TPG Week 146: Keeping Reader Interest

| October 11, 2013


Welcome once more to The Proving Grounds! This week, we have a new Brave One in Sonja Smith! (And, on a completely unrelated note, I’m very happy to see that we have more women writing and submitting. I can probably count the number of female participants on one hand. I wish there were more. Anyway…) As always, we have Steve Colle looking dashing in blue, I’m fiery in my red, and let’s see what Sonja brings us in







Panel 1. Medium establishing shot. (The use of a medium shot is pretty tight for an establishing shot, don’t you think? It doesn’t give enough of a view of the room, putting more focus on the main subject of the frame instead of generalizing the setting. I would have pulled back some more to at least a long shot.)(Or, you can circumvent the entire thing by just saying establishing shot, and letting the artist do the heavy lifting as to camera placement.) Night, a little girl’s bedroom. Moonlight shines in through the window. Toys are deposited on the floor, and a line of stuffed animals decorates the shelves. The room belongs to a modest home of a lower middle-class family. Nothing too fancy about the furnishings, but it’s nice. A small figure lies in the bed, shadowed by the darkness and burrowed under the covers.



I always knew my brother was different. (Okay, so this could be the beginning of a problem. I’ll explain why at the end of this page.)



Panel 2. Close-up of the figure’s face. Our hero, ARIA, is only 7 years old at this point. She is a little black girl with a natural afro splayed out across her pillow. She is awake and clutching the blanket tightly in her fist. (Pretty good description of the fist clutching the blanket, but just HOW is the blanket being clutched? Is it pulled over everything but her eyes? Is it being used mostly as a security blanket of sorts? Try to give a bit more detailed visual. Otherwise you might not get close to what you actually visualize.)



Even when I was young, I knew that he wasn’t like most other boys his age. (I’d suggest separating this caption’s text for a more dramatic read, by having a longer pause between what’s being spoken.) He was different. (Here, you’ve reused the word different for a second time in two panels. Ask yourself: Which of the two lines of dialogue above better utilizes the expression, my brother was different or he was different ? Another question would be: Do you even NEED to repeat it, or can you simply say I always knew my brother was different. Even when I was young, I knew he wasn’t like most other boys his age ? I believe you should forego the second and stick with the line I just wrote out, then go straight into your next panel’s text.)



Panel 3. Aria is getting out of bed. Something is pulling her from the room. (Is this a Paranormal Activity scenario, where something is literally pulling her from the room? Is she fighting back? Choose your wording carefully.) She is wearing a simple cotton nightgown. Her hair is a frizzy mess. (Ah. A problem in the making.)



I asked Nan about it once. She said it was just because he had a hard time figuring out who he was in this world.



Panel 4. Aria is entering the hallway. She is tiptoeing, trying not to wake anybody during her late night adventure. The hallway is just as dark and empty as her bedroom. (Actually, the hallway should be even darker than the bedroom because the room at least had a light source coming from the moonlight shining through the window, right? And what do you mean by just as empty as her bedroom ? You wrote: Toys are deposited on the floor, and a line of stuffed animals decorates the shelves. That doesn’t sound empty. You may want to rephrase this description.) Family photos line the right wall. Three closed doors line the left. The last doorway has a faint blue glow shining out from beneath it.



She saidtold me that I oughta understand where he’s coming from. After all, we were on the same journey.



Panel 5. Close-up of a family photo hanging on the wall. It is surrounded by a simple wooden frame. (Don’t forget a light source, because without appropriate lighting, you won’t see these details in the dark.) In the picture, we see Aria with her hand on her brother’s shoulder. He is a little white boy, a year younger than she is, with brown hair and blue eyes. (Talking about details, you’ve put in some pretty specific ones like the fact he has blue eyes in a medium to long shot picture that is being viewed in the dark. Would this get seen? Not on your life, making it unnecessary information at this point.) Standing behind them is Nan, a very old white woman with a head of white hair. She is their adoptive mother.



But I’m pretty sure both of us being adopted had very little to do with it. (Did you mean to say But I was pretty sure instead of But I’m pretty sure ? The way you’ve written this makes it sound like she’s only realized it recently instead of way back when they were young. You tell me.)


