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TPG Week 100: Making The Switch Is A Challenge

| November 23, 2012


Welcome, one and all, to another installment of The Proving Grounds! We have a new Brave One in Ronnie Massey, who’s also a novelist!

A little housekeeping before we get to it, though. This is something of a milestone, in that this is the 100th installment of TPG. That’s all due to you. However, we’re also coming up on the second anniversary of the column, and we have enough scripts to fill it, once again, due to all of you. So, thank you for that.

This is also Thanksgiving Week. As you can see, the column is posted. Call it my own version of “thank you” for continuing to submit to the column. You’re probably tired of hearing me say it, but without you, there is no column.

Since it IS Thanksgiving week, I want to give a special thanks to both Yannick Morin and Steve Colle, who have taken on the blue edits this past year. You both have been a tremendous help not just to me, but to the column in general. Thank you.

Okay, enough. People might start to think I’m a nice guy or something. We’ve got Steve Colle on the blue, me on the red, and Ronnie telling a tale of



Page One (4 panels)

Panel 1: Establishing shot. This is the largest panel. It’s a cold, crisp night in downtown, Atlanta. (Can you provide a visual reference of the location? Also, you refer to a cold, crisp night, but don’t specify a season. Not being from that area or knowing of its climate, does it snow there? Is it autumn? Try to give more information.) The full moon is high in the sky. In the center of the page is Tessaray ‘Tess’ Montez. She only has one good eye. An eye patch covers the eye that is on our right. The world around her is grey and slightly out of focus. Tess has a hoodie on, is wearing headphones, has her saddlebag thrown over a shoulder, and is walking with her head facing the ground on a crowded, tree-lined, sidewalk. The side closest to the street is dotted with streetlights and on the opposite side there is a building. In the background we can see a tall building looming. Tess looks like she’s lost in her thoughts and oblivious to the world around her. (Something I’d suggest here is to concentrate on one thing at a time in your panel descriptions. You jump from describing the setting to talking about Tess and then flip flop back and forth. Get the details down of one thing at a time.)

CAPTION: “It’s funny. (My question would be: Is the “It’s funny” comment necessary or does it cut the dramatic potential of simply going straight for the next sentence?) Sometimes the only way that I can find peace and quiet is to surround myself with other(s) people…”

CAPTION: “… (to) get lost in the crowd.” (This little tidbit may just bite you in the posterior as it’s establishing that she’s surrounded by people, but what follows?)

Panel 2: Establishing shot for next location. (You don’t need to have an establishing shot of the alleyway unless it’s no longer in the immediate vicinity or same time period. For example, you have an ES of downtown Atlanta. Then you go to a shot of the countryside or a shot of the downtown again, but this time it’s first thing in the morning. In the pattern that you’re following, you could literally have a new establishing shot every time the character enters a new locale, such as another alleyway or the interior of one of the shops. You only need one establishing shot per scene.) Tess is now walking down an alley. We’re looking at her from the reader’s POV, as if we are on the far end of the alley. (Where is Tess in relation to foreground, middle ground, and background? Is she near us, halfway towards us, or way in the distance? Give us more information.) The tall sides of the buildings block the moonlight. The alley isn’t filthy or over-crowded, just dark with little light filling the area. There are four doors opening to the alley, backdoors from stores or restaurants. One of the doors is open, providing the only light that shines into the alley. There are smaller metal trashcans next to the doors. At the end of the alley farthest away from Tess, there is a large, open dumpster with a few boxes showing. There is a metal fire escape, with high rails and multiple landings that zig and zag up the side of the adjacent -building, across the alley from the dumpster. The ladder that lowers people to the ground is very high off of the ground, too far for anyone to reach from below. Held aloft by a pulley system with what looks like a bucket attached to the end of it to keep it weighted.

(I noticed you jumped from the main strip to the alley without a transition in action. Could she be just turning into the alley or have a panel that conveys that action before you express it in the next panel? You don’t really want to show her about to turn in the first panel because that takes away from the effect of her walking towards us.)

Panel 3: This is a close-up of Tess’s face. The hair around her face is sticking out from under her hood in one direction as if it is being blown by the wind. She has the eyebrow of her good eye, arched. She suspects that she is not alone. (Is she looking straight ahead or is her good eye looking to the side in suspicion, with her mouth curled up on the edges in a smirk?)

TESS:Hmm. (Unnecessary. Let the visual speak for this.) Let’s see who’s (down) here. (This dialogue seems out of place. It has nothing to do with your initial comment about getting lost in the crowd. It also makes the whole initial caption on this page moot as she has gone from the crowd to immediately being in the alley away from people. Plan out your dialogue and actions so they coincide, not counter one another.)

