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TPG Week 38: Graphic Novel Pacing

| September 16, 2011 | 6 Comments

Greetings, one and all! We have yet another Brave One entering The Proving Grounds in Noel Burns. Give him a hearty round as he brings us a story of


Page 1 (Splash Page)

Panel 1: A birds-eye view looking down the side of a mountain with a zigzagging path leading into a valley. In the valley is a pond with a medium sized medieval town. A Castle tower is in the foreground, and can be seen at the top of the path. It is late afternoon and the sun is descended behind the mountains making them glow. Above the mountains storm clouds are starting to form. (And we start right off the bat with something that cannot be drawn. The ONLY mountains you mention have the path you mentioned, which means the path is in the foreground, because we’re looking down it, remember?You can’t have the tower in the foreground because the path is there. The mountains have to be in the background, because you have the sun setting behind them, but the sun can’t be seen setting because you have us looking down the path. So, no, this cannot be drawn.)

Cap: The border kingdom of Pond. The Northern Shield that protects the Mithria Road and maintains the steel trade for all the realms to the south. It is not for these things that Pond is best known though. Those honors belong to its defense force, the Ma’lari and the Lady who rules there…

Cap: or did.

(Okay, folks, there’s going to be some latitude here. Some, but not much. Why? Because this is supposed to be a graphic novel. With that in mind, there’s a little more space given for things to play out.

(What I’d like to see here, Noel, is a little more exposition. You have a splash page here, and while you don’t need to fill it up with words, you could put more words here than we see. You have the space. Use it wisely.)


Page 2 (Six Panels)

Panel 1: Nearing evening on a fall day. Long shot facing a man (Mateo) and a girl (Mia) on the edge of the pond, the man is knelt behind and to the left of the girl. He is watching the path up ahead of them and she is looking out on the water. They each have a handled basket placed at their feet. Behind them there is a Grute patrol of three marching towards town. The Grute stand a head and a half to two heads taller than everyone around them. They are dressed in chainmail armor with medium sized round shields on their left arms. There are also three random peasants walking back towards town for the night. Their clothes are patched wrinkled and all of them walk with their heads down watching their feet. From left to right on the panel there is a path that is angling up. The path is on the side of mountain so rock should be seen in the background. To the right the path leads past the edge of rocks and there should be a few buildings seen at the edge of town. The builds should look like something that could be found in an old English village around the 1300s (See referrence sheet Page 1, Panel 1). (I like that you have references for the artist. That’s always good. But the stuff in blue? Unnecessary. The artist will have all the needed information before they even put pencil to paper. So, let’s not make this any more of a chore to read than it already is.)

Matteo: There’ll be a storm tonight.

Panel 2: Over the shoulder shot of Matteo, now turned towards the pond. The back of Mia can be made out with her shawl and hair hanging straight down her back. On the pond a flock of ducks can be seen out in the middle of the pond. Beyond that, more clouds are boiling over the mountains. (Ducks! They’re delicious. Magically delicious. More clouds? Where were the other clouds to begin with?)

Matteo: There’s ice on the wind.

Matteo (Melded Balloon): Mark my words.

Panel 3: Medium shot of the ducks huddled together, small waves on the water. Fog is now seen on the far edge of the pond with more clouds churning growing darker. Trees and vegetation at the edge of the pond are starting to blow. (Hopefully, this panel does something to push the story forward. And which way are the trees blowing, and why?)

SFX: Quack, Quack

Panel 4: Medium-long shot of the ducks taking flight and scattering in all different directions. The waves on the pond are noticably larger and darkness from the clouds has spread over the edge of the pond. (Meh. There are better ways, but this is serviceable.)

SFX: Whoosh

SFX(small): Flap, Flap, Flap (Here’s the thing with sound effects: Once you start doing them, then everything needs one. If you use them sparingly, then they’ll stand out that much more when you really need them. So, yes, this is overkill on the sound effects.)

Panel 5: Close medium shot of Mia with her eyes squinted, and tears at the corners of her eyes. Her hair and shawl are now whipping around her.