I see two problems as I read through this page. The first is the opening line of dialogue of I always knew my brother was different and what we actually see. We see Aria, unnamed, instead of the aforementioned brother. Now, because the dialogue is being spoken about a past tense occurrence, I’d think that the narrative coming from someone involved in the story would result in the visual coming from his or her POV, but instead, you’ve placed the attention flatly on the speaker at a younger age. This doesn’t work for me. Now, I’m not saying to change your visual, but you should reconsider your dialogue. You’re putting the onus on the brother instead of putting the focus on the feelings of Aria towards her brother, such as I was always scared of my brother or something of the like. This enhances the meaning of the image. The second problem is the order of your paneling. You have the close-up of the family picture occurring after the bluish light is seen under the door, when in actuality, the blue tint to the light should be the hook to your next page. Think about it. The most abnormal aspect of the page in this case should be what leads us to want to turn the page. The close-up of the picture in the dark isn’t going to cut it.


So, we have P1 on the books.


So far, not bad. Not bad at all. Really, there’s only on panel here that I take exception to, aside from Steve’s spot-on comments about the panel descriptions, and that’s panel 3. The something pulling her from the room.


Ordinarily, I wouldn’t have any problem with that. It’s more for the artist than it is for the reader, and as long as you don’t start going prosaic with the panel descriptions, it’s fine. I know that there is a very fine line as to what is and is not acceptable as a panel description, and as long as I was shown that, as a comic writer, you were able to handle vague, undrawable descriptions such as this without going overboard with it into the realm of things that just absolutely cannot be drawn, then I’m fine. So, the something pulling her from the room isn’t a bad thing at all, it’s just a mental flag for me to watch for things in the future. The question I’d be asking myself is which way will she go with it? The answer will only be discovered later.


The next thing that presents itself as problematic is the dialogue. The first thing that strikes me is the same problem I have: I like using the word that in dialogue. A good portion of the time, it’s unnecessary, and Steve is right to cut it.


The next thing that gets me about the dialogue, though, is the ambiguity of the timeframe, and the location. I don’t know if Steve’s corrections are accurate, because I can see someone from the South or the Old South speaking this way. And I don’t mean two hundred years ago, or even a hundred years ago. I mean as recent at fifty years ago. Without knowing the location and timeframe, I don’t know if I would make certain changes that Steve did. Now, don’t get me wrong: the changes aren’t wrong. I just don’t know if they’re accurate. If this person was raised in the South, then the changes lose some of that flavor.


Finally, the last thing wrong with the dialogue is that there is no real way to determine the age of the speaker as yet.


Honestly, I think this page should have started differently. I wouldn’t have had the establishing shot in the room, because you don’t stay there. I would have started outside, looking at the entire house. Maybe a bird’s eye view of the front, but still able to see the back, where a blue light is being thrown out of a window we can’t see. Then we get into the house, the girl already up out of bed and in the hall, walking toward the door where the light is coming from. We see her as she gets closer, looks at a picture of the three of them, says the line about adoption, and then we end the page with the light coming from a crack from under the door, and maybe we also see her tiny feet there, too. That ends the page in such a way as we are sucked into the story and want to know what’s going on, so we have to turn the page.


This page is not bad at all, but like Steve said, you missed an opportunity for a small cliffhanger there at the end of it.







Panel 1. Aria pushes open the door that is emitting the blue glow. (See what I mean about the blue glow? By having it as your last panel on the previous page, it also leads in directly with this image.)



It was something else.






Panel 2. Big establishing shot of a little boy’s room. A cardboard box in the corner of the room is labeled JENSEN’S STUFF in permanent marker. The box is open and its contents are spilled out across the floor, which consists of several Hot Wheels and a stuffed dragon. The bed is unmade with the covers thrown to the foot of the bed, and it is empty. JENSEN, 6 years old, sits in the middle of the room on the floor. He is holding a necklace up by the silver chain at eye level as the attached pendant shines out a soft blue light, illuminating the room with an eerie glow.



He was special.



Panel 3. Close on Aria as she peers in through the crack in the door. The blue glow reflects in her eyes. She is awed and frightened. (The fact that this is a silent panel isn’t working to benefit the story. I’ll make a suggestion at the end of this page.) (Awed and frightened is awfully tough to draw. The cleaner, more simple the emotion, the easier it is to draw.)



