TPG Week 168: Dialogue Shouldn’t Destroy Your Efforts

| March 15, 2014


Welcome back, one and all, to the another installment of The Proving Grounds! This week, we have a new Brave One in Cody Stewart. We also have Steve Colle in blue, I’m in red, and we’ll see what Cody does when he faces


The Last Enemy


(Are we getting tired of the small asides before we begin? I know I am. Again, this script was in a pitch smaller than 12. I think I’ve said before how you’re not doing anything besides sabotaging yourself and your efforts. I’m tired of saying it. One strike against this already. Let’s see if it gets any better.)


PAGE ONE (three panels)


Panel 1: An unnamed cemetery at night, summer. We look down the barrel of EDMOND KILLEY’s gun as he takes aim. KILLEY is typically muscular and physically disciplined, a soldier, but looks half crazed and cracked from grief. There is stubble on his chin and dark circles under his eyes. His eyes are wide and glossy, an almost distant look to them. His clothes are askew, messy and untucked. He has black hair. (Never in this description do you define the time period of the story. That’s a problem, to say the least. Does it take place in the old west? Is it a tale of the distant future? You seriously need to set this up right off the bat. Not only does it establish setting and set pieces, but more importantly on this page, it defines what they’re wearing and the type of gun he may be using. By the way, is it a pistol or a rifle (or a revolver)? That will also guide the artist in the right direction. Think about all the questions that could be asked based on your lack of information and then fill in the blanks.)(I’m having another problem, right off the bat. When I look down the barrel of a gun, I’m looking downrange. I’m looking at a target. This isn’t looking at a target. This is looking up the barrel, not down it. The way this is described, it cannot be drawn.)



I’m going to kill you in about ten seconds, Patrick. Best make peace with it.


Just as an aside, I’m seeing the strength that the above visual has with the above dialogue if it were a splash page unto itself. Nice hook for a first page if it were to stand alone.



But when this bullet goes screaming through your brain, I want you to know why. I want you to understand that it’s completely your fault. (I’m not crazy about how this line is sounding. The one way I can think of to make it sound more matter of fact and less whiney is by changing the first word But to Now , to read as Now, when this bullet goes screaming through your brain, I want you to know why. See how it changes the way the character speaks and the intention behind his words? It also sounds more macho, for lack of a better word. Consider it. On a second note, I see this as the opening sentence of the second page, but that would only be in the event that the first panel was a splash page.) (This is a very good point. As a splash page, only the first line of dialogue is needed. However, I’m going to disagree a bit with Steve in that I don’t believe that the second line is necessary. I wouldn’t put it in the first panel at all. It needs to be moved out of this panel, no matter what.)


Panel 2: PATRICK is on his knees, seen only from behind, as KILLEY lords over him, righteously aiming his gun. (In the first panel, you gave a brief, albeit incomplete description of what Killey looks like. Why didn’t you give the artist an idea of what Patrick looks like as well?)(What’s he doing on his knees? There’s no acting on the part of the soon-to-be-departed.)



You buried something good. You brought death to a world already drenched in it.


Panel 3: Pan around to show Patrick bruised and beaten and bleeding and begging for his life.


KILLEY: (Is Killey in the shot or is this dialogue coming from off panel?)

Now things are out of balance. Uneven. The world needs balance, Patrick.


KILLEY 2: (Same question here.)

I need balance.



Please, Edmond, I was just doing my job.


Save for my thoughts that the first panel could have stood alone as a visual and textual hook into the story, it’s not a terrible opening page. I do have one major issue, though: You introduce the idea of Killey being half crazed and cracked from grief , but then establish through his dialogue that he is very much in control. I saw one character and yet heard another. The dialogue doesn’t fit that of a crazed man. The dialogue works fine, but you need to reconsider how he’s delivering it.


P1! All that stress and anxiety, and it’s down and over!


As a page, this needs some work. The first panel, done correctly, has power. It’s a powerful image, and serves as a great introduction to the story. I like it, after it’s corrected. Then, it starts going downhill after the first line of dialogue.