Panel 4: This is the second largest panel on the page. Tess has stopped walking. She is pushing back the hood of her hoodie with one hand and has lifted her eye-patch with the other. Her glass eye is glowing bright-blue. In front of her, Hansel’s transparent blue form is floating above the ground. Hansel has a thick beard and is dressed in a short-sleeved, white button-up shirt, and short lederhosen, typical Oktoberfest garb. He has his hands folded across his chest and he is frowning. (I question the location of the camera as you have it looking face on at both Tess and Hansel. If it weren’t face on, we wouldn’t really see the fact that she’s lifted her patch or seen what Hansel looks like from the front. Are they facing each other? Is Hansel’s back to her, with him being in the foreground and she in the middle ground/background? Questions to make you think.)

CAPTION: “(Add ellipsis here) Because the instant I’m by myself, all sorts of things begin to appear (“happen” is the usual expected ending to this sentence, which works just as well and reads better. Also, end with an ellipsis. See below).” (This is the kind of dialogue that should immediately follow what you established in panel 1. Instead, you have it paced three panels later and placed after a section of verbalized speech. This throws the whole thing off. This could have even replaced your verbalized dialogue.)

TESS: How long have you been following me, Hansel?

Generally speaking, this is not a good first page. There is nothing pulling the reader in, either in the visuals or the text. No action. No suspense. No building hook. Nothing. As a matter of fact, you had an opportunity for a minor hook (not a “first page“ hook, but a hook nonetheless) with the following sequence: Tess walks into the alley (long shot) and, in close-up, smirks knowingly as she looks to the side and says “How long have you been following me, Hansel?” End page. We only find out on the next page who Hansel is. Could it be a person? A cat? It leaves with a question, and that’s what you want to have to encourage the reader to turn the page. Is there more you could have done with the dialogue? Yes. What you have right now is this: “CAPTION: Sometimes the only way I can find peace and quiet is to surround myself with others…” “…because the instant I’m by myself, all sorts of things begin to happen…”, then “TESS: How long have you been following me, Hansel?” It works like this, but it’s basic. Give us more meat to chew on. Go into an internal monologue. That said, you need to make it “real”, not forced. That’s the challenge.

We’ve got P1 on the books! How did the novelist do?

Well, the novelist did as novelists do…over-write. Panel 1’s description has 135 words, panel 2, 186, panel 3 has 47, and panel 4 has 84.

Most panel descriptions (pd’s) can be done in about 50 words or less. Most of what’s in the first two panels is useless information. Let’s take a look at it.

Panel 1: Establishing shot (Good). This is the largest panel (A little wordy, but good.). It’s a cold, crisp night in downtown, Atlanta (Is it cold or crisp? And how is that going to be drawn by the artist?) The full moon is high in the sky (I don’t dislike full moon’s, but they’re awfully cliché.). In the center of the page is Tessaray ‘Tess’ Montez (She’s the main character, so I hope she’s here. However, her entire name isn’t needed. The artist knows who she is. They should already have done the character design.). She only has one good eye (Unnecessary. The reader should be able to see it.). An eye patch covers the eye that is on our right (Unnecessary.). The world around her is grey and slightly out of focus (Why? What purpose does this serve from a storytelling point of view? If it’s just to look cool, then it fails.). Tess has a hoodie on (If this is her standard mode of dress, it’s unnecessary.), is wearing headphones, has her saddlebag thrown over a shoulder, and is walking with her head facing the ground on a crowded, tree-lined, sidewalk (What’s everyone else wearing?). The side closest to the street is dotted with streetlights and on the opposite side there is a building (What kind of building? Actually, is the building really necessary?). In the background we can see a tall building looming (This is the important building, maybe. I haven’t read ahead yet. It’s probably useless info, but I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt.). Tess looks like she’s lost in her thoughts and oblivious to the world around her (Kinda hard to get that across, or even the eye-patch, if her head is down with a hoodie on).

Can I get this to 50 words or under? Let’s find out. (I feel like Mr. Owl trying to get to the Tootsie Roll center of a Tootsie Pop…)

Panel 1: Establishing shot. Large panel. Cold night in downtown Atlanta. Tess, wearing a hoodie and headphones, is headed toward us, head down. Her saddlebag is thrown over a shoulder. The sidewalk is crowded with people. There is a tall building behind her.

Okay, that’s 41 words, and it gets to the heart of the panel without getting into the fluff. Since I wasn’t too sure about that looming building, I kept it, but since I don’t know what role it plays, I left it plain, removing the adjective. Could my version be better? Sure. If I knew what the buildings were supposed to be doing, I could add those in. I could even stretch out the pd a bit and add the full moon, but like I said, it’s a cliché.

This is the problem that novelists-turned-scripters run into the first few times they write a script. They’re so used to these sprawling descriptions that they put in a lot of fluff. Get in and get out. Let the artist strut their stuff, as well.

Panel 2 is even worse. If that fire escape isn’t used, it is TRULY fluff.

