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TPG Week 2: Bad Pacing (and more!)

| January 7, 2011 | 9 Comments
Hello, and welcome to another installment of The Proving Grounds!

Today brings us someone who’s no stranger to TPG. We have John Lees, who’s asking us to Slay Misty for him. (Personally, I think he should do the work himself, and stop trying to get other people in trouble.) Let’s see what he’s got!

PAGE ONE (5 panels)

Panel 1.  Daytime establishing shot of a large California mansion.  The building itself is grand, but seems to be in something of a state of disrepair.  The grass in the lawn outside is overgrown, and trash and debris are scattered around the lawn and across the front porch.  This is the home of Misty Stix. (That’s great, John, but right off the bat, I want to know where the camera is. Are you seeing this from up high, looking down, or are we from the street looking in, or somewhere on the grounds, looking at the house? What do you see?)

MISTY (O.P.): GURRRRRRR….. AH THINK AH JUUUST PISSED MASEEEELF…. (Is this coming from the house, or somewhere on the grounds? If it’s from the house, let the letterer know. You’ll have your choice of what you want to do: word balloons or a caption. Take your pick.)

Panel 2.  Long shot of Misty Stix and two of her preening shitcake friends.  They are sat in the wreckage of a large living room, surrounded by empty wine bottles and beer cans, and piles of gossip rag magazines and tabloid newspapers.  In the background, a huge, wall-mounted widescreen television has been shattered, and smoke sifts out of it.  Sunlight pours in from the right of the frame.  Slumped on an armchair, looking totally hammered, is Misty Stix.  A young woman in her late twenties, we get the impression that Misty might have been beautiful once.  But much like her house, she is in a state of disrepair – drink and drugs and binge eating have taken their toll on her body.  A half-empty vodka bottle dangles from her hand, and she is wearing a stiletto shoe on one foot.  Kissaandrah (yes, that’s how her parents spelled it) and Diamante, the aforementioned friends, kneel on the floor in front of Misty.  They are a pair of vapid valley-girl types, a little younger than Misty.  Kissaandrah gazes up at Misty, grinning vacantly, while Diamante delicately vomits into a shagpile rug. (Nice. I’ve got a pretty good visual here. There’s enough info for the artist, but also enough space for their own interpretation.)




(I know it’s only panel 2, but all of this dialogue? If they’re supposed to be drunk, I’d make a note to the letterer to tell them to make it look like they are. Strengthen the illusion.)

Panel 3.  Misty has stood up, and is unsteadily walking across the room.  She has left the vodka bottle behind.  It is now lying on its side on the floor by the chair, with the alcohol running out onto the floor.  The other two girls remain sat on the floor.  Diamante is now sobbing, her head buried in her hands.  (Is the vodka bottle important?)





PAGE ONE (continued)

Panel 4.  Medium shot of Misty Stix standing in front of tall, room-length windows (the source of the sunlight).  She is grabbing a trophy from the coffee table next to her.  The trophy is old and battered-looking.  The medal is simply designed, a star attached to a base with a plaque. (Is she grabbing it, or has she grabbed it? Something of a moving panel, and unclear. I’d go with having it already in her hands, possibly cradling it or something.)

MISTY: THIS IS MA 1998 RIIISIN’ STAR AWARD.  AH GOT A ROOMFUL OF TROPHIES AND MEDALS, BUT THIS ONE MEANS THE MOST. (Consider breaking this up into two balloons. More punch that way.)

MISTY: THIS WAS BEFORE ALL THE PARAZZI…PARAP… ALL THE REPORTERS, ALL THE SCANDALS, AND ALL THE BEE-EEESS.  WHEN IT WAS JUST ABOUT THE MUSIC. (Usually, I’m fine with exaggeration. However, this is killing me. She should be slurring her words, not just dragging them out, which is what you have here. And what is an “eeess”? I know what it’s supposed to be, but please, let me know if I’m wrong or not.)

Panel 5.  Medium shot in profile of Misty looking down at the trophy in her hands, a sad expression on her face.




(Decent page setup, but I think you’re losing some punch here. You did fine in breaking out that last line into its own balloon, but I think it needs its own panel, too. That will heighten the drama.)

