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TPG Week 104: Needs Work All Around

| December 21, 2012


Welcome back, one and all, to The Proving Grounds! This week, we have a new Brave One in Colby Pryor. As always, we have Steve Colle in blue, and me in red. Let’s see how Colby does with

Even If




Its night, a skyscraper shines in the light of a full moon. A sign can be seen in the front of the building. It says: MERCURY PHARMACEUTICALS. (So let me get this straight: The full moon is making the skyscraper shine? The moon isn’t the brightness of the sun, so it wouldn’t make it “shine” per se, but rather it would be reflected in the windows of the structure. That would mean that the moon is off-panel around where the reader would be or close to it. Do you want the moon in the visual? If so, then it won’t be reflecting. Why not have the skyscraper in front of the moon so that there’s some backlighting going on, maybe creating a silhouette of the structure? Can we see any other buildings in the panel? If not, then are we on a mountaintop? Give us more details.)


Panel Two

The two security guards sit at the building’s control booth. Skinny Guard holds a walky-talky to his mouth. (How far away are the men from the camera?)(Is this a separate structure, or is this inside the building itself? Ground level, or below ground? See what happens when you don’t establish things properly. Your artist is going to ask all kinds of questions.)



Hey, Ronny. (Separate balloon) Ronny! Get your ass over here (missing comma) man, game’s about to start.

WIDE GUARD (Is this the same guard as FAT GUARD below?)

Stop bothering the man. He’ll get here when he gets here.



Ronny doesn’t reply. (The artist doesn’t need to know that Ronny hasn’t replied, but rather what Skinny Guard’s reaction is to his not responding.)(A better way to put this: there is no way for the artist to draw the fact that Ronnie hasn’t replied. How do I know? Always ask yourself the question: how is the artist going to depict this? Since it can’t be drawn, it’s generally useless information.) Skinny Guard looks over at Fat Guard. (Again, where is the camera? Also, how are the men placed in the panel, Skinny Guard on the left and Fat Guard on the right? Lot’s of questions because there are so few details.)


FAT GUARD (Is this the same guard as WIDE GUARD above?)

Go check it out. Probably the generator doing something to the radio but…you know. (Needless dialogue that doesn’t read with flow.). I’ll call some of the other guys. (No. They’re in security. There are protocols for this. Believe me, there are contingencies for most things. I’ve worked security before.)


Skinny Guard loads a gun. (What kind of “gun”? A pistol, revolver, shotgun, rifle, machine gun, yadda yadda yadda? You NEED to give more details. You can’t rely on the artist to fill in the blanks when there are too many questions to ask.)(No. If the security is really private police or armed security, then they will already have loaded weapons on them. As a matter of fact, they’ll have loaded weapons on them at all times. The movies get at least that much right.[An aside—I keep having thoughts of Die Hard playing in my head. That is all.])


Right. I’ll report in when I get there. (Separate balloon) I swear to god (God) (Missing comma) if Ronny’s fucking with us (Missing comma) I’m going to shoot him. 

So, we have P1 on the books! How’s it feel?

Feels pretty weak to me. Let’s take a look at it.

We start off with an establishing shot. We have a Where and a When, but it isn’t complete. Not by a longshot. Especially the Where.

We have a single building shining in the moonlight. Steve already touched upon the improbability of that and gave some good alternatives, so I won’t go back over that. However, I will go over what Steve touched on: the spartan panel descriptions.

Here’s the thing, folks: I’m in a white void, and I really dislike those. Remember in The Matrix, when they loaded up the flat white place when Neo was first explained what the Matrix was, or when he loaded up on guns when he went to go get Morpheus? That’s where I’m at: a white, formless void of infinite depth. Not a good place to be.

Your panel descriptions have to evoke a place. You do that with as few words as possible. Right now, all we have is a shining skyscraper. Where is it? It could be anywhere in the world, and we’d never know, because you failed to finish telling us Where. Now, remember that architecture is different the world over. A NY skyscraper will look different from a Houston skyscraper will look different from a Chicago skyscraper will look different from a Dubai skyscraper. At least give the artist a chance to do their job. Right now, right off the bat, they’re asking questions. The job of the script is to cut those questions off at the pass. This script doesn’t do that.

