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TPG Week 20: More Study Needed

| May 13, 2011 | 12 Comments
Welcome to The Proving Grounds. This week’s Brave One is Andre Saunders. You’ve already read the title. Let’s see what I’m talking about. (Warning: It isn’t pretty.)



A light rain falls at dusk as GEORGE stands near his (car) calling out in search of Ty who is hiding below him in an old nearby sewage drain. (We have a When, we have a Horton, we have a What. Ruiz, what are we missing?)


To an unfledged ear, the sounds of deaths’ knock can, surprisingly, go unnoticed– (The apostrophe is in the wrong place, unless you’re talking about death being plural.)

“Ty!” (Jamie, why is this incorrect?)

A shadowy side view C.U. of TY’S face with his eyes closed (rocking) or a
medium shot of Ty sitting curled up in a ball rocking.  (Nope. First, make up your mind. Is it a close up, or is it a medium shot? That’s first. Second, this is not film. Think in static images. You can’t effectively show “rocking” in a static image. With motion lines, it’s going to look like something else. That’s second. Third, I’m in a white void. I have no idea at all as to where I’m at.)


–but make no mistake; the undying fear of its ambiguous arrival–

Birds eye shot of GEORGE shouting again into the damp air as the rain picks up. (How is the reader supposed to know that the rain has picked up? More streaks from the artist? No, this is prose. Even in film, it’s very hard for rain to show up. The angle has to be decent, and it almost has to be pouring in order for it to show. Still images, Andre. And if he’s shouting, what’s he saying? I don’t know, because there’s only a caption here.)


–awaits the chance to spring forth, resounding with howling shrieks that permeate deep within the bones– (This is supremely overwritten, and there is absolutely no need to cut it up into different panels and captions the way you have it here. [See, Jamie? Kinder, gentler.] These captions will need to be rewritten so that, when read, they make sense. Right now, it’s more than a useless waste of space. The fact that you’ve said little of import while using so many words is criminal.)

Medium shot of GEORGE making one last attempt halfway in the (car), scanning the area concernedly from the open (cars’) door before leaving scratching himself. (Le huh? This is close to being a moving panel. You have information here that cannot be drawn. What is the still image? Anyone? Beuller? And on top of that, an attempt at what? Firing a gun? Swinging at a fastball? You don’t say, so I can make it anything that I want.)


–and remind us– (Why is this caption hanging out here, all by itself? What purpose is it serving? Unless you say something interesting pretty quickly, your readers are going to tune out.)

The car drives off in the distance leaving TY alone below in the drain as it begins to rain even harder as a silhouette of a mysterious figure (zombie) emerges above. (John Lees: why does this not make sense?)


–we are never alone. (It’s P1. I barely have a handle on what you just said. That means your readers are barely going to have a handle on what you just said. Cut down the flowery, prose-like language, and tell the story. Right now, you’re getting in your own way.)

PAGE TWO (Page break)


GEORGE pulls up in front of his home as his wife CAROLYN and son MARCUS anxiously await his return from the doorway. (Here is the part where I generally ask “where’s the camera?”, but I already know where the artist is going to put it. However, where’s the camera? Is it still raining?)


GEORGE turns off the radio/CB in the middle of an emergency announcement. (No. See, this is why I asked where is the camera. The artist is going to want to put the camera outside the car, in order to try to get everything you asked for in that panel. With that being the case, you can’t now be in the car, with George [possibly only his hand] turning off a CB. That’s too big of a jump in Border Time. It’s jarring.)


We are asking all citizens to please stay in– (If the camera was in the car in panel 1, why haven’t we heard the radio until now? That’s not good. It’s like an internal monologue that you start at the beginning of the book, drop three pages in, and then pick up at the end of the book. It just won’t fly. Even if it needs to be a caption, put something in the previous panel, and then end with this.)


GEORGE bows his head down in failure while still holding on to the steering wheel. (This is the first good, clear, eminently drawable panel description you’ve written. Good job!)


GEORGE turns to look at his family in saddened disappointment (Where’s the camera? Inside the car, or outside? Is it still raining?)


CAROLYN and MARCUS stare back in accordance as if time stood still. (Is it still raining? Getting tired of me asking that question? If it’s raining as hard as you want it to, at dusk, then can they even see him? Are they still in the doorway, not getting wet?)


