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TPG Week 111: You Only Have 3 Pages…

| February 8, 2013


Welcome back to The Proving Grounds, one and all! This week, we have the return of Brave One Ronnie Massey, novelist. She comes once again to pit her writing against The Steves! As always, Steve Colle is in blue, I’m in red, and Ronnie busts out in




Splash page: We’re looking down at an angle. The archangel Michael is standing back to back with the archangel, Uriel. Both of the angels have their swords drawn and have obviously been in a battle. There is debris and rubble, broken Renaissance-like statues lie in pieces, all around them. In the background stands an immense set of golden gates. (What I’m getting visually from your description is that this is like a full shot of the two archangels standing in front of the gate. That’s fine, but consider your dialogue here of “Here come the others.” This suggests that there are more attacking them, but we don’t see it. Is it a band of two or three or is it a full-on battalion with overwhelming odds against the two guarding the gate? Do you see how this effects your opening page?)


CAPTION: And the time came that war visited the heavens. Brother fought brother and sister fought sister, (Comma-fail) in a battle to rule the universe… A battle that would change the course of the world,(Comma-fail) forever. (I personally don’t like the addition of the word “forever” because it makes it overly dramatic and cliché. What is the point you’re trying to get across with this last sentence? If it’s that the world of humans will be forever changed as a result of this battle, then phrase it as such. Stress the word “humans” in that last commentary, as it denotes which world, heaven or earth, will be affected by the outcome of the war. If it’s the heavens which will be forever changed, then say that, but either way, you’re explaining with one word instead of assuming the reader will automatically “get it”.)


MICHAEL: This is it, brother. Here come the others. (“Others” is so vague as it could be two or it could be a hundred and two. “Here comes the rest of their army” or “The next wave is upon us” or something to that effect makes it more descriptive and dramatic. This is your opening image and sole panel on the page. Make sure it counts.)


URIEL: Let them. They will not take the gates.


And we now have P1 down! Let’s see, shall we?


We’ve got a splash page. It’s also failing to answer all the questions that make up an establishing shot: Who, What, When, Where. Let’s take a look at that first panel even closer, though.


We’ve got 57 words in it. However, we don’t have anywhere near a clear picture.


Archangels that have been fighting, yes? Okay. They’re standing back to back, swords drawn. Fine. Where are the bodies? Are they bruised and bloodied?


That can be forgiven, though. Almost. What can’t be forgiven: the white void we find ourselves in.


What the white void represents to me is a lack of imagination on the part of the writer. They can’t see the scene in their head, so they can’t describe it in words. I know what I could put here, but I don’t know if I should. It isn’t my vision.


Writing is nothing more than creating a picture, but with words. If you can’t get that across to the artist, what you’re going to get is basically an empty panel when there could be so much more.


Here are questions to get started, Ronnie: where is this taking place? Where is the ground? Where is the light source? Where are the bodies of the fallen? Can we see anything beyond the gates?


Notice, not once did I ask where the camera was. I generally know where it is: in front of the angels, showing them in profile since they’re back to back. Whether or not the camera is high or low is dependent upon you or the artist. (Personally, I don’t care, and leave such decisions to the artist. Let them stretch their muscles.)


The dialogue: There are two things going on here…


I’m not a fan of it, but that’s my taste, and has nothing to do with what I’m about to say. Well…maybe a little.


Again, I’m not a fan. Aside from the technical (the comma-fails), I think she’s trying too hard to make it sound both epic and biblical. However, because of the prosiac background Ronnie comes from, this is more purple than it needs to be.


However, before judging it too harshly, there is an entire segment of the population that likes what I would consider bad prose. If this is her audience, then there is little need to mitigate it.


If there were especially torturous passages, those would need to be changed. The job here, depending on the audience, is to make sure that everything made sense.


The biggest problem here isn’t the color of the prose, purple or otherwise. The big problem here is that there is little incentive to turn the page. That’s because there’s a lack of dialogue.


Let’s take another look at exactly what is going on here: we have two characters back to back in what is basically a white void. There’s a single caption of omniscient narration, and then there’s the single line of spoken dialogue from each character.




Give the readers an incentive to turn the page. Some action (not a lull, like you have here), or a mystery to be revealed on the next page, or some sort of cliffhanger. None of that is present here. It’s boring.

Page Two (5 panels)



Panel 1: The silhouette of an army of angels fills the sky. We just see the tops of Michael and Uriel’s heads as they both look up.


MICHAEL: Are you SURE about that (Missing comma) Uriel?


URIEL: I have not(“haven’t”, to keep the style of dialogue consistent with the “that’s” and “you’re”.) looked into the future, brother, if that’s what you’re asking…


URIEL: … but I have faith.


(I would suggest having this first panel as a second panel on the first page. The overwhelming odds against the pair and the comment of “… but I have faith” leaves us questioning whether or not they can really withstand the onslaught, making it a stronger hook than what you currently have.)(See what Steve just said? The first page is boring, and gives no incentive to turn to the second.)