Mia (Thought Balloon): This isn’t a storm. (Thought balloons! I like them, myself. I want them to make a comeback. However, there’s a time to use them, and a time not to. I’d call this a time not to. I think she should be saying this out loud, although quietly.)

Panel 6: Medium shot facing Mia. Mia is on the right side of panel, looking to the left side as a Grute soldier walks by towards town. The Grute is scowling as he marches by. The size difference is very noticable between Mia and the Grute.

Mia (Thought Ballon): The storm hit four months ago! (This line right here? Terrible. It is overly obvious, and while I’m glad you got it out your system, I’m sorry it’s on public display. This is a line that needs to be replaced.)

Page 3 (Five Panels)

Panel 1: Mateo standing stretching his arms over his head. He is looking back at Mia concern on his face exaggerated by his bushy eyebrows.

Matteo: There’ll be snow by morning.

Panel 2: Close-up of Mia’s face. Her eyes closed and face raised up. Multiple tears falling down her face now.

Mia (Thought Balloon): Snow in Pond…

Mia (Thought Balloon, Melded ): Mother never would have allowed it.

Mia (Thought Balloon): Though Matteo is rarely wrong about the weather. (P3, and we have our first name. Good work! Let’s see you work in the next name.)

Panel 3: Medium-long shot from behind Mateo he is standing with his left hand on Mia’s right shoulder. She is still looking out on the water. In the distance ducks are trying to land on the choppy waters. (Looking out over the pond? Still? No. Because last panel, she had her eyes closed as she cried. Make up your mind, Noel, and the artist will give you what you ask for.)

Matteo: Page. (I take it this is also Mia’s name? Good work in getting it in there! I like it. Organic, natural, and fast! Basically, without counting the first page, you did it in two. I like it.)

Mia (Thought Ballon): Poor ducks. You can’t fight the storm. Why are you trying?

Panel 4: Medium close shot now from in front of Mia, with Matteo stepped closer to her and his hand still on her shoulder. His face is still concerned as he looks at her. She is returning the look, but her face is blank. There is no sign of emotion there.

Matteo: Page!

Matteo (Melded Balloon): We need to get moving.

Mia: Sorry Da’, you’re right. (Comma-fail.)

Mia (Thought Balloon): What is it he sees when he looks at me? (Here’s the thing I want everyone to notice. There are four balloons in this panel, yes? Matteo speaks twice, then Page speaks, and then Page thinks. This is the order in which Noel wants the balloons to be read. So, the letterer is going to put the first balloon to the left of the panel, because it has to go first. The second balloon is going to go to the right of that, if not to the right and under the first balloon. Then Page speaks. Her balloon is going to be lower than her head, so that the tail can be seen going to her mouth. Then, the thought balloon is going to go even lower than that. That is the setup that Noel is asking for. Is it the best? I don’t think so, I’d put the thought before Page speaks. Raise it up some. It would also read better that way.)

Panel 5: Long shot of the two of them now with baskets in hand facing each other in profile. Beyond them the road can been seen as it angles up towards the first double back.

Mia: Cook will be expecting these things for dinner. We should get back to the castle. (Another terrible, terrible line. Isn’t that basically what Matteo just said? He said it on a slant, but she’s coming at it head first. Let’s try not to do that anymore, shall we?)

Page 4 (Five Panels)

Panel 1: Long shot of a line of six to eight peasants waiting single file. A squad of five Grute are checking everyone before they cross the bridge leading to the Gatehouse. The Gatehouse can just be seen in shadows beyond the narrow bridge. The Squad of Grute consist of four soldiers and a commander. The commander looks like a typical grute tall and strong, but with his left eye scarred over. He is standing with his arms folded his one eye glaring at the people waiting to enter the castle. It is not yet full dark, but evening, still two of the soldiers are holding torches, while the others search a peasant girl. (Set the stage, Noel. Answer where are we first, and then start placing people. Throw the artist a bone. Right now, I have no idea where I’m at. What does the bridge span? A river? A moat? Space? You don’t say, so I’m in a white void. I hate white voids.)

