TPG Week 112: Wrong Start

| February 15, 2013


Hello and welcome again to The Proving Grounds! This week, we have a new Brave One in JP Redding, who hails all the way from I-Have-No-Idea, Ohio! (I may make up place-names and locations for everyone from now on. You have been warned.) As always, we have Steve Colle in blue, I’m killing it in the red, and we see if JP has to




Establishing shot. Night time. Present day. A dingy street in a dilapidated part of the city. Amongst the derelict buildings, a single well-lit structure: LA TAVERNA.
(I’d assume that this story is taking place in a Spanish speaking area or country based on the name of the bar, but you haven’t specified. This is important in my mind because it sets up for me a certain accent or dialect coming from the bartender in particular, which doesn’t happen. You could have just as easily named it an English name. In other words, make sure one plus one equals two.) Popular watering hole to local unsavories.

BARTENDER(NO TAIL): HEY (Missing comma) JACK!(Does the bartender know him as a regular, and therefore knows his real name?)

Wide angle shot of an agitated, lady bartender. Good looking, think Jennifer Garner. A towel slung over one shoulder. She castes
(Wrong word, but I get it. The word is spelled correctly, but the wrong one for the usage. Spellcheck won’t catch it.) an imposing figure staring furiously at us. Behind her, the regular array of alcoholic beverages. A bottle over her left shoulder bears the following insignia: click here. Take note, to the right of the bar counter there’s a dark doorway leading to the backroom, important for PAGE 3.

BARTENDER: You gonna order somethin’?(Should be a comma)or is your trip to La-La Land fully catered? (I’m liking this line.)

Reverse shot on the weary, blue-collar JACK sitting at the bar. As implied, he was in a bit of a daze but has come to
(There’s no way to show this. He’s either doing one or the other. Pick.). In the background, the last of the regulars vacate. (What is the condition of the regulars vacating? Are they looking back scared or just casually leaving? This is based on having read the script in its entirety.)(If the regulars are leaving, why are we not seeing people leave in panel 1?)

JACK: Oh…uh… Double whiskey. Straight.

JACK: Sorry, but I’m not all… here. (So, a couple of things: 1- I’m not sure why you have a pause between all and here , as it doesn’t sound natural, and 2- I definitely don’t understand why you have the here underlined. Even without the pause, it doesn’t sound right. Let it be spoken with the sense of confusion and despair you’re trying to establish for the character’s emotional state.)

Profile shot with both persons in view, the counter between them. BARTENDER cleans out a glass for JACK’s drink.
(They aren’t acting. Give them some facial expressions. Let the artist know what you’re seeing in your head. Then they can at least have a starting point, instead of just going off the dialogue, which can sometimes be misleading.)

BARTENDER: No shit (Missing comma) pal! Anyone that comes to see the Fiore’s (Should be Fiores as it’s not a possessive, but a plural.), (Take out the comma) is in no way all here! (See, this is where the all here makes sense in being underlined as she’s throwing the comment back at him, making fun of him.)

JACK: You’re here, aren’t you? (She works for the aforementioned Fiores and not there to see them. Big difference, making this comment moot.)

Focus on the BARTENDER as she pours out the drink.
(Facial expression?)

BARTENDER: I just man workthe front. Tend to poor schmoes like yourself. What goes on out back, (Should be a question mark in my opinion, but Steven may disagree. All subjective.)(Exactly. All subjective. This is where personal style comes into play. It might play better as a question. I’d go that way, myself.)Not my baby.

JACK(O.P.): Poor schmoes like me, huh?

Profile view again. She places the glass in front of JACK.

BARTENDER: Yeah. Although, you seem like a decent enough guy… daydreaming aside. (I read this out loud as Yeah, although you seem like a decent enough guy daydreaming aside. Notice the punctuation.)

BARTENDER: How’d you get yourself in this mess? (The question creates the hook. Great. What I find not-so-great is the stereotype of the question. It’s convenient. It would be like Jack saying in response, It all started back when I was a kid. Is there a way you could rephrase this line?)

We now have P1 on the books!

Let’s take a look at it. JP is doing some stuff here. Let’s take a look.

