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TPG Week 59: When Padding and Pacing Hurt

| February 10, 2012 | 27 Comments

Hello, and welcome back to The Proving Grounds! This week, we have a returning Brave One in Justin Martin. Let’s see what he brings us this week, shall we?


Draft Script for Gabriel’s Intro Story

Page 1 (Intro – Gabriel at work) (This here in parentheses? Completely superfluous. If these are your personal notes while writing, take them out before handing the script over to the rest of the creative team or you’ll confuse the hell out of them. A letterer, for instance, might think this could be a caption. You artist might think that too and leave some space out in the composition of the first panel to account for it.)

Panel 1

Gabriel is behind the counter at the dvd store where he works, CinemaLand, (Pet peeve time: you’ve given your artist a photo reference and that’s great! However, you put it in as a comment in Word. Moreover, it wasn’t even a link: I had to copy/paste the address line to my web browser. Those are hoops you’re making your artist jump through that could be avoided by just linking directly from the panel description.) ringing up a couple who are renting dvds. Semi-close up on Gabriel, as he is the only one visible. He’s to the left of the panel. (Well that’s hardly an establishing shot. Starting with a “semi-close up”, we won’t see anything but Gabriel. For all we know, he’s a cashier in a drugstore who just rang up a box of Depends for a little old lady. Either start out with a wide shot showing Gabriel and the couple at the counter with DVD displays all around or with an exterior shot of the building with Gabriel’s line as off panel.)

Gabriel (narration): (I have no idea what this is. Did you have a caption here and then decided to partly take it out?)

Gabriel: Will that be all for you today?

Panel 2

Gabriel is standing to the left of the panel, and the couple to the right. (I’m usually kind of a stickler for specific camera shots but the minimum is there for the artist to understand it’s a medium side-shot. However, what are the characters doing? Just standing up woodenly and staring off into space?)

Guy: Actually, my girl and I were trying to figure something out, and we were wondering if you might be able to help us…

Guy: Seeing that you might know a little something about movies since you work here and all. (Looking further down, I see you have 8 panels on this page. That’s A LOT. Something’s gonna have to go if you don’t want it to feel too cramped and this line is it. It adds noting that the previous one doesn’t already cover. It’s fun to go for natural-sounding dialogue when you can afford the space, but you can’t here. Off with it!)

Panel 3

Close-up on Gabriel. (Technically, a close-up just shows a part of something bigger. According to the rest of this description, this is a close-up of his smiling mouth – and that’s kinda creepy. Try a tight or medium shot instead.) He’s smiling because he gets movie questions all the time. (“He’s smiling” was all that you needed. The rest is superfluous prose.)

Gabriel: Well I’ll do my best. Shoot. (Comma-fail.)

Panel 4

Side view, showing Gabriel to the right and the couple to the left. The couple looks look playful, yet focused because there’s a bet riding on the answer. (Yet more superfluous prose.) Gabriel looks attentive, with a slight smile on his face.

Girl: Have you ever seen this movie that came out in the late 90s called Starfighter? (Whenever you name the title of a movie, song, book and so on, would normally be in italics. However, not all fonts will have italics as an option. As a convention to adopt, you could put it in quotes. It will do the same thing of setting the name apart from the rest of the script, and it won’t cause the letterer to have a hissy fit if they don’t have italics in the font they’re using, causing them to change from the font they want in order to be uniform throughout the story.)

Gabriel: Yeah. What about it?

Girl: Do you remember what city the fleet commander was from?

Gabriel: Let’s see…it was Flint, Michigan. (There’s a space missing after the ellipsis.)

Panel 5

(What’s this empty line for?)

Semi-close-up on the couple. (You know, just saying “medium shot of the couple” would imply framing the shot just on them. No need for that “semi-close-up” business.)The guy is facing the girl, gloating because he believes he’s won the bet. (Yet more superfluous prose, “YMSP” from now on.)

Guy: See, I told you it was my hometown! Looks like you’re treating for dinner tonight!

Panel 6

Semi-close-up on the couple. (If we’re on the couple, that means we can’t see Gabriel. That means all of his lines down there are “OP” (off panel). Which leads to the question: why focus on the couple if two thirds of the dialogue in this panel is Gabriel’s?) The guy is looking at Gabriel and is disappointed that he didn’t win the bet. (YMSP) The girl is looking at the guy and is happy.

Gabriel: I mean that’s the city he was living in when he was recruited by general Stevenson to join the fleet, (Oh you didn’t just end a line with a comma here, did you? If Gabriel’s doing a short dramatic pause, use an ellipsis to close this line and open the next one with an ellipsis too. Otherwise, consider merging the two lines into the same balloon.)

Gabriel: But he was born in Alexandria, Indiana. He moved to Flint when he was 11, after his father’s construction job dried up.

Girl: Well well, let’s not close-up that wallet just yet! I know just the place for dinner tonight, big baller. (This line would make a lot more sense and wit if you had specified that the guy had his wallet out earlier. Actually, reading back and ahead a bit, when did they actually pay for the rentals?)

Panel 7

Side-view of Gabriel and the couple. Gabriel is to the left, and the couple is to the right. (This is the third time in this page you’ve resorted to the side view shot. Shake things up a bit! Give us POV shots, over-the-shoulder shots and so on.) The guy is holding the bag with the dvds, as they are preparing to exit. (How exactly? Or is this YMSP?)

Guy: Just my luck. We had to ask the guy who just watched the movie yesterday!

Gabriel: Actually, it’s been a while since I’ve seen the movie.