Panel 4. Close on Jensen as he looks at Aria. The blow glow illuminates his face and makes his eyes look almost alien. He seems almost older somehow and very serious. (You’ve just introduced Jensen as a character, then express that he seems almost older. What are you comparing this to? If you had written something such as His focus and seriousness seems older than his six years would dictate , this would give the artist a better grasp of what you’re trying to say.) The chain is clutched tightly in his fist. The pendant is a small jewel incased in a silver clasp. (Your grasp from comics to prose is starting to slip a bit.)



Darkness is coming, Aria. Can’t you feel it? (I feel like this dialogue needs to be lengthened or elaborated upon. The house is dark and the light is streaming from the blue jewel. In a more literal sense, the darkness is already there, so for him to say darkness is coming is kind of redundant to me. Now, if the jewel were releasing waves of darkness, like a premonition from a crystal ball, then the dialogue would make sense, but it seems contradictory the way it is right now.)


I’m not convinced of the effectiveness of the last two panels. First of all, having a silent panel breaks the flow you’ve established so nicely of having text of some form in each and every panel. Here’s what you have in the first two panels: Aria pushes the door to the bedroom open, then we see inside the bedroom. You could have gone the route of having the third panel’s description as being for the first panel, where she peers in through the crack in the door . Then, you go into the establishing shot of Jensen sitting on the floor of the room with the pendant in his hand. From there, you have him talking about the darkness coming. Here’s where you could use your Panel 4 for a Panel 3 and then have an extreme close-up of Aria’s eyes expressing the emotion and having the reflection in her eyes, with Panels 3 and 4 having the characters facing each other on the bottom tier of the page. Then, divide up the last line of dialogue so the first part fits into the new Panel 3 and the last, Can’t you feel it? , fits into and suits perfectly the visual of Panel 4. Her reaction would, again, create a nice hook, even if the next page is a facing page.


P2, and and I’m feeling a Stephen King vibe. That isn’t necessarily a good thing.


I’ve read a lot of King, and seen a lot of his movies. Stephen King , for as much as he’s a celebrated writer, also does some truly screwed-up things to kids. In a lot of his stories/books, there’s a kid that has a connection to or is able to see something different about the world, and generally suffers for it.


So, we have kids here. Do I think they’re going to suffer? Mebbe. I don’t know yet. I have the feeling that they might not, and I don’t know if that’s going to work for the story or not.


What I’m getting from this page is that it’s just marking time, though. Like you need to get through this part in order to understand the next bit, so you’re going through the motions to try to make it interesting enough to continue to get through, without actually investing yourself in the characters so that this can be really interesting now.


How do we fix that? More dialogue.


So far, this is a fast read, and it doesn’t have to be. Actually, it probably shouldn’t be. You have the space to make this more lively, more interesting—use it!



Panel 1. Medium establishing shot of a classroom. (I’m interested in learning what you visualize as a medium establishing shot . Again, it doesn’t give you the full effect of the size or contents of the room at that distance.) It is midday in a classroom of 20 kids, all of whom look distracted and bored. The posters decorating the wall are all for math. (This also intrigues me, as when I was in high school all those many years ago, the classrooms were multi-purpose, so having posters up of math related material didn’t make sense as the next class occupying the room could well be History or even English.)(In ‘Murica, for high school, we have classrooms that are dedicated to a single subject.) The clock at the back of the classroom puts the time at just after 1 o’clock. Many students are texting or reading magazines. A boy in the back is asleep. The nerdy-looking male Math Teacher stands at the front of the class. (How is the teacher reacting to the obvious disinterest? Is he sweating or looking nervous? Here’s a bit of a story: I had a Psychology instructor in my first year of college who would stand at the front of the class facing the board, writing the entire hour and a half. Was he oblivious to what was happening behind him? Did he care? I can’t answer that, but I will tell you, those people not taking the notes we had to copy every class all failed. True story. Now back to the story at hand.) Aria, now 17 years old, sits by the windows in the classroom as she gazes out them. Her head is in her hand, and she is looking quite bored as she stares off in the distance. Her hair has been straightened with a relaxer to look stylish, and she is wearing a touch of makeup with clothes that say she is part of the in-crowd. She is quite pretty. (See what I wrote as a comment for Panel 2.)


SFX: (This is unnecessary. You can clearly see the boredom without being blatant about it with sound effects.)




