TPG Week 178: You Have To Let Dialogue Do Its Job

| May 23, 2014


Welcome back, one and all, to The Proving Grounds! This week, we have a Brave One in James Sarandis. We’ve also got Yannick Morin in the wordy green, in spartan in red, and let’s see what James does with his





(And, apropos of nothing, the name reminds me of the Skrull Kill Krew. Just saying.)




PANEL 1: A large clunky and worn transport starship, the name Sanguine written on the side, sits in a combination junkyard/impound lot. Paga, Aira, and Shifterscanner 27 are approaching the vessel climbing down a huge pile of junk.. Paga is a Durris, a species that is small, squirrel-like but feathered, Aira closely resembles a Neanderthal in sci-fi battle armor, and Shifterscanner 27 is a blob of green goo in roughly humanoid shape with bits of technology (circuitboards largely) floating in him.






Establishing shot. This is usually where I ask the question day or night? This time, however, since we’re in a sci-fi setting, this could very well be set in a huge hangar, a subterranean chamber or a planet’s airless surface. This also means that you need to go into even more detail in your establishing shot – anything is possible! (Meh. I agree with a good portion of this, but a lot more detail isn’t going to help this much. As long as the world is set before the artist puts pencil to paper, it’s fine. What this needs is a timestamp (day or night), and a camera angle.)


But as wild as you can be, there are also things you can’t do without: you need to tell the artist about those parts of the location that your characters will be interacting with in the upcoming panels. For example, there’s a chain link fence that they’ll be climbing over in panel 2 and the very important ship access door. Where are they located in relation to the reader and the characters?


Then there are the descriptions of the ship itself and of the characters. Usually, I’m not a fan of describing characters in the script. Usually, what a character looks like is determined outside the script, through the artist’s design sketches. You’ve judiciously remained sparse here. (But not sparse enough.)


The stuttering dialogue: not a fan either and I’m going to tell you why. Characters with idiosyncratic speech patterns can be very fun to write as well as to read. However, there are certain idiosyncrasies that can grate after a while, especially if they make understanding the character difficult. Too early at this point to tell, but I’ll keep an eye on it as we move long.


One thing I do like though is the way you’ve sidestepped the butler-maid* issue. Instead of having Paga go: As you know and then go into full exposition mode, you’ve made Aira a less-than-bright character who needs the plan made clearer as they embark upon its execution. Good call!


* Butler-maiding consists in having two characters tell each other what both of them already know in order to fill in the readers about information essential to set up the story. The name comes from the old theater trope of having the curtain rise on the servants in the middle of an exposition-filled exchange.


PANEL 2: Upward Shot. Paga and Aira are climbing over the chain link fence separating the impound lot from the main junkyard. Shifterscanner due to his gelatinous nature is able to walk right through.










I’m coming across a lot of missing or wrong punctuation in your panel descriptions. I know the reader won’t ever see those, but a prospective publisher will. As a writer, punctuation is one of the main tools you’re supposed to be mastering. It reflects badly upon your presentation when the guy you’re trying to sell this to stumbles upon misplaced commas and missing periods.


Oh, never mind: missing comma in the dialogue too now.


As previously said, the chain link fence appears out of nowhere. It’s magically delicious! Also, the setting went from a combination junkyard/impound lot to two clearly defined zones.


The dialogue exchange skirts with being too lengthy. Rule-of-thumb is that character A speaks, character B replies and then character A gets another line in. The reason for this is two-fold. First, too many speech balloons tend to crowd the panel, leaving less room for art. Second, when a conversation goes on for too long, it tends to go past what the length of time that is perceived to exist in the panel. Here, however, Aira’s lines are so short that they don’t take up much room, spatially or temporally.


PANEL 3: Shifterscanner 27 transforms into a darkhaired human male. Paga and Aira are nearby.