Panel 2: Medium shot of Mateo and Mia walking past the line of people. Mia is glaring at what is waiting ahead of them.

Matteo (Whisper): Page, calm yourself.

Matteo (Whisper): We can’t let them know we aren’t beaten.

Panel 3: Close-up of Mia’s hand gripping the basket handle tightly (I know you’re looking to break it up some, but why did you pick this panel, Noel? Why gripping the basket—which will probably be shown with a few motion lines to show that she’s upset—instead of her doing something else? Why not get closer to her face or something? Just curious.)

Mia: We are more than beaten.

Mia (Melded Balloon): We are broken.

Mia (Small): The Northern Shield is shattered.

Panel 4: Bust shot of Mateo looking back at Mia, his face determined .

Matteo: There is still hope.

Mia (Thought Balloon): But Pond is no more.

Panel 5: Medium-long shot of Matteo and Mia walking past the line towards the Grute guards. Their breath coming out of puffs of mist. The people in the line are watching the pair as they pass. The crowd is watching furtively and making sure to avoid eye contact with the Grute.

Page 5 (Six Panels)

Panel 1: PoV shot from Matteo looking at up at the Grute Commander who is blocking his way to the bridge. The commander’s face is hard, as he sneers down at Matteo.

Grute Commander: State your business.

Panel 2: Close medium shot of Matteo’s face looking up at the Grute Commander, his eyes rolled up and a smirk on his face.

Matteo: Same thing it always is.

Panel 3: Medium shot of the Commander and Matteo in profile. The Commander has leaned closer to Matteo’s face. The Commander’s brow is angry, however he has a sick smile on his face.

Grute Commander: I would watch your tone.

Grute Commander (Melded Balloon): Cook! (This line doesn’t match the expression in the panel description. It would be better if he had another panel after the threat. Then you can have this line.)

Panel 4: Bust shot of Matteo his head down and shoulders sagged.

Matteo: I am sorry to offend Gate Commander.

Matteo: What I meant was that my daughter and I were bringing food, to be served at the evening meal.

Panel 5: Medium shot with Mia in the foreground looking over her shoulder to see the line of people. They are all looking back down the path, or up in the air and not at what is going on in front of them. A single tear runs down the side of Mia’s face. (She cries a lot. So far, she’s cried almost on every page she’s on. It’s going to be somewhat tiring pretty soon. )

Mia (Thought Balloon): Pond is no more.

Panel 6: Medium-long shot from behind the Grute Commander. He is still in Matteo’s face and Mia is standing just behind and to the right of Mateo. Two of the Grute Guards are standing behind Matteo and Mia, their hands on the pairs’ shoulder.

Grute Commander: Search ‘em carefully.

Grute Commander: This one is showing a bit too much spirit.

SFX (Mia): Gasp! (This isn’t a sound effect. That, and her expression doesn’t match the gasp.)

Page 6 (Five Panels)

Panel 1: Medium shot of Mateo hunched over as the Grute guard grasp Matteo’s side. The guard is bending over to check down Matteo’s leg with his other hand. (Facial expressions?)

Matteo: Ouch. (I’m not seeing anything that hurts.)

Grute Commander (OP): You know, she isn’t too bad to look at…

Grute Commander (Melded B alloon OP): your daughter.

SFX (Matteo): Grrr. (This is not a sound effect.)

Matteo: OWW! (This is the last thing he’s said this panel. As such, his facial expression should reflect it. And this second cry of pain makes it something of a moving panel. Cut this line, too. Again, I’m not seeing anything that would hurt him being done.)

Grute Commander(OP): heh, heh, ha. (Too much back and forth in this panel. This line needs to be cut.)

Panel 2: Profile medium long shot of the Grute Commander now standing in front of Mia leering down at her. The Grute guard has his hand placed on her hip and his face is down at her ear. Mia is looking straight ahead, her face deteremined.