When x minus 2a equals y and a is equal to -3…


1 CAP:

10 YEARS LATER… (I’ll tell you right now, I do not like this omniscient narrator caption. In this case, it’s a complete cop out. You could have easily and effectively brought the dialogue from the past tense to the present by having her daydream what was just happening in the two previous pages. Another thing you could have done is had a mirrored copy of the last image from the previous page, the extreme close-up of her eyes, with obvious signs of aging to teen years and her expression looking bored, the complete polar opposite of what she’s expressing in the close of the last scene. This would have also followed and expressed nicely what was said in the last panel of the previous page with Can’t you feel it? )



Panel 2. Close on Aria, still looking out the windows and quite bored. (Bring this up as a first panel, carrying out what I mentioned in the caption comments above, and then have your establishing shot of the classroom as a second panel.)



…then -3 times 2 is -6, which gives you x minus -6…



Panel 3. The view outside Aria’s window. Several trees, an empty lawn, and a street out in front of the school makes up most of her viewpoint. The school wraps around in an L-shape, allowing her to see the entrance of the school off to the left. A teenage boy (Jensen) has just exited the front doors. He is 16-years-old and dressed in a typical t-shirt and jeans just rolled out of bed look.



…which then turns into x plus 6 equals y…



Panel 4. Close-up of Aria’s reaction. Her hand has dropped, and she no longer looks bored. She is confused.






Panel 5. The view outside Aria’s window. Jensen is following the path away from the school.



What the hell is he doing…? (Get rid of the ellipsis here. Just because it works when she’s saying Jensen ? , doesn’t mean it works everywhere. This is a complete sentence.)



Panel 6. Close on Jensen as he continues down the path. A chain necklace is visible along the collar of his shirt, but it disappears beneath the material. It is the same chain that carried the pendant all those years ago. He has a somewhat dazed look on his face, almost as if he were in a trance. And, most importantly seen now that we’re taking a closer look, he is see-through as if he were a ghost. (This last part about him being see-through or transparent is a bit confusing, in that this should have been seen as such in previous panels. That is, unless it was your intention to make that effect exclusive to this panel, in which case there should be some sort of textual cue stating this. Now, do you mean see-through or intangible, the first meaning incorporeal and the second, kind of Kitty Pryde-like in the way her body looks solid, but things pass through her?)


The pattern I’m finding on each page of the three I’ve commented on so far is the misplacement or miss-ordering of your panel visuals. It’s happened at least once per page. Now, I’m not going to say it’s a bad story because it isn’t, but you really need to focus on your sequencing and on what will best work at creating hooks and transitions from page to page and scene to scene.


P3, and now I’m bored. Even as things seem like they might start to get interesting, I’m bored.


Know what that means? That means this is about to be put back on the shelf pretty soon. Probably by the end of P5. You’ve not been able to capture any interest from me, and even though it seems like all signs point to the contrary, it isn’t difficult to hold my interest.


Here’s what you’ve done:


As Steve mentioned, you haven’t transitioned properly from one page to the next, one timeframe to the next. You also haven’t given enough of the right kind of information soon enough to the artist. You’re talking about school and a classroom, but you haven’t stated what kind of school or classroom. Your character was just a child, and and now when we get to Panel 1 on this page, the artist can expect her to still be a child—except she isn’t, and that comes late in the description. That should have been first. Math decorations basically come in two styles: bubble-large and brightly colored, or more sedate in form but still brightly colored. One is for elementary school, the other for high school. The sooner you give the relevant information to the artist, the better they’ll be able to visualize the panel/page without having to switch mental gears.


Now, couple that with the fact that you talk more math on this page than actual story, and do you know what you’ve done? You’ve caused me to fall asleep at the keyboard. Steve told a short, complete story in your panel description, and that was more interesting than what you have here, and that’s never good. (I’m the only one who’s supposed to be able to tell short, interesting stories, dagnabbit! Now I gotta go find one of my own to tell… Well, maybe not. This aside is more interesting than both, natch!)