The first thing that’s nice and liking are the panels and their numbering. What he’s done is simple: page number dot panel number. This keeps him on track as to what page he’s on. If the script were to be printed out and then fall out of someone’s hands, pages flying everywhere, it wouldn’t be that difficult to put back together. It’s simple and easy. I like it.

So far, format is killer.

What I’m pretty meh about is the establishing shot. It’s not doing the entire job it should. I don’t know where this is. Cities are different all over the world. If you name the city or part of the world, then you give the artist more of an idea as to the character of the city itself.

What you’ve forgotten to do, almost wholesale on this first page, is have the characters act. For the most part, they’re either sitting or standing around, thumbs up their asses. Not good. Have them act. Give them facial expressions. Don’t go all Keanu Reeves on me. That would be terrible.

The dialogue needs a polish, but that last page…Steve is right. It’s actually doing a couple of things, both deeply within Cliché City: the bartender to listen to the problems, and the get ready for some exposition setup with the question asked.

The Listening Bartender is a staple that probably needs to go away. I’m going to show my age, but I don’t think it hasn’t been done well since the last episode of Quantum Leap. (Yeah, I winced, too.) It’s such a cliché that you probably should think about another setup. Just like the truth, the setup is out there.


Profile view. His head tilted slightly down, JACK offers a wry smile.
(The wry smile isn’t really indicative of the trouble he’s put himself into. Wry smiles indicate confidence or even over-confidence. That isn’t the case, is it?) He fiddles with the glass. (Fiddling is a moving action. This is a static panel. Can you get it across with this wording? Sure. But I’d rather have you thinking in static images instead.)

JACK: What makes you think I’m in a mess?

BARTENDER: C’mon. I know what goes on here. You didn’t come looking for a cup of sugar. (Is she supposed to be in view, or is she not? If she’s supposed to be in view, put her in the panel description. If she isn’t, her dialogue should be off panel. The question to ask yourself is this: what does making her dialogue come from off panel gain you? If there isn’t a good reason for it, put her in view.)

Low angle from within the glass. JACK despondently
(See? He’s despondent, not confident, thus the comment above.) stares back into it.

JACK: Frustration.(Cut this line and go straight to the next.)

JACK: Just wanted more, ya know? (I REALLY hate the ya know . It sounds like he’s talking while chewing gum open-mouthed. This should be y’know , which has a quickness and flow to it.)

Same POV. JACK, however, looks slightly up from the glass. His expression has done a total 180 as he
vociferously(Nice word, but is your artist going to need a dictionary to figure out how to draw the image? Plain and simple description. That’s all you need provide.) justifies himself.

JACK: I’m no charity case or nothin’(Needless words in getting the point across)! There ain’t a thing to my name without a hard day’s work to show for it!

BARTENDER(O.P.): Jack…what you do? (I’m getting one of two things from this dialogue: 1- She’s a gorilla who can’t speak properly, or 2- you forgot a word. What you do? should be What did you do? or What’d you do? You decide which works better. Right now, however, she just sounds dumb.)

Medium on JACK. He clasps his glass. His anguish is palpable as he shares his story.

JACK: Got a tip from a buddy of mine down by the docks…Joey. S’posed to be a sure thing. (You’re going back and forth with Jack’s slang, where here you have s’posed and before you have aren’t instead of ain’t and you think instead of y’think . Keep his slang consistent.)

JACK: Race 3 (Spell out three ). Daddy’s Little Girl. (This is a VERY convenient foreshadowing of what’s to come. I’d seriously change the name of the horse.)

JACK: Turns out, Joey heard wrong. Now we’re both in deep.

A tearful JACK continues.

JACK: I just wanted to do better for myself. For my – (Get rid of this )

JACK: Jesus ( and this. All it is is over-dramatic fluff.)

JACK(FAINT): (Take out the connecting double dash.) For my daughter.

Focus on JACK as he downs his drink.
(I’d change the order of your final two panels so that you have him talking about wanting to do better for himself, take the drink as a pause, and then go to For my daughter. It makes the final line more dramatic and important in the grand scheme of things.)


We’re two pages in, and really, it’s starting to feel like 20.

