TPG Week 176: A Hat-Trick of Bad

| May 9, 2014


Welcome back, one and all, to The Proving Grounds! This week, we have a new Brave One in Michael Mullane. We have Yannick Morin in the vile green, I’m in the damned red, and let’s see what Michael does when he has the

High Ground

(I’m going to try something different this week: instead of using in-line comments as the noble TPG tradition has required from time immemorial, I’m going to use panel description footnotes. Yes, I have so much to say this week that I had to come up with a new method of giving notes. Strap in )

Page 1

Panel 1: Establishing shot; exterior of a car(1) outside Kilburn station (see reference). (2) Trains rumble overhead, shaking the ground underneath.(3)

Caption(4): This is Dave,(5)(6) I’m out being better than you (7)leave your message!

SFX: (8)

(1) This isn’t really an establishing shot as you’re not telling the artist anything of much use. There’s the location and there’s a car; that’s it. An establishing shot would first tell us what time of day it is – day or night? It would also give us a more precise idea of the camera’s location – is it and elevated shot or is this at eye-level?

(2)Nice touch!

(3) This simply cannot be drawn. How do you expect your artist to convey rumbling? The obvious answer is through sound effect, but you don’t include any for the trains. How do you expect your artist to convey a shaking of the ground? Shake lines around the whole panel? The point of it is that you’ve just described a FEELING rather than an IMAGE. That’s novel writing. When you write a novel, you’re trying to communicate to your reader the full experience of a scene by using words only. That’s not what you do when you write a comic script. First of all, you’re not writing for the reader, you’re writing for the rest of the creative team; the script is a set of instructions that they will use to produce the comic itself. Think of it this way: you’re a composer and you’re writing the sheet music for the symphony, not playing all of the instruments yourself on the evening of the premiere. Realizing who the real target of your script is and keeping it in mind at all times should solve roughly half of the issues I’ve picked up in this script. (Today’s coloring techniques can show shaking. The real question is this: is it necessary? Does it add anything to the story at all?)

(4) A caption should be used when 1. there’s an omniscient narrator, 2. there’s a voice-over, and 3. there’s inner monologue. None of this applies here. What you have is a voice coming out of an electronic device. What you should use instead is the (ELEC) lettering indicator, thus:

DAVE (ELEC): This is Dave. I’m out being better than you. Leave a message!

(5) Period instead of comma – you want a hard stop, not a soft pause.

(6) SPOILER: Dave has absolutely no bearing on this entire story. You won’t be hearing about him ever again. As such, by cutting this line out of the comic, you’d improve it. Anything that doesn’t move your story or your characters along is dead weight and dead weight pulls you down.

(7) Period instead of an ellipsis – there’s no hesitation here. And while I’m at it, a trailing ellipsis requires a space after it.

(8) This is of little consequence for the creative team, but it goes a long way in showing a prospective publisher how serious you are as a creator. Consistency. Here, you use a colon after SFX and change lines. All other SFX in the script use a period instead and are on the same line. If you can’t show some consistency in the simplest things like dialogue notation, a publisher will have a hard time believing you can have some for more complex stuff like plots or characterization. And speaking of consistency, this dialogue for this panel is in a different font than the rest of the script. (Also, the SXF isn’t really a SFX here. It’s actually going to be inside the balloon/caption, not outside of it, since it is indicating the end of the message. It’s part of the same whole.)

Panel 2: Interior view. Close on a mobile phone,(9) as Simeon (a tall dark-skinned man)(10) talks into it.

Caption (Simeon)(11): Shit, man! It’s Simeon(12). Again. F-freezing my nuts off here.

(9) You just went from a wide shot of an underpass with a car to a close-up of a cell phone. There’s nothing to link these two images together. Always try to lead the reader from one panel to the other with visual clues. In this case, it can be accomplished by slowly zooming in from panel to panel: first an establishing shot, then a medium shot of Simeon on the phone as seen from outside the car, and finally a shot from inside the car. The way you’re doing it right now, the cell phone could be anywhere. Sure we’ll understand the context as we read on, but why risk throwing the reader out of the story so early in the game? Remember: every time the reader feels any microscopic bit of confusion, he gets yanked out of the fantasy you’re building and you fail as a storyteller.