Gabriel (narration): Twelve years to be exact. (Terminology: this should read: “Caption (Gabriel)” so it’s clear for the letterer. I’m only going to bring it up here but it applies for the rest of the script too.)

Guy: Well you must be blessed with a good memory! (I’m really not sure about this intertwining of dialogue lines with the caption. Remember: this is an 8-panel page, it’s already awfully crowded. I’m thinking you could take out the guy’s reply as well as Gabriel’s first line in the next panel and still come out with meaningful dialogue. Also, comma-fail.)

Panel 8

Gabriel is to the left of the panel, and the couple is to the right center of the panel. The couple are exiting the store. Gabriel’s right hand is slightly up to wave at the couple as they exit. (One thing you’re going to have to learn, Justin, is to let go of the reins a bit. You’re being way too specific while leaving out simple yet useful information for the artist. Describing panels is a fine balancing act between giving all the essential information and not burdening your artist with useless or restrictive directives. For example, I notice you’re usually very specific about character placement (left and right). However you often omit to frame the shot properly. In this case, you could have simply said: “Medium shot of Gabriel with his back to us, waving the couple goodbye. We can see them in the background, exiting the store, waiving back and smiling.” As you can see, I left the actual placement of the characters up to the artist: that’s his job and he’ll appreciate the freedom. Just telling him what kind of shot I want is enough. You’ll also notice I just said that Garbriel was “waiving goodbye”. I didn’t describe the position of his hand as he was doing it. In short: describing panels is a streamlining process. You need to make sure everything essential is there while eliminating anything that creates “artistic resistance”.)

Gabriel (narration): Yeah…something like that. (Like I said, cut this line out.)

Guy: Take it easy…

Gabriel: You guys have a goodnight. (There’s no reason this line shouldn’t be in the same speech balloon as the previous one. It’s essentially the same idea. Hell, you could even take it out entirely and it wouldn’t change a thing.)

[End of Page 1] (This is completely superfluous. Everyone’s gonna know page 1 is done when they see the “Page 2” header.)

(And the first page ends without us knowing the main character’s name. I think a nametag on his work shirt might have been a good way to solve this problem.)


Okay, as a page, this doesn’t work all that well, Justin. First, you have to make up your mind: either seven panels, or a nine-panel grid. Don’t leave your artist hanging out in the wind like you are. That’s only going to piss them off. Remember, the more panels you add, the smaller the panels themselves are going to be.

Next, with all of the tight shots, you’re not leaving much space for the dialogue. When you go in tight, you should also lower the amount of dialogue in the panel. Otherwise, you’re going to be cutting off crucial pieces of art, and that will destroy what you’re trying to do here.

Okay, with that being said, again, this page doesn’t work well. You haven’t established anything. I’ll give you not establishing Gabriel, as his description will be in a separate document. However, you also didn’t describe the couple for the artist. This is information they’re going to need to know, because if it’s an old couple, they’re going to sound strange with young people’s dialogue coming from their mouth.

Let’s take a look at the dialogue here. I see that you’re trying to set up the fact that the guy has an exceptional memory, but you’re also trying to be slick about it. The guy answers the question, and then gives more information than was asked. He’s from Michigan. That’s what the question was. If they asked where he was born, that’s a different question.

Finally, we talked before about learning scripting terms. The more familiar and fluent you are with the terminology, the clearer your script will be to the rest of the team. Do them and yourself a favor and learn the terminology.)

Page 2

Panel 1

[Two hours later…] (What is this? A caption? It should go below the panel description with the rest of the dialogue. Remember: captions ARE dialogue as far as comics are concerned. They’re all things that the letterer has to put in so don’t make him hunt all over for his directives.)

Gabriel’s driving home from work. The front of the car is on the right side of the panel. Close-up on Gabriel as he’s driving. (There’s a Word comment on the word “driving” containing a link to a reference picture. I was expecting a nice pic of the sort of car Gabriel is driving. Instead, I find a picture of a man driving. Reference pictures are not shorthand for panel descriptions, Justin, especially not for things as simple as “Tight shot of Gabriel driving a car as seen from the passenger’s seat.”)

Gabriel (narration): My grandma, rest in peace, use to say that everything happens for a reason… (“useD to say”)

Gabriel (narration): And that we’re all born with a special role to fill in the world. (This is basically the rest of the sentence in the first line. There’s no special impact, drama or meaning that warrants it having its own caption. If it had been the case however, you’d have wanted to start this line with an ellipsis. As it is, move it up to the previous caption.)

Panel 2

Same as Panel 1, but the angle is switched, so the front of the car is now on the left side of the panel. (Oh come on, Justin. You seem to have a great premise for your story! I know you have more imagination than this! Use more variety in your shots! Why not show us the car as it’s rolling down the street?)

Gabriel (narration): Even though I never told her about my ability to remember every detail of everything I experience…

Gabriel (narration): I would always get this feeling that she knew I was different. (See my comment about splitting captions in the previous panel. Also, if you want to put emphasis on a word, underline it instead of using italics. Those can be easily overlooked by an overworked letterer.)

Panel 3

Gabriel has parked the car and is now walking towards the front door of his house. (This reference picture is actually useful.) He has grocery bags in his hand. The view is of his back, and the driveway, car, and front of the house are visible. In terms of distance, Gabriel is in-between the car and the front door of the house. (This is simply a mess. Simplify! Better yet, I’m thinking Don could write us a more straightforward version of this panel description. Don?)

Gabriel (narration): One thing I do know is that if she was still alive, she would teach me how to bare this burden. (“Bear” not “bare”. Unless his grandma was a stripper.)

Gabriel (narration): To appreciate this gift without wondering at times if it’s really a curse. (Same comment than before. You’re just splitting up the captions because it looks cool now, don’t you?)