Here’s the other thing that’s bothering me: Jensen. What’s bothering me? So far, we’ve only been on Aria, and have only been able to see what she’s seen. Panel 6, though, makes it seem that Aria is no longer in view. If we’re going to continue to follow Jensen, then one of two things has to happen: we get an internal monologue from Aria, talking about whatever but not specifically about what he’s doing, or we have an internal monologue from Jensen. If the camera switches back to Aria, then this is wrong, because first, she’s not in this panel, and second, we can’t do a close-up of him if he’s walking away from her. We can see what she sees as she can see it. If she can make out things through him, then that’s fine. If not, you have to place him closer.



Panel 1. Aria leaps to her feet in horror, attracting the attention of the entire class. She is horrified by what she sees outside the window. (This isn’t going to work well. If she’s going to be horrified in class by what she sees outside the window, then she has to be looking at the window. If she’s looking at the window, the camera has to be placed outside the window, looking in, otherwise we wouldn’t be able to see her face. We need to be able to see both her face and the reaction of the class. What you have here suggests that we’re inside the classroom instead of outside the window.)


ARIA: (I’d suggest making this a burst balloon. Otherwise it doesn’t come across as horrified.)

JENSEN! (Add at least one more exclamation mark here.)



Panel 2. Big shot. Aria goes running from the classroom. The students are in an uproar, some in confusion, but most of them are cheering her on. One of them has thrown a bunch of papers up into the air. It is anarchy. The Math Teacher looks flustered. (I had to laugh when I read this panel description and it’s subsequent dialogue. That’s over-the-top! From one girl racing out of the class, the entire room breaks out into anarchy? I didn’t get a sense of that type of dissatisfaction from the information on the previous page. Perhaps if some of the students were saying something to lead up to this on Page Three, this would have made more sense, but not like this.)



Miss Mitchell! Where are you going? Come back here this instant!



Go, Aria!



Run for it!



Down with school! (This? This made me almost physically ill.)



Panel 3. Long shot. The hallway of the high school. An elderly female English Teacher, wearing a pair of glasses, and the school’s Principal, a younger well-dressed woman, stand talking outside of the English Classroom. A trophy case on the right side of the panel is decorated with trophies of the school’s victories with a banner across the top that says, GO BADGERS! A picture of the cheering badger mascot in a blue and gold jersey finishes off the banner. (Is the specificity of this panel description important to the story?) Aria is on the far right of the panel, (Why place the character coming from the far right instead of the far left? Unless it’s manga, you should have left-to-right motion as that’s the way we tend to read.) having just entered the scene. She is in a full-on sprint.



I don’t know what happened. He just got up and walked out of class. He’s usually such a good boy(This should be an ellipsis, not a double dash, as it’s dialogue that trails off instead of being interrupted.)



And you’re sure he left the school?



— (You shouldn’t have a double dash here, as it works as the start of the sentence.) Walked right out the front doors. I’m telling you, this isn’t like him. He —



Panel 4. Long shot. Aria is on the left side of the panel, just about to exit the scene. She has just sprinted past the English Teacher and the Principal, startling them both. The Principal has thrown herself up against the wall to avoid being trampled. The English Teacher’s glasses are skewed, (Why are her glasses skewed? Did she do a quick movement like the principal?) and she looks confused. The Math Teacher is shouting after her from off-panel to the right.



Oh my… There goes another.



It’s a mutiny!



Miss Mitchell! Miss Mitchell! Get back here at once!


I said it before and I’ll say it again: This is over-the-top. Mutiny? Anarchy? You didn’t build this up with any form of lead in or foreshadowing dialogue, so it’s coming across as unfounded.


P4 is just a bad page with terrible storytelling.


Okay, I understand the running out of the room, and I even get the fact that there are a couple of people in the hallway. But calls for mutiny and rioting in the classroom? I’m not buying it.


And then, there’s the case of the dropsies to contend with. We don’t see it all that often, so let me explain what happened.


P1 has an internal monologue. P2 has some of it. P3 then forgoes the monologue for thought balloons, which is wrong. Then this page—nothing. Nada. Zip. Zilch. Zero. There’s no thought balloons to let us into her head, there is no internal monologue going on, there’s just nothing there. You dropped the internal monologue.


Do you know why this happens? Dropsies happen when your character doesn’t have enough to say. They are extremely easy to start, but very difficult to keep up if your character doesn’t have anything to say, and it is apparent that this one doesn’t. This is terrible, because it’s only P4, and you haven’t said that much as yet. Your character shouldn’t be running out of things to say by P3. That’s terrible. (Conversely, the students shouldn’t be speaking at all, let alone that cringe-worthy dialogue that tried to singe my eyes.)