(10) Normally, I’d tell you to move character descriptions to to a separate document, but it’s not too obstructive.

(11) Another misuse of a caption. Simeon is present in the panel so he gets a regular speech balloon. Unless you’re asking for such a tight shot of the phone that we don’t even see him, but that would be ridiculous, right? (Or, it could just be that more study on scripting terms is needed. That’s what it’s looking like right now.)

(12) Nice organic name-drop. It’s a shame that, like Dave’s, his name has no bearing on the story either. No other character seems to even know his name, let alone use it. Thus, he could just say It’s me and it would have the same effect in the end. Come to think of it, the existence of Dave and the fact that this character’s name is Simeon are so superfluous to the plot that could very well scrap the whole phone call angle with no detriment to the story.

Panel 3: Simeon turns the phone off.(13) He is wearing fingerless cotton gloves.(14)

SFX. Deet

(13) This is the kind of subtle gesture that’s borderline undrawable without doing an extreme close-up, so much so that it’s usually omitted. As it stands now, this panel serves no purpose other than reassuring the reader that Simeon has indeed hanged up. What else could you have used it for? You could have had Simeon talking to himself, using the dialogue to further the plot and/or paint a better portrait of the character. Most importantly, you could have had the woman coming up in the background.

(14) Why is this important? Part of seeing a script as a tool for the artist instead of the story itself is understanding that this kind of detail will have been worked out beforehand, in the character design stage.

Panel 4: He rubs his hands together by the heater, to warm them up. (15)

Caption: Ahh.(16)

(15) Another useless panel that could have been used instead for foreshadowing the woman’s arrival.

(16) When elongating a word, make sure you repeat the letter corresponding to the sound being drawn out. Thus, this should come out as: Aaah. (Or, the extended h’s would make it sound more breathy. Just depends on what you’re going for.)

Panel 5: Close on a woman’s slim hand(17) tapping on the passenger-side window, pavement-side.(18)

SFX. Tap tap

(17) Here we have another instance of a close-up that robs the reader of context. Unless you expressly want to create confusion for the sake of misdirection or suspense, don’t use close-ups unless it’s clear what it is that the camera is focusing on. If you had shown the woman coming up to the car in previous panels – even as a vague silhouette seen through the fogged up windows, this would have worked a lot better.

(18) You never did tell us how the car was parked in your establishing shot.

Panel 6(19): Mid shot of Simeon stuffing a packet of weed(20) into his jacket pocket.

Caption: Shit!

(19) Time is a funny thing in comics. For example, panels are usually perceived as consecutive moments in time. But time can also flow inside a single panel. That’s why when one character speaks and another replies, you won’t perceive them as talking one over the other even though both speech balloons are in the same panel. You read them from left to right, thus recreating the passage of time. This principle can also apply to things other than speech. What I’m trying to say is that you didn’t have to have two separate panels for the knock on the glass and Simeon’s reaction; you can have both occur in the same panel. Just have the sound effect come off the glass on the left side of the panel and Simeon swearing on the right side.

(20) Magically delicious weed! Coming out of nowhere! Where was this earlier?

So that’s page 1 down. Does it get the job done of making me want to read on to page two? Frankly, no.

First, the stakes haven’t been revealed yet. We have a guy named Simeon sitting in a cold car and trying tor reach Dave on his phone. Someone comes up and taps on the window. That’s it. There’s nothing here that makes me fear for his life or that makes me wish one fate or another on him. There’s nothing that even hints that something might be strange or even interesting about his behaviour. He’s just a guy sitting in a car. The weed? Doesn’t even enter into it. Could be for recreational use. Nothing about Simeon says dealer. Nothing about the phone call says problem. Nothing about the tapping says threat. Nothing about the situation says danger. It’s a whole page of nothing.