PAGE TWO (1 panel)

Panel 1.  Full-page splash featuring a group of zombies bursting through the windows.  There are eight zombies in total, though I’m not sure how many will be visible through the limited frame of the windows.  Whatever zombies we can see all have their arms stretched out and grasping at Misty, who is looking over her shoulder and screaming in horror at the sight. (No. It’s way too early to ask questions of the class, but here’s the problem: you didn’t set the zombies up. The expectation is false, because we’ve already seen the outside of the mansion. If you want to keep this, you’ll have to change your establishing shot somewhat. Nice thought, but too fast.)


MISTY: ZOMBIES!  AAAAAAAAAAAAIIIIIIEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE! (How does she know it’s zombies? Sure, they’re in the public consciousness, but is it going to be the first thing someone thinks? I don’t think so, but I could be wrong.)



PAGE THREE (6 panels)

Panel 1.  Long shot in profile of Misty, still holding her trophy, trying to run away from the window.  The zombies pour into the room in a heap, with the ones in front lying on the carpet as the ones behind them clamber through the shattered frame.  The zombie nearest the front has grabbed Misty’s ankle (the foot with a shoe), and its slobbering mouth is wide open, ready for a bite.


Panel 2.  Close-up of Misty’s lower leg, as the zombie bites into her calve (right word, wrong usage. Calf.).


Panel 3.  Close-up of Misty’s face as she lets out a scream of pain. (What is this panel doing to push the story forward or to reveal character? Do you really need a close-up here? I don’t think you do. What are the other girls doing? This would be a great place to get their reactions.)


Panel 4.  High-angle shot looking down on Kissaandrah and Diamante as they remain seated on the carpet, now surrounded by zombies.  They both look terrified, and are holding onto each other.



Panel 5.  Same high-angle shot, only now Kisaandrah and Diamante are buried under the pouncing zombies, with only Diamante’s outstretched hand visible under the mass of undead.


Panel 6.  Medium shot of Misty letting out a cry of despair over the loss of her friends.  Tears run down her eyes, and her hand is futilely reaching out towards them (or rather, from this angle, towards us).  Behind her, another zombie is approaching. (No. What about the zombie that chomped on her? Has it stopped eating? Is it just hanging out? Having an espresso?)


PAGE FOUR (6 panels)

Panel 1.  Medium shot of a screaming Misty, as the zombie behind her bites into her shoulder. (John, you ran through this, didn’t you? I don’t usually see bad logic and worse pacing from you. Slow down. Because this panel? It should have happened earlier. And really, are the other zombies going to pass up an easy meal in order to get the other girls? Logic problem.)


Panel 2.  Medium shot from behind Misty, as she swings around and cracks the zombie that just bit her shoulder with her award.  She is holding it by the star end like a kind of baseball bat, so it’s the thicker base that connects with the zombie’s skull.  She has a look of steely determination on her face as she hits the zombie.  The zombie, meanwhile, has blood spraying from its head at the point of impact, and its neck has jutted at an unnatural angle from the blow. (Probably not going to see her steely determination, because the artist is going to focus more on the zombie than Misty. More than likely, her back is going to be toward the camera. And it should be.)


Panel 3.  Close-up of the zombie on the floor that had been gripping onto Misty’s ankle.  Misty is stamping on its head, with her stiletto heel going right through its eyeball. (This zombie just stopped crunching after the first bite? Let’s go back some. A silent panel should take 3 seconds of time. Maybe a touch more. Talking panels? Possibly up to 15 seconds, depending on the amount of dialogue. Border time, which isn’t what you’re thinking about, but should be. So, there are five panels separating the first bite from the first zombie to this panel. Call it 20 seconds. That’s WAY too long to go. She should have been eaten a while ago. I can see a second bite within ten seconds. Two to three panels, not five. Bad pacing and not thinking things through.)


