the previous submission.

The previous sub had the Brave Man in the first panel, the Damsel in the second, and then the Unwitting Guards in the third. As we can see, we get more of the Damsel here. The question is this: does it help?

The answer is no. Why? Because there isn’t enough dialogue to carry the action.

Okay, lesson time. (I know, it’s all a lesson, but this means you should break out your notebooks and jot down a thing or two.)

Pictures are worth a thousand words. That’s because pictures are there to describe what’s happening. Pictures are shortcuts for words. You don’t need words to describe what’s happening, because the picture is there to tell you. (This is for comics, as we all know. This is not for prose, as we also all know. There are some wiseheimers out there who’ll try to make the objection. Just understand the medium we’re working in, folks.)

Now, you can have a totally silent comic, with the pictures doing the heavy lifting. However, we have to understand that when there are no words, we have to have more pictures (panels) to help us along. Telling a story without words is more difficult because we not only have to have more pictures, we also have to have the right pictures.

Got that? Good. Because here’s where it becomes interesting, and some of you already know what I’m going to say.

When you write words, the words shouldn’t say what’s happening in the picture. The words should give depth to what’s happening in the picture. They should give the picture meaning. The pictures illustrate, the words illuminate.

When’s the last time you put something together? Like a piece of furniture or something. Program a dvr. Installed a thing? Now, were there instructions? Did the instructions have pictures to go along with the words? If so, do you know what you just read? A comic. Words and pictures. Pictures and words. Pictures to illustrate, words to illuminate. Because I can guarantee that while the pictures helped tremendously, the instructions would have been incomplete without the words, and without the pictures, there would have been a lot more words.

Everyone still with me?

Now, when we’re playing with format (such as Anh is doing here, sticking to a rigid three-panel format), we have to decide what we’re going to do about the dialogue. Part of that will be determined by the dictates of the story, part of that will be determined by the dictates of the pace, and part of that will be determined by the number of panels we want to have per page.

Three panels per page leaves a ton of space for dialogue. That space isn’t being used to its best advantage. Besides being terrible, it’s also terribly straightforward (see what I did there?). That space can be used to actually tell the story, because that hasn’t happened yet. We know what characters are doing, but we don’t know why they’re doing it. We get that information, we may be intrigued enough to turn the page.

Right now, we’re just intrigued enough to see how much of a wreck the dialogue is, and that’s the wrong kind of interest. Give us actual story in the dialogue. Let us know why we’re here. It’s P2, and things are happening. Why? That information is missing.

Page 3 (3 Panels)

Panel 1:

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

In the background, Kopath at the far end of the table with the dagger above his head in one hand is pointing towards Umia with the other.

The two burly acolytes are opening her cage. (Mr. Kroboth? This, sirrah, is thine own. Thankee.)

Umia (whisper): Sylen?

Kopath: Prepare the sacrifice!

There’s a lot going on in this panel that should have been split up. There’s too much to focus on. You have a sudden and drastic change in emotion on the part of Umia as (most likely) an unintentional focus due to how different it is from the last panel; the sudden landing of the green moth; her whispering the Captain’s name as if there’s a microphone on the moth and she’s talking into it; the acolytes opening the cage; and Kopath in the background screaming out. First of all, there’s no lead in to her change in emotion, especially given this is a facing page. It’s too quick and jars the reader instead of pulling them in. Second, there’s no indication of why she would be calling the moth by the Captain’s name. Again, there’s no 2 + 2. You need to fill in enough blanks so the reader is actually encouraged to do some of the work. Right now, they need to do more work than they should.

Panel 2:

The cage is open and the two large acolytes have pulled Umia out of the cage by the wrists towards the stone table.

Kopath is still at the head of the table holding the dagger above his head. (Why is it still above his head when she isn’t even on the altar? Isn’t his arm sore yet? All I can say is this: Relax, man! Take a breather! She’ll be on the altar soon enough.) (For something different, you could have his arms spread wide. It would provide a different look while not interfering with his dialogue, such as it is.)

Umia is trying to pull away from the table. She is looking wide-eyed in fear at the dagger. (Another major emotional shift. “Oh, I forgot I was supposed to be scared. I’d better get back on that.”)