Here’s what happens: all of the dialogue does the opposite of what you need it to do. The dialogue after the first panel begins to leach the interest that the first panel garnered. By the time we get to the last panel, the dialogue makes me want to close the book in the opposite direction. I want to close the book, and that’s never a good thing. Not on the first page.


The pacing is fine (although I’d still use that corrected first panel as a splash page), but the interest is not.


The dialogue doesn’t make me want to tear my eyes out, but I’m not happy with it. Feels like you’re trying too hard. Too hard to get across a point, while also trying to create mystery as to what was killed. Trying too hard because too much is said. Too much of the same thing. Want to raise interest on this first page? Have the guy who’s about to die talk more.


Also, you’d expect better pleading than what we see.

PAGE TWO (four panels)


Panel 1: Killey sits atop a tombstone and looks down at his gun contemplatively. (When did he sit on the tombstone? Was he on it on the previous page? Also, this is the action of a man in control, relaxed enough to rest himself comfortably on the prop instead of his hand shaking wildly in crazed fashion. Everything you’ve done past that very first panel of the story has worked, and yet has gone against what you initially established about the character’s mental state. Something to think about.)



That’s the difference between us, Patrick. For you, death is just a job.


Panel 2: Angle on Killey’s face. The light and shadow play in such a way as to resemble a skull, the face of death.



For me, it’s who I am.


Panel 3: Killey stands and readies his weapon. (Wasn’t his weapon already readied? What did he do differently with his gun?) (How would he go about readying his weapon? For the moment, screw the fact that the gun should have already been ready to fire. How does he go about readying it now? What action is being performed? This panel cannot be drawn, because the artist doesn’t have any information.)



We are wicked men, Patrick. We would bleed the world dry if not for our counterweights. (I’m rapidly losing interest.)



You took my counterweight. (Comma instead of period here) the only thing that kept me from tipping all the way to hell. Now, who’s to stop me ? (Why do you have the ellipsis marks at the end? It seems like a complete sentence to me, not one that would have a continuing thought attached.)



Please! Wai- (Double dash here instead of single.)


Panel 4: Killey shoots Patrick in the head. (Where’s the camera? Are both men in the shot, or is this a close up profile of Patrick’s head as the bullet passes through the front and out the back? Is it in silhouette? More detail, please.)


Again, Killey seems just fine to me on this page, not the crazed and grief stricken man you started off with. The dialogue is working well here. You also ended the page on a good note visually. Good job on that.


P2, and I have Public Enemy’s Prophets of Rage going in my head.


This page is padding, except for the shooting. Too much talking that doesn’t lead to anything except the shooting. What should have happened is simple: move everything but the first panel from P1 onto P2, and remove all of the panels from P2 except for the last one, and you have a better paced two pages.


So, yes, the pacing is off. This guy wants to kill someone, but then talks and talks and talks (and then lets the other guy talk for a short bit), then has the nerve to sit down and doing some more talking before standing up to talk even more, and then shoots the guy.


Might as well just shoot me.


Padding. I hates it.


And the dialogue still isn’t working for me. Too much of nothing is said. It’s P2. Give me something to work with. Something to hold my interest. I’m not happy, because I’m not interested.


When broken down, we understand that someone’s dead, and he’s trying to redress that by killing someone else. Got it. Does he have to continue to hit the same note, both obliquely and not well? Two pages of this? That’s one page too much.

PAGE THREE (four panels)


Panel 1: Killey looks at the tombstone behind Patrick. The spattered blood highlights the words Loving Father . (Where was this tombstone in previous panels? We would have seen it before now. Also, the highlighting with blood is awfully convenient. What you could have done instead is to have only those words showing as Patrick’s body covered up the rest of the text. Was Patrick a loving father? I thought he was just a man doing a job by killing someone else. Who do the words loving father apply to? If the answer isn’t obvious, then perhaps the use of the text as a prop isn’t effective and therefore unneeded.)



Balance, Patrick. It’s all about balance. (Using the ellipsis here isn’t applying it as effectively as you could. I’d personally go either with It’s all about balance without the ellipsis or divide the sentence between two balloons to read It’s all about and balance. The latter makes it more contemplative.)