Panel 4.  Long shot of Misty (now barefoot, her one shoe left stuck in the floor zombie’s eye socket) running through the living room, past the gathering of zombies feeding on her friends.  She is still bleeding from her calve and shoulder, but is apparently unaware of the injuries as she runs, still clutching her trophy.  In the background, the zombies are busy tucking into chunks of meat.  Some are kneeling, others are standing.  One is holding the ripped-off head of Kissaandrah, staring inquisitively at it as it sticks its finger up the head’s nose.  The zombies nearest the front have noticed Misty as she runs past. (WOW! John, I’m shocked and hurt. You’re making it look like you never learned anything from me. If this isn’t a moving panel, I don’t know what is. First, if this is a long shot, that means we’re pretty far away from Misty. So, how can we see how much ground she’s gained as she runs past the zombies who are eating and biting off heads and noticing her as she runs? If the zombies are in the background, that means she’s in the foreground, and it’s no longer a long shot of her. This panel description cannot be drawn. Shame on you.)


Panel 5.  Medium shot of Misty as she runs down the hallway.  In the background, we can see the zombies exiting the living room after her, and beginning to follow her.  They are your traditional shambling, walking zombies, rather than your latter-day runners, so they are still some distance behind. (Then her girlfriends shouldn’t have gotten et. Yes, I said et. Drunk and high, sure, but so drunk and high that they can’t move? This is everything that’s wrong with horror movies, you know that, right? Well, 80s horror movies.)

Panel 6.  An over-the-shoulder shot from behind the zombies.  They are further along the hallway now, reaching out for Misty.  She is standing in a dimly-lit room at the end of the hallway, with no visible door attached to the doorframe.  She is typing something into an unseen keypad behind the doorframe. (Decent way to end the page.)

SFX (keypad): DIT-DIT-DIT-DIT…

PAGE FIVE (5 panels)

Panel 1.  Same over-the-shoulder shot as the last panel on the previous page.  But in this shot, a thick metal door has slid shut across the doorframe, locking into place.  Misty is inside a panic room. (Nope. Pacing. this should be 2 panels. One with the door beginning to come down, and the second with the door fully down. Don’t worry, folks. I get John on his pacing all de time. Anyway, if you want to heighten the drama, you can have the door begining to slide, with the zombies getting closer, and the second with them barely there. And Misty should be saying something here. Possibly messing up as she types… She’s drunk, right?)

SFX (door): THUD.

Panel 2.  Close-up in profile of Misty in the panic room, resting her head and hands against the door. (That’s nice. What does her expression say? Is she relieved? Is she crying? Did she just have an orgasm? I can ask anything, because you don’t say. Don’t you love that game? I know I do.)

Panel 3.  An over-the-shoulder shot from behind Misty, as she turns round to look into the panic room.  The wall in front of her is filled with framed gold and platinum records, newspaper clippings about a younger Misty Stix’s success (the letterer can use their imagination in coming up with headlines), certificates, several poster-sized framed photos of herself and shelves on which sit a variety of awards and trophies. (Pretty quiet in there… No food? Not planning on staying in there long? Not even a bottle of water? Forethought! I like it!)

Panel 4.  Medium shot of Misty with her back pressed against the steel panic room door.  She is in the middle of sliding down into a sitting position, leaving a trailing smear of blood from her shoulder in her wake.  She is looking down at the 1998 Rising Star trophy in her hand, new tears running down her eyes. (Hm. Sliding is difficult to get across. More than likely, she’s going to be already on the ground, with motion lines showing that she slid down. Just letting you know. You’re thinking more in film than still images, John.)

SFX (sliding): EEEEEE…

Panel 5.  Aerial shot looking down at Misty sitting on the floor in the panic room, back pressed against the door.  Her knees are tucked up under her chin, and her head is buried in her hands. (After talking our heads off in the beginning, she doesn’t have anything to say now? For shame!)

Okay, let’s run this down.

Not your strongest effort here, John.

Format: I’ve got nuthin’, cause you got it down pat.

Panel descriptions: I was going to say that I don’t know what the hell happened, but I do know. You rushed it. Not only did you rush it, you didn’t go back over it after a few days to catch your mistakes.

Here’s the deal, folks: John was kind enough to submit this script for this column. We’ve been working together now for almost 2 years, and really, he’s better than this. He’s better than this, and he knows it. He thinks he writes slowly, and maybe he does. But when you slow down and agonize over everything, you know what? You’re doing it right. This was rushed, possibly as an experiment. I can say that it’s something of a failure.