I start getting the feeling you’re letting go already. I don’t mind the absence of a camera angle – I’ve mellowed out with experience – but what you have here isn’t enough. Consider that Shifterscanner 27 (SS27 from now on) is going to interact with a palm scanner to open the door in the next panel. Knowing this, you need to walk the reader through these events. This means establishing that there’s a door with a palm scanner next to it. You should at least show the three characters walking towards the door in this panel so that the reader can understand the context in panel 4. This suggests a panel with the door in the background and the characters walking towards it (the door and palm scanner are the focus because that’s what’s important to establish here). In the next panel, you can close up on the panel (the door and scanner have already been established) and focus on the characters instead by showing them facing us instead since their expression is what’s important as they wait to see if the plan works.


Remember: comics are a visual medium and, as such, you constantly need to use images to establish that things exist and where they are placed in relation to each other. Then you have to balance this with what needs the focus in every beat so that you use what little space you have on a page efficiently.


Also, technically, SS27 doesn’t transform into any dark-haired human male; he transforms into Krimzon. Say so in your panel description.


Speaking of transformation, these are a bit tricky in comics since, until they invent hologram panels, you can’t have one occur inside a single panel without using some sort of ghosting technique – which you aren’t calling for here. The solution is to spread the transformation over a few panels: show SS27 in his normal form in panel 1, have him appear hazy as he’s in mid-transformation in panel 2, and then you can have him entirely in his new form in panel 3, just in time for it to fit with Paga’s line. The important thing to remember is that you’re working with static images and always need to find a way to work within that constraint. (Basically, your pacing is off a bit.)


PANEL 4: Shifterscanner 27 places his hand on the palm scanner. The scanners screen confirms that Shifterscanner 27 is Dev Zur-Ent Krimzon.


While, like I said, I’m not adamant about specifying camera angles in every panel descriptions, I still think closing in on the palm scanner here would be adequate, provided you established it properly in the previous panels.


Also, the panel breakdown in panel 4


PANEL 5: Over Shifterscanner’s shoulder Paga and Aira are looking on.




and panel 5 doesn’t work.


First, panel 4 contains two beats and should therefore be two panels: one for having SS27 place his hand and one for confirming his identity. By conflating these two beats into one, you’re taking all tension out of the event.

Second, you seem to forget that time flows inside panels, not only between them. With the scanner give a confirmation in the second panel, there’s nothing preventing Paga and Aira from celebrating in that same panel. Just make sure you order things properly from left to right in the panel: the scanner going green/ding/whatever and then the characters fist-pumping.


But all that could be a moot point anyway since I foresee an issue in the next panels with


PANEL 6: Is a view of the three of them enter through the now open doorway with the palm scanner still in view.


PANEL 7: Close up on the palm scanner. A small buglike robot is seen walking across the screen.


the page-turn cliffhanger. You see, I have a big problem with having seven panels on a first page with an establishing shot. I fear it might be a bit tight. But I also understand you want to end your first page with a hook. And as a hook, what you have works. However, getting there ups your panel-count so much that each panel will have to be smaller, thus possibly ruining your establishing shot. (Badly paced, especially since there’s the distinct possibility of adding more panels for the transformation.)


The alternative I would suggest is the following: instead of making the bug-robot the hook, make it something that happens earlier, namely whether or not the fake scan works.


Okay so page one is down, we got characters trying to do something, we understand their goal, and there’s already an element of threat to keep us reading. Good, good. The only issue worrying me is the high panel-count but your artist might just be able to pull it off. Without any thumbnails, it’s hard to tell at this point. And if the artist does pull it off, the bug-robot works as a hook. Nice work!


But still, ask yourself how necessary is it to show the characters actually going in. You could just show the scanner and be done with it, especially considering that a close-up of the scanner might take up less space on the page than showing three characters.


Finally, please note that only SS27 for now has been named. The two others are still Caveman and Squirrel-thing for the reader. Heck, even a guy who hasn’t even appeared yet got a name by proxy of a shape-shifting character.


So, we’ve got P1 down.


P1 isn’t bad at all. There are a couple of storytelling problems, though.


The first one is the dialogue. Here’s the thing with stuttering characters: they shouldn’t have a lot of dialogue. It gets tiring to hear them stutter, and then the reader wants to see where the next stutter is going to be placed instead of focusing on what’s being said. Having the stuttering character be the brains of the operation is going to strain the reader. Not my idea of a good time.