That’s for the panel descriptions. Let’s talk about the dialogue.

Those captions with the quotation marks? Those are voice-over captions, which means she’s talking to someone. So, one of two things is going on here: either this is happening in the past and she’s just telling a story, or it’s an internal monologue. If it’s the former, then it’s correct; if the latter, then it’s wrong. Internal monologues don’t get quotation marks.

I’m seeing the potential for this page, but I’m also not seeing Steve’s point. Well, not the whole point. I think the problem is pacing. I don’t know if I would have put all of this on one page. I’d probably have the “reveal” of panel 4 be a splash page, but that’s only after building it up for five or six panels on P1. I haven’t seen P2 yet, but I’m thinking there was a missed opportunity here.

Page Two (4 Panels)

Panel 1: Reader’s POV, Medium shot. Tess and Hansel are in the same alley, standing close to the one open door. Tess’s eye-patch is flipped up, her eye glowing as she talks to Hansel, who has his shoulders shrugged. Tess’s facial expression makes one think that she is aggravated at being followed. Hansel expression looks like doesn’t understand why she is irked. (What is the purpose of this panel? It’s slowing things down. Go straight to the next panel visual. Why? Due to the fact you’ve established in the previous page that she was smirking (the way I added to your description), which means she knows him and continues the smile because of that familiarity.)

CAPTION: “If you’re a medium, communing with ghosts and spirits is easy. I’m not, therefore I have to cheat a little. My enchanted eye lets me see things that most people will never know exist.” (This is thrown at us from out in left field. Why are you telling us this? This doesn’t sound like something she would be saying in self-talk. This was placed there for the “benefit” of the reader. However, in doing so, you’re spoon-feeding us information that sounds unnatural and doesn’t flow from what has been said before. Is it important that we know this information? No. We learn just by looking at her artificial eye that this allows her to see things that others can’t. Let the story tell the story without interjecting and throwing us off track.)

HANSEL: I’ve been with you since you left home.

TESS: And the get-up?

HANSEL: It’s October.

(These three pieces of dialogue work for me because they have conversational interest. You establish two things: How long she’s been followed and why he’s dressed the way he is. It’s casual and real. Keep it. However, this needs to move to the next panel, which should be the new Panel 1, so you have Hansel, then Tess, then Hansel again, then Tess again.)

Panel 2: Tess smiles at Hansel who is still floating in front of her. (Facing her or back to her?)

TESS: Of course. That explains it all. So, why the escort tonight, Hansel? Do you need a drinking buddy? (Get rid of this…)

HANSEL: No drinking tonight, although the offer to use your body is very tempting. (… And this. This is completely unnecessary and doesn’t add to the story. It’s filler.)

(If you follow my suggestions here, you’ll have a working panel with dialogue. But I’ll tell you now, a panel does not a page make, especially in this case. Read on.)

Panel 3: Tess has her hands on her hips and she looks aggravated. (… Or to be feigning aggravation. Is she REALLY annoyed with him?) Hansel has a finger on his chin. He’s got one eyebrow arched and is biting his lip as if he’s thinking very hard about something. (I’m not understanding the value of this panel. It’s like it was thrown in there to have extra panels and extra dialogue, but neither are important to moving the story forward.)

TESS: So what do you want?

HANSEL: Now that you’ve brought (it) up, I think a beer would do–

TESS: Hansel, please. Just answer the question.

(This verbal exchange is comparable to air in a chip bag. It gives the illusion that something is being said when nothing really is, leaving the reader disappointed.)

Panel 4: Hansel points over Tess’s shoulder. (Where is he in relation to the camera? Is the camera looking at him as he points behind her? Is the camera next to his finger as it follows the trajectory to the object he is pointing to? Be specific.) Behind her we can see the outline of a trench coat-clad body, walking out of the shadows, coming toward Tess. We can’t make out who or what the person is. (We can’t imitate walking in a static panel save for the positioning of the legs, one in front of the other. Something to consider when describing your panels.)

HANSEL (BURST): You’re being followed by a vampire! (This is NOT good. Yes, you’ve used the BURST effectively, but what’s being said is staged and long winded. Where’s the dramatic tension? The horror? Create that sense of emotional impact by screaming out “V-VAMPIRE!!” There’s a quiver in his voice as he says it. Right now it’s matter-of-fact information that he’s providing her. “So what do you want?” she asks. “You’re being followed by a vampire,” he responds. No emotion save for the exclamation mark. I’m comparing this in my mind to old Scooby-doo cartoons and trying to determine which of the two statements would be most likely used in that scenario of exaggerated panic. I can actually hear Shaggy screeching “V-V-V-VAMPIRE!!!” Again, create emotion and, for the love of God, don’t feed the reader pablum.)