Panel 4

[One week ago.] (Not only am I going to ask what this is (a caption?), I’m also going to question the decision of having a flashback mid-page like this. When you’re doing time skips, always try to have them coincide with page changes. The act of switching pages adds a psychological gap that makes the time jump more digestible for the reader.)

Gabriel’s family (Gabriel, his mother, and his little brother Edgar) is sitting at the dinner table eating. They are laughing, having a good time. (So it’s a wide shot? I guess? And I shouldn’t have to. Also what are they eating? Is it breakfast, lunch or dinner? I’m asking because this will tell the artist if he needs to let the sunlight come in through the windows or to turn on the electric lights.)

Gabriel (narration): On one hand, my ability has allowed me to better look after my family.

(What’s this empty line for?)

Gabriel (narration): For instance, cooking is easy because I only have to read a recipe once.

Gabriel’s little brother: Man this is really good big bro! Your cooking is almost as good as mom’s. (Comma-fail twice)

Gabriel’s mother (laughing): Watch it mister! (Comma-fail. And wouldn’t it be easier to just call these characters “Mom” and “Edgar”?)

Gabriel’s little brother: What? I said almost! (This is another very crowded page so try to cut out what’s not absolutely necessary. This line, for instance.)

Panel 5

Gabriel is in his mother’s room, standing over her as she’s laying in bed. Gabriel is standing to the right of the panel towards the edge of the bed. (Here we have another instance of too much superfluous detail and too little actual instructions. It doesn’t really matter which side of the panel Gabriel is. You have got to let go of that image in your head and let the artist do his job. And to do his job, he’ll need to know what the camera shot is, what both characters are doing and what’s their expression.)

Gabriel (narration): And I make sure mom doesn’t forget any major dates or deadlines because everything’s stored and well organized in my head.

Gabriel: Don’t forget to call Aunt Carla tomorrow for her birthday, and to pick up your prescription refill Friday before 4pm.

Gabriel’s mother: Thank you sweetie. What would I do without you? (Comma-fail)

(Did you really need two panels to establish the positive side of his phenomenal memory? Looking at the rest of the page, it’s like you’re padding and decompressing at the same time: you have all these superfluous lines and panels and you cram them all into a single page. One essential thing you could have done in these two panels is get some names out. Unfortunately, everybody’s called “man”, “big bro”, sweetie” and “mister”. The only person who got named is Aunt Carla and I’m pretty sure we won’t ever see or hear about her again.)

Panel 6

[Two years ago.] (Another jump in time? You’re stretching the limits here, Justin!)

Gabriel is sitting on the sidewalk in front of his house. He’s holding his little sister Abigail, who was nine when she died. She was shot during a drive-by shooting by gang members. Gabriel’s crying, and his sister is laying back on him peacefully. She’s dead, but she looks as if she’s sleep. There’s a large blood-stain on the stomach area of her shirt. Close-up on them two so they are the only ones visible. (YMSP. Also this is another garbled panel description. Lisa-Marie Wilson, can you write a more streamlined version?)

Gabriel (narration): On the other hand, there are times when all I want to do is forget.

Panel 7

[One year ago.] (And now you’re done stretching the limits; you’ve broken them and they’ll never walk again. Let’s summarize: panels 1, 2 and 3 are set in the present, panels 4 and 5 are two weeks ago, panel 6 is two years ago and panel 7 is one year ago. This is incredibly CONFUSING. I won’t even get into the mechanics of which of these is a flashback inside another flashback because I need my brain to write some comics and I’d be afraid to somehow damage it. You have WAY too many time skips. Do ONE flashback, resolve it and stay in the present for a while before dropping back into flashback again. This jumping around is not only confusing, it gives the impression of rushed storytelling, like you didn’t quite properly plan out your story and are just making it up as we’re reading. You need to straighten this out. Personally I think you should drop all the flashbacks and find ways to incorporate that info into scenes that happen in the present.)

Gabriel’s in his room. (According to Google Chrome, that link for your reference pic contains malware. I’m on to you, Justin! By the way, you don’t have to give the artist a reference pic each time you switch locations, especially not for mundane places like dining rooms and bedrooms. I’m pretty sure he has enough imagination to think of a layout himself. Use reference pics for things that veer right out of the ordinary, complex buildings and machinery, exotic locales or if you’re really adamant about having an exact reproduction of the photo in your comic. Otherwise, you’re just pestering the artist with needless info and restraining his creativity.) He just woke up again due to another nightmare. (How should we know that? Did he just dream about the previous panel? You jumped around so much on this page that most readers are going to assume that the whole page was just a dream from which he just woke up… one year ago.) He (his) look and posture is that of a person who has just woke up in shock from a terrifying dream. It’s an overhead view of Gabriel lying in the bed. The alarm clock (which says 3:04am) (If it’s an overhead view, we won’t be able to see the time on the alarm clock unless Gabriel has a very special model with the time showing on top instead of in front.) is on the nightstand on the left side of the bed (and left side of the panel), which is to the right of Gabriel. (Again with the manic placement. Let it go, Justin. Your artist knows how to draw a bedroom. I’m pretty certain he has one at home.)

Gabriel (narration): Times when I need to forget. (Underline, not italics.)

[End of Page 2] (Cut this out. By the way, page 2 just ended without you telling us who any of these people are.)


Well, we’re on P2, and really, not only has no one been named, but no one really cares. Here’s what the first page does: it somewhat set up the fact that this unnamed guy has a pretty good memory. Fine. But then you drag the page out about it. You took seven panels to do what could have been done in two. That is absolutely terrible.