Reminds me of a Richard Pryor joke, where he was talking about a stuttering Chinese man. Anyway…


The second problem here is the pacing. You’ve got a lot of panels on this page, and really, while you don’t need more, you need to think about which moments in time are more important to show. Some of these panels are unnecessary, such as panels 5 and 6. Unnecessary in terms of storytelling. You could have done something that was more important to the story than what you have here.


Storytelling is hard, because you have to pick the right panels that will tell the story you want, and beginnings are even harder, because you have to get the reader invested in what’s going on. Invested enough to turn the page.


I’m turning the page because the setup so far is a bit interesting, but it isn’t that interesting. It’s space opera, so you’ve really got to bring the goods. You’ve got to be damned interesting as soon as you crack the cover. This isn’t there yet.


* * * Missing page break * * *


Allow me a short rant


Come on, guys! It’s stuff like this that make us lose our mind week after week and then we get called out for being too rough on you! Don’t you people read other entries of this column before sending your script in? Or do you just go Golly gee, free editing! and catapult that baby over the wall without looking over first?


I’m the most patient of men – ask anyone whom I’ve edited in a freelance capacity. I can spend hours discussing the intricacies of story structure. I don’t mind; they’re complex mechanics but they’re well worth the time to examine in order to bring out the best of a comic. I also get that not everyone in their life has devoted as much time as I did to their study.


But page breaks? This is BASIC, FUNDAMENTAL, SIMPLE STUFF that gets REPEATED HERE WEEK AFTER WEEK AFTER WEEK. It’s hitting two frikkin’ keys on your keyboard! Control and Enter. We’re not asking you to apply the Brechtian Verfremdungseffekt or to construct the perfect palindromic structure. Can’t you do this little thing for the sake of making your artist’s life easier?


Sorry it had to happen on your week, James, but please understand this wasn’t only addressed to you.


OK rant over – back to the script.




PANEL 1: The robot bugs eyes start glowing and it emits a sound.




I’m thinking an ELEC lettering tag is relevant here. But it could also be considered a sound effect rather than dialogue. Your call and the letterer’s.


I see you’re trying to pack seven panels into this page too, with an establishing shot to boot. Consider saving space by making this panel an inset of the following one and making the sound effect spill out into the larger panel, especially since that one is completely silent and devoid of any acting characters.


PANEL 2: Long Shot. A small black pod floats in space above Earths atmosphere.


Oh no, I was wrong!
It was Earth all along!


Sorry about that. So the first scene was happening on Earth? Why didn’t you say so? This is a crucial piece of information you’ve omitted to tell the artist and one he could have used to design the location in the opening establishing shot.


However, I want to bring attention to something that you did that a lot of TPG applicants seem to forget: establishing new locations. You don’t start right inside the pod; instead you start with a long shot of it in space. This allows you to tell the readers that this location is different from the one we just left, thus side-stepping the very real danger of thinking the following panels are set inside the ship the other characters just entered. Very good call, James. (Well, there’s also the fact that you can hide the location until the last moment, but that would mean that the location itself is important. Just something to keep in mind.)


PANEL 3: Inside the pod are three humanoids sitting in lotus position, two male one female. They are dressed completely in black with some black armor plating, an alarm echoing the ‘bug’ down on the surface below. The Zhur share one telepathic thought bubble.






We’ve come to one of my pet peeves. It goes a little something like this:


Long shot of a woman is walking down the dimly lit street, a worried look on her face, clutching her bag close. In the foreground, a taxi is stopping along the sidewalk, as evidenced by its glowing stoplights, and the hand of a man is held out in a saluting gesture. Alice doesn’t know yet that it’s Bob in that taxi.