That means its dragging.

The trick is to be interesting right out the gate. If you’re going to do talking heads, what is being said has to be important, interesting, or both. This is neither.

What would make this interesting? I don’t know yet. I’m only up to P2. I do think that, out of these two pages, they could probably be condensed in order to get to the story quicker. You’ve got banter that is only taking up space, going into your hook, and then more hemming and hawing instead of getting into it. Double the space for what should have been a one-page thing.

Elderberries. Padding.

At least the characters are acting on this page.


Profile view. JACK is slumped over. A man defeated. Concerned, the BARTENDER offers some direction.

BARTENDER: This is what’s gonna happen (Missing comma) Jack: I’ma (This sounds like she’s trying to speak Italian or something. Stick with I’m gonna ) pour you another drink, on the house. Finish it. Make yourself as scarce possible(Misplaced word)as soon(Needles words) as possible. Don’t look back, don’t come (Underline come to give it added emphasis.) back.

She continues with much fervor.
(What’s your shot?)

BARTENDER: As bad as those bookies ‘cross town may be, they’re a gang of prep school girls compared to this family. (Here’s where the bartender’s slang is inconsistent, with ‘cross instead of across , but gang of prep school girls instead of gang o’ prep school girls . If you’re going to write slang, make sure it’s the same across the board for your character.)

JACK: But, (Take out comma) you don’t under– (This is a convenient cut in the word. Have it instead read But you don’t underst– .

BARTENDER: No, you (Underline you for emphasis.) don’t understand (Missing comma) Jack! The Fiore’s (Again, Fiores isn’t a possessive, but a plural.) are the least of your worries here. You know who they work for now?

BARTENDER: THE PIPER.( Dum dum dummmmmmm, sounds the stereotypical music to the big reveal .)

Focus on JACK overcome with dread.
(This just makes the above reveal all the more over-the-top.)

BARTENDER(O.P.): That’s right.(And this makes it even more blatant. Cut this.)If you really care for about your life, for about your child(Here’s where a possessive belongs, with child’s ), walk away. Now!(Stereotype.)

Long shot from behind JACK looking at the bar. The doorway slightly to the right of the counter is in view now. It’s shadowy, not much visible.

JACK: I wish I could, but this is all I’ve got now.

BARTENDER: Fine, but know this (Missing comma) Jack: (Don’t use a colon in comic book speech. Instead, use two balloons with the first ending with a double dash and the second beginning with a double dash.) You go through that door, The Piper owns you! You don’t make good soon, then, (Take out the comma and put in ellipsis marks.) well, (Same here.) you know the rest. (This is a let down. You build up to what will happen if he doesn’t make good, and then drop the consequence with a you know the rest . Not good. Give it to us. Make us scared for Jack. This also leaves Jack wondering, Well, how bad can it really be? or Oh my God! It’s so bad, she won’t even SAY it!! This dialogue is very disappointing )

JACK gets up from his stool. In the shadows of the doorway stands a tall figure. His face is concealed by the darkness. We can make out he’s wearing a suit and tie.
(Is the camera behind Jack and that’s why we can see both him get up and the figure in the doorway?)

JACK: That’s a chance I’ll have to take. ( Good for him, I say, in response to another stereotypical dialogue, which is NOT good.)

JACK: Thanks for the drink.

JACK is in the doorway, partially engulfed in darkness, alongside the tall figure whose standing side-on, ushering JACK in. The disappointed BARTENDER looks back towards JACK. They share a glance.
(This is a needless last panel. We know he’s heading into the darkness that is the back room, so why have that last Farewell moment ruin the scene?)


Won’t you take me to

Cliché Town!

Won’t you take me to

Cliché Town…

Have you ever read something, and then wish you had a dry-erase board so that you could start over with something better? Know what I’m seeing in my head right now? Of course not. Lemme tell ya: Snoopy. I’m seeing Snoopy in my head right now, typing out It was a dark and stormy night… Schroeder is at his piano, banging out Funky Town. Woodstock is just lost.

But let’s take first things first.