Next, we don’t care about the people in the hall. Yes, I know you’re trying to give us information about Jensen (I assume), giving us some insight into his personality. I get that. What I don’t get is the need for it to happen this way in particular. There are other ways to get this information across. The first hallway panel is okay, but it could have been done a lot better, because it’s unnecessary. The rest of the page, with the math teacher calling for her to come back—that’s a waste of space.


Most of this page is padding. There are better ways to get this information across. And to be honest, it wouldn’t have been so bad if it weren’t for the dropsies.



Panel 1. Tight close-up shot of Jensen’s face. He is still see-through and fading quickly. The trees and school parking lot can be seen through him in the distance. His eyes are glazed over as if in a trance. (Whose story is this? Follow that character. I understand what you’re trying to do, but there are other, better ways to go about it, instead of flip-flopping between the two. They don’t even share equal screen time.)



Panel 2. Aria bursting out of the front doors. She is frantic and moving as fast as she can. (I’d strongly suggest combining the actions of Panels 1 and 2. That way, we see [through Jensen’s transparent face] Aria running frantically after him. This still allows the reader to see the trance-like look on his face AND doesn’t open your page with a silent panel.) (I don’t care about the silent panel as much as I care about which character we should be following. I’ll be making a Nightmare on Elm Street reference at the end of the page.)


ARIA: (Here’s another opportunity to use a burst balloon.)




Panel 3. Tight close-up shot of the see-through cuffs of Jensen’s jeans and his sneakers as he steps off of the curb and out into the street. (This is another opportunity to show Aria getting even closer to him from the low angle you’ve described.)


Why do you have a silent panel here instead of following up with more of Aria screaming after him? Did she give up?


Panel 4. Head-on shot of a see-through Jensen about to step in front of a green Cherokee. The driver is frantic and beating on the horn as they try to come to a sudden stop. Jensen is not fazed. (Now, here’s a suggestion: Instead of having the camera coming from the exterior of the car, why not have it coming from right behind the driver’s head, looking at the phantom crossing in front of him? This strengthens the driver’s reaction to what he sees. Is he just seeing someone walk out in front of his speeding vehicle, or does he notice the transparency of the body in front of him? Play up the thriller aspect of this page. Also, have the driver say something as opposed to just having the honking and screeching.)


SFX 1:

Honk! Honk!


SFX 2:




Panel 5. Big. Aria tackles Jensen around the waist to knock him out of the way of the oncoming car. He is no longer see-through. She knocks the wind out of him and forces him to finally show some emotion of surprise and pain as they fly through the air. A blue glow that neither notice is shining from beneath Jensen’s shirt (This should have been introduced in an earlier panel.) and engulfing both of them, obscuring most of the background. (What you’ve got here are basically two things happening: The blue glow from beneath Jensen’s shirt and then the engulfing of that blue light around both characters. You have to have one before the other. That’s why I made the comment about introducing the blue glow under his shirt in a previous panel or panels. Easy enough to do without changing much of the visuals you’ve described prior to this panel. There should also be a sound here, like one or both of the characters saying UMPH! as the tackle occurs.)




Panel 6. They land, Aria on top of Jensen, but instead of asphalt, they land in a bed of red earth (still day) and send a puff of rusty dirt up around them. Neither notices this right away. They are both still shaking off the tackle. (I’d actually place this at the top of the next page. Let the tackle from left to right be the hook that leads to the page turn.)


Good page that just needs a bit more thought put into it.


P5, and we again have bad storytelling, this time coupled with bad pacing.


A Nightmare on Elm Street. The original, not the puff-pastry one that had Rorschach trying to be scary. In the original, we get Nancy in school, and she falls asleep. Freddy comes and scares the crap out of her, and she wakes up, screaming. Know what those kids do? They react in surprise and cringe away, not with some terrible down with school dialogue. And that was the 80s, when being loud or rowdy in class didn’t result in jail time.


Nancy wakes up, screaming, and then runs out the class. What do we do? We follow her. We follow all single characters, even in an ensemble cast, until the end of their scene. We can switch the point of view, like we often do in horror movies when we’re watching the prey from the killer’s pov, or we switch to the killer as they stalk their prey, but we never switch to another character who is in the same scene.