To be honest, you could have done these two pages in five panels. That means you have a full page of padding here, which is a crime.

Flashbacks. Flashbacks are simple: you get in, like an aside, and then you get out. You re-establish the present before going into a different flashback. The fact that you have superfluous elements here means you’re also going to confuse the hell out of your team. They won’t know what is supposed to be what. I remember you saying you were going to letter your own book/story, and that’s great. I applaud the goal. However, the script is for you, as well. It would be a shame if you confused yourself because you didn’t remember why you wrote a particular thing/element. If you study format a little more, you won’t have that problem in the future. Right now, from the script elements to the panel descriptions to the dialogue, you’re as clear as mud, and because you’re also padding, you’re dragging it out as well. This does not bode well. I can see you losing your place.

Condense. Make these two pages five panels, and get to the story already. You’re being boring, and as we all know, boring is death.

Page 3

[Present Day.] (You know what I think of this. Apart from the usual caption trouble, it seems we’re back to the present now. Did you have any way in mind of visually showing the passage of time? If a family member died two years ago, is the house gloomier? Do any of them look any older? Edgar seems pretty young and children change faster than adults so it should be apparent for him. The mom was in bed earlier – is it because she’s sick? Should we see a difference in her state of health? I’m grasping at straws here, Justin, help me out.)

Panel 1

Gabriel and his mother are in the kitchen. Gabriel is making dinner. He’s standing over a medium-sized pot on the stove as he’s stirring. His mother is to his left, leaning in front of the sink and facing him. (Once again, Justin, you’re not telling the artist what he needs to know and you’re burdening him with info he can figure out himself. Where’s the camera? What are the characters’ expressions?)

Mother: So how was your day? (She’s called “Mother” now and not “Gabriel’s mother” anymore?)

Gabriel: It was ok.

Gabriel: I’m having trouble sleeping again. The nightmares have started back. (Wait, wasn’t his nightmare “one year ago”? Or did he wait one year to tell him mom? Or did the nightmares start one year ago and have been occurring since then and it’s the first time they talk about it? If you mention nightmares now, the readers will naturally assume that you’re talking about the panel where Gabriel wakes up at night, even though the timetable makes no sense now.)

Panel 2

Close up on his mother’s face. She looks worried. (THIS works.)

Mother: Oh honey… (Why not “Gabriel”? Get a name in there! It’s now an emergency! And comma-fail.) I thought you said the pills your doctor gave you were helping.

Panel 3

Same description as in Panel 1, but the view is a little more close-up. (Really? I’m sure you can come up with a better shot than this.)

Gabriel: They are helping…with those nightmares. (Underline, not italics. Also, I can’t see why you didn’t merge this panel with the previous one. This is another 8-panel page. You need to pare things down.)

Panel 4

Close-up on Gabriel’s face. He looks worried. He’s facing his mother, although she’s not in view. (If you specify a close-up on a face, it doesn’t matter who the person is facing because we won’t see it anyway.)

Gabriel: These nightmares aren’t about Abi (Abigail)… (First of all, I don’t think it’s such a leap in logic to understand that “Abi” is the Abigail you talked about on the previous page. Second, what you’re doing here is telling the letterer what you want to appear in the speech bubble. That means Gabriel is telling his mom that “Abi” refers to her own daughter. Finally, there’s no way for the reader to connect “Abi” with the dead girl in Gabriel’s arms because she’s never been named in the dialogue. Needless to say, take out the text between parentheses.)

Panel 5

Gabriel is facing his mother, and has stopped stirring the pot. His left hand is on the knob on the stove (he’s turning the fire off), and his right hand is putting the top on the pot. (More extraneous details. “Medium shot of Gabriel facing his mother while turning the stove off and covering the pot.”No one cares about the specific hands he uses and certainly not your artist. What he’ll care about is where you want him to put the camera.)

Mother: What are they about?

Gabriel: I don’t know. I just know that in the nightmare I’m alone in a dark room and I’m in pain…a lot of pain. (Underline, not italics, and you’re missing a space after the ellipsis.)

Panel 6

Side view of Gabriel and his mother are facing each other. She’s off the sink and standing up straight. They are standing closer to each other than before.

Mother: Well make sure you go see the doctor Harrington and get checked out, ok? (That should be “Dr. Harrington” and not “the doctor Harrington”. Looks like partly deleted text to me…)

Gabriel: If they continue the rest of the week, I’ll go see him first thing Monday morning.

Panel 7

Same description as in Panel 5, but the only difference is that the view is closer, and the mother looks a little nervous. (So Gabriel is again turning off the stove and covering the pot? Sorry to seem so obtuse but that’s the kind of question you get when you keep reusing the same shots over and over. Speaking of which, anyone here have ideas for alternate shots for this scene? How about you, Rich?) She knows she’s been asking him to help out a lot lately around the house, and part of her doesn’t want to ask him for another favor. (YMSP)

Mother: Ok good. Oh, and I picked up a little over time so I’ll be in late tomorrow. You mind m—- (When acharacter gets cut off by another character, you should use a double dash, just like th– Yes, exactly like this.)

Gabriel: Not a problem mom. (Comma fail) I’ll make dinner and make sure Eddie (Edgar) takes his bath. (Gabriel gets his phenomenal memory from his mother. That’s why she doesn’t have any left and he needs to remind her her kids’ real names all the time.)

Panel 8

Still in the kitchen. (You’ve already established your scene in the kitchen. No need to repeat this information.) Gabriel’s mother is hugging him. Close-up on her face. She’s expressing joy. (If you ask for a close-up on the mother’s face, that means that her face fills the whole panel. There won’t be space enough for the reader to understand that she’s hugging Gabriel.)