GEORGE pushes past them entering the house drenched from the rain and scratching. (See what you did here? You have another big jump in Border Time. You never mention him getting out of the car, you never mention him going toward the door. He’s just suddenly already in the house, pushing past his family. He might as well be in the bedroom, or in the dining room, having a drink. And what is he scratching? You don’t say, so that means I can make it up myself.)


CAROLYN stands in front of the open door as the rain continuously falls. EXTREME C.U. of GEORGE calmly telling CAROLYN to shut the door as she begs him to not let TY attempt to go back home. (This cannot be drawn. As soon as you called for an extreme close up, everything else you asked for is no longer important. As a panel description, this is a complete failure. Why else does it fail? Because you called for an extreme close-up. That means you’re asking for the camera to be right up on top of something. What is that something? George. What part of George? I don’t know, because you didn’t specify. That means I get to choose. If that isn’t what you meant, that means you have more studying to do in order to learn your scripting terms.)


Close the door, Carolyn.

George, you can’t let him go back to that house– (This line of dialogue, if it fits, would be coming from off panel.)


Establishing shot of the house (What house? Which house? Is it the same house that they’re in, or is it a different house? What does the house look like? What time of day is it? Is it still raining? This, Andre, is not an establishing shot, because you haven’t established anything.)


“It’s that house.” (I don’t know about anyone else, but I’m lost. There was absolutely nothing said previously to warrant this statement. It doesn’t relate to anything at all. This needs to be rewritten, if not cut altogether.)

Flashback of TY hiding somewhere within the walls of the house curled up within, amongst the sparse blend of shadows and light. (There are ways to show this is a flashback, so I won’t harp too much on that. However, how is the reader supposed to know that Ty is hiding in the walls? You haven’t done anything to set it up.)

C.U. of a weapon lying on the floor next to a book. TY is in deep contemplation of committing suicide and doesn’t hear the distant muffled sound of his name being called. (It’s magically delicious! Where are we? Where did the book come from? What “weapon” are we talking about? What kind of weapon is it? Ever see the movie Clue? Or play the game? Knife (dagger), gun, wrench, lead pipe, candlestick, and a rope (noose). All are lethal weapons. Right now, “weapon” is the vaguest, most useless word in this entire panel description.)


My momma and poppa are dead –

I want to die, too. (Remember in the B&N about Dialogue when I said that writing children was difficult? This is what I meant, right here. Overly childish, and at the same time, pretty adult. Also utterly unrealistic. You should Listen before you Write. Comma. And is he saying this, or is he thinking it?)

Garbled text (What’s the text supposed to say? The letterer will need to know, and if they can’t make it unrecognizable, then they’ll change it to a symbol or something. Also, this should be coming from off panel.)

TY, thinking more deeply of his deceased parents, attempts to use the weapon and kill himself as the muffled sound of his name grows louder. (How is he going to kill himself? I think he’s going to try to bash his own head in. It was Ty, in the attic, with the wrench!)


They used to read me fairy tales before bed all the time. The hero saves everybody from the monsters and they don’t die. (This kid is old enough to be beaten up in school. WHY is he acting like a five or six year old? Why is he sounding that way?)

Garbled text (starting to form TY’S name.)

At the last minute TY submits to failure as light fills the space and a big shadow hovers over him. (John Lees: is this a panel description?)

VOICE (Off panel)


UNC’ towering over TY angrily as TY is taken aback by the surprising intrusion. (Where’s the camera?)


No one saved momma or poppa—

and no one came to save me. (Okay, so these are supposed to be thought balloons. I can get behind that. However, THIS is what he’s thinking, right now, at this moment, with the supposed surprised expression on his face? That doesn’t match. This works better as a caption. And then, you need to label each separate line.)


UNCS’ arm reaches in to grab TY out of his hiding place. (Where’s the camera? Is this supposed to be from Ty’s point of view?)


Ain’t no such thing as heroes. But, monsters–(This should be a caption.)
TY is beaten as we see the shadow of UNC’S raised fist and belt violently flailing. (Where’s the camera?)


— monsters ARE real. (This should be a caption.)
PAGE FOUR (Page break)


TY’S back is marked from abuse as he puts on his shirt. (I have no idea where I’m at. There is no sense of time or place. I call this the white void.)


My uncle makes me do stuff– (Now you want to change to a caption? I’m curious as to why now, and not before.)
UNC’ (Off panel)

Boy, you too stupid and scared to kill your own self, but if’n you git any ideas of stealin’ my gun a’gin– (So, it’s a gun! The artist is going to need to know that.)