As for the When, saying it’s night is okay, but it would be better to give some sort of indication as to how deep into the night we are. Guards get sleepy late at night. That’s just human nature. Since we’re talking about a game about to start, I’m going to assume it’s a bit earlier, probably around 7 or so. What would be better, though, is to use a caption as a timestamp. Easy and effective.

Now, the actions of the page are extremely weak. We’ve got four panels, and nothing of merit really happens. But let’s look at what’s supposed to be the interesting part of this page. The radio contact that the sound effect comes from.

Here’s the thing about radios, folks: they need some sort of action to make the transmission. Throat mics even have a little button to depress to make the transmission. If they’re using walkie talkies, then they have buttons on the side to depress in order to make the transmission. Depending on how screwed up the equipment is, it’s going to be an effort to push the button.

With that being said, I’m not seeing how whatever the sound effect is supposed to be was transmitted over the radio. Someone would have had to press the button, which means someone is walking into a trap. The radio’s own weight isn’t going to be enough to press the button, even if it was somehow laid on something that could do it.

Without it being a trap, the transmission is highly improbable.

Then we have the Keystone Kops going around, doing improbable things to get ready to investigate. Loading a gun? How much more generic can you get? Is this what is supposed to pass for action? If so, that’s terrible. This isn’t a movie, it’s a static panel in a comic.

This page doesn’t excite people to want to turn the page. They aren’t even mildly interested in turning the page. They aren’t thinking about it. They’re going the other way, closing the book, because nothing interesting happened on P1.

As for the dialogue…I’m waiting for a new writer to surprise me with comma usage. It might give me a coronary. That’s sad. Y’all are wearing me down with the comma-fails.

Consistency. Because you aren’t consistent, Colby, you have three different guards in the shack. You have a Wide one, a Skinny one and a Fat one. Steve wants to know if these are the same person, which is a great question. Consistency.


(Create a proper page break. Never use the Return bar multiple times to create that spacing as it looks EXTREMELY unprofessional. You can set page breaks in Word.)


The generator room is a large room, filled with powerful diesel powered generators. (What do diesel powered generators look like? More details.) Skinny Guard searches the room for Ronny. He’s carrying a flashlight and his pistol in the same way a police officer would, with the flashlight underneath the pistol. (Where’s the camera? Is there no light besides the flashlight beam? Details.)


Ronny! Ronny!(Say his name once. We get it.) You’ve already made me miss kick off, you sunabitch(sonuvabitch)!


The Skinny Guard looks at something off panel. He’s horrified by what he’s seeing. (Where’s the camera? Close-up, medium shot, long shot, behind him, in front of him, where? Tell us.)




Lying on the floor is a body in a pool of blood. The body is missing its head and entire right arm. (Whose body is this? Is it Ronny’s? Is it wearing a uniform? Right now, it’s naked. Why is it naked? Because you didn’t indicate if there were any clothes on it, and since you didn’t say it, I get to make it look any way I wish. I might even put a tutu on it. Naked, except for the tutu.)


Skinny Guard kneels next to the guard (Do you mean “the body” or “body of the downed guard”?), Walky talky next to his mouth. (Camera placement?)


Control, it’s me. Get everyone down here now and call the cops. (Think of the order of this statement: “Get down here, then call the cops”. Shouldn’t they call the cops BEFORE they come down? Shouldn’t someone stay upstairs to receive the cops and guide them to where the situation is?) Ronny’s dead. I repeat, Ronny’s dead. (Who the hell is “Me?”)

BOMB SFX: BEEP! BEEP! BEEP! (Where is the bomb? We need to know if it is onscreen or off, so that the letterer knows where to put the sfx. And then, there’s an improbability going on here, but we’ll discuss that below.)


The Skinny Guard looks up to see a Bomb strapped to a nearby generator.


Oh god (God)(How many ways can you use a religious name? “Jesus”, “oh God”,… ? This is terrible.)


An immense, darkened figure stands behind the guard. (When you say “darkened figure”, do you mean a silhouette of a figure? Is it humanoid or alien in shape? Details.)