Then there’s the fact that you take so many panels to have so little happen. It’s a shame because you could be using all of this real estate to set up the story and finish your page with a great hook that makes the reader want to go on.

And it’s not just a question of making the reader turn ONE page; it’s also a question of having your story make any sort of sense on a basic storytelling structure level. You can’t end properly without having a proper beginning. A proper beginning introduces a protagonist with a problem to solve or a goal to achieve, in order for the reader to have the satisfaction of a fairly clear resolution at the end and a good amount of tension in the middle.

You have a guy being cold in a car.

My editorial advice is to re-write this whole page with:

  1. a clearer introduction of who is Simeon, what he’s doing there and what makes him afraid.

  2. A cliffhanger that creates true tension

See, right now, you are ending on a cliffhanger, but it’s not effective because, on one hand, we’re not afraid for Simeon at all and, on the other, you’re dragging the page past the highest point in tension. I already went into details concerning the first point so I’ll make the second one clearer: someone tapping on a window isn’t that menacing, but a shadowy figure that slowly creeps up to a fogged up window is. Combine that with hinting beforehand that Simeon’s life might be in danger and you have an effective hook.

And so, we have P1 on the books.

Yannick has said a lot, leaving me almost nothing to say.

Almost, but not quite. (Heh.)

Basically, Yannick has said that the pacing is off, because the writer didn’t focus on anything that was either interesting or necessary.

The establishing shot didn’t establish much of anything, leaving me in a white void. Everyone knows that I hate white voids. You have a reference photo, which definitely helps, but that doesn’t do much for anything that’s going on in this page. What time of day it is, what time of year, what kind of car we’re looking at, where the car is parked… There isn’t enough information there to be much good to anyone.

Yannick has beat you up enough on the actual words used and their worth to the story (which is virtually none), but I want to talk to you a bit about the nomenclature used.

There is a difference between a caption and a word balloon. I have no idea why new creators don’t do more research when it comes to a simple thing like format and the general lexicon of scripting. In my grousing I may show my age, but when I first started, there weren’t many places around where one could learn to write for comics, could see scripts and learn from them. Now, you can literally trip over places where scripts can be looked at, from amateurs and professionals alike. Not knowing your way around the simplest elements of scripting is nothing more than laziness.

I can’t countenance laziness.

Could this entire page be cut, since it doesn’t do much to move the story forward? Maybe. Let’s see what P2 does.

(I added a page break myself here, if only to preserve Steven’s sanity. Use them instead of just hitting Enter a couple of dozen times. That way, you don’t need to re-do the layout of the following pages when you add a line or two somewhere.)(Since Yannick had to add the page breaks, you’ve lost the Flawless Victory.)

Page 2; (1)

Panel 1: The stranger(2) opens the door.(3)

Simeon: The fuck – ?(4)

(1) A semicolon? (Yeah, I don’t get it, either.)

(2) So she was the woman and now she’s the stranger. This isn’t prose fiction; use consistent naming.

(3) Where the camera? I guess we’ll be seeing Simeon’s since his reaction is what’s important here, even though you’re not telling the artist what his expression is. Fearful? Confused? Angry?

(4) If you want to show interrupted dialogue, use a double dash, like this: The fuck– (The website’s editing tool might autocorrect this to an em dash.)

Panel 2: She sits down. Simeon looks awkward, next to the passenger – a woman in her later 50s. Straggled hair, and bags under her eyes suggesting sleepless nights worrying.(5)


(5) The reader won’t get to read this panel description. If what her physical state suggests is important, you have to make it clear through actions and dialogue.

(6) Really? Bad boy Simeon is just going to let a stranger sit in his car and not say anything? In a comedic context, this would work, but this is far from a comedy.

Panel 3: The woman brushes back her hair with an air of contempt. Simeon looks at her quizzically.(7)

Woman: You shouldn’t swear, you know.

(continued)(8) It’s incredibly rude.

(7) Still no plausible reaction from Simeon.