The panel descriptions aren’t horrible. I’ve seen worse. However, sometimes, they’re not good. Take your first page. Decent set-up,  until you get to the zombies on P2. Because you didn’t do a proper establishing shot, your artist can put the camera almost anywhere, showing the mansion. But because that will more than likely be a panel that is pulled out, the zombies are now something that are impossible to have crashing through the window, because they should have already been on the grounds and seen.

Then there’s the one panel that is totally impossible to draw. That was terrible.

The pacing is off. It’s moving too slowly. It’s like you’re having quiet character moments in the midst of a zombie attack. That’s a no go, because the zombies are attacking. Remember how long a panel takes. (Something I’m going to have to talk about in B&N, I see. Because time is important.) You have to make it snappy.

The dialogue… When’s the last time you listened to a drunk person? Generally, they slur their words. Or, they speak slowly, with super articulation (that should be a power. super-articulation.) They don’t drag out their words like a record played too slowly. (Can you even do that with a cd?) The dragging out that you did almost made it sound like a Southern drawl. A Southern drawl on crack. It was hard to get through. Clean it up by cutting syllables and adding some slurring. Just don’t make it unintelligible.

Logic: Not too much being seen here. You have the Valley Girls who sat around to be zombie lunch, and you have a panic room with a bunch of useless stuff in it. A quick search would have told you the basic requirements of a panic room. Even a drunken star would have the basics if they went through the trouble to install one.

Even before that, there’s the whole thing about Misty knowing it was zombies that were attacking. And how could she not see them before they crashed through the window? Was she so into being drunk and her own problems that she just missed the shapes that were moving outside of the windows that were allowing light into the room?

Overall, like I said, not your best effort. Not by far. If this were on the shelf at a shop, it’d stay there.

That’s all I have for this week. Check the list to see who’s coming up next.

See you then!

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Category: 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 for rate inquiries.

Comments (9)

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  1. John Lees says:

    Thanks for the edit, Steve.

    I totally agree this wasn’t my best effort. It was one that I wasn’t particularly serious in the writing of, to the degree that even the plotting I talked about being so important earlier was kept to a minimum. I believe this was in a period of writer’s block in between issues of “The Standard”, and I thought I’d just write something to shake out the cobwebs. In fact, I think it got onto The Proving Grounds because I’d sent you it for you to do some formatting tests with, and said you could use it since you had it, as it was likely a script I probably wouldn’t seriously pursue enough to have it officially edited.

    And, as an aside, I think that’s where a column like The Proving Grounds is a great resource. It can be a sounding board where you can try things, and an experienced editor can tell you whether or not these things work before you launch into developing the script into a full-blown project.

    As far as the script itself goes, I fully own up to the lack of logic. There are touches of borderline surrealism as the story goes on. I wanted the zombie’s intro to be totally random and out of left-field for the page turn, given the story I set up on page 1. Use of the word “zombie” was therefore part of the gag – I believe the original line was, “Oh look, it’s zombies!” However, the establishing shot without them there was too much of a cheat. I thought I could get away with it when I wrote it, but evidentally I’m not gonna catch you out. 😉

    As far as the lack of supplies, originally I had Misty commenting on her lack of foresight, and saying “This is going to be my tomb.” But it seemed a bit too profound a comment from someone who had been such a buffoon previously. As for her voice, I actually WAS attempting a ridiculously exaggerated Southern drawl, given Misty is a thinly veiled Britney Spears analogue (Stix/Sticks/Spears).

    One thing I am annoyed at myself at, however, is that impossible-to-draw moving panel. Content aside, I usually try to be careful when I write my panel descriptions, and avoid traps like that. Don’t know what I was thinking when I wrote that one.

    But yeah, I think I knew it was the kind of story I’d likely have a lot more fun writing than anyone would reading. When I submitted my other script (the one set for February) I almost asked you to skip “Slay Misty For Me” and put that one in its place in the queue, as that is one I feel could actually be good. But I figured you may have already started the edit on this – given how far ahead schedule you work – so never said anything.

    Anyway, thank you for the edit, Steve. I appreciate the fresh set of eyes on my work, as always, and I hope my next submission will be better!

    • Always happy to oblige, John. But yeah, I was basically done with this one, scratching my head the entire time, talking to my wife and telling her, “He’s better than this, dear. I swear!”