Panel 2: Killey puts the gun to his temple.



And the scales are leveled with blood. (I think this line would be better served if it were applied to the next panel, as a final comment before going to a completely black panel.)


Panel 3: Close up of the hammer pulled back, a second from slamming down and firing.


Panel 4: Completely black.


I noticed the complete lack of sound effects as the gun was fired in both cases. Why?


I have a question for you, Cody: If Patrick’s death created the balance that was so lacking for Killey, then why did Killey kill himself? Doesn’t his death throw off the balance all over again? It doesn’t make sense to me.


It stopped making sense somewhere around panel 3 of P1.


I’m also not understanding the death of this guy. Well, the need for the death. Steve stated it well, so I won’t rehash it.


It’s P3, and while it seems to make sense, I’m still waiting for the story to start. We possibly could have an inciting incident here, but we also might not. It isn’t making sense, because we have yet to have any sense of story.


Is this scene necessary? I think so. The problem is that I don’t know how it fits with the rest of the story. Normally, this would create mystery. However, the dialogue is a turn off. It is actively making me want to go do something else. That means there’s no mystery here, except for when the pain is going to stop.



PAGE FOUR (three panels)


Panel 1: Completely black.


CAP 1:
Blackbird Blackbird


Panel 2: Angle on Blackbird, Killey’s codename, on a rooftop in New York City. He is dressed in black tactical gear. It is sleek and stealthy, but armored. For reference: His head is covered with a black balaclava. There are hints of purple throughout his uniform. He has a bag containing a sniper rifle slung over his shoulder. (That’s nice. He’s on a roof. What’s he doing?)


CARDINAL (over comms):

Blackbird, do you copy, goddammit?! (In reading this far, the caption isn’t just a caption, it’s spoken dialogue, which means it is missing quotation marks.)



Copy, Cardinal. (Separate balloon) Sorry, sir. I just… got distracted, sir.


CARDINAL (over comms):

Well (Missing comma) get your head out of your ass and your shit in the game


Panel 3: Zoom out for aerial shot of New York City. It’s winter. Snow and ash fall from the sky. (How do we, as readers, distinguish the difference between ash and snow? How is the artist supposed to convey the difference? Why did you add the element of snow to the mix? Where is the ash coming from, a volcano eruption?) The city looks to have been battered by war. Buildings burn and crumble. Pillars of smoke rise high above the towering skyscrapers. (I’m getting a strong sense of visual overkill here. Pillars of smoke mixed with snow and ash. You need to decide what’s going to suit the scene the best. Aren’t you better off with billowing smoke and fire?)


CARDINAL (over comms):

The goddamned world is coming down around us.


So, I’m a bit lost. Because you never established the time period of your previous scene, I don’t know if there is a direct correlation between what happened then and what’s happening now. Was it a dream sequence? A memory? Is this a case of reincarnation, where it was a previous lifetime and he’s now reborn during a time of war?


I like how you’re ending your pages on high notes and the transitional tools of consecutive black panels works well. Just make sure your story is making sense in its progression.




I’m lost, and I don’t like being lost. Let’s look at this from the reader’s perspective:


The first three pages deal with two guys—Edmond and Patrick. Those are the only two names we’re given. These two men are now dead. We turn the page, and we’re introduced to a new guy, wearing black, with his head and face covered. Sounds good, right?


Well, no, because in reading the script, we know that this is the same guy. How is the reader supposed to know this is the same guy? They won’t, so they’re going to think that this is someone new.


Now, since there’s no caption, no timeframe given, no nothing to place the two scenes in any sort of chronology, there’s going to be more confusion when a reveal happens.


It seems like you want to set that mystery, and the adding of a timeframe may destroy that mystery, but really, it doesn’t matter. You have to garner reader interest first, and that’s not here.


You also have a very low panel count. A low panel count with a minimum of dialogue means you’re going to have a very fast read on your hands. That’s a saving grace of sorts, except that you don’t have anything going for you that’s going to keep the reader’s attention. They’re going to speed through, and then wonder what they’ve just read. That’s never a good thing.