Mother: Thank you thank you thank you! (Almost a comma fail but it’s debatable.)

Mother: You’re like my own guardian angel. Always there when I need you.


Okay, what does this page do? Almost nothing. He’s having nightmares, and his doctor gives him drugs for them. I remember Nightmare on Elm Street 3 (or was it 4) when Nancy was taking a drug so that she wouldn’t dream. I think it was 3, because of the 3D sequence.

Because you’re being boring about it, no one really cares about his nightmares. That’s not good, especially if they’re important. Here’s how this nightmare thing should have played out:

He says that he wants to forget at the end of P1, and then we go into a short, 2 panel nightmare sequence on P2. He wakes up with a scream/start in panel 3, and then he takes some drugs in panel 4. Then abbreviate the kitchen scene, into two or three panels. This establishes his memory, his nightmare problem, and the drugs he has to take to correct the problem. Right now, it seems the nightmares are the problem, and everything else is of little consequence. Let’s zero in on the problem instead of meandering. That moves this page more than what you have here in the flashbacks.

[End of Page 3] (Once again, no need to specify this. We’re now three quarters into what you’ve submitted. The reader has seen the first page and has read what you had to offer after the first page-turn. This is the turning point. This is where he decides if your comic goes back on the shelf or not. I’ll be honest, Justin, as it stands now, you’re not going to sell this comic. Let’s have a look back at what we’ve seen up to now. Your first scene is Gabriel astonishing a couple at the movie rental place where he works, hinting at his remarkable faculty for remembering anything. This is just enough to pique the reader’s interest and make him turn to page 2. And this is where it all comes down. Essentially, the only things of importance you’ve established is Gabriel’s family, the nightmares he has about his sister’s death and the medical treatments he’s receiving for those. All the rest of the 15 panels is fluff that can be cut out. By cutting into the fat, you can get to the juicy bits faster and sustain interest, thus prompting another page-turn from the browsing reader and maybe even a sale. Right now, you’re killing your sale with all that kitchen talk and bouncing around in time. It’s like a Doctor Who cooking show! Oh and we still don’t know the main character’s name! That’s unforgivable at this point!)Page 4

Panel 1

[The next day, 11pm.] (DUN-DUN! Sorry, Law & Order flashback. Anyway, if this is a caption, write it as a caption. Otherwise, like I’ve said before, take it out. And why is the exact time of day important all of a sudden?)

Gabriel’s mother is now in the kitchen. (Wasn’t she already in the kitchen when we left page 3?) She’s standing over two pots on the stove, one medium-sized (to the left of the stove) and the other small (to the right of the stove). (This is SO not important that it’s not even funny anymore. Now I’m thinking you’re just using this script to sell me some cooking ware.) She’s holding the top of the medium pot with her left hand, and smelling inside. She’s happy and ready to eat. (YMSP. What’s the camera angle here? That’s really all I want to know. Not which hand she’s using to lift which pot’s cover.)

Gabriel’s mother: Well doesn’t it smell good in here! (And she’s called “Gabriel’s mother” again. If you can’t show consistency from one page to the next for something as simple as characters names, how can an editor believe you’ll show any for something more complex like storylines?)

Panel 2

Gabriel’s mother is right outside of Gabriel’s room. (You have a gap in border time here. Since we don’t have any idea of the house’s floor plan, it just looks like she teleported there.) The door to his room is to the right. His mother has her left hand on the doorknob, as she has slightly opened it. The view is of his mother’s back. (According to your reference pic, you have us looking down a corridor at someone with her back to us. There has got to be a way to make this shot more interesting. Liam Hayes, are you up for it?)

Gabriel’s mother: Honey, are you still up?

Gabriel’s mother: You must have been really tired to go to sleep so ear– (YES! that’s how you use the double-dash!)

Panel 3

Gabriel is laying on the floor in front of his bed (his head is positioned to the right side of the panel, and his feet positioned to the left. He’s fully clothed with what he wore for that day. His mother is leaning over him, with her right hand on his right shoulder, trying to get him to wake up. Close-up view of her face and she is shocked and scared. (You have another gap in border time here. The last time we saw her, she was just opening his door. Now she’s already at his side, trying to shake him awake. Not to mention that the reaction shot (“Oh no, Gabe!”) is missing even if the line is part of the panel. You need to have her open the door (one panel), see Gabriel and react to him being unconscious – “Oh no!” – (another panel), and finally have her trying to do something about it (a third panel).)

Gabriel’s mother: Oh no, Gabe! (We finally have a name! A diminutive but a name nonetheless. Still, too little too late now.)

Mother: Wake up honey! Wake up! (Comma-fail)

Mother: Lord I can’t lose him too… (And again.)

Panel 4

[The emergency room, later that evening…] (Is this a caption again? Yes, it’s probably a caption.)

Gabriel and his mother are in the hospital room with the doctor. Gabriel’s sitting on the bed. He looks a little tired, but fine health-wise. Gabriel’s mother is standing to Gabriel’s left (she’s on the right side of the panel). She looks very worried. The doctor is standing to Gabriel’s right, facing Gabriel and his mother. He’s calm. (I can understand the use of a reference pic for the hospital exam room: it’s filled with exotic instruments and furniture. However, I can’t see why you’d need to give your artist a picture of a doctor. It’s just a smiling guy in a white lab coat with a stethoscope. If you want to describe characters, do it in another document and save yourself both the space and the trouble in your script. Another thing: you’d have a lot less trouble telling the artist where everything is if you just followed a simple rule: describe panels from left to right or from front to back. That way you won’t have to struggle anymore with people on the left side of a panel but at the right side of another character.)