Your main character is Aria. This is her scene. You’re letting Jensen spoil it by not having Aria in the shots with him in them. That needs to change. Whenever Jensen is in a shot, Aria needs to be there, too. These are her scenes.


And Steve is absolutely right: the last panel needs to be on the next page. This is an odd-numbered page, so it’s a page-turn. The tackle needs to happen on this page, the result of the tackle needs to be on the next page.


And still no internal monologue, no explanation, no nothing to let us know what’s going on inside her head. I’m not happy.


The good news is this: if the last panel were on the next page, I’d continue reading. At least I have some interest now. I think it’s too late, though, but there’s the possibility there’s some brave soul who’ll continue on.





Looking at the following panel description, this strengthens my suggestion of having the last panel of the previous page start this page off. Read on and you’ll see why.


Panel 1. Full-page splash. Aria and Jensen are just little specs (And here’s why: You have the characters as being so tiny on the page that they would be near invisible to the reader. By starting the page off with an establishing look at the two characters, you’re setting up the extreme long shot more effectively.) on the page in the upper left hand corner. Aria is gripping the front of Jensen’s shirt in her fists, angry, and yelling in his face. She has not yet noticed the world around her, but Jensen is fully aware and in awe. Beyond them is a vast wasteland of red earth and charred vegetation. Trees that have been burned to cinders are black fingers reaching to the sky, and any grass that once grew is now darkened ash on the ground. In the distance, mountains decorate the horizon, but nothing else seems to be around for miles.



Are you out of your mind? You could have been killed!



Uh… Aria…? (Separate balloon) Where are we?


Okay, so here’s what I’m seeing with regards to matching up dialogue to their appropriate visuals: The Are you out of your mind? You could have been killed! and Uh… Aria…? should be used in the panel where they land, then the Where are we? should be alone in the vastness of the largest panel on the page. That would strengthen the effect of confusion to the change in locale.


Panel 2. Inset at the bottom right side of the page. Close-up of the profile of Aria’s reaction from a downward angle over her shoulder with her head turned as she finally notices the world around her. She is shaken and scared. Over her shoulder, still pinned beneath her, Jensen’s worried expression is seen.


ARIA: (This should come across as more of a disbelieving whisper or written as very small text in a regular balloon size.)

… (No ellipsis here.) What did you do? (The ellipsis works, as does the suggestion for small text or a whisper. Using both is overkill. Ellipsis with regular sized text, or small text/whisper with no ellipsis.)


Splash page. Know what? I like it. And I agree with Steve even more: the last panel on the previous page should be inset here. I’ve got nothing else.



Panel 1. Aria has climbed off of Jensen, but she is still kneeled in the dirt as she tries to take in the setting around her. Jensen is sitting up and looking just as lost as her.



Me? Why do you think I had anything to do with this?— (Why put a double dash after ending punctuation?)



Who else? You’re the one that zombie-walked out of school!



— (Why are you putting double dashes at the beginning of sentences like this?) What are you talking about?



Panel 2. Aria stares at him. (Expression?)



The last thing I remember is reading To be or not to bet (Is this supposed to read To be or not to be ?) while Paul Brenner threw spitballs at the back of my head.— (Again, you have ending punctuation with a double dash following it. It doesn’t make sense.) (Nope. Not at all.)



You don’t remember getting up, walking out of school, and nearly being hit by a car…? (Get rid of the ellipsis marks here.)



— (Get rid of this double dash.) I remember you tackling me? (This should be a period, not a question mark.) (The question mark can stay, if that’s what she intends. This is where the question should be asked. Personally, I like it.)



Panel 3. Aria stands and surveys the land. Jensen remains seated on the ground.



This is all so weird…



You’re telling me.



Panel 4. Aria brings her hands to her mouth to call out across the land.






Panel 5. Close-up of Aria. Only the wind answers her call. (If this is a close-up, we’re not going to be able to see the wind answering her. What’s her expression?)



Panel 6. Close-up of Jensen as he realizes that they are alone.


This last panel needs to have something said to close the page, like Jensen asking, Do you hear anything? and perhaps Aria saying No or Uh uh. The silent panel works for Panel 5, but not this one.