(8) It’s not bad per se, but script conventions usually go for repeating the dialogue line header in the case of two consecutive speech balloons by the same character. (Laziness.)

Panel 4: Something in Simeon clicks. His territorial instinct kicks in.(9)

Caption: Rude?! You’re in my car! (10)

(9) What you’ve done here is to give acting directions to the actor playing Simeon. If this were a screenplay, I’d give you A+. This however being a comic script, you completely bypassed the basic purpose of this document, that is to provide the artist with the information he needs to draw your comic. You’re describing the character’s inner motivation, an abstract concept that can’t be drawn. If it can’t be drawn, it’s of no use to the artist. And you’ve given him nothing he can draw here.

(10) There’s no valid reason for panels 3 and 4 not to have been conflated into the same panel. They’re part of the same beat and thus could make up a single panel.

Panel 5: He’s angry, and points an accusatory finger in her face.(11)

Simeon: And who the fuck are you anyway? (12)

(11) Now this is more of a panel description: you’re describing an emotion and a gesture. It could have been even better with a camera angle but I’ll take what I can get.

(12) This line doesn’t have any impact by itself and could have been said in the same breath as Simeon’s previous line. That makes it THREE panels that could have been conflated into one. As Steven would say, the sweet pungent smell of elderberry padding is in the air (I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: Yannick knows me so well.)

Page two is down and you haven’t accomplished much story-wise. Normally, at this point, the setup should have been done and the inciting incident been introduced. What we have instead is two pages of padding with nothing enticing to keep us reading.

There are five panels on this page. Of these five, one has an action, one is a dead beat and the three remaining are in fact a single panel stretched over three. So this page effectively has only two panels and neither of them are interesting because nothing in them either reveals the characters or advances the plot.

In fact, by this point, I get the distinct impression you already know you don’t have enough story to fill out your pages so you’re padding. That’s why Simeon stays passive so long: if he were to act, you probably wouldn’t even need this page.

Really, what else is there for me to add to this?

(Added another page break.)

Page 3

Panel 1: She puts a hand on Simeon’s shoulder.(1)

Woman: You’re angry, I get that. We can talk this out.

(1) Where’s the camera? What’s Simeon’s reaction to this? Surely he’s on panel!

Panel 2: He smacks her hand off him(2)

Simeon: Hey – (3)

(2) Why isn’t this in the previous panel? More panels doesn’t equal more story, the same way a zoo filled with empty cages doesn’t make it a great attraction. It just makes for a crappy walk in a very ugly park.

(3) Double-dash instead of em dash.

Panel 3: She lists his misdemeanours on her fingers.

Woman: Selling drugs for dirty money. Ruining lives. You must have something to prove to someone.(4)

(4) Those aren’t distinct items from a list; they’re a sequence of logical steps. He sells drugs, thus ruining lives, and it leads her to believe he’s doing this to prove himself. This might seem like a meaningless detail, but consider the gesture you’re pairing with the dialogue. Counting on your fingers is something you do when rattling off a list and this isn’t a list. This type of disconnect between what the character says and what they do will pull people out of the story. Worse: if your artist slavishly follows your indications, it will make him look as if it’s his fault there’s something wrong in this panel.

Panel 4: He takes out a rolled up joint, prepares to smoke it.

Simeon: Well, bitch, it ain’t for you.

Woman (off-panel)(5): Again, with the swearing!

(5) Why is she off-panel, especially since

Panel 5: Simeon gestures to the passenger door.

Simeon: If you hate it so much, do the sensible thing and leave.(6)

(6) these two panels could be merged into one. More padding!

Panel 6: The woman hesitates. (How? How can this be drawn? What does hesitation look like?)


(7) If you didn’t have so many dead extra panels already, this would be a good example of using a silent beat to drive home the dramatic weight of the following panel. When used correctly, this technique is the storytelling equivalent of highlighter for your dialogue. Here however, your reader is already so used to you stretching out the narrative that your silent beat goes completely unnoticed. Your previous padding has robbed it of its power.