Dr. Harrington: His vitals are normal, and the tests were negative. (Comma-fail)

Dr. Harrington: But just to be safe, we’ll keep him overnight. (Why change speech bubbles here? It’s basically the same idea going on.)

Mother: Ok, then I’ll stay overnight. (Find another way to say this. As it stands now, the repetition of the word “overnight” just sounds clumsy.)

Panel 5

Same as Panel 4, just a closer view. (Are you running out of steam, Justin? Because you seem to be doing more and more of these “same panel but closer” deals. You need to expand your visual vocabulary and learn some new ways to frame a shot. Comics are a static medium – they’re just pictures – but we need to somewhat give the impression of vivacity. One of the ways to accomplish this is by varying your camera angles from panel to panel.)

Gabriel: Really mom, I’m good. You need to go home and get some rest. I’ll be home tomorrow. (Comma-fail)

Dr. Harrington: Out of all of the things I’ve learned in preparing to become a doctor, the most important thing by far has been to listen to your mother!

Dr. Harrington: I’ve just been paged. I’ll be right back.

Panel 6

Dr. Harrington is walking down the hallway. Front view of the doctor as he is walking towards the reader. A nurse, standing to his right (left of the panel), hands him his pager that he misplaced. She uses her left hand, and he takes it with his right hand. Back view of the nurse, as she’s facing the doctor. The doctor is smiling, glad to have found his pager. (You got YMSP in this panel (the parts I put in blue) and once again you’re getting confusing with all the left hand/right hand business. If it wasn’t for that, you’d have a much simpler and efficient panel description.)

Nurse: Doctor Harrington! Here’s your pager. I told you probably left it in the cafeteria. (This sentence needs some rewriting to make any sense.)

Dr. Harrington: Thanks Marlene. (Comma-fail) Where would I be without you?

Panel 7

Dr. Harrington is outside in the parking lot. There are a few people going in and out of the hospital, but no one’s paying attention to the doctor. He has a semi-serious look on his face. He’s holding the cell phone with his left hand, and has it up to his left ear. (Not going to say it…)Front view of the doctor as he is facing the reader.

Dr. Harrington: Yeah?

Person on the phone (If it’s your Big Bad Villain at the other end of the line, then come out and say it. There’s isn’t any sense in trying to preserve suspense in a comic script because the only other people who will see it are the rest of your creative team and you shouldn’t hide anything from them. Also, if the other person is on the phone, this should be what we call an “electric” or “radio” speech bubble.): So how’s our patient?

Dr. Harrington: Not good at all. He’s starting to remember.

Person on the phone: What!? (When using an interrobang, the interrogation mark usually comes first. Here’s a link for all your comic typography questions by the way: But you said the medicine was effective!

Dr. Harrington: It was. (Underline, not italics.) But his ability…has evolved (Same here) to where soon the medicine’s effects will be rendered obsolete. (“Obsolete” – I’m really not sure about this word. Technology, processes, ideas, even people can become obsolete, but “effects”? The medicine can become obsolete, but not its effects.)

(When doing back-and-forth dialogue between two characters, try to limit the exchange to one person speaking, the other replying and the first one replying again – no more than three lines of dialogue. Anything more and it gets unwieldy. Not only that, but in your particular case you’re trying to cram five speech bubbles inside the seventh panel of an 8-panel grid. You’re already running out of space on the page; there’s no way the artist will have room to show any art in this panel.)

Panel 8

Semi-close-up on Dr. Harrington’s face, as he looks a little more serious. (It might be a personal pet peeve but I have real trouble with “semi-close-ups”. I prefer either a tight shot – a shot that shows something specific while still showing a bit of scenery around it – or a medium shot – a shot that shows a good portion of something even though it still spills out of the frame. “Semi-close-up” sounds too vague to me; it’s too easy to confuse it with a genuine close-up.)

Person on the phone: I see. Well it’s time we started doing things my way. (Underline not italics)

Person on the phone: Are you prepared to do what’s necessary, doctor?

Dr. Harrington is looking at a pill he just pulled from his right pocket of his doctor’s robe. The pocket is to the left of the panel. It’s an overhead view, and only the pill, his right hand, the right side of his coat, and the right pocket are visible. (In a perfect world, this would be another panel. In our sadly imperfect world, this is in fact the ninth panel in your already very crowded page. Apart from this issue, there’s also the fact that the shot you’re asking for is impossible. Evan Windsor, care to tell us why?)

Dr. Harrington: Consider it done.

[End of Page 4] (No.)


And here we are with the 4th page. You know what you’ve set up? Absolutely nothing. Here’s what you did: you had his mother enter his room and freak out. Why was she freaking out? I don’t know. He was sleeping. It just so happened that he was sleeping on the floor. He didn’t look discombobulated. He was just very, very tired. Then, you switch to the hospital. Then, you have an impossibility! The doctor said he was paged, but how would he know when he doesn’t have his pager? It’s given to him in the next panel by the nurse. (Why the nurse gets named immediately and no one else does is beyond me.) Then, we start following the doctor? Of course it’s cliché that he gets to be the bad guy, but really? Did he have to be? And did you need 8 (really 9) panels to get all of this done? No, you didn’t.

Let’s run this down.

Format: Not good. You have extraneous elements that are going to confuse you and your team. Format is the easiest part of scripting. Study harder.

Panel Descriptions: Terrible. You’re giving unnecessary information to the artist, and not telling what is really important. Describe things from left to right. If you go from left to right, then you’ll always know where everything is. If you go from left to right and then back to left and then finally end up in the middle, then you’re wrong. You won’t win many friends that way.