This page had very little substance. Two panels got taken out because they just didn’t belong, leaving you with, what I had suggested, a visual from the last panel of the last page (in order to create that hook), a panel of Tess smiling at Hansel, and this last panel. Three panels that move very quickly. What can you do to move the story forward while giving the reader a story to begin with? That’s for you to figure out, preferably with editorial guidance.)

We’ve got P2 down, and really, there isn’t much here.

What we do have could be construed as a moving panel, though.

First, let’s deal with the pacing. Two pages that are four panels each make for a fast read.

Is there fluff? Mmmmeh. I wouldn’t call it fluff as much as I would say that you’re revealing character. However, the problem becomes that it’s moving too fast. P1 has her talking about feeling alone in a crowd or somesuch, only to turn down an alley for no apparent reason. After she does that, she lifts her patch (sounds dirty!) and reveals a ghost. A ghost that she knows.

The problem with this page is that it wasn’t adequately set up in the previous one. There’s no reason for her to head down here, let alone lift the patch, so there’s no reason for this scene.

Now, the stalking vampire… Where did it come from? Good storytelling would have the vampire seen in panel 1, even if the camera isn’t focused on it. This way, it isn’t magically delicious later. (Unless it’s one of the Subspecies type of vampires that could teleport/fly via shadows.)

What we have is bad storytelling from P1 that’s spilling over to P2. You could have the conversation that’s establishing character as long as there was a valid reason for the ghost reveal. That reason isn’t apparent on P1.

I think more character should have been revealed here. Here’s what we know about Hansel: he’s a ghost/sprite/whatever, he likes alcohol, and is randy (or at least seems that way). Since he took his time getting to the vampire thing, he could either be playful or he could be forgetful. Which one would be up to you, but if this were more properly paced, you’d have the space to do it.

Dialogue: the exposition is killing me. There was this show that I never watched called 7th Heaven, where they would make their points by clubbing people over the head with the message. It was terrible, and it stayed on for more seasons than it should have. This is like that: in telling about the special power, you clubbed the reader over the head with the info. I’m hoping that it gets more interesting, because there is something to understand: no one cares about how she got it, no one cares that she has it—we only care WHY she has it. See the difference?

Exposition is fine, but it shouldn’t be a club. You’re wielding it like a club. You have to learn to be subtle.

Page Three (6 panels)

Panel 1: Tess is running down the alley towards the fire escape. (Where’s the camera, in front of her or in back?) She’s got one hand shoved into her saddlebag as she runs. Hansel is floating behind her. He looks worried whereas Tess looks like she’s calm and knows exactly what she’s going. (So, a couple of points here. First, you say that she’s running down the alley, which, to me, means that she is running away from the camera towards the background. However, you then describe the expressions on both Hansel and Tess’ faces, meaning they are running towards the foreground. Which is it? Second, this is a facing page to your “VAMPIRE!” hook, so what happens here has to happen right away. What you’ve done is have her already in mid-run, but you’ve forgotten to get her out of the starting gate, to show her reaction to what he says and to get ready to run. In other words, you missed a step.)

HANSEL: Schneller Kind!

TESS: English, Hansel. Not German.

(Air in the ol’ chip bag…) (It’s October and he’s wearing hose…German is perfectly acceptable, methinks.)

Panel 2: This is an extreme close-up of Tess’ hand as she pulls a small, compact-crossbow out of her saddlebag. The crossbow has a grappling hook loaded on it. (Okay, so here’s a bit of a problem with the pacing of actions. In this panel, she is pulling the grappling hook gun out of the bag. Fine. But what about aiming it, a step you missed? Here’s where the first panel could have killed two birds with one stone. She didn’t have to spend “X” amount of time in the bag because she knew exactly what she was reaching for, so what you should have done is have her pulling the gun out in that panel. In this panel, she has the gun aimed up and fires. Which leads to…)

Panel 3: Tess has fired the crossbow and hooked the fire escape. She’s in mid-climb on the dangling rope. Hansel is below her, looking towards the ground. (This is a two-step panel, two steps because she hooks and THEN climbs. You can’t do both simultaneously. Also, regarding Hansel, you state that he is below her, but where exactly? “Below her” on the ground or “below her” as in right behind her? Specify.)

ANSEL (BURST): Faster!

TESS: Don’t worry. I’ve done this a few times.

(More filler. If you’re going to have dialogue, make it something like “Where did that thing come from?” and “How should I know?” Move the story and move the reader. If she were like Blade the Vampire Hunter, she probably would have charged the creature, but instead she’s running, so you have to have a reaction that suits that flight reflex.)

Panel 4: This panel is a small, long-shot silhouette of Tess flipping over the metal rail of the fire escape.

Panel 5: This panel is another small, long-shot silhouette. Tess is on another landing of the fire escape.

(Both panels 4 and 5 can be combined into one panel with multiple actions shown in a sequence of movements. By having the direction to the artist to fade the first few flips and solidify the final position of the character’s body, you are showing a series of fast actions. By having them in one panel instead of multiple panels, you quicken the pace of the motions.)(I like to call it “ghosting.”)