Always know where your characters are. Always tell which characters are in the panel. If you don’t tell the artist, they’re going to assume they’re not there, and then they’re not going to draw the character in the panel. This can be caught if the artist is doing thumbnails and you notice that there isn’t a second person who should be there, but if the artist just starts drawing…you’re going to have to either fix the art, or make the dialogue work around it. One is more time consuming, the other can lead to bad storytelling. If you did your job correctly, you won’t have to worry about it.

Now, here’s the conundrum: the story is not bad. The storytelling isn’t bad. They’re both pretty average. The problem is that there’s nothing of interest going on here. Run of the mill, predictable, and as such, boring.

Go watch a horror movie with aspirations of greatness. The white girl runs, trips, and falls. The boyfriend is a dick and dies. The shy guy? He was doing drugs, so he dies. The hot friend? She was getting it on with the boyfriend, shows her breasts, and dies. The twist? The black guy lives! (And it wasn’t LL Cool J!)

Not much of a twist, is it? Pretty boring and run of the mill, yes? That’s this story.

Wipe the board, start from the beginning. The mechanics are here. Now it’s time to do something interesting with it.

But this is P3, and we’ve got a page-turn coming. Another piece of evidence of having the mechanics: something interesting is happening at the page-turn.

I don’t know about anyone else, but I don’t want to go to Cliché Town.


Establishing shot. Night time. A quiet, intermittently-lit city street. At the top of the street, the bright headlights of a black sedan. Sprinting down the sidewalk, JACK. His 5 year old daughter, JEN, in his arms. Just ahead of them, to their left, an alley way. (One car )

CAPTION: A few weeks later. (This is a long time after the conversation with the Fiores. Would they honestly give him a few weeks to make good on his debt?)

Close-up on JACK, wide-eyed, frightened. (I could understand him looking over his shoulder here, back at the first car.) Bright light beams on his face, there’s another vehicle ahead of them. (Two cars )


Reverse shot from head to toe of a frozen JACK. Our fear’s confirmed, another black sedan hurtling towards them, bright headlights leading the way. Just to the left, the alley way in view.
(Three cars. Isn’t that a bit of overkill?? Isn’t it bad enough he’s got one car speeding towards him? On top of that, he’s got his daughter in his arms slowing him down. Talk about a Godzilla vs. Bambi situation!)


Bird’s eye view from a fire escape midway down the alley. JACK and his daughter running further in.
(You mean they’re already in there? When did this happen? Simply say that they are a few feet into the alleyway. This also gives the proximity of the sedans closing in more intensity.) At the mouth of the alley, the parked sedans (lights off). (It would be more dramatic to have the lights still on as they would create a spotlight effect on our runaways.)


Reverse shot of JACK at the end of the alley. In view: a few trash cans, a dim light (just enough to light up the bottom end of the alley) and, unfortunately, an eight foot high brick wall.
(Why would there be an 8-foot high brick wall? Either make it a high fence which there’s no way he can get his daughter over in time or make it a complete dead end where the building wraps around. This doesn’t make sense.)


Close-up on JACK, horrified. NO. WAY. OUT.
(What about his daughter? What’s her reaction?)



What is seriously lacking here is text. Even if it were just the sound of heavy breathing/panting on Jack’s part, it would be SOMETHING. Wouldn’t he or his daughter be saying something to the other, such as RUN, DADDY, RUN! or DAMN you’re heavy, girl! ? No copy isn’t working.

And here we are, at the real start of the story. What went before is preliminary crap that needs to be moved. This is where the story actually starts.

Why does it start here? Is it the action? Is it the drama? Really, the answer to those questions answers the first. A bit of yes and no for both of them.

Imagine that the story started here, and that the three pages before it aren’t there. What do you have? You have instant action, drama, tension, and a question that will draw readers in: what did this guy do to have a fleet of cars after him? Why is he carrying a child with him? Will they get away? Do you know what the reader does then?

They turn the page, because they want to find out.

See how that works? See what was done?

You want to start as late in the story as possible, JP. You didn’t do that here. You said, I’d like to put in some backstory. This way, the readers will know what’s going on. Keen!