Panel 7: She looks to the floor.(8)

Woman: I can’t.

(8) If there were actual panel descriptions on this page, if there were less padding, if the stakes had been made clearer and if there had been a real dramatic progression to this point, this panel would have made a great pre-page-turn cliffhanger. As a reader, I’d really be wondering what’s coercing her into this meeting, but sadly I lost interest a long time ago. When you get to rewrite this script, keep this panel and the previous one. They work.

So page three. There’s nothing in this page. No sound, no fury, and it still signifies nothing.

Your panel descriptions can only be called thus by virtue of being placed between the panel header and the dialogue. Anemic is the best I could come up with if I had to describe them. There’s practically nothing that the artist can use. When single sentences form the basis of your panel breakdown, you know you’re not writing a comic script, you’re just doing an account of the movie in your head.

Story-wise, we got out first inkling of drama as conflict reared its head in the woman’s inner struggle to remain in the car when she’d prefer to be someplace else. And no, despite all of the bickering, there was no conflict before that. Arguing doesn’t constitute conflict if the stakes and the goals aren’t made clear; it’s just noise.

But, as they say, too little, too late. As an editor, I’ll push on until the end; as a reader, I’ve already put this back on the rack.

P3 is down, folks…

And this script is going down in flames.

What’s going on? Not one blessed thing. Not anything that anyone wants to read, anyway.

Know what’s going on here (besides what is turning out to be the stench of elderberries)? False conversation.

Here’s what’s happened: guy makes a phone call for no reason that can currently be told. Then, some woman taps on his window (which window? Dunno), and after that, has the absolute gall to climb into the car. (Who sits in a car with the doors unlocked is beyond me. Maybe in the relative safety of your own driveway, but that’s about it. Screw auto-features.) After she climbs into the car, she doesn’t say anything at all as to who she is, what she wants, or anything even remotely satisfying conversationally. She just starts talking, and the guy just sits there and (unrealistically) takes it.

Nothing said matters, because nothing said really seems to hit home to the guy. It’s just hot air. It’s fake, and it needs to stop.

Three pages, and while this could pass as some action , it’s forced and fake, and it makes me want to give The People’s Elbow to kittens. Or maybe to Bambi. Bambi deserves it, right?

Inane dialogue does not help your cause. Especially not when that dialogue is spread over three pages, and those three pages are mostly fluff. I’ve had cotton candy that was more filling than this.

(Another page break, courtesy of ME!)

Page 4

Panel 1: The joint is lit in his mouth. He digs inside his pocket.

Simeon: You’re crazy.

Panel 2: His palm is turned towards her, an ounce of weed ( Cheese ) in a plastic baggie.

Simeon: Is this what you want?

Panel 3: She recoils in terror.

Woman: No!(1)

(1) The first three panels are actually just one panel decompressed to their breaking point.

Panel 4: He puffs out of the slightly open window, looking at his phone for any sign of his buyer.

Simeon: It’s premium cheese. And still on offer.

Panel 5: She crosses her hands in front of her face.

Woman: That certainly won’t do it.(2)

(2) And that’s another panel.

Panel 6: He’s reaching the end of his tether with her nonsense.(3) As he shouts at her, we see out his door window, a motorcycle (with two people) pulls up.(4)

Simeon: You’re not making any sense. What the hell do you wan—

(3) The artist doesn’t care for this. Tell him what to draw!

(4) It’s magically delicious! You could have used the previous panels to let it approach. More importantly, since you didn’t hint at any danger in your setup, the drive-by shooting comes in completely from left field. It’s a diabolus ex machina thrown in there to make a big bloody finish.

Panel 7(5): Two bullets suddenly rupture the door and shatter the window.(6)

Woman: Ahhh!

SFX. Blam! Blam! Blam!(7)

(5) More like Panel 4 if you’re keeping count at home.

(6) If I were to believe your panel description, we see two bullets going into the driver side door and window– and that’s it. No mention of the woman or of Simeon. A character just got SHOT and you didn’t even think anything more was worthy of mention.