–remember what’cha just got. (If you’re going to put this in a separate balloon, as it should be, then you also need to make sure you put the character who’s speaking with it. Otherwise, it will look strange to the letterer, and will slow down their production as they try to make heads or tails of what you want. Label every balloon.)

UNC looks sternly at TY while giving him a package to deliver. TY’S eye has been blackened. (A package. What kind of package? Is it a box? Is it a paper bag? A knapsack? You don’t say, so I get to choose. I choose an elephant.)

–stuff I don’t want to do.

Got’s another job for us. Don’t fuck it up, boy. (Comma.)


TY exits the room walking into the hallway as UNC’ lingers watching in the background as news of a terrible storm approaching blares from a television or radio. (Where’s the camera?)


I wanna kill him, too– (What happened to the caption label? Comma.)

A terrible storm is building up,etc. (I just lost my entire mind. This line right here shows me that you don’t care. Since you don’t care, I don’t care. I’m stopping here.)

Let’s run it down.

Format: Not bad. Not the best, but not bad. Format is the easiest thing to learn, though. Page breaks, labeling of dialogue, knowing when things should be on or off panel… That’s the easy part. You didn’t do too badly, but it could use some work.

Panel Descriptions: Terrible, all the way around. You have exactly ONE panel description that gives the artist all the information they need to draw. One. In three pages. That’s criminal.

You need to learn to stop writing in what is mainly a prose paragraph, and learn to write in a panel description. A panel description tells what’s going on. You may sometimes add some descriptive words for flavor. Otherwise, you’re describing what the artist should be drawing. You failed to do that here.

You need to learn to give information that an artist can use to draw. Camera angles can also help. At least tell where the camera is, so the artist has some clue.

Pacing: Your pacing is off a bit. You’re taking some big jumps in Border Time here and there, which is throwing the story off. When you think of a scene, think about the number of pages in it, and when you plot out the page, think about the number of panels you will need to move the characters from one place to another. This will help you with Border Time.

Dialogue: I have NO idea why the art of comma usage is being lost. It’s not just you, Andre. I see it a lot.

Anyway, you’re missing dialogue in places, you’re making Ty sound too young, you’re missing labels that will cause the letterer to do different things, causing them more work to fix your mistakes. If it were to go through without at least a once-over, it would make for an extremely memorable reading experience.

And then you gave up. That really bothered me.

Even if you’re lettering this yourself, which I don’t believe you are (but I could be wrong), you should still be giving yourself enough notes so that you know where you wanted to go when you get around to lettering the book.You might as well have said “yadda yadda storm, blah blah blah stay inside, yadda blah yadda dangerous winds.”

Content: We’re only three pages in, but for all the mistakes, I’m not even mildly interested. Not good. As a new writer, you generally cannot afford a slow burn. Most readers will only give you three pages to be interesting. Three. I’m generous when I sometimes say five, but you have to give something of a nibble in order to get there.

As an example, in Runners, I started out with dialogue, but not being able to see any faces or any action. I believe the dialogue (and its implications) are interesting enough to carry through until we get to the interesting bits. You didn’t do that here. You start out with boring, and continue with it.

Editorially, this is a mess. From a reader’s point of view, it’s pretty dull. There are ways to capture a reader from the very first page. I suggest you do more reading and dissecting.

That’s all from me. Check the calendar to see who’s next.


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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 (12)

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  1. Sometimes it seems a lot of people try to write comics the same way they would a movie. I think that would account for a lot of the moving panels we see here.

    However, it really sank in today after reading this commebnt of yours, Steven: “As a new writer, you generally cannot afford a slow burn. Most readers will only give you three pages to be interesting.”

    A slow burn is exactly what we see when we go see an action flick, a horror movie – hell, even a superhero movie! When was the last time you went to see a movie and din’t have to wait at least 10 minutes for the first real action piece? And come to think of it, when was the last time you’ve read a book that didn’t take its time to establish characters and settings before getting into the grit of things?

    It’s almost as if we’ve been conditioned by other forms of entertainment to take our time when starting a story. We somehow got drilled into believing that rushing things will cause the whole enterprise to come crashing down.

    Hey, almost like a first date!

    But the main difference between a movie-goer and a comic reader is that the movie-goer is committed to his investment. When he’s already paid his 15 bucks, he’s ready to give the movie a chance for the first half hour or so. He might even sit through a whole mediocre seance just to justify his purchase.