A large paw swipes at the Guard’s head, removing it from the rest of the body. (Do we see the head come off? Is it cut off like Wolverine’s claws would do or is it knocked off, tearing skin, muscle, etc. Be more specific.)

So, we have P2 down, and we have more improbabilities and just plainly bad storytelling. Let’s look at it.

We have the unnamed guard walking face-first into the improbable trap. (Remember: walkie-talkies need to have buttons pressed.) And what does he do when he gets there? He holds a gun and flashlight (magically delicious flashlight, since it was never mentioned before), and then makes a complete asshole of himself by shouting out for his dead, naked friend.

It’s bad enough you have to give your position away with a flashlight, but do you have to complete the deal with the shouting? No. And, as Steve mentioned, what happened to the lights?

Anyone ever been in a generator room? Or, in a place with large machinery? While there may be places for people to hide, they’re still decently lit, so I have no idea why Fletch-O has a flashlight. I also have no idea why he’s pulled his gun.

Now, he finds Dead Naked Ronnie. Upon finding the headless, hapless victim, we also do the impossible: we hear the beeping of a bomb.

Why is this impossible? Because we’re in a generator room. Generators can be loud, because they’re nothing more than a motor that supplies power. Now, imagine a roomful of them, able to give power to a skyscraper. They have to be huge. You’d have to wear hearing protection in there. Do you think Fletch-O is going to hear the beeps over that? I don’t.

Then there’s the injury to this insult: the beast. First, the silhouette (how you’re going to get a silhouette in the dark is beyond me…some sort of light source is needed), and then, the swiping off of Fletch-O’s head.

A bomb, and a beast? Are you trying to do a chocolate and peanut butter? Peanut butter and jelly? Two great tastes that go great together? If that’s the case, then you failed. If you pardon the expression, this is overkill. (Really, most people are going to clear out of the area if there’s an armed, ticking bomb around.)

Then there’s the dialogue. None of these people are named. Only Dead Naked Ronnie. Fletch-O even goes so far to say that it is “me” on the radio. No. You went out of your way in order to avoid giving Fletch-O a name. Over and above the call of duty to avoid it. To what purpose? You want people to identify with him? Then give him a name. That will go a long way.


(Proper page breaks, please.)


The darkened figure jumps out of the top story of the building. (Not only is this a major jump in action from the last panel of the previous page, what we’d call a jump cut, but you’ve also confused me: Is the generator room near the top of the building? I’d have assumed that it would be in the basement. If it IS supposed to be in the basement, then not only is that a MAJOR jump cut, but makes me wonder if this creature is the same being who attacked the guard. And again, where is your camera, as this should be an extreme long shot for best dramatic effect, but you didn’t specify. Guide the artist through the descriptions of the panels or you’re going to be seriously depressed when you don’t get what you’re asking for, and it’ll be your own fault.)


It lands on the roof of a nearby building. (You never established in your opening panel of the story that there were buildings around, let alone one tall enough and close enough for the creature to jump to. See what I’m getting at?)(It’s magically delicious.)


The creature stands at its full height, revealing the figure to be a WEREWOLF. The body of the creature is has the vague shape of a human but it’s easily 9ft tall. It has muscles on top of muscles that is covered by thick brown fur. It’s arms and legs end in large paws topped off with long nails. It’s head is completely wolfish with no human features at all. (When you say it’s easily 9 feet tall, how do we know that? Is there some form of comparable structure on the roof that we know, through experience, is shorter than 9 feet? You need to think of these things and then tell the artist.)


It looks back at the building behind it. (Where is the camera??? Over the creature’s shoulder, looking at the creature from the viewpoint of the building it’s looking at, etc.? I can’t stress enough how important details are in your descriptions. I’m pulling my hair out right now, and there ain’t much there to begin with.)


Just as the building explodes in violent color of orange and yellow. (Where’s the CAMERA?!?! Is this the same shot as the last panel with the explosion being the only difference, or is it an extreme long shot, or is it — ? WAY TOO MANY QUESTIONS TO ANSWER!!)

I’m stopping here. Speaking of bombs, I feel like I have one about to go off in my skull. Either that, or a repeat of Poe’s A TELL TALE HEART, with the sound of the imaginary beating ringing through my ears.

There are many issues with this story.