Panel 6: This is a medium shot, reader’s POV. We’re looking at down on Tess from behind. (I’m confused with the way you’ve erroneously written “at down on”. Where is the camera? Is it above her looking down on her? Watch for errors like this.) She’s reached the top of the building and is pulling herself up over the edge. We can see Hansel floating in front of her. The rooftop is a wide open space with no visible doors in sight. There is only a large, square ventilation box in the center of the rooftop, and the gravel coating that covers the roof. At the far side of the rooftop we can see a taller building that looks like it is connected to the building that Tess is climbing onto.

HANSEL: Far be it from (for) me to question your expertise, but vampires can fly. Why are you going up? (See the next comments with regards to this line of questioning.)

TESS: Dumping the vamp on a rooftop will make sure (that) when the sun rises, the body will turn to ash. / (Separate balloon) No body, no crime. (I feel like you’re explaining things that are obvious to the average reader. Most people know that a vampire will burn in sunlight, so why go out of your way to tell us what we already know? Take the opportunity to make a comment such as “TESS (WHISPER): C’mon, you freaking blood-sucker. The sun’ll be up soon and there’s nowhere to hide up here.” You’re basically saying the same thing, but in a more effective, reader friendly way. Another problem is the time of day. It’s nighttime, as you’ve established. So when exactly is the sun going to rise? How close to sunrise are they? That could be a VERY long time of fighting if it’s hours away.)

We’re on Page Three and finally getting some action. Again, your pacing has some issues that need to be tweaked, but your dialogue definitely needs to be worked on. It’s all in the approach.

P3, and I’m glad to see that there’s a use for the fire escape. Too bad the detailed description of it didn’t really go with the use it had.

The pacing here is off. Like Steve said, you’re missing a panel. Hansel says vampire, and she’s already running, without even stopping for a reaction.

I’m getting a “Buffy-lite” vibe here. It’s small, but its there. I don’t know if I’m a fan of it or not. Buffy is a very recognizable character, and very easy to get wrong.

So, we now have questions to ask: why is there a ghost telling her about vampires? Why is she ready to take the vamp on? Are we going to see any other types of beings (Buffy has fought all kinds of things living on the helmount)?

The lack of a reaction from Tess is killing me. It’s draining any energy the story could have had. Everyone goes for stoic determination. Everyone wants their character to be a badass. When I was making characters for role-playing, I’d always intentionally make them as powerful a possible so that they couldn’t be beaten. Basically, I tried to make interesting versions of Superman. They ended up being boring.

And that’s what’s happening here. I’m bored, and I shouldn’t be. I should be invested in the story, but since Tess has no reaction, showing her lack of investment in what’s going on, my investment goes right out the window, too.

Then there’s the dialogue. Extremely uninspired. It’s that grim, “I’m ultra-ready for everything and thinking three steps ahead” kind of dialogue that all badasses have. She doesn’t stop to think about her plan, she just acts. I’d expect that out of Batman, not out of this brand new character.

Dialogue is what keeps people interested. Yes, there are and will always be stories that can be told without it, but those are the exception, not the rule. Dialogue needs to be interesting, and for comics, it cannot be prosaic. You have some characterization here, but it’s more exposition than character building. You need a balance of both. It isn’t evident here.

Page Four (6 panels)

Panel 1: Establishing Shot. (Again, it’s the same scene, so you don’t need to write “Establishing shot.”) We’re on the rooftop. (We already know this. Unless a commercial break has occurred between pages, don’t waste the effort in describing the obvious.) This is a medium shot from the reader’s POV. The moon is full and visible on Tess’s left, bathing the rooftop in light. We can see everything clearly. Tess is on the rooftop (We know.) and the vampire following her has tackled her from behind. The metal ventilation box is in front of Tess. Hansel is nowhere in sight. We still can’t see the vampire’s face, or tell if it is a he or a she. All we can see is the leather jacket billowing around it, and its jeans-clad, legs and combat boots sticking out from under the jacket.

SFX: WHAP (Exclamation mark at the end of the SFX)


Panel 2: This is a close-up of Tess as she slams headfirst into the ventilation box. (What would be more effective here would be to have the vampire in shadow on top of her slamming her head against the ventilation box. That way it appears deliberate and not accidental.)

SFX: BAM (Exclamation mark at the end of the SFX. By the way, “BAM!” is associated more with the firing of a gun, so choose your sounds wisely and effectively.)(By the way, “BAM! is associated with the Batman series from the 60s, whose shadow we are finally coming out from under. I’d choose another sxf, personally, but that doesn’t mean this is wrong.)