The green moth is fluttering above Umia. (What I love is that, not only does no one else see the moth, but no one else seems to know or care what it signifies. Methinks the Brave Man is unknown in these parts. Is it Flash Gordon reaching Mongo for the very first time?)

Kopath: You should feel honoured (Missing comma) young woman. There is no greater reward than to be offered to Lord Mymosule! (Because you never provided any lead in to the story, we don’t even know who or what Lord Mymosule is, so having Kopath say this is like me saying “I had eggs for breakfast”. Do you care? Exactly. It’s random information with no backstory.)(What? You’ve never heard of Lord Mymosule? He’s a Great Medium One. He’s not a Great Old One, and he’s been around the block a few times, so he’s no longer a New One… Forgive the bad humor. I’m getting tired…)

Lady Umia (scream): Nooooooo!! (I agree: Nooooooo!!)

Green moth (telepathically): Sylen! The cage is open! (I know what you’re trying to accomplish with the telepathic statement, but DAMN, is it ever driving me nuts!)

Panel 3:

Outside the chamber, Sylen and Ion are perched on a ledge above the ornate chamber entrance. (When did they get there? Are they inside the building? If so, how did they get there? There are too many jumps in time.) They are mostly covered by the moths who have taken on the same dark grey colour as the stone walls of the temple. Some of the moths are peeling away leaving dark green, smokey, dust trails. Sylen’s head and shoulders and Ion’s head, shoulders and wings are visible. (Confusing description.)

Sylen (telepathically): Moths, storm the chamber and smother the torches!

Moths (telepathically): Aye (Missing comma) Sylen, we will make it like the blackest night in there! (OMG! I’m dying here!) (Can he see in the dark? I’m tired, and I don’t want to ask the rest of the questions. Rin, what are some other questions in this vein?)

Okay, I’m stopping. I just looked ahead and saw that the rest of the script all has pages of three panels each. This tells me this is either designed as a web comic with each entry being like an episode or that you don’t know how to structure an effective story, let alone create dialogue that is real, provides information, and carries the story forward.

I noticed this is supposed to be a resubmission. I’ll have to go back to see if you’ve learned anything from your first TPG outing with this script. If you did, it wasn’t on the points I’ve mentioned throughout my short edits that, unfortunately, take up more space in your script than your actual story.

Take it away, Steven. Please.

Let’s run ‘er down!

Format: Flawless Victory! (And I’d have been extremely surprised if there wasn’t a FV after missing it last time.)

Panel Descriptions: Better. Not great, but better.

These can be more easily drawn. Not totally easily, but more easily. There’s still work to do, though. One of those things is to make sure there’s ample room for the artist to do their job when you’re asking for multiple things to happen in one panel. The other thing to realize is that some things could be lost when you’re asking for multiple things to happen in a single panel. They don’t have to be simple, but they should definitely be worthy of reader focus when they happen.

Pacing: Like last time around, I’m not thrilled with the three-panel pages. More is being done, however, because there’s more dialogue to carry the weight. I still feel that there’s more to be done, though.

The pace isn’t slow. The pace isn’t fast. The pace isn’t just right yet, either. More words are needed.

Dialogue: I’ve read claptrap. I’ve read claptrap here at TPG. There are entries that could rend the brain and make you scream not only for mercy, but for mommy, daddy, grandma, your favorite uncle, and papercuts.

This dialogue isn’t as bad as all of that. It will just make you cry “uncle.”

Don’t shoehorn story and ideas in. Let them come out more naturally. Real dialogue between people doesn’t have to be so straightforward. You don’t need a sledgehammer to drive home a half penny nail. Being more subtle will always be a good thing.

Honestly, I’d consider all the dialogue here to be placeholders until better dialogue can be had. It would give a sense of what was wanted until something (MUCH) better is worked out.

Content: This is more firmly in the not-crap camp than the previous entry, which is always good. Reading that dialogue, though, I’d still wonder who was forced to publish this. I mean, Anh would have to have incriminating photos of someone or something. That’s the only way this gets on the shelf.

Editorially, this still needs a rewrite, although not as badly as the first. We still need why’s and wherefore’s, but that information can be gotten through captions. If we were to come to this cold, we’d need to know who everyone was and what was going on. Not necessarily an information dump, but exposition is definitely needed to get readers caught up.

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

Like what you see? Steve and I are available for your editing needs. Steve can be reached here. You can email me directly from my info 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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