Pacing: Terrible, and that’s being kind. You took four pages to do what could have been done in three. Let’s say that you needed the space anyway. It’s still terrible because you have flashbacks that don’t do anything or go anywhere, and possibly a flashback within a flashback. I don’t know, that’s just how it seems. You’ve overcrowded the pages because you’re trying to get things done in 4 pages, but at the same time, you’re filling those pages with crap that is unimportant. Like I said, terrible, and that’s being kind.

Dialogue: Bad. I’m not going to call it terrible, but it definitely isn’t something I’d want to read. Most of it seems pointless, and you don’t even begin to get near “interesting” until the last page—and that’s cliched crap. Since most of this has to be ripped out, anyway, it doesn’t matter, but you have to be more interesting, less cliched, and you have to do it faster, Justin.

I also have a problem with no one being named in this script. You gave yourself more than enough opportunities to use names in an organic way, and you squandered them. If I don’t know a name, how am I supposed to identify with a character? If I don’t identify with a character how am I supposed to feel for their plight? All this, from using a name.

Content: As a reader, I wouldn’t follow this. I can see you trying too hard. To use my daughter’s vernacular, you have your try-hard pants on. It’s not doing you any favors. You can be seen trying hard to be interesting by being mysterious. This is neither. Any drama that could have been here was sucked out with the pedestrian scenes, or the confusing scenes, or the dragged out scenes. No, this would not be followed.

Editorially, this is a mess, and needs to be worked from the ground up. (I think I’ve said this a lot lately.) Besides the fat being trimmed, the interesting part of this story needs to be found and built upon. Right now, its missing. The editor needs to sit down with you and find out what it is you want to accomplish, and work with you to get there. Right now, if you were to put this into production, it would be a waste of time, money, and effort.

You need a better foundation. I suggest re-reading the first 12 installments of B&N. If you have any questions, ask. I’ll be more than happy to answer.

And that’s all there is for this week. 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 (27)

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  1. Kurt Love says:

    Steve, great um…criticism. I agree with almost all of what you said. What I would like to add is this: from a writing standpoint, writers should just stick to the story points and nuances of the story to move it along to the conclusion. If this writer has that many notes about stage-setting and motions, he should be doing thumbnails (ala Keith Giffen) not just for the artist but for himself, to work out some of the ideas he has and realize that a lot of it is inconsequential. on the bright side, he did put a lot of words on paper, and if he is open to your criticism, can create clean, polished and successful scripts.

  2. Hey Steven,

    Thank you so much for taking the time to go through my script and provide feedback in such great detail! I’ll address these issues, and reach out to my artist to make sure I’m doing a better job to make his job (and life, lol!) easier. Your investment in and feedback on my script was invaluable and greatly appreciated; so again, thank you.

    • Conner MacDonald says:

      Also some help to be found in the ComixTribe’s forums!

      Check it out! Bring your friends. Spam the internet.

      As far as your panel descriptions, and camera placements are concerned, check this page out (Particularly the static shots portion).

      These are the terms I personally like to use. I myself write very talkative comic scripts, there is lots of sitting around talking. Which is difficult for me as writer to visualize in an interesting way, which is why I think you have lots of the same shots, some times just closer then before. Its tough to make it look interesting.
      That’s why you have to trust your artist to make it, not so dull. Don’t try to make it interesting yourself, let the artist do what he’s there to do. Don’t bog him down with details, let him breath life into it himself…

      Did I mention the Forums?

  3. Liam Hayes says:

    I’ve cracked it! It’s good Steven (blue), bad Steven (red). What do I win?

    “Gabriel’s mother is right outside of Gabriel’s room. (You have a gap in border time here. Since we don’t have any idea of the house’s floor plan, it just looks like she teleported there.) The door to his room is to the right. His mother has her left hand on the doorknob, as she has slightly opened it. The view is of his mother’s back. (According to your reference pic, you have us looking down a corridor at someone with her back to us. There has got to be a way to make this shot more interesting. Liam Hayes, are you up for it?)”

    I’d put the camera in Gabriel’s room and angle it at the door, making the contents of the room off-panel. Gabriel’s mother peering in through the slighty open door with a shocked expression, plus the cut-off dialogue, would make a great page-turner.


  4. DonU says:

    “Panel 3

    Gabriel has parked the car and is now walking towards the front door of his house. (This reference picture is actually useful.) He has grocery bags in his hand. The view is of his back, and the driveway, car, and front of the house are visible. In terms of distance, Gabriel is in-between the car and the front door of the house. (This is simply a mess. Simplify! Better yet, I’m thinking Don could write us a more straightforward version of this panel description. Don?)”

    I’ll give it a go. How about something like this?

    A medium shot looking at the front of Gabriel’s house. The car is parked in the driveway on the left. Gabriel, with his grocery bags in hand, and his back to the reader, is halfway to the front door.

    • Thanks Donu. I guess I’ve been thinking that being more descriptive would not only help the artist (so they wouldn’t guess as much), but it would also help me to better learn how to script. But it seems like what matters is in what areas I’m being descriptive, and making sure the artist only receives information that’s useful while allowing them sufficient room for creativity.

  5. Evan Windsor says:

    Dr. Harrington is looking at a pill he just pulled from his right pocket of his doctor’s robe. The pocket is to the left of the panel. It’s an overhead view, and only the pill, his right hand, the right side of his coat, and the right pocket are visible. (In a perfect world, this would be another panel. In our sadly imperfect world, this is in fact the ninth panel in your already very crowded page. Apart from this issue, there’s also the fact that the shot you’re asking for is impossible. Evan Windsor, care to tell us why?)