Grute Commander: Though she might be a bit young…

Grute Guard: Na, not too young.

Panel 3: Close-up of the Grute’s hand grabbing Mia’s rear.

SFX: EEEKK! (That’s strange. He squeezes her ass, and it squeaks? I guess there’s a first for everything. Okay, all joking aside, this is not a sound effect.)

Panel 4: Medium shot facing Mia from the waist up. She has spun to face the Grute Guard who is standing to the right of the panel in the foreground. His hand is held up as though nothing had happened. Mia is glaring at the Grute and her hands are balled into fist and held up as though she might fight. Behind her the Commander has his head raised laughing. Mateo can be seen further in the background looking back at Mia, his face shocked. His guard has gripped his arms.

Grute Guard: A bit of fire too. (Comma-fail.)

Grute Guard: Might be someone needs to tame that fire.

SFX:Ha, Ha, Ha, Ha…. (This? This could be a sound effect.)

Panel 5: Close Medium shot zoomed in on Matteo. He is straining to pull free from his guard. He is shouting at the Commander and the Guard holding Mia.


Page 7 (Three Panels)

Panel 1: Bust shot of the Grute Commander gripping Mia’s face and pulling her around to look up at him. He has a sick smile on his face, but his eyes are looking to the side towards where Matteo is.

Grute Commander: It’s lucky for you, that General Borrigan ordered your women untouched. (The comma isn’t needed here. The pause is unnatural.)

Panel 2: Same shot as Panel 1, but with the Grute Commander’s hand is removed. His eyes are now focused on Mia, and he is no longer smiling. Mia continues to look up at the commander.

Grute Commander: I think Eirgin would like a chance to take you.

Grute Commander: But we can’t have any inferior bastards running around.

Panel 3: The Grute Commander backhands Mia across the face. She is falling towards the camera. This panel should be the majority of the page. Her basket is sent flying as she falls.



Page 8 (Six Panels)

Panel 1: Long Medium shot, the Grute Commander has turned his back dismissing Mia and looking at Mia. Mia is crumpled on the ground. Her hair covering face. Two of the peasants a man and a woman are in the background, finally watching what is happening. Fear in their eyes as they hold hands. (Nope. Dismissal means that he should no longer be looking at her. I think you meant to delete some of this, but forgot. This is why giving the writing you do some space in order to get distance and perspective is important. You miss things like this. Actually, upon re-reading it, you messed up the camera angle by putting the commander in there first. You got ahead of yourself.)

Grute Commander: Watch yourself little cook. (comma-fail.)

Panel 2: Medium shot looking up at the Grute Commander, from Mia’s POV. The Grute Commander is still looking down towards Matteo, but now he is pointing back at Mia with is right arm.

Grute Commander: We know how to hurt you…

Grute Commander (Melded Balloon): and this incident will be logged.

Grute Commander: They can pass.

Panel 3: Close shot of Matteo kneeling by Mia, his hand on her shoulder and his head ducked with tears at the corners of his eyes. Mia’s hair still covers her face.

Matteo: Mir…Page!

Matteo (Small): I am sooo, sorry!

Panel 4: Over the shoulder shot from behind Matteo looking down on Mia. She is looking up at him through her hair hanging in her face. Her cheek is red and her eyes are scared.

Mia: I am fine. It wasn’t your fault.

Matteo: I was being stupid…

Mia: You weren’t the one who hit me.

Panel 5: Reverse shot of from behind Mia, looking up at Mateo now standing his hand reaching down to her. He has a small smile on his face and he looks proud of her.

Mia (Thought Balloon): I am sorry, Matteo. Your faith is misplaced.

Matteo: Come child, we still have work to do tonight. (Change the comma to a period. You want a hard stop, not a soft pause.)

Mia (Thought Balloon): Can’t you see if we give them cause, they will make sure there is nothing left of us. (Punctuation. You want a question mark, not a period.)

Panel 6: Back shot of Matteo and Mia walking into the tunnel of the gatehouse. The tunnel is a black maw. There body parts hanging from around the gate. (I don’t understand the last sentence. Your artist is going to ask, as they should. Clarity.)