When you add dialogue, the characters have to say something meaningful. We have the intimation that the events on the first three pages are some sort of flashback or memory, but that’s only an intimation. Nothing more meaningful is said, and then you want to pull out to show destruction. You’re trying to add layer of mystery, but it’s not elegant.


We don’t care, because you haven’t made us care. Not good.

PAGE FIVE (three panels)


Panel 1: Zoom to Times Square. A man hovers above a scene of mayhem. He is the Avatar of FEAR and he has brought Armageddon to New York. A red light surrounds him, outlining his body with a devilish shape – horns, tail, cloven hooves. (What I’m understanding from this description is that the aura around him is what has the devilish shape, not the actual man. Is that correct? If that’s the case, what does the man look like?) Cars are overturned. The road is cracked. Police have sealed off the area.



I know how Noah felt



Bear witness, sheep! (I’m not feeling evil in this line.)(I’m feeling something, but it isn’t evil. My stomach is clenched, but it isn’t a good thing.)


Panel 2: Angle on Fear. He has long black hair and wears a long, open trench coat with no shirt on underneath. His eyes glow with the same red light. (Okay. So this is what he looks like upon closer inspection. Couldn’t any of this be seen in the previous panel beyond the aura? The other thing is this: I’m not getting the least bit fearful from a guy with long hair in a trench coat with no shirt underneath. It’s bland. And by the way, is he wearing pants or is he buck-naked underneath that coat?)(It’s Gambit! He’s just missing his pink tubing.)



As he watched God go mad. (A good line, but over the top as we compare the two scenarios, isn’t it?)(Noah didn’t watch God go mad. It rained, and the rain had nowhere to go, so the waters rose, killing everything except for what was in the ark. I won’t even get into how other people suddenly appeared after the waters receded. But that was water, not destruction that could be viewed by all. Just ask Russel Crowe. Basically, study your Bible more if you’re going to allude to it. If you’re going to do something that’s easily researched, do it well.)



Bear witness to the ascension of Fear! (Again, I’m not feeling it. The best comparison I can make is the character of the Underminer at the end of THE INCREDIBLES movie. His presence was supposed to instill fear, but his words undermined all of that. That’s what’s happening here. Part of the problem is the use of the term Bear witness . Another problem is the use of the word sheep , which is pretty weak. Finally, naming him Fear is definitely generic, whereas giving him a distinctive name would have benefitted him immensely. All rolled into one, it’s weak dialogue.)(Steve is being kind when he says weak. )


Panel 3: The gathered police open fire with a barrage of bullets. The bullets are useless. They dissolve as they strike the glowing red light around Fear. The ineffectiveness of the bullets should be very apparent. Fear snickers. (Where is your camera? How close are we to seeing the bullets dissolve? How far are we so as to see the police firing? You can’t have it both ways, at least not in the same panel.)(Moving panel, really.)



The world is ripped open and gutted. (Again, pretty good line, but excessive as there isn’t more than simple cracks in the road, as per your description. No sinkholes, no fire shooting up from under the devastated pavement, nothing like that. Just cracks.) (Just bad dialogue, really.)


Fire! (Haven’t they already fired? Wouldn’t this be the precursor to them actually firing?)(It’s about timing, and that’s fine. I can get behind this. What I can’t get behind is the sudden gathering of the police. How did that happen, when they were shown sealing off locations before?)


This is by far the weakest page so far in your story. You started off pretty well, but this is too simple and ineffective. It’s funny: It’s almost like two different writers were involved in making this script. I’m hoping something captures my interest on the next page.


There’s no story here. There could have been, but it’s been subsumed in the effort to have overwrought dialogue.


Guess that means it’s my turn.


I don’t fall in love easily or often. I fall in like a lot, and I lust all the time, but I don’t fall in love easily.