My problem with this is that the writer here doesn’t come out and say that Alice is walking down the street or that Bob is waving at her from the taxi. It’s just useless obfuscation for the sake of misplaced prosaic concerns. We don’t care how good it sounds; we just need it to be clear. Heck, I’m looking forward to the day someone will submit a script with panel descriptions that are nothing but grids and bullet lists. Anyone up to the challenge? (No. It will be returned to you. I won’t put myself through that aggravation. Yannick’s email is linked at the end of this, so you can send it directly to him if you want. It’s not going to make it through the gates here at TPG.)


Anyway, why not come out and say: Inside the pod, the three Zhur are sitting in lotus position and be done with it? Your artist will appreciate the clarity more than the suspense.


And before I forget: whenever there’s something special going on with dialogue, point it out with dialogue tags like I did above. This will let your letterer know he has to treat those speech balloons differently.


PANEL 4: Low Shot. The Zhur are launched from the pod towards the planet.


How? Like in a torpedo tube? Does a trapdoor open under them? Are they launched like rockets? Low shot doesn’t help; a camera angle doesn’t mean anything if you don’t tell the artist what the camera is pointed at. Hold on, are we out in space again? Is that it? So it’s a low shot of the pod? I shouldn’t have to be guessing so much, James.


PANEL 5: Med. Shot from behind the Zhur. The Zhur drop through the atmosphere with the Sanguine below.


See, this is why your establishing shot of the Sanguine in the impound lot was so important before: you need it so that the readers can recognize it from another angle in this panel.


My other concern is how we can see the ship itself if the Zhur are still dropping through the atmosphere. Take a moment to access Google Maps and see how far you have to zoom in before you can recognize any structure. My advice here is to take out that reference to the atmosphere as you’re making it sound like the Zhur are still way, way, WAY up still.


PANEL 6: Med. shot. The Zhur land on the hull of the Sanguine.









Again: how? Do they land with a mighty (unmentioned) THUD? Do they hover gently down towards the surface? Do they stick the perfect Iron Man three-point landing? You’re not giving the artist much here. Yes, you want to let him have a little creative fun, but there’s a difference between being free and being without tools.


And I question the use of a medium shot for the landing. You need to pull out a bit more if you want the readers to understand just where they’ve landed.


Dialogue-wise, it feels like too much in one spot. Don’t forget that with seven panels on the page, you won’t have a wealth of room to place dialogue in each. You do however have a couple of silent panels before this one and one after; use them to spread out these lines. After all, if their robot bug could tell them there were people on the ship, why not have it relay sensor readings too? No sense in waiting to be right on top of the ship to take stock of the situation.


(Also, the way you have it broken up, it looks like you want the information to be in separate balloons, as they should be. However, don’t be lazy and just give the one label. Each balloon should be appropriately labeled.)


PANEL 7: The Zhur press a panel on their armor respectively phasing them through the hull.


Page 2 and ask yourself this: what was the purpose of this page?


Sure, you’ve established the Zhur as these badass space terminators based in orbit above the Earth, but what did you accomplish story-wise? There’s a battle coming up that will do more than what’s needed in terms of showing us who the Zhur are and what they’re made of. As for plot, whether they come from space, another city or the bar on the corner, it doesn’t matter much as far as the present story is concerned. In other words: this page could be better used. Besides, think about it: wouldn’t just teasing at the Zhur – via the robot bug – as a vague menace before revealing them in a surprise attack be more effective dramatically-speaking then just introducing them and then switching the focus again to the other characters?


Speaking of which, when writing a short comic, always try to limit yourself to as few locations as possible. The most obvious reason for this is that when you switch locations, you have to establish the new one. You then either burn a panel for an establishing shot, or you skip it and risk having readers scratch their head. There’s also a concern with internal consistency. Keeping the story rooted in one place means you don’t expend tension moving the readers around so you can focus on the drama at hand. Comics are already a very condensed art, trying to say so much in so little space. Short comics push this right up to the limit with their restricted page-count. In that sense, short comics are not only about telling a compelling story with less pages, they’re also – and mostly – about telling a story with less characters, less locations and less themes, and still have it making sense both in the narration and the underlying ideas.


A lot of writers think short stories are easier because you have less to write; they’re actually harder for that same reason.


So, we’ve got P2 down, and I’m not really impressed.