      But you know what I like about this script? It’s not the writing, it’s the showing of it. I believe there are many writers out there who can see this, and learn from it. We’ve got a lot of moving parts here, in disharmony: logic, false set-ups, pacing, dialogue, panel descriptions.

      Taken as a whole, its a mess. Taken as individual parts, and there’s something to learn. When you take those individual parts and put them back together after you’ve learned from them, then there’s a LOT to learn.

      So, thank you again for sending it in. I know that I appreciate it.

  2. Tyler James says:

    Thanks again for submitting, John! One thing I’d suggest you watch out for is making your dialog too “on the nose.” That’s a note that gets tossed around a lot at young writers (and often isn’t defined well.) But the way I use it is when a character is verbally revealing exactly what he or she is thinking or feeling. In reality, we don’t do that. Instead, we use sarcasm or talk around the topic at hand, and luckily, readers are smart enough to get it. Characters always come across as unauthentic when dialog is too “on the nose.”

    Page 1 is chock full of on-the-nose dialog. The good news is, dialog is the easiest thing to fix in a script.

    For more, here’s a solid post on how to avoid “On the nose” dialog:

  3. My word, Steven, if you don’t like this you’re going to HATE the script I submitted. I’m sort of looking forward to it in a masochistic way though.

    As for this script, I think having a cartoony or quirky art style would help it a lot. When seen in a script its hard (well, imposable) to immediately get a feel for the tone the writer is going for. From what John is saying here he seems to be going for something less than serious, and I think that not having a traditional western comic look about it would help get that across quickly.

    • Hey, James! Welcome!

      Yeah. We’ll talk about your script when it comes up at the end of the month.

      But here’s the thing about storytelling: the art itself won’t matter if the story isn’t something that’s worthwhile. Because this is what’s going to happen: you’re going to start reading it, and looking at the art, and then all of a sudden, you’re going to start saying, “Hey! There wasn’t any indication of that before. How did the zombies get there so quickly?” And then, you’re going to be taken out of the story. And the deeper you go, the more you’re wondering not only where is the story going, but how did it get there.

      Then, you’d just be reading for all the wrong reasons. You’d be wondering how the story got published, and if the writer had something on the publisher. When readers start thinking that way, it’s never a good thing.

      You have to have a good foundation for the story first.

      Remember, the script is the foundation that everyone else is going to go off of. If that’s flawed, then everything else will be, too.

      • John Lees says:

        Thanks for the defense, Jamie. I appreciate what you’re saying, and you’re right in that the story was definitely intended to be a comedy, and one that didn’t pay any particular adherence to logic.

        However, to expand on what Steve’s saying in reply, where he’s coming from is that there’s a difference between content and CONTENT. One of my major pitfalls here, I believe, was that in writing a story whose tone is quite flippant and anarchic, I fell into a trap of letting the actual formatting of the script reflect that. No matter how lightweight and breezy a comedy might feel, a good one – in any medium – is often just as rigidly, tightly plotted and structured as a drama, if not in fact moreso.

        • D. Roberts says:

          I gotta post a quick reply to that. But first: Thanks Steven, for bringing back TPG and B/N. I’m sure there’ll be loads more for me to learn. Anyway…

          Anyway, ever see Dumb and Dumber? Such a GREAT script, based entirely on comedy, however if you switch out the two main characters with two intellectuals, it’s, in essence, the same script. Movies like those get to me. Where you assume something on the trailers, or on the first few minutes, but they end up being just damn great movies… Erm, in this case, comic books. Erm. I’m rambling.

          • John Lees says:

            Well said, D Roberts. Another example is “The Big Lebowski”. That has an intricate, labyrinthine plot, and with a different protagonist it could have made an effective noir thriller. But because our hero is The Dude, and we have his skewed perspective of events, it’s a hilarious comedy.

  4. John Lees says:

    On the nose dialogue is something I think I’m very guilty of. I’ll have characters explain their inner turmoil, or why a moment is significant. The old saying “perfect is the enemy of good” comes to mind, where I find myself thinking “I need a big line at this bit here” when maybe nothing works better. I’ll definitely be checking out that link, thanks.

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