I need to let this sit a while before I do the last page.

(7) One last thing though: the SFX should be heard before her screams, as the latter is a reaction to the former.

P4, and it’s all about pacing.

Well, it’s a given that this thing is horribly paced. Nothing worthwhile happened for three-point-five pages, nothing makes any sense (so far, not even the title—in light of what seems to happen, it feels slapped on), and then, a drive-by fruiting. I mean, shooting. Fun times, right?

What does one thing have to do with another? I don’t know. And I don’t care to know.

I remember reading Elk’s Run, back when there was a big to-do over the story. I had problems with it. In the first issue, not one character was named where you could see it. It was basically Boy 1, Boy 2, and so on. But there was a story at the back of it about a guy riding a train, and he was sniffing seats. He was riding the train, sniffing seats as some sort of penance. The character goes on to say why he’s sniffing the seats, and it’s a terrible story written by the editor of Elk’s Run. It was a waste of resources to publish that story.

Or maybe I just didn’t get it, which is totally possible.

And there’s also my old standby, The Filth, by Grant Morrison. Remember when he couldn’t do any wrong? Genius? Could sell comics just based on his name alone? The Filth was a story that was strange to begin with, got weirder, and then ended with a huh? It also shouldn’t have been produced, but the editor had already bought the story, based on Grant’s name power. The ending made no real sense.

Again, maybe I just didn’t get it. Again, it’s totally possible. I’m not that smart.

This story is something I’m not getting. I’m not getting the reasoning behind it, I’m not understanding how a two page story is somehow stretched to five, I’m not seeing how anything even remotely interesting has happened. Not even the fruiting. That’s not interesting, because there’s no reasoning for it.

But I was talking about pacing.

Let’s pretend something worth reading has happened. (It’s a stretch, but play along with me.) When you’re writing your panels, you cannot forget the fact that you are also writing in time. Things happen in sequence. You have to have sound and fury, although they’re backwards when scripting. You have the fury (the panel description), and then the sound (dialogue and sound effects).

Sound effects have to be placed in time with the dialogue. It is not separate. Just think of it as another character, albeit unseen. Sometimes, it is absolutely critical as to when the sound effects come into play. Others, not so much, but sometimes, it makes a big difference.

Here, the gunshots have to come before the screaming. Remember, the sound effects are like a character, and they have to speak first in order to garner the reaction of her screaming.

Hope that makes sense. It should make more sense than this script.

(Last page break is on the house.) (Do you feel light, Mike? Because Yannick has been carrying you like a boss!)

Page 5

Panel 1: Simeon lies dead – eyes still open, joint still smoking out of his mouth. Blood streams from his mouth and open wound on his chest. The woman (newly decorated with blood) can’t believe it.(1)

Woman: Ffffff-ff –(2)

(1) Once more: don’t tell us how she’s feeling; describe how she’s showing it.

(2) Here she’s about to continue her dialogue in another speech balloon. Use an ellipsis instead of a dash.

Panel 2: She sees the speeding motorcycle turn a corner, peeking over the dashboard.(3)

Woman (continued)(4): — udge. (5)(6)

SFX. Screeeech.(7)

(3) Where’s the camera? Is it near the motorcycle, looking towards the car? Or is it in the car with her, looking out to the motorcycle?

(4) Not needed: it’s a different panel.

(5) Since this is speech continued from a previous speech balloon, it should start with an ellipsis.

(6) Oh, humor. Where did THAT come from?

(7) In 99% of cases, sound effects don’t require punctuation. In the remaining 1%, it’s usually extraneous exclamation marks, certainly not periods.

Panel 3: Her eyes are wide as she looks at Simeon’s dead body.(8)

W(9) (quietly)(10): What have I done?

(8) Where’s the camera?

(9) So she’s W now. (Abject laziness.)

(10) I almost dinged you for giving acting directions again, but this is actually something the letterer can use as an indication to alter the font and balloon of this line.