  6. Yannick Morin says:

    There’s something in your script that reminds me of what Kyle showed us two weeks ago. It seems we see the same superfluous banter taking up panels – even pages – and delaying the real start of the story. Fundamentally, I think this is a problem related to characterization.

    Basically I think what you’re trying to do is to show us who Gabriel is by having him interact with other characters in different situations, hoping that the sum of these interactions will help paint a proper picture of who Gabriel is. The problem with this approach is that characterization is essentialy a sub-category of exposition and is thus susceptible to the same failings like info-dumping, butler-maiding and padding.

    So the solution is to introduce characterization into the story in a non-intrusive organic manner. The way you do it is to insert that information into elements that advance the plot while striving for economy of panels and dialogue. That is: you don’t stop the play to introduce the players.

    First let’s go through a list of what the reader needs to know about Gabriel:

    1. His name is Gabriel
    2. He has a phenomenal memory bordering on the supernatural
    3. He lives with his mother annd little brother Edgar
    4. He used to have a sister who got kiled in a drive-by shooting
    6. He has nightmares
    7. He’s taking medication for his nightmares
    8. he has blackouts

    What the reader doesn’t need to know:

    1. He’s a good cook
    2. Aunt Carla’s birthday is coming up
    3. His grandmother used to be a very wise women
    4. His mother sometimes works late

    As suggested above, his name could have been squared away in the first page by sticking a name tag to his chest. His super-memory power is also getting established in the first page. As thus, apart from the few extraneous lines of dialogue, the first page is doing its job fine.

    Trouble starts at page 2 when you start meandering into flashbacks and trivial dinner talk. The diner setting was a good idea because it’s a classic and efficient way to establish familial bonds. Scrap the driving bits and start your page with an establishing shot of the house (giving us an idea of the socio-economic status of the family) with voice-over dialogue to start the scene right away. Then show us a nice wide shot of the family having dinner. If you want to get melodramatic, you can lay out an extra cover for Abigail. You can even have a family picture on the wall with the mom and the three children but no dad. In one shot we’ve established the links between all these characters. The dialogue in this page should be about Gabriel’s nightmares – in a very basic straightforward way:

    Panel 1 – Establishing shot of the house
    GABRIEL: I’ve been having nightmares again.

    Panel 2 – Wide shot of the family having dinner
    MOM: Is this about Abby?
    EDGAR: I don’t want to talk about Abby.

    Panel 3
    GABRIEL: No, it’s something weird that I don’t understand.
    MOM: You should talk to Dr. harrington. Have you taken your medication?

    Panel 3
    GABRIEL: Yes. But– Ugh…

    And Gabriel blacks out on panel 4. That means you can start page three already at the hospital and you’re done characterizing Gabriel in just under two pages. No flashbacks, no cooking. All of the characterization has been accomplished through plot-driven dialogue, art and plausible events.

    More importantly, you have something actually happening on page 2 to keep your readers interested. If you finish your third page with the nurse running after a very preoccupied Dr. Harrington to give him his pager – thus proving he lied about receiving a page – you’ll succeed into making your reader curious enough to flip to page 4.

    Always finish a page with something prompting your reader to start the next one.

    I hope this helps, Justin!

    • Wow Yannick, this helps a ton! It really helped when you laid out what the reader needs and does not need to know about Gabriel, and your “remix” of the pages and panels make a ton of sense! LOL it got me WAY more interested in my own character! I can see much better what my “hang up” is regarding proving too much superfluous information and not focusing enough on what’s important. Again, thank you thank you thank you!

      • Yannick Morin says:

        Glad to be of service, Justin!

        And like Conner said, stop by the ComixTribe forum and join the chatter. You’ll find lots of writers there always willing to help and exchange ideas.

        Don’t forget to come back to the TPG next week to join in discussing a new script!

        • Conner MacDonald says:

          Honestly, reading TPG’s, and all the other articles here on the site is a resource that should not be wasted.

          And the reason I’m pushing the forums, is that its such a great resource for all of us. The bigger the community, the more opinions we have, the more work we all have to examine together, the better we’ll all get.

  7. Evan Windsor says:

    “Dr. Harrington is looking at a pill he just pulled from his right pocket of his doctor’s robe. The pocket is to the left of the panel. It’s an overhead view, and only the pill, his right hand, the right side of his coat, and the right pocket are visible. (In a perfect world, this would be another panel. In our sadly imperfect world, this is in fact the ninth panel in your already very crowded page. Apart from this issue, there’s also the fact that the shot you’re asking for is impossible. Evan Windsor, care to tell us why?)”

    There’s no single thing about this that screams WRONG to me, so I’m just going to shotgun some smaller nitpicks and hopefully come up with what Steve was getting at.

    In order to show him “looking at” something, his face (really just the eyes, I suppose) must be in shot. You’ve just shown a close up of his hand. The “looking” is gone.

    Secondly, pantomime this action: pulling something out of your pocket, turning up your palm to look at it. When I do this action, the hand comes straight up to just above the pocket and then opens. While it would be possible for someone to move their hand to the side or way out in front, I think the standard action would be straight up, then stopping and opening right above. When done naturally like this, the hand will likely obstruct the pocket.

    In a true overhead shot, you’d see mostly the top of his shoulder. The shot you described is more likely an ELEVATED shot. High, angled downward, but not 90 degrees straight down. Alternately, you may be wanting a POV shot.

  8. I’m here, folks! I’m just pressed for time right now. I’ll be getting with you all soon.

    Thanks for your patience.

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