This page is not boring. However, it isn’t exactly interesting, either.


Anyway, characters have to act. They have to have facial expressions. You forgot to do that a couple of times here.


Now, you have a large, barren land here. One of two things has to happen: either someone or something has to appear in order to guide them somewhere, or the conversation between the two of them has to be damned interesting. So far, none of the conversation has been riveting. Realistic, yes, but not riveting.


Let’s see what you do.



Panel 1. Jensen is shakily getting to his feet. Aria is staring at their surroundings helplessly.



What do we do now?



Try to figure out how we got here and how we get back, I guess.



Panel 2. Wide shot. Jensen is doubled over, looking a little ill. Aria is still assessing their situation.



Shouldn’t you be freaking out about how this shouldn’t even be possible?— (Get rid of this double dash.)



Oh. I am. Internally.



— (Get rid of this double dash.) Well, do you mind if I freak out externally? Because I think I might be sick…



Panel 3. Wide shot. The ground beneath them rumbles. (I’d suggest having a sound effect of the ground rumbling to strengthen the visual that may not make it obvious.) Jensen and Aria have to brace themselves to keep from falling over. (Brace themselves against what? Meaning, what are they using for stability?)



What’s going on!?



Panel 4. Close-up shot of Aria. The rumbling has stopped, but she still looks shaken.



… (Get rid of the ellipsis marks.) Earthquake? (There should be more to this dialogue. The rumbling has stopped, but you don’t say anything like That was fast or anything else to denote that cessation.)



Panel 5. Aria is facing Jensen, her back to us, while Jensen looks past her at something off-panel. He is terrified and looks like he might pass out. A large demonic-like shadow with wings has fallen over them. (So, here’s where you have a winged creature causing a rumbling of the ground. Wouldn’t it make more sense to have it without wings, or better yet, to have a windstorm develop instead of the ground rumbling? Maybe the lack of sound they heard on the previous page, with the wind being the only noise, was actually the coming of the winged creature? Something to think about.)



I don’t think it was an earthquake…


I think this was a good start to a story. It interested me, pulled me in, and kept my attention through visuals and dialogue. Sure, there are areas that need to be tweaked and others that need more thought on sequencing, but generally speaking, I was happy with your efforts. Let’s see what Steven has to say about it.


Bah. Let’s run it down.


Format: Flawless Victory!


Panel Descriptions: Not bad at all. For the most part, these had few problems.


Think things through, Sonja. Not every panel needs a camera angle, but there are times, such as in the classroom, that the panel descriptions you give don’t give rise to a workable camera angle.


Slow down, think it through, and it’ll be that much better.


Pacing: Here is your biggest problem.


Mostly, this is boring. You try to inject interest in the proceedings, but you’re cheating by doing so. Again, you have to follow the main character of the scene. You cheat by switching to Jensen without showing Aria. That’s a no-no.


Then, there is the padding. There isn’t a lot of it, but there’s enough. Just a little condensing to be done. Not much.


The panels that lead to your mini-cliffhangers are on right pages, but they are then resolved on that same page. That’s a no-no, too. The idea is to have the reader turn the page, not give them reason to close the book. You get them to turn the page by piquing their curiosity and then leading them by the nose through the story. Mini-cliffhanger on the last panel of an odd-numbered page, and the resolution of it goes on the first panel of the even-numbered page.


Finally, the dialogue. You control the pace with which the page is read by the amount of dialogue on it. This is too fast of a read. You add more dialogue, you slow the pace, and you add enjoyment for the reader, the caveat being that the dialogue is both good and interesting.


Dialogue: We already know there isn’t enough of it, but what dialogue you have here needs to have the rules for comic book punctuation reviewed.


You also have to fix the dropsies. Know what it is that you want to say and then say it. Either add more captions, or remove the ones you have.


Content: As a reader, I’d pass this by. I know there’s a story you want to tell, but you’re not getting around to it fast enough for me. You can be slow, but you can’t be slow and uninteresting. This didn’t hold enough of my interest.


Editorially, this isn’t bad at all. What you need is an editor to help see you through it. There are times when you need more than a nudge in the right direction (more like a stiff push), but this isn’t bad at all.


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

Like what you see? Steve and Sam are available for your editing needs. You can email Steve  here, and Sam  here. My info is below.

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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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