Mia (Thought Balloon): The Pond of old will never rise again.


Okay! Let’s run it down.

Format: I have no problem with it. I think you’re causing yourself some more work with the melded-balloon, but it isn’t wrong. So, I’d have to give this 100%. Flawless victory!

Panel Descriptions: It’s a terrible thing when the first panel is something that cannot be drawn. It kinda sets the tone for the rest of the story. However, it turned out a lot better than I thought it was going to. As you can see, there wasn’t that much to be said about the panel descriptions. Good work in turning it around there, Noel. Just make sure that your descriptions make sense. Your artist will let you know when they don’t. The less reason you give them to pull out their hair, the more they’ll want to work with you.

Pacing: The pacing of the dialogue is off by a hair, but that’s what editors are for. Just once or twice you come close to having too much going on, but you never go over the line. Sometimes, the dialogue could be paced a little better, but that’s what the editor is there for.

No, the big thing is that this moves at exactly the right pace for a graphic novel. You have an opening, you set the scene, and you start setting up the mystery of what’s going on. It doesn’t HAVE to have the urgency a single issue from an unknown writer needs. From the point of view of “what happens next,” this is on point. Some interest without hitting readers over the head with it.

And to tell the truth, if this were a single issue, you have enough going on here to say that it was decently paced. I’d cut the first page into a panel or cut it altogether, but there isn’t much that would need to be changed to speed it up some, as a single issue.

Dialogue: Not bad at all. You got in the names both organically and early, and it was enough to hold my interest. Good work.

Content: I’m not huge on fantasy. Never have been. I grew up reading Margaret Weiss and Tracey Hickman and Roger Zelazny. I’ve read Goodkind and Jordan. I don’t read much fantasy. I’ve never read Elfquest. It didn’t hold any interest for me. Now, as a reader, I’d say that I’m interested, so you’ve obviously done something right, Noel. Keep that up.

Editorially, there’s some guidance that needs to happen, but you don’t need a heavy editorial hand at all. Not from what I’m seeing. You seem to have the idea of where you’re going, and you have set the pace of how and when you’re going to get there. Good job. I like it.

And that’s all I have. Check the calendar to see who’s up 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 (6)

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  1. Noel Burns says:

    Thank you for the critique Steven. I have to admit that it took me 30 minutes after the TPG went up to actually load the site. I was nervous. It is hard to send your work, especially early work off to someone. It is even harder when it is going to be displayed in public. That being said it didn’t turn out near as badly I feared and if I can help anyone by having done this then it is worth it. So my recommendation to you writers out there who have been thinking about sending in your scripts…do it now. Don’t wait till it is right or you think you are ready. You never will be, but if you want to do this and to have people read it at some point then might as well jump in with both feet. Help us all out and send in those scripts.

    I do have a few questions though. I realized that my panel description was a bit wordy or off at times. I can see the panel in my head and was trying to include too much or messed up info I think. Do you think do rough layouts while writing the script would help or hinder an editor and artist when dealing with me right now? I know most of problem comes from not understanding the proper way to do a panel description and I am hoping that will come with more experience. Till then I am trying to find a way to make this easier for everyone. I don’t however want to make something that the artist is going to feel locked into. Should If I were to do these layouts would that be something I would need to send along to the editor? (My guess is yes, but better to ask the editor if he would like to see them first.)

    Well, I stayed up till 2am trying to post something like this the first time, but my internet cut out on me so it didn’t post. Now it is time for me to make the Comics. I will be saving the first one for you Steven. I am sure I will have some other stuff to mention later, but I have to get to work.

    • I didn’t saw anything before this because, well, I’m evil. But, really, you did a pretty good job here, Noel.

      Rough layouts of the panel can do both at the same time: both help and hinder. I’m not going to say that one method is any better than the other. I AM going to say that it depends on the creative team. An artist might like it, or they might not. The editor might like it, or might not. It depends on whom you’re working with.