Like Yannick, I’m not seeing the need for this page. You’ve introduced three characters, and only one has been named (and it was a bit of a mouthful at that. Remember Marvel’s character Charlie-27? He’s just called Charlie by the characters. And as another aside, I used to get Martinex and Iceman confused, because they looked so much alike.) where a reader can see it. Now, you’ve introduced three more characters, and they still haven’t been named. Lots of characters, with no real background on any of them as yet. And it’s P2.


Really, this page is misplaced.


What should have happened with this page is that we should have gone inside with the original three to see what was up. Then that would have given us not just better pacing from a story standpoint, it would have also given us better insight into the characters and their story.


Instead, you decide to jump around. Hopefully, you jump back on the next page.


* * * Missing page break * * *




Actually, this should be page 2 for the reasons above.


PANEL 1: Int. Location Shot. Sanguine corridor, the lighting is dim, the floor is simple grating








I admit: I had to look up what a location shot was. Basically, it’s an establishing shot. It’s the first time I’ve seen it expressed like this. Probably more of a screenplay term. If you’re working with an artist who knows what this is, knock yourself out but, just to be on the safe side, it’s always better to use terms everybody can agree on, like establishing shot.


And, by the way, this panel description doesn’t say much, either as a location or an establishing shot. You’ve described the floor but left out the rest. More importantly, what are the characters doing? How are they placed? What are their expressions? If they weren’t talking, Id never know from your panel description that they were there. Heck, for all I know, SS27 isn’t present at all in this shot.


Not describing the character’s actions and expressions also has the downside of making the dialogue ambiguous: is Aira commenting on the quietness of the ship or is he telling Paga to shut up?


PANEL 2: Paga, Aira and Shifterscanner are outside the cockpit door. Shifterscanner places his hand over the palm scanner.




I’m guessing a reverse shot from the previous panel where they were walking towards this door, thus explaining why we couldn’t see it before. I guess. Which I shouldn’t be doing.


And how can we tell this is the cockpit door? Remember: only your creative team will be reading this script; whatever is not shown either in art or dialogue is lost to the readers.


Also, I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I keep fixing typos and spelling mistakes in green along the way.


PANEL 3: The three space pirates enter the cockpit. Inside are the three Zhur in battle stances.




Again we have a panel description that is more than sparse. This is because you keep telling the artist what happens instead of what the readers can see. In comic script writing, these are two separate things. Bob is eating an apple is what happens. Tight shot of Bob crunching ferociously into an apple, eyes closed in culinary bliss, juice splashing everywhere is a panel description. In both cases, the artist gets to know what’s going on but, in the second example, he also knows what you want it to look like. That’s your job as a comic book writer: telling the artist what you’d like the reader to see in the panels. Sure, good artists will have a pretty good idea already of how to depict the events you want to show; that doesn’t exempt you from doing the minimal job of meeting them halfway.


In the case of this specific panel, for example, I’d like to know if we see the Zhur from the other characters’ POV? Are they framed by the doorway? Are we inside the cockpit with them witnessing the new arrivals’ surprise? What does the cockpit look like? It all depends of what you want to focus on in this panel: the reveal of the threat posed by the Zhur or the shock of that reveal for Paga and the gang.


Essentially, tell the artist what the purpose of the panel is and he’ll use the tools at his disposal to fulfill that purpose to the best of his ability.


Finally, the Zhur in battle stances? Do they even have weapons drawn? If so, what are they?




The Zhur throw throwing stars at the pirates, Shifterscanner 27 as Captain Krimzon takes three stars to the skull and drops, bleeding green. Simultaneously Aira is running away with Paga on his shoulders still. Aira is shooting backwards wildly without looking as he runs. Paga is firing a tiny blaster at the Zhur hitting one of them in the shoulder.


And this is where it all breaks down. This is where all the panels wasted on page 2 are coming back to bite you in the fundament. This is where the difference between recounting events and describing panels shines the brightest.