Panel 3: We’re looking at Tess crumbled (As writers, words are our bread and butter. Our word usage, therefore, should be better than average. “Crumbled” is incorrect here. Cookies crumble. People, like clothes, can crumple. The word is spelled correctly, but the usage is incorrect. Spellcheck won’t catch it.) on the ground, through the legs of the vampire standing over her. Tess’ clothes, what we can see of them, are torn and ripped from being tackled and landing on the gravel coated rooftop. (Unless she’s fighting through shattered glass shards or an obstacle course of knife blades, the roof conditions shouldn’t have that kind of impact on her clothing.) The impact has flipped her eye-patch back into place. (You mean that her running and climbing and running some more hadn’t already done that? And why would she still have it up after she initially saw Hansel, which was the purpose of having it up to begin with, right? Does she need to see him to converse with him?)

VAMPIRE (From off-panel, as the creature’s face isn’t seen to have the pointed tail.): How the mighty have fallen. (Stick with the next line by itself.) You aren’t so tough without your Legacy bitches to back you up, are you?

Panel 4: Tess has lashed out with one leg that is now glowing red (Huh?), and kicked the legs out from under the vampire. She’s got one hand on the rooftop and the other inside of her saddlebag. We can now see that it is a raven-haired, male vamp (But of course it is.). The vampire is mid-fall from his legs being kicked from under him. His arms are thrown out to the side. He looks shocked that Tess was able to knock him down. (Oh boy, you’ve got a lot of different things going on here, where your camera seems to be everywhere at once. To start, what is the distance you’re using for this shot? Second, is the camera from behind Tess as she lies on the ground, and that’s what allows us to see the vampire’s facial expression as he falls? You need some serious clarification here.)

TESS: I’m Tough enough! (No. This is the opposite of good. She should say something completely different that still gets the gist across.)

Panel 5: This is a close-up of Tess’s hand coming out of her saddlebag. She has a wooden stake in her hands (Both hands?). The stake has an intricately carved rune on the top of it. Her hand and the stake are glowing the same red as the leg that she used to kick the vampire. (I can understand the stake glowing, but why did the leg, and only the leg, glow in the previous panel? It’s not making sense.)

Panel 6: This is a long-medium (What exactly is a “long-medium” shot? Stick with either medium or long, as those are the options available to you.) view of the rooftop. We can see the taller building in the background, behind the ventilation box that Tess is in front of. The vampire is lying on its back. Tess has plunged the stake down into the vampire’s chest. (When did this happen? You jumped a step again. Show us the action of the plunge.) Hansel is back, floating near the head of the vampire. He is facing the direction of the taller building. In the distance, we can see the small shape of someone dropping down from the other building. (As I’ve pointed out before, give us your camera position.)

TESS: Like I said, the sun will take care of the body. (She doesn’t need to say anything, but if she did, wouldn’t it be more triumphant, almost cocky?)

HANSEL:Impressive, Now what about the other one?

P4 bring us more pacing issues, dialogue issues, and sense issues.

Let’s start with the pacing.

You have Tess teleporting as she does things. Teleporting for characters who normally can’t, is not a good thing. How do you stop the teleporting? You have to slow down your thinking. Think in half-measures, and write those panels down. This is for the first draft. Let that draft sit for a few days. Let your mind forget about it. Then come back to it, and re-read it. Those half-measures should then be able to be combined to form true panel that won’t have your character teleporting. Give that a shot and see how it works.

Right now, you can’t have her just beginning to pull the stake out of the bag, and then have the stake already plunged in the vamp in the next panel. That’s teleportation. I’m an old movie buff. I love watching b/w horror and mystery movies. Sometimes, those movies jump during a scene where the film messed up. That’s what happening here. You’re jumping the action in a scene. Stop it.

Dialogue. That line there? You know which one I’m talking about. For that line, it’s like you went to the Cliché Handbook, saw something that was trite and shiny (no, not bright and shiny), and decided to use it. No. It makes your character sound even more like a wannabe badass. It doesn’t work. Really, that line is the opposite of good.

There’s also the case of the dropsies that we have going on. That’s when you start an internal monologue, and then stop doing it because the character has nothing to say, only to pick it back up again. You haven’t picked it back up yet, but as we’ll see in a moment, you should have.

And we finally come to sense, as in “lack of.”

Let’s go back to P1, so that we can follow my line of thought. (Steve also touched on this.) On P1, you have her eyepatch down. She heads down an alley, and then raises the patch, and Hansel is revealed. Hansel then accompanies her while she rushes up the fire escape. A fight happens. Sometime during the fight, the patch falls back down over her eye. While the patch is still down, Hansel reappears.

See what happened there? You stopped making sense, breaking the rules you established on P1. If the rule established on P1 is broken by P4, then what’s the point of it? Or is it that she can hear him, but needs the patch up in order to see him? If that were the case, why didn’t we (the readers) see Hansel on P1 before she removed the patch? I’m willing to give you outs, as well as the benefit of the doubt, but you have to work with me. This isn’t working with me.