Panel 2: Small, box panel. (What is a “small, box panel”? The inclusion of the word “box” is throwing me off.) This is a female angel landing. She has her sword and shield ready. (What is her attitude? Is she calmly lowering herself or is she screeching out a battle cry as she lunges herself at the gatekeepers? Make sure to describe this all-important facet of the panel. Next, you have a sound effect of “SLAM”, but you don’t describe what is making this sound. Reading the script, I’m left scratching my head as to what is happening that I don’t know about.)


SFX: SLAM! (This SFX could work depending on what you’re having done, but without a visual, it’s hard to say.)


Panel 3: Small, box panel. (Same issue as above.) This is a close-up and shows just the bent legs and feet of an angle (angel) as they slam into the ground, making a crater. (For something this dramatic, something being so strong that it’s making a crater in the ground, why go with a leg and foot shot? The more important aspect of this action lies up top, with the question being: What the hell is happening that is so devastating as to break the ground under their feet? Here’s what you’ve got so far as build up to this panel: A female angel lands. Where’s the action? Where’s the build-up? There is none, and that’s a problem, especially if you’re wanting to suddenly have a crater being made.)


SFX: BAM! (If you’ve got something making a crater, it’s going to be much stronger than a “BAM”.)


Panel 4: Small, box panel. (Same issue as above.) A male angel has landed with his sword and shield drawn and ready. (This sounds like an almost identical panel as your Panel 2 above, with the same amount of missing information and lack of action.)


SFX: CRUNCH! (I don’t know what’s making the “CRUNCH!”)


(I really hate to say this, but your sound effects are reminding me of the live action Batman TV show. “Slam!”, ”Bam!”, and “Crunch!” are stereotypical. Read through other comics to see how other writer’s would deal with similar sounds in somewhat similar situations.)


Panel 5: This is a long shot of Michael and Uriel standing in front of an immense army of their own. In this scene we see exactly how huge the gates are. They seem to go on into the sky. (This completely destroys the strength of your opening page and overrides the intensity of the potential two-against-an-army excitement that could have made this scene powerful. The cavalry doesn’t need to come because they’re already here. Where is the need for faith? I’ve already lost interest and it’s only Page Two.)(And that army? Magically delicious, unless the angels we’ve just seen are actually landing behind them.)


URIEL: …and we have the numbers. (Why did it take three panels of sound effects to connect this dialogue with the last in your Panel 1?)(Then what’s the fighting for? Why show these two back-to-back if it wasn’t just the two of them against a horde? Feels like a bait-and-switch to me.)


P2 down, and like Steve, I’m bored. That’s really sad to say when you’re talking about a battle for the rule of the universe, that will change the course of the world…


Sounds terrible when put together like that, doesn’t it?


Okay, there are two ways to start a comic: early or late. You always want to start as late in a scene as possible. Did Ronnie start late enough here? That I don’t know. Here’s what I think, though: I think she started too early. I find myself not caring about this at all, and that’s never a good way to start a story.


I’m thinking that if this entire scene were to be cut, it wouldn’t harm the integrity of the story. I’m thinking that this isn’t necessary, or if it is, it can come later. Maybe as a flashback. Right now though, I think it’s doing the story more harm than good.


Technicalities: know your terms. I have no real idea what a small box panel is. I have an inkling, but not a real idea. If it is an inset, what is it inset to? If not, why is it a box?


Why are these angels landing with such force? I don’t understand that. What is the purpose there? If the answer has “drama” anywhere in it, then the answer is wrong. (It also means their landings are wrong. This isn’t Iron Man. There’s no need to cause craters.)


Now, the real question is this: whose side are the landing angels on? Are they there to help Uriel and the as-yet unnamed Michael, or are they there to fight them? You don’t say, and the artist is going to ask.

Page Three (6 panels)



Panel 1: Medium shot. Michael is standing in a huge hallway. The décor is very opulent with statues of angels lining the walls. Everything looks like its gold or ivory. To his right there is a set of immense, gilded doors. Michael looks frustrated and is dragging hand through his hair. (I like this last line, the description of being frustrated with a hand running through hair. It so describes me right now as I do the very same thing. I’m not getting what just happened. You were in a battle scene [so to speak] with some form of action about to take place, and suddenly – POOF! – we’re “many millennia later” in a huge hallway with yadda yadda yadda. This is terrible. Not only did you do a complete 180° turn, but you did it on a facing page, throwing the reader for even more of a loop. If this were an actual comic, I’d think the guy doing the printing made a mistake and put the pages in the wrong order or missed a page altogether as they were collating. I’m laughing at myself right now because I’m at a complete loss for words. Where do I go from here?)


CAPTION: Many millennia later…Seventh Heaven, Metatron’s Palace. (Instead of saying that it’s millennia later, why not be as eloquent with your captioned text bringing us to the present day or whenever this scene is taking place?)


MICHAEL (THOUGHT): Out of the past (Comma-fail) Michael. Today (Comma-fail) we deal with the matter at hand.


Panel 2: The doors are cracked as if they are opening. Michael has turned towards the doors. (Why did you need a panel here introducing an action that could have been shown in Panel 1? Instead, you intro with him standing there and then he decides to move.)