No. Start late. Start here. Gain the reader’s attention by starting late, and force them to catch up. Forcing the reader to catch up to you is doing the thing you need them to do: turn pages. Get them deeper into the story, so that they have no choice but to finish the book.

Now, I also want you to notice what else I said. I said that the first three pages have to be moved. I didn’t say cut, I said moved. Important distinction there. Does it mean that the first three pages are salvageable? Maybe. It really depends on how the rest of the story plays out. But at the very least, move the boring to the back.

Lastly, pay attention to what you’re doing. It isn’t making sense. First there’s too many cars coming out of nowhere, next that alley is magically delicious, and finally, that wall is magically delicious. Don’t forget to mention things as early as possible. That alley could have been seen in panel 1. As for the dialogue or lack thereof? I’m with Steve. Some huffing and puffing would heighten the drama.



Looking back down the alley, darkness. Partially emerged from it, the tall figure from PAGE 3, BOUNCER in his usual suit and tie.

BOUNCER: You should have listened, Mr. Jack… (Is it Jack or Mr. Jack ? This makes the bouncer [why a bouncer instead of a henchman?] sound dumb dumb dummmmb. Either keep it as Jack, which would be the henchman talking down to him, or give Jack a last name.)

BOUNCER in full view now. Channel Dolph Lundgren as Ivan Drago in ROCKY IV for his looks. He continues. (You could have and should have put the first two panels together. We can guess that muscles is the same guy who was in the doorway at the bar, and besides, the dialogue is completely needless as we didn’t hear anyone say NOT to run.)

BOUNCER: We told you not to run.

On Jack and his daughter, sitting on the
floor ground now, he holds her close. They’re both afraid. (Pet peeve, people: floors are generally inside, the ground is generally outside. Learn that distinction, and I won’t go bonkers.)

JACK: What… what are you going to do to us? (Stereotype)

Close-up of a shoe stepping out one of the black sedans. No ordinary shoe, it’s a ladies pump. If in view, she’s wearing jeans.

CAPTION(BOUNCER): It’s not me you have to worry about, Mr. Jack. (Why a caption? He’s right next to the lady getting out of the car! Make it an off-panel dialogue.) (Hm. I get it. I understand the reasoning behind it. Steve’s right, though. However, if you truly wanted to make this a voice-over caption, then you’d have put in quotation marks…)

Close-up on BOUNCER. A devilish grin.
(Take the last two panels and switch them around, so the last thing we see is the pump. Keep the dialogue where it is, though, so that you’re talking about the employer when she actually gets out of the car.)

BOUNCER: My employer would like to have a few words with you.

See how these two pages would flow nicely together in building mystery? If it weren’t for the clichéd dialogue, this would be perfect. Well…except for that pacing gaffe at the end. Terrible, that.



SPLASH PAGE. Low angle. PIPER aka BARTENDER from the outset. Wearing a jacket like this. She’s standing alongside BOUNCER. JACK, what we can see of him, noticeably shocked.

PIPER: What’s the matter (Missing comma) Jack? Trouble following the breadcrumbs?


And THIS is where I’d stop the story. Leave it on a strong point, a surprise reveal. It’s even on a page turn, for goodness sake. But you didn’t. You went further, so I will, too.

In the new order of the universe, this page doesn’t work. It would need to be cut, because it no longer makes sense in the new order.



Profile shot. PIPER’s stepped closer to JACK and JEN.

JACK: You! You’re The Piper? (This dialogue should have been on the last page we just read. It would have had more strength as confirmation of her identity.)

PIPER: Just “Piper”, actually. “The Piper” is more of an earned moniker.

JACK: Earned…how? (Let her speak instead of inviting the information. Let her be the talker now.)

Close on a gleeful PIPER.

PIPER: ‘Cause I always get what’s due.

PIPER: And you, dear JACK, owe me.


The rest is filler. I’ll leave it in for people to read, but you can find my closing comments at the end of it.


Profile shot again, JACK is frantic and JEN, tearful. PIPER leans down.

JACK: No! You told me not to! Please, have mercy! Find it in your heart…my daughter–

PIPER: Comes with me. Until you make good, JACK. Remember? “It’s a chance you’ll have to take”.