First off, it’s soooooo cliché. There’s nothing new to the mythos. It’s just the same ol’, same ol’ thing. Now, how a bomb plays into the grand plan makes no sense. Why would a werewolf set a bomb? It’s a bad story from the start solely based on the concept.

Second, your panel details. There are none. As an editor, this is completely unacceptable. As an artist, I would refuse to work with you. As a fellow comic book writer, I’d tell you to learn your craft. You CAN’T get away with the bare minimum. You have NO idea how frustrating it is to read a script that gives nothing to be drawn. If you see it in your head when you’re planning it, simply describe what’s in your head. Easy. Obviously you’re seeing something in your mind’s eye, otherwise you wouldn’t be seeing the skyscraper in the moonlight, the guards behind the desk, and so on. Tell it like you see it. You don’t need to go all “Alan Moore” on the artist with page upon page of a single panel’s detail, but you do need to have a paragraph.

Third, punctuation. Learn how and when to use a comma. This is something that has been mentioned time and again in nearly 95% of the scripts that have come across the desk that is The Proving Grounds. Your regular professional editors would look at a missing comma and immediately assume that there will be more of the same, then ditch it into the virtual or physical trash without a second thought. You’re a writer and the tools you use to write with are words, sentences, blah blah blah… AND punctuation. If you want to be take seriously, learn the basic rules of usage.

I’ll let Steven take it from here.

Pulse-pounding this was not.

Let’s run it down.

Format: This would have been a Flawless Victory, if not for the page breaks. That was the only thing keeping you down. Page breaks. Learn to use them.

Panel Descriptions: Terribly sparse all around. Definitely not enough to have the artist go on. The only person I know that writes scripts this sparsely is Warren Ellis, but he knows what he’s doing and works with artists who knows what he’s after. This isn’t Ellis. This is simply bad.

Does every panel description need a camera angle? Nope. Not if you describe it in such a way that the artist automatically knows where to put the camera. And even when you don’t, there may be enough for the artist to glean a camera angle.

However, to be sparse and not have a camera angle is a recipe for questions to be asked. You can see how you almost gave Steve an aneurism because of the questions that could be asked. Not good. Slow down, take the time to think the panel through, and then write that.

Pacing: Terrible. P1 went by too fast, not laying enough groundwork to really establish much. P2 felt cramped. Too many panels on that page. It should have been six panels, at the most, but it probably should have been five. Then again, if P1 were more balanced, it could have made up for the cramped feeling. P1 probably should have had six or seven panels, itself.

P3, though, is a wreck. I mean, after the killing, the beast somehow makes it to the top of the building, only to jump off it in the first panel of the page? And then there’s basically just a lot of standing around, patting itself on the back and flexing for the camera, which is why Steve lost it. Yeah, not good.

Very uneven.

Dialogue: There’s not much there, but what is there is almost painful to read. Just not good storytelling in the dialogue. Dialogue is supposed to do two things: move the plot along and reveal character. Honestly, I don’t feel like either was done here.

Let’s see, what was done in three pages: obvious, cliché trap; two deaths; an explosion; revelation of the beast. What does the dialogue do? Using the improbable, trap-inducing radio sound effect, it’s pushing the story forward a touch. Not much, though. After that? It doesn’t do a thing.

What’s special about the building? Dunno. Why is it being blown to smithereens? Dunno. I won’t even ask about the beast. (I refuse to call it what you did, just on general principle.) Why are we reading this story? Dunno. See how one question leads to another? There are more, but they relate to the beast, and really, there are better things to do than talk about the overkill.

Content: As a reader, as soon as the beast was revealed (reviled?) I’d close this book, put it back on the shelf, and ask the retailer for my money back—money for the time wasted in reading this.

I take it that the beast set the bomb. Why? I have no idea, and as a reader, I’m not intrigued. I’ve got a healthy does of, “well, that was stupid,” and then I’m keeping it moving.

Editorially, this needs a heap of work. I’d need to know what the story is supposed to be about, and then help you mold that story into something worth telling. Something that will avoid having the reader close the book within three pages. A lot of work to be done, like I said.

And that’s all for this week. Next week is the final one of the year!

Check the calendar to see who’s next (or last, as the case may be).

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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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