Bypassing the complete lack of spatial context or panel awareness (I’ve harped enough on that subject already), I’m going straight to the impossibility for an artist to draw this panel. You simply have too many beats here to make it a single panel.


First beat: The Zhur throw their stars. (Might as well call them Zen’s and make them intergalactic ninja’s…)
Second beat: SS27 takes them to the head while Paga and Aira retreat, shooing behind them at the Zhur.
Third beat: One of the Zhur gets hit.


I count three beats so you need three panels, which means this page now has nine panels. Nine panels with a fight? Borderline impossible. (Yes, but differently. Two of these beats can actually be one panel—as long as the stars are thrown in a panel directly previous to this. Then Zen can get hit in the third panel.)


Oh and with Paga on his shoulders still? You never mentioned how one character was riding the other before. If details like this stay in your head, not only are you not helping the artist, you’re actually being a nuisance to him.


PANEL 5: The Zhur run after Paga and Aira, but one of them is stopped by Shifterscanner morphing his hand into a green tentacle and wrapping it around his neck.


A moving panel again. How do I edit thee? Let me count the beats


First beat: The Zhur are in pursuit (I suppose everybody is still exchanging fire here)

Second beat: One of the Zhur is yanked back a green tentacle wrapped around his neck

Third beat: It’s SS27 who has morphed one of his hands!


So eleven panels on this page now.


Fight scenes are tricky. Not only do you have to find an interesting sequence of actions, you also have to have it make sense and, on top of that, the medium forces you to show it using only static images. Well almost, as we’ll see in the next panel


PANEL 6: Possible stylistic choice: A Steve Skroce Spiderman inspired panel which shows an after image of the Zhur turning, leaping, perhaps cutting the tendril from its throat, bounding off the corridor wall and…


Necessary: The individual Zhur stabs Shifterscanner through, his sword emitting strange energy. Shifterscanner begins breaking down into a pool of goop.


One thing that I like here is that you’re giving your artist some choice. To me, it speaks of understanding that this is a collaborative effort.


What I like less however is you using obscure references to convey what you want to the artist. Call me uncultured, but I had no idea Steve Skroce even existed before you mentioned him (Can’t keep track of all artists all the time.). However, that’s not my failing as an editor of not knowing every professional artist out there as well as their respective style, but rather your failure as a writer to properly communicate what you expect.


(And yes, I get the irony of having mentioned Brecht earlier.) (At least I’m not the only one. And Skroce was good on Spidey. He was wasted on Gambit.)


Now what I think you were going for is called ghosting, that is when multiple transparent instances of a character are depicted doing consecutive actions in a single panel, the final of which is colored normally. That term is better known than Steve Skroce, I think (You may think wrong…). Now if the gentleman in question has pioneered or popularized the technique, please enlighten me, as I’m genuinely curious.


However, even with the use of ghosting, you still have one beat too many since you need one for SS27 to break down. We’re up to twelve panels for those counting at home.


Oh and the Zhur are using swords? Okay. (Intergalactic ninja’s…)


One last thing: everyone’s shooting and dying and no one’s making a single sound? Not even a


PANEL 7: A Med. Shot of the Zhur turning to face an unseen threat, blood red droplets raining down upon him.


This is where I wish you had numbered your Zhur or something. Are you talking about the same Zhur who just killed SS27? Or is it the one who got shot? How is that one doing? Are the shot Zhur and the stabbity Zhur the same? Making Zhur some sort of collective noun isn’t making this any less complicated. I bet we’re gonna lose track of our Zhur before the end


Also notice that the Zhur have fallen completely silent. They had dialogue on one page. Now they’ve been relegated to silent devices.


Panel description-wise, this is where a camera angle would be useful. I’m seeing a bird’s eye view of the Zhur looking up toward us, with the red droplets raining straight down upon him. But then again, you’re still running your beats together: you need one beat to make the Zhur notice the red droplets and another for the reaction shot to the still-unseen threat.


Thirteen panels. We’ll simplify it to roughly two pages instead.