SFX: SWISH (First, do you really need this sound effect? No. Second, you’re taking onomatopoeia a little too literally. Use your imagination and create the sound verbally, then figure out how to spell it out.)


Panel 3: This is a long shot, rear view. Michael marches into an opulent, open room. There is another figure standing near a window. His back is to Michael.


MICHAEL: Are you so detached from the world that you no longer care there are rules being broken?


METATRON: Good to see you home, Michael.


Panel 4: We’re looking over Metatron’s shoulder. Michael is almost beside him. (Is Metatron facing away from Michael?)


MICHAEL: The Fallen are wreaking all kind of havoc and (all) you have to say is,(Comma-fail) Welcome Home?! (Metatron doesn’t actually say the words “Welcome home”, does he?)


METATRON: What would you have me do, brother?


METATRON: There are rules in place for a reason.


Panel 5: Michael has walked by Metatron to look out of the window. We’re looking in through the window and can see Metatron over his shoulder. (Another over-the-shoulder shot? That’s two in a row. Change it up.)


MICHAEL: Rules the Fallen are breaking every chance they get.


METATRON: As the humans say, two wrongs don’t make a right.


Panel 6: Michael’s hand is against the window as he stares down at Earth in the distance, through clouds. (Is he looking at the Earth as a whole [which is what I’m getting from your description] or is he seeing a section of land? The reason I ask is due to the clouds you’re mentioning. If he were looking through space at the globe, would it really be through clouds?) We see Earth through his eyes, with just his hand visible.


MICHAEL: Allow me to gather the remaining Archangels. The humans won’t see us…


I’m stopping here. I like being able to get past three pages, but sometimes the story prevents me from doing so. This is one of those instances.


Ronnie, this is big time BAD, with capital “B-A-D”. I had to step away for a while to figure out how I was going to drag myself back in for the final few panels of this page. I did it, but I didn’t enjoy the experience. The only somewhat-redeeming quality about this story so far is the first page. It had me interested even though it didn’t give me enough information. That said, the second page made no sense and the third page wreaked any potential that the first scene had in making it worthwhile. I’m going to let Steven voice his opinion, but let me close my portion with this: This needs a serious re-evaluation on your part.


So, let’s go over this page really quickly before running it down.


This page tells us that the first two are flashbacks of memory. Great! I like that. I still think it’s the wrong way to start. I think the beginning here needs a complete re-think. I still think it starts too early, although the dialogue here may belie that.


We come out of the flashback and we see that we’re in a different location. Again, I’m in a white void. The first time around I got on you for being too wordy with your panel descriptions. Now, as so many do, you went too far the other way. You have to find a happy medium.


Whenever you change locations, you must always answer the four W’s: Who, When, What, and Where. It’s a challenge, isn’t it?


Now let’s run it down.


Format: Flawless Victory.


Panel Descriptions: Light. They don’t answer the four W’s, so there is information missing. This is going to lead to artist questions. Artist questions are fine, but a lot of them are avoidable. You put in the work now, and you won’t have to worry about going back to answer questions later.


Pacing: I don’t like it. I think the first couple of pages are placed wrong. I don’t think that’s how you want to start the story. Or, if you do, you want to show actual fighting, not the lull in it. If you’re going to start with action, then doo eet. Don’t fake the funk.


You start out talking about a battle, and then you never show it. You show people getting ready to fight (I guess, if my I-shouldn’t-have-to-make-them assumptions are correct), but they never get around to it. You stay there for two pages, and then change to something else altogether. Not good. Finish the scene before going to a different one. Or, better yet, find a different opening altogether. This one doesn’t seem to draw the reader in.


Dialogue: I’m not a smart guy. I’m a fan of plain-speaking. I’m also a fan of words that are memorable and put together well. The dialogue is what sells the story. The art tells, the words sell.


You’re not selling the story here. I think a part of that goes back to the pacing, but there’s also the minor mystery of the rules that have been mentioned being broken.


You don’t say who has broken what rule(s), nor do you speak on the consequences of breaking those rules. It’s a bit cryptic, but here’s the thing: you can’t afford to be cryptic right now. There is too much to do and set up before you can start talking in riddles. You didn’t do the work. You just went for the cryptic. Ungood.


As for the color of the prose… Uneven. You start with the faux-biblical/epic voice for that one caption, and then totally drop it. This begs the question of whether or not that voice was needed in the first place. I’m going to say it wasn’t. It didn’t do anything to set the tone of what we’d be reading, and if it did, it set the wrong one, especially since you only stay there for two pages before going to a different scene altogether.


Content: Speaking plain, this isn’t good. Why isn’t it good? Because at no point in time did you make me care enough to continue reading. That’s never good. If you can’t draw the reader in within three pages, then you’re not doing the job.


Editorially, you’re looking at a re-think, at the very least. Rewrite? Dunno. I’d have to see the rest of it in order to see where the story is going first. Then we can see if it’s just some rearranging to be done, or if it needs an entire rewrite.


And that’s it for this week. Check the calendar to see who’s 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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