Also, what’s with the glowing parts? I don’t get it. What is the significance. If you hadn’t had a case of the dropsies, you could have explained that.

Page Five (6 panels)

Panel 1: Reader’s POV. Tess is standing upright and her arm is extended as she has just thrown the stake. This view uses foreshortening. The stake looks like it is coming towards the reader.

TESS: You guys are out in force tonight, (Here’s where you can use a period to make the next part a question.) All for lil’ old (ol’) me. (Question mark.) You shouldn’t have! (Unnecessary)

Panel 2: Character POV. (Which character’s POV? Tess’?) The vampire Liz Bathroy is standing on the (same) rooftop (as the other characters in this scene). She has caught the stake right before it could sink into her chest above her heart. The blonde-haired Liz is wearing black leather pants, a red motor cross type of jacket, and high-heeled boots. Both of Liz’s eyes are completely black and her fangs are showing. She looks very angry.

LIZ: This is the thanks I get after taking out the other three vampires that (who) were tailing you?

LIZ (BURST): You try to stake me?! (Unnecessary as it’s obvious that this is what took place.)

Panel 3: We’re back to the reader’s POV. This is a close-up of Tess’s face. She looks very surprised to see Liz. Her eye is stretched wide, we can see her other eyebrow raised over her eye patch. Her mouth is open in a gasp.

TESS: Oh, Jesus. (Ellipsis marks instead of a period) / (Separate balloon in BURST) LIZ! (This is the first thing that was done right: the panel description matches the last thing said. Now, if you had made it into a separate balloon like Steve says, it would have been done extremely right.)

Panel 4: This is a medium view. Liz has moved and is standing a few feet away from Tess. She’s holding the stake at her side. Tess has one hand up, and has lifted the eye-patch again. Her spelled eye is glowing, blue. She’s twisted her upper body to look behind her as she calls out. (Is this, therefore, a profile shot?) Hansel is nowhere to be found. (More non-sense.)

TESS: Hansel (missing comma) you little shit, (Exclamation instead of comma) Show yourself! You knew it was Liz. (comma instead of period here) didn’t you?!

Panel 5: This is another medium view. Tess is facing Liz. She’s got one hand in her hair, holding the side of her head. She looks embarrassed. Liz is holding out the stake for Tess to take. (Instead of just having her holding it out, have Tess reaching to receive it as well.) Her eyes appear normal now although her fangs are still showing. (Are they still showing the way they were before, in a hiss?)(Back to the eyes: Anyone read the first run of WildCATS? I loved Zealot. Just her look and her attitude. Batman with boobs in the attitude department, really. Anyway, in the early run, she had a power that did something to her hair: one moment it was long and straight, the next, it was long and curly. What or why? No idea. But this reminds me of that. What would be better, so that it doesn’t look like the colorist made a mistake, is to have two panels that draw attention to the eye color. Otherwise, you’re setting your colorist or your editor up for failure.)

TESS: I am so sorry. I would have never– (NICE! I’m loving the double-dash!)

LIZ: No harm, no fowl (GAH! Kill it! Kill it with fiyah! Like I said before, the word is spelled correctly, but used wrong. Think of basketball: when a player does something wrong, it is called a foul. When there is no referee to call it, a lot of players will just play, as long as they aren’t hurt, saying “no harm, no foul.” Always remember that “fowl” is talking about birds (ducks, geese, and the like). If you aren’t talking about birds, you’re going to use the other spelling.). I’m just glad that I was here.

LIZ: Nice rune work. Keoni?

Panel 6: This is a long-medium (Again with the long medium) view. Tess has a hand in her saddlebag as she talks to Liz. It’s clear (Not without the suggested previous action, it isn’t. Don’t assume your readers can put two and two together when it comes to visuals.) that she is putting the stake back inside of it as Liz isn’t holding it anymore. Liz has shoved both of her hands into her jacket and looks anxious.

TESS: Yeah, it’s her work. The rune grants me speed. (Why did she throw the rune that grants her speed? Didn’t she have a normal stake? Would she have lost this ability with it no longer in her hands?)

TESS: It’s strange. I’ve had two guardian angels tonight. Hansel is always close by for one reason or another, but you’re far from home. Why?

LIZ: I need a favor, one that only you can provide. (Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi! You’re my only hope! Or was that just me?)

Even though the last two pages were okay with regards to pacing, you have some serious re-evaluating to do with regards to the beginning of this story. On top of that particular issue, dialogue is a major problem as you either have too much “air” or not enough substance. Get real with your characters as they’re put into the situations. Give the reader more to think about without being blatant about the details. And finally, work on punctuation. These should give you a head start to a better story and better presentation.

Now, let’s run it down.

Format: Flawless Victory! I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: formatting is the simplest of matters. Everyone should get a FV on this part.