Panel 4: She puts her hand up to her mouth. Almost retching.(11)

Woman: Urk.

(11) Where’s the camera? It’s like you completely gave up. You’re just telling us what happens in your brain theatre with no thought for the poor artist who has to draw all of this. (I can actually live with this. The camera angle isn’t important here. There are very few camera angles that will work inside a car.)

Panel 4(12): Her phone buzzes in her bag. As she searches for it, her lipstick, many receipts fall out.(13)

SFX. Bzzzt, bzzzt.(14)

(12) This is your second Panel 4.

(13) So the phone buzzes and then she searches for it? Moving panel. Not only that, but you could have made it work if you had the phone buzzing in the previous panel instead.

(14) No comma, no period.

Panel 5: She picks up the phone. Another hand written note reads: STATION, 6pm.(15)

(15) Hold on! We’re supposed to see her grabbing her phone AND be able to read a note that falls out of her bag? How on earth is the artist supposed to frame this shot? You’ve gone from not describing enough to asking for impossible things. The moving panel was bad enough but this one requires two different camera distances. (Yeah. I can’t help you here… Yannick’s got you.)

Panel 5(16): The message (from unknown number) reads(17)
We warned bad things would happen if you didn’t pay us. Give us the money after your son’s funeral. We’re not monsters.

(16) Second panel 5. Now you’re REALLY padding!

(17) So a close-up of the phone’s screen.

(18) What? Huh? This doesn’t make any sense! And no, this isn’t mysterious! Mysterious requires foreshadowing. Mysterious requires mounting tension. Mysterious requires plausibility. Mysterious hints at a satisfying payoff. Mysterious is the sound of a woman crying at three in the morning from your widowed neighbor’s apartment. What we have here is this same neighbour inviting you over for tuba lessons. I’m not intrigued; I’m just confused as well as slightly annoyed.

Panel 6: Someone(19) taps on the window.(20) Woman jumps at it.

W: Oh!

SFX. tap tap(21)

(19) Who? Don’t keep things secret from the artist. He needs to know what kind of hand to draw: old, young, big, small, and so on.

(20) Or at least he would if you had told him if he even needed to draw the hand. This is a prime example of the difference between telling what happens and describing a panel. Someone taps on the window is an event, an action. It’s an abstract idea that is only good as far as your outline goes. You, as a writer, need to take note that someone taps on the window. The artist however needs more than that: he needs to know who taps on the window, what he looks like, does the character sport a specific expression that we can detect, and from what angle will the reader see this. In this we see the eminently visual aspect of the comic book medium. Unlike prose, you can’t decide what happens and stay there; you need to go beyond and also take into account how it will be physically shown to the reader in a static image. Rewiring your brain into thinking of storytelling in terms of a series of snapshots is the first thing you need to do if you want to be successful in writing comics.

(21) The sound effect should occur before the reaction.

Panel 7: It’s a young, gaunt man in an oversized business suit. He looks in disbelief, as he surveys the scene.

Woman: D- David!

Dave: Mum?!

You know what? I’m going to stop here.

Things to improve on for the next version of this script:

  • Panel descriptions that actually describe panels – as their name implies – not a running account of your story.

  • Improved pacing that gets rid of useless panels and condenses many panels into one when possible. Comic book writing is the art of compression. Learn what constitutes a beat and fill it up to its capacity before moving on to the next.

  • A solid story structure with clear stakes that will help the reader care for your characters. At the bottom of page one, I should feel compelled to turn to page two. By the end of page three, I should be sold on the entire comic.

  • Understanding of the purpose of a comic book script as a set of instructions to the creative team, not as a finished product to be handed to the reader.

  • Understanding of comic books as a visual medium that relies on visual storytelling. This implies knowing what works particularly well (page-turn reveals, pacing by panel-count) and what doesn’t works at all (movement, multiple viewpoints inside a same panel).

I hope you find something helpful in here, Michael – good luck out there!