      It also depends on your own artistic ability, and how rough the layouts are. It also depends on whether or not it helps you tell the story.

      Very often, Neil Gaiman will make himself a mini-comic while he’s scripting, so he can better visualize what’s going on as he writes. Does it ever go to the rest of the creative team? I’m guessing it depends on the team.

      I know the answer isn’t satisfactory, but it is the best one. There isn’t any one way that comics must be made. Just as long as the storytelling is clear and you are entertaining, there is neither a right way nor a wrong one.

      Hope that helps some.

  2. Congratulations, Noel! That was some mighty fine scripting. It’s not often we can see an example here of slower pacing well done; it really felt smooth and organic, not artificially stretched out. Good job!

    One question though: we had eight pages and I never once saw anyone mention the word “Grute”. I was able to deduce from the script that they were some sort of orc-like fantasy race and that the way they’ll be depicted will make this obvious, but I wonder how important it would be to get the word out early on.

  3. Evan Windsor says:

    Nice work Noel!

    One thing I see a lot of beginning fantasy writers do is they spend a lot of prep time world-building and crafting history, which is good, but then the get very attached to that, and start their story with a big infodump about the world and its history that doesn’t really benefit the story or the characters.

    Yours is far better than many I’ve seen, just one paragraph instead of multiple pages. Still, I think it could be improved with some trims and some additions that more directly tie into story. Some of the other information can come organically in the story.

    I’ve been playing Gears of War recently (in preparation for the final chapter!). Another example would be Game of Thrones(the tv show, never read the book. SHAME ON ME.). Both of these worlds have very rich world with a lot of backstory, but they just start. The history comes up in dialogue, or is seen in the background, but the viewer doesn’t need to be well versed in the history before the story begins to enjoy it.

    That being said, it is an establishing shot, and does need to establish. So a bit of a balance must be struck.

    The bit about the lady who used to rule? A nice piece of worldbuilding that also manages to foreshadow what I am assuming will be a major piece of the story. The bit about the local steel trade? Probably can get cut.

    All in all, though, a pretty nice piece of script!

  4. Noel Burns says:

    Thanks Yannick, actually the grute are just large humans, which is one of the reasons I didn’t bother to mention their racial name yet. I should probably try to get it in sooner.

    As to the history of the world and vast world building, I am not really sure about that. I have had this story in my head for about 15 years now, and there are somethings I know and many that I don’t. I do know the story though. I have 77 pages of outline and 44,000 words of prose for it. As it stands you are being dropped right in the middle of the story and it should be pretty clear by the end of the first chapter around 22 to 24 pages, just what trouble the main characters are in.

    The establishing shot was something I had talked about in my long post that got lost with my internet connection this morning. I didn’t really want the first page, but I wanted to have Mateo and Mia start walking up the path at the turn of the page, which meant it had to be on 1 or 3. So as I see it my choices are to either try and condense into 1 page, expand pages 2 and 3, or try to change the establishing shot page from a small info dump to something that fits the story better. Would it be taking the easy way out to just use the image and list the creative crew there? The establishing shot will work, I just failed at getting my idea into words with it. I got the idea from a picture on one of my graphic designers computers. So I know it can be done, which is part of the reason I asked about doing thumbnails.

    I am glad everyone seemed to enjoy the work. I am now fired up about going to make some changes and move forward with it. I do have to admit Steven that I did the thought balloons in your honor. Though they were written as thoughts in the manuscript too. I do like the idea of the whisper though. Well time to get ready for work #2. I will stop back later if there is anything else I can think of.

  5. Conner MacDonald says:

    Just want to say I’m a proud supporter of thought balloons, and loved the opening caption. The exposition is short, and sweet. It kind of reminded me of the opening scroll from Star Wars.
    Speaking of scrolls, since its a fantasy story, maybe have the opening caption be an unfolded scroll, running the length of the splash page? Just an idea.

    Ps. Also got a Game of Thrones vibe from it so far. In a purely positive way, since GoT is awesome.

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