Panel Descriptions: Overwritten, especially in the beginning. There’s a lot of fluff, and the character descriptions can go. They aren’t needed. They should be in a separate document. The only time I advocate putting a character description in a panel description is when it’s a one-off character, or one that changes looks often. Other than that, no cd’s in pd’s.

So, even though they’re overwritten, you still don’t think everything through. This is also part of the problem with your pacing, which we’ll come to next.

Pacing: The first few pages are badly paced and not thought through. That is affecting the rest of the pages in this scene. I’m thinking a complete rewrite is in order because of it. Once one thing gets corrected, the rest should start falling like dominoes, which would force the rewrite. Action and reaction. We never see her reaction to someone else’s action, we just see her action. Not good. We need to see how she reacts to it as well. And I’m not talking about the faux-badassery you’re trying to give her, either. She’s trying too hard (as are you) in that respect. But if we see her reaction, then her actions become that much more believable.

It’s like taking a toy away from a toddler. Before they start crying or start laughing, there’s a look of shock on their face. That shock will be predicated upon what went on before. Were you playing with the child, or yelling at it? That split-second beat is still there, and still needed in the panel. If you just take the toy and then show the child either crying or laughing, it isn’t going to be as effective if you don’t show the beat. (This may be a bad example, since very young children have only two modes, happy or sad, and everyone knows it, but the point remains the same.)

Rethink the actions, which will affect the pacing, which will affect how the story is read.

Dialogue: Steve and I are differing here, and that’s okay. Here’s my take:

Setting the cliches and bad-assery aside, what Steve calls fluff, I’m calling characterization. However, because of the pacing issues, it isn’t coming across as well as it could. (See how everything works together? If even one part is off, the whole thing can come tumbling down.) I don’t mind characterization. Dialogue serves two purposes: reveal character and to move the plot along. It’s best when you can do both at once, but that isn’t always the case. When you have to choose one over the other, then it has to be interesting. Interesting enough to carry the reader to the next bit of action. If it isn’t, then it’s a wast of time.

However, Ms. Novelist, you have also run afowl (yes, I did it on purpose) of cliches. Full moon; raven-haired vamp; a badass vamp killer, complete with terrible bad-ass dialogue; the plea for help that only that person can accomplish. Not good.

I love Beverly Hills Cop. Love that movie. The first and the second. I will not willingly watch the third, because it is a waste of film. Anyway, before Eddie got the role, it almost went to Sly Stallone. He wanted to change it around to fit his style more. (Don’t forget, he’s an Academy Award nominated writer, too.) It was changed so much that the studios decided to go back to Eddie. The Stallone film became Cobra, which is just a tour-de-force of cliched badassery.

Does this reach that level of horror? No, thankfully, but still, it wouldn’t take much to make that leap.

Yes, you need to work on the dialogue. Characterization and plot movement. Those are the reasons that dialogue is there. Even Seinfeld, a show about nothing, was about something, each and every episode. Witty dialogue that revealed character and moved the plot along. You brush up against that here, but don’t do more than that. You need to move firmly into those areas.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: dialogue is hard. Especially for comics. For novels, you can have characters talk for paragraphs at a time. There’s no such luxury here. It takes some getting used to.

Content: It isn’t as bad as all that. I’ve read Alley Cat. Stop your boos and hissing! I didn’t say I enjoyed it, I said I read it. You have to read the bad (and the terrible) to appreciate the good. If Alley Cat was leather armor, then this is bronze. You’re working with metal, gal!

No, I wouldn’t continue to read this, though. Too many mistakes. Too much non-sense going on. As a reader, I’d be left wondering how the pieces shown work together, because you contradict yourself within those first five pages. I’d be upset.

Editorially, this needs a rewrite. Top to bottom, stem to stern. I’d need to know where you wanted to take the story, so that I can then point you in a more meaningful direction.

Now, I know you’re a novelist. They look like vampire romance novels. Please correct me if I’m wrong. I’ve never read the Anita Blake books, but I understand those are vampire romance novels. I’ve read a few romance novels, though, and they all have tropes. Not just tropes, but cliched tropes. It looks like that’s your comfort zone. If that’s what you’re going for here…we’d have to talk about the editorial vision. What your ultimate goal for the book is, and we can work from there.

And that’s all for this week! We hope you had a very happy Thanksgiving, and you’re all stuffed with turkey! Check the calendar to see who’s up next!

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Category: Columns, The Proving Grounds

About the Author ()

Steven is an editor/writer with such credits as Fallen Justice, the award nominated The Standard, and Bullet Time under his belt, as well as work published by DC Comics. Between he and his wife, there are 10 kids (!), so there is a lot of creativity all around him. Steven is also the editor in chief and co-creator of ComixTribe, whose mission statement is Creators Helping Creators Make Better Comics. If you're looking for editing, contact him at for rate inquiries.

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