When I was in high school, I was dating someone. We were seniors, and she tried to break up with me near the end of the school year. I wouldn’t let her. Pathetic, I know. I cried and I begged, and she relented. I then drove with her and her mother to drop her off at school, and we didn’t do the best of keeping in touch. She was in college, and I was at home, waiting to enter the Marine Corps. My summer was fun but uneventful. Did a lot of hanging out with my best friend and my cousin (the one who’s like my brother), and then I was alone, because they went to school (my best friend went to college, and my cousin went back to school), and I was left waiting to start boot camp.


I cried twice while in boot camp. The first time was a few days after I had gotten there. I was 18, really away from home for the first time, and I was experiencing some culture shock. The second time was while we were on the rifle range. It was early in the morning, it was cold as hell, and the other recruits were falling asleep. We were warned, but they didn’t listen, so we had to go to the pit. (The pit is a sand pit where we go to have fun : jumping jacks, push ups, sit ups, running in place…) We ran to the pit, had some fun , and ran back. Well, some of the recruits didn’t move fast enough, so we had to turn around as we were running back and had more fun. I was so extremely pissed off that instead of hurting people, I cried. It was a much safer way to deal with aggression.


While in boot camp, I got what I was waiting for: my Dear John letter. Others had gotten them, and they cried. I mean, yeah, they cried a lot—tears and snot, and one of them was almost inconsolable. It was terrible. I didn’t cry. I had expected it.


She had met someone, and it didn’t seem like there was any way for us to be together, so I was let go. I loved her, and it hurt, but I had other things to contend with than my now-ex girlfriend. I wallowed a bit in self-pity, sighed, and then hit the rack. It was a long day, made longer by the rejection/death of a relationship.


I saw her once after that. I was at her mother’s house, helping with a computer problem, and she had come up with some other friends we had gone to school with as I was leaving. I was still in the Marines, but was home on leave. We said hi, and it was a little awkward. We spoke for a moment, and then she went in the house, and that was that.


I bear no animosity toward her. I don’t think back and wonder. I don’t miss her. We’re very different. We were different in school. I did love her, but that died months before in boot camp.


There’s no moral to the story. It’s just an interlude, and even though it doesn’t go anywhere or illuminate anything, it’s more interesting than the story we’ve been reading thus far.

PAGE SIX (four panels)


Panel 1: Fear rips open the minds of the police officers as he searches for their worst fears. Their eyes glow red. They scream and writhe in pain. (Y’know, when I saw the word rip in this description, I was hoping for a stronger visual cue, but it quickly got toned down with as he searches for their worst fears . I think the biggest problem is that it’s all been done before to much stronger effect. Visually, I’m bored.)(Visually, how would this be drawn? What’s the instruction for the artist?)



But you’re struck with a sense of gratitude as everything is ground beneath his heel. (Excuse me? Where did this come from? And the insinuation is that the person reading should be feeling that sense of gratitude, but why?)



You cannot kill me. I am constant. I am fundamental. (This is getting seriously bad. The icing on the cake is the I am fundamental . Huh?)(The best dialogue was on P1, panel 1. The rest is just a study in strata: from good to decent to bad to wretched.)


Panel 2: Beings of red light crawl out of the cops’ heads. They are solid constructs, physical manifestations of each officer’s worst fears. There are demons, huge spiders, armed gunmen, abusive fathers. (The idea here should be to not only pull out the worst fears of the officers, but to make your readers experience those fears as well. You’re not doing that here.)(I can’t even say that that is the idea here. Not with any confidence.)



He saw fit to spare me. He let me live. (Going back to my previous comment about how the reader should feel gratitude, it’s funny that the you’re struck with a sense of gratitude turns out to be because the villain let the character live. That’s like saying You should be thankful that I’m alive. Conceited much? Besides that, this dialogue is getting worse by the minute.)



I am everywhere! (I haven’t seen dialogue this bad in a while.)


Panel 3: The terrors rampage the crowd, killing scores of police and bystanders. They scale buildings with people clenched in their demonic fists and jaws. Fear rises higher above the crowd. (Here’s another way of viewing the whole comment I made about making your readers experience the fears: You’ve released the fears of a select few onto the many, but the many don’t have those same fears. My daughter is extremely afraid of clowns. Me? Not in the slightest. To me, they’re more of an annoyance, so to have her fear attacking me would be pretty redundant.)(It’s the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man! I tried to think of the most harmless thing. Something I loved from my childhood. Something that could never ever possibly destroy us…)



The weight of it is enough to bring you to your knees. (Not mine.)