    Not so with a comic. A prospective buyer picks up a copy on the rack, flips through the first three or five pages and judges right there and then if you get his money or not.

    For those first three pages, I’d say: follow the example of those OTHER movies who gave you the goods right in the opening. Bungee jump off a dam. Dodge booby traps in an ancient temple. Maul a drunk skinny dipping girl.*

    *My lawyer advises me to specify that those suggestions should apply to comic scripts and not real life.

  2. “Ty!” (Jamie, why is this incorrect?)

    You’re asking me about grammar? Oh dear. There doesn’t need to be quotes around the speech here. Oddly, this seems to be the only time there are quotes around the dialogue though. An extra carriage return here would also help break the scrip up a bit and make it easier to read.

    • There are reasons why I do everything, Jamie. I specifically called on you for this just for that reason.

      Now, finish answering the question. WHY doesn’t there need to be quotes around the speech?

  3. Steven, thank you VERY much for your help. I was looking for an honest and insightful opinion of someone who has been in the industry and knows the craft pretty well. This script was the first I have written of ANYTHING as far as a story is concerned, probably since high school (I guess that is apparent). But, if I want to become a better writer, I felt as though I had to start doing it and seek an experts opinion early and hopefully learn what mistakes I am making and correct them.

    I get what you are saying about the panels not being descriptive enough or conveying camera angles for the artist and assumed what was written was enough. I am an illustrator and think I may have been writing from that standpoint instead of thinking about the artist and/or audience. I see now that is a HUGE mistake. The images were clear in my mind, so i guess I should of wrote them down. The craft IS called writing for a reason.I do not want to work hard to become a mediocre writer,much less seen as a lazy one.

    Thank you again for your critique and honesty. My skin is pretty thick, so dish it out. Don’t hold back! I want to get better, but I can only do that armed with the right information to move in the right direction and you have given me some good homework. ComixTribe is awesome!

    • Having a thick skin in this business is crucial, Andre. Absolutely. I’m glad you have one.

      I suggest you read through the B&N posted, do the homework, and continue to develop. You’re on the right track. Like I said, you just need more study.

  4. John Lees says:

    PANEL 5

    The car drives off in the distance leaving TY alone below in the drain as it begins to rain even harder as a silhouette of a mysterious figure (zombie) emerges above. (John Lees: why does this not make sense?)

    I love how I’m always addressed by my full name whenever I’m called upon here. It makes me feel like Bill Brasky.


      Sorry, couldn’t help it…

      • BILL BRASKY!

        You know he’s seven foot tall, and arm wrestles elephants for fun, right?! Good ol’ Bill! Been making my wife happy since 1968!

        • BILL BRASKY!

          Did I ever tell you about the time Bill Brasky handed me a script that called for 78 panels on the same page? I told him it couldn’t be done but of course he wouldn’t have none of it. So the next day he empties a whole 500-pound sack of rice on my drawing table and tells me I’m going to reproduce Alan Moore’s complete Swamp Thing run, one full page per grain. It took me 15 years but I finally did it. I drew Braski’s 78 panels and I did it on the back of a business card because I love the guy.

          Anyway, they had cancelled the series by then, but my wife loves me even more now that I’ve come home again.

          TO BILL BRASKY!

    • I don’t watch SNL, so it took me a while to understand the Bill Brasky thing.

      Why do I call you by your full name here? Because I literally work with three of you: one John, and two Jon’s. There soon may be a second John, and there’s a third John also somewhere in the wings. So, that would be five of you, and I need a way to keep all of you straight!

      (Edit: I also do it to Kyle Raios, so, really, you’re not alone!)

      • John Lees says:

        Don’t worry about it. I know John’s a common name, and am used to the implications of that. I spent a semester of Theatre Studies at Uni being called “Straight John” by the rest of my group.

  5. John Lees says:

    PANEL 5

    The car drives off in the distance leaving TY alone below in the drain as it begins to rain even harder as a silhouette of a mysterious figure (zombie) emerges above. (John Lees: why does this not make sense?)

    Would be helpful if I actually answered the question. The big thing that sticks out is that the zombie emerges from a void. Where has it actually came from? It wasn’t there before when George was around, so having it just appear now is a bit of a cheat. Also, why is the zombie in silhouette if George (who was standing around the same spot earlier) wasn’t?

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