Same view. PIPER crouches, grabbing JEN from JACK’s arms. JACK, trying to resist.

JACK: What will you do with her?

PIPER: Nothing. I’m not a monster. She’ll be taken care of.

JACK: No! I won’t let you!

Same view. JACK and JEN separated as PIPER takes her into her arms. JEN cries profusely. JACK desperately reaches out.

PIPER: Don’t try it. My man over there has an “anxious” trigger-finger.

PIPER: Do as I say and all will be well.

Same view. PIPER has a full hold on JEN.

JACK(SHOUTING): How could you?

PIPER: Tragic things happen to good people all the time. If not me, it would have been someone else.

PIPER: I’m just the messenger, Jack.




PIPER’s turned around, makes her way out back towards the darkness. BOUNCER’s already partially disappeared. JACK still sits.


BOUNCER’s totally gone. JEN looks back over PIPER’s shoulder, stricken with fear. They’re partially engulfed in darkness.


Mostly engulfed in darkness, from it JEN’s hand reaches out, JACK reaches back.


PIPER and JEN are gone. JACK aimlessly still reaches out.


JACK, all alone, hands on his face, weeping.





I find this to be a pretty basic story, basic in that you have a situation and a consequence. What makes it a dull story for me, personally, is the lack of excitement, of action or suspense. Sure, you have the cars driving to catch a running Jack and his daughter, but besides that, what have you got? There’s no real sense of peril or urgency in my opinion. It’s a matter of this happens, then this happens. Plain and simple. It needs energy, not matter-of-factness, which is what you’ve given us.


The writing, on the other hand, was stereotypical, from actions to dialogue. If this were a film, I’d say it was a B-movie or even an F, which is the grade I would give this as a teacher for multiple reasons. First, it didn’t read well. You could have stopped on a high note, but went on and on with fluff after the story should have ended. Second, it was just not a good story. Like I said before, very basic. Third, the dialogue was atrocious. Fourth, and most annoying, were the comma-fails and misuses of possessives. I could probably go on, but I’ve had my say. Mr. Forbes, please step forward to give us your weekly tongue-lashing

Oh, goodness.

Fluff is right. If it weren’t for the fact that Steve did so much, and this was a short story, I’d have stopped earlier.

I mean, this is the ending we have? A guy crying into his hands? How is that in any way satisfying? It isn’t. It makes the entire story unsatisfying. The ending is of equal importance—if not moreso—than the beginning. Methinks you forgot that.

Anyway, let’s run it down.

Format: Flawless Victory! Nicely done! Congrats!

Panel Descriptions: They need a little work. Don’t forget that the characters have to act. That’s important. You forgot that on the first page, but then you picked it back up.

Pacing: This was the second-most disappointing part of the piece. The first three pages are in the wrong place. Since the piece is only 8 pages, they’re totally unnecessary. You need to find a different for the rest of it. The first three pages were painful to get through. Just terrible, really.

The rest of it, the pacing was generally fine. It just went on for too long, and really, there was no tension, just as Steve said. You could have injected that by removing the first three pages and just heading right into the chase.

Just don’t fall into the trap. What’s the trap? Using exposition to get yourself out of the jam you think you’re leaving yourself in by literally cutting to the chase. Don’t have characters standing around explaining. Find another way.

Dialogue: This is the single greatest downfall of this piece. The dialogue, in and of itself, is terrible. There are other words, but terrible is the least offensive of them.

The sad part is that there isn’t one word of dialogue worth saving. It’s all crap. Generic, bland, predictable, and boring. And the biggest crime of it? Clichéd.

Rip out every word, give it a rethink, give it a shake, and then put the essence of it back in. Make sure that it isn’t pablum. You want to have something that’s a joy to read, not something that’ll have eyes rolling.

Content: As a reader, I’d be upset at the waste of time. There is nothing good or exciting about this story. There’s nothing to grab or keep me, which is terrible for so short

Editorially, it needs a rethink. I think the chase is fine, but comes too late. That can be salvaged. The rest of the story needs to be able to match it, though. The dialogue, though, needs a total rewrite. It can’t be salvaged.

And that’s all there is this week. Check the calendar to see who’s up next.

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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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