Don’t you feel it, you pathetic worms?! (Not at all.) It is coming. (Comma instead of period here.) and it will usher in a world of fear! (I’m going ) (It?)


Panel 4: Angle on Fear, now stories above the carnage. The glow around him is brighter than ever. His arms are extended out to the side and legs straight down, feet touching and pointing to the ground. He looks very messianic, which contrasts greatly with his demonic appearance. (I have no idea where the camera is. A good camera angle would make this a powerful image. However, with the hilariously bad dialogue…)



But then the awe fades. You realize he’s just any other arrogant son of a bitch who loves to hear himself talk ( going )



In a world of fear I am absolute! I am lord and king! ( going )



I AM YOUR GOD! ( and officially gone. This is terrible on so many levels.) (Someone is really good friends with ralph…)


I don’t know what happened. I’m at a loss. This story had potential and quickly went down the drain. I’m stopping here because I’m not seeing anything to look forward to.


The last thing I will say is that it was a fast read in the sense that you have no more than four panels on a given page. I’m seeing places where they could have been combined, but didn’t mention it as I went along. Perhaps Steven will make reference to that in his remarks.


Let’s run this down.

Format: Flawless Victory! Nice work.

Panel Descriptions: These need some work. Camera angles can help, but the characters also need to act. That’s a big thing. Then there are moving panels or two. Remember, single actions.

You have two things that you have to do, and sometimes they can be at odds with each other. You have to visualize well, but you also can’t get too cutesy with the description. P3, with the tombstone and the blood spatter? You tried to get too cute, so it didn’t work. I know you saw it, but it wasn’t described well. Something to watch out for.

Pacing: The opposite of good. Nothing of interest happens because you drained the interest out of the story with the dialogue. Anything at all that would have been interesting is defeated by the dialogue and the fact that nothing happens.

There is also padding here. That padding is throwing off your pacing, too.

Dialogue: This is a study in…something.

That first balloon in that first panel on that first page—beautiful. And then it’s like watching someone self destruct into drug addiction and delusion. If you believe that any dialogue past P4 is good, then you’re chasing butterflies with a backhoe. And the backhoe is apropos, because you had that first layer of good dialogue, scraped that away, and kept digging down, getting worse as you went. Not good.

Dialogue is difficult. I will never deny that. But there are ways to go about it.

The dialogue is what keeps the reader on the page. You can’t go around slapping the reader in the face when you write. Not in a bad way. Slapping them in a good way, with characterization and story revelation, is what they want. They don’t want to be turned off by dialogue that is increasingly bad. They won’t accept that.

The dialogue cannot be overwrought. It cannot be cliched. It cannot be bad. Unfortunately, bad is what you’ve done here. The dialogue can be studied in how you moved from one area to the next, showing no shame at all while doing it. Bad dialogue is inexcusable. Not when you have that first line on P1. By the time we get to P6, we want to do bad things to ourselves in order to escape. Not good.

Content: No one cares, and that’s a sad thing to say.

The onus is on the dialogue. It isn’t even the actions that no one cares about. They don’t care because you actively made readers uncaring with the dialogue. They could have forgiven cliched action (demon-guy tearing up a city as cops try to fight), but the dialogue is what brought this down. No one cares.

There could have been a story here, but you’ve hidden it behind bad dialogue and a shifting of the story parameters without settling into an actual timeframe. You conspired against yourself and the story, and thus, the readers. Not a good place to be. As a reader, by P6, I should have some sort of idea as to what the story is about or where it’s headed—and if I don’t, I should be entertained enough to go along for the ride. That isn’t the case here.

Editorially, this needs a complete rewrite. Content, pacing, dialogue, panel descriptions. They all need to be worked on in order to bring about the story you’re actually trying to tell.

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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