Before I run this down, I’ve got to say something about the text message, or whatever the hell it was. I feel compelled, because it’s just horrible, horrible storytelling.

This is supposed to be a text message. Okay. I’m with Yannick with the what the hell are you talking about reaction. However, mine is more of a people are actually THIS illogical?

The message says to pay someone some money after a funeral, and then stating they’re not monsters. The after your son’s funeral thing implies that they killed the son (another fruiting?) and are now asking for money. Unless she has another son, who does this? We killed your one and only son, now pay us money before something REALLY bad happens to you!

I am a parent. Not only am I a parent, I’m a grandparent. Not only am I a grandparent, I’m a great-grandparent. I come from a large family, on both sides. My mother is one of 11, my father one of 18. That’s a lot of damned family. A few of my aunts and uncles have passed away, and I saw how it tore my grandfather up. Parents don’t want to outlive their children. That is something that is particularly difficult.

There’s another implication, and I could be totally wrong: the implication that the fruiter is part of the gang that sent the message, and knew she was going to be in the car.

It’s almost enough to make my head ‘splode.

Ah, screw it. Let’s run it down.

Format: Page breaks! Learn to make them. If you don’t know how to use your equipment, then you don’t know how to write. Making a page break is one of the the absolute minimum things that you should know how to do.

Panel Descriptions: These need a lot of work. You have to describe what people are doing. The best way to do this is to make everything past tense. If you use past tense, more than likely, you’ve written a panel description, with the added bonus of not having written a moving panel.

Pacing: I love the movie Young Frankenstein. Right now, I have a picture of Gene Wilder, after having failed in his experiment to bring the monster to life, talking about being calm, only to totally lose it a few moments later. That’s exactly how I feel when it comes to the pacing here.

The pacing is the biggest problem here. Honestly. Your complete lack of understanding of what constitutes even rudimentary pacing is killing your story. (Besides the inane dialogue.)

No one ever said writing for comics is easy. There are a shit-ton of moving parts. (That’s the imperial measurement. We haven’t gone metric here, although there were some rumblings about it years ago.) Not understanding one part makes the whole thing fall apart. This piece fell apart somewhere around P1, panel 1.

Condense. Each panel is not just a single moment in time. It can be as full as it needs to be, but it has to be important to the story. Each panel has to be important enough to show, and move the story forward in some way, either through the characters revealing themselves, or actively pushing the plot forward. If a panel doesn’t do one of these two things, then the panel isn’t needed.

And again, you have to show important moments. The entirety of P1 doesn’t show an important moment. That’s shameful. It’s like you went out of your way to show moments that were the least important. That’s a feat.

Dialogue: Most of this is inane. Most of it is fake. There are very few true interactions here. The phone call, the reaction to the shooting—that’s about it. Everything else makes Chumlee look like a Harvard professor. It needs to come out, and real conversation needs to take place.

Real conversation is hard. I know it. However, the only way to emulate real conversation is to go out and listen to it. Listen to it, and try writing it down verbatim. Understand what’s being said, and the rhythms of language, and what’s really being said underneath the words.

I say a lot of things, some of them blunt and some of them funny, and I tell stories that generally illuminate a point I’m trying to get across. It is rare when I’m not understood. When I’m teaching, my words are all surface: they mean what they say.

When I’m writing, though, words should have a dual meaning: what’s said on the surface, as well as subtext. Once you learn subtext, your dialogue will go a long way.

Content: As a reader, I’d be putting this back at around P3. I’d then look at the credits, see who edited it and led you astray. When I see that a bad story has an editor, I look at it in two different ways, depending on how charitable I’m feeling: either the editor led the writer astray, or the editor did the best they could with a wretched script. When a bad story has no editor, that’s just what happens.

Editorially, this needs to be scrapped and then rewritten. That’s going to be after you do some serious studying on scripting terms, and how things fit together. There’s a treasure trove of information in the Bolts & Nuts section of the site. This will help you.

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

Like what you see? Sam and Yannick are available for your editing needs. You can email Sam here and Yannick 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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