And that was page 3. Another 7-panel page? Two in a row is an unfortunate fluke, but three is an unforgivable rut. Unless your artist is amazing with layouts, it’s bound that your pages are going to start looking alike when you keep the same panel-count a few times in a row. Help him out by shaking things up. Look where you could conflate several panels into one. Check where you could move your page-turn. Question whether some beats are worth showing or – more importantly – if you’re not missing some. As you are.


And it’s not only a question of physical layout. The same number of panels tends to convey the same speed to the pages as well. By having three 7-page panels one after another like this, you run the risk of bogging down your pacing into a steady regular tempo, more fit for dancing than storytelling.


P3, and it gets no better.


The pacing is off on this thing, as Yannick has explained. It’s P3, and this is supposed to be a short piece. That’s why there’s the high panel counts: you’re trying to shove as much story here as you can. The problem is that, so far, there’s no story.


Why are the protagonists there? To steal a ship? That’s it? That’s the ultimate goal? Why? Why are they stealing the ship, and why are the antagonists trying to stop them?


You tried packing in so much, but forgot to give the reason for the story itself. The readers want to know why they’re reading. Without that, the story has no point. And a pointless story isn’t your friend. You have a faux point here, just like faux fur. At least the fur keeps you warm.


Basically, this comes down to pacing, along with some mechanics.


Once you start thinking in static images and understand the mechanics of storytelling within the medium, then all that an editor is needed for is to keep the writer honest when it comes to style, storytelling ability, and pacing.


This piece, so far, is a mess, but it’s a good mess. And by good, I mean there’s a lot of learning opportunities here.


Fight scenes are also hard. You’re trying to choreograph while being interesting and still let the artist have fun, but you haven’t yet understood what makes a fight interesting. It’s easy to get lost in a fight scene when you don’t understand fighting. Are you lost? Not yet. But it looks like it’s coming.


* * * Missing page break * * *




PANEL 1: Paga and Aira keep firing at the Zhur hitting the wounded one in the chest.






And I can now pronounce myself on the stuttering: yes, it grates. Especially since it doesn’t have any relevance either to the character (Paga is neither shy or hesitant) or to the plot (take out the stuttering and the plot remains the same). This is a quirk and nothing more, and a tiresome one at that.


You’re really leaving all of the heavy lifting to your artist, you know? I don’t mind the lack of camera angle so much as the way you’re miscalculating what can be included in a single panel, thus forcing your artist to either slavishly follow your directions and end up with something that makes him look bad, or to re-do the whole breakdown himself, thus essentially doing your job.


At this point, I would maybe advise you looking into using the the Marvel style scripting technique, where you just narrate what goes on in each page/scene and leave the layout completely up to the artist. However, you need to be sure of working with a penciller who is very talented in sequentials in order for him to carry the whole weight of the layout.


Anyway, beat time:


First beat: Paga and Aira firing behind them as they run (I suppose they’re still running as you’ve never said they were stopping to take cover)
Second beat: The wounded Zhur getting hit in the chest


And let me get this straight: Paga and the gang knew those guys were called Zhur? You know what I think? There’s a 50-50 chance that the readers will think Zhur is the name of that one guy who got shot. (At least there’s another name that was squeezed in, and more organically than the first.)


PANEL 2: The Zhur leaps between the energy bolts and stabs Aira in the chest. This could also be Skroce influenced.


Which Zhur? The wounded one who just got hit in the chest? The one who got tentacle and then stabbed SS27? No wait, that one is busy getting rained on. Or the other one still? Can you see how confusing this is?


And again:


First beat: The Zhur leaps, sword drawn back in preparation to strike, energy bolts barely missing him as they streak past
Second beat: The Zhur stabbing Aira


Ghosting can’t solve every moving panel issue. (This can be drawn, but the problem is that this is written as a moving panel. It’s a simple fix, though. Change it to past tense.)


PANEL 3: Aira grips the Zhur’s arms holding it in place, blood runs from the corners of his mouth.




It’s the dreaded comma-fail again! And speaking of punctuation, I believe that if you’re barking instructions through blood-stained teeth, you’re going to end them with an exclamation mark. (I would, but that’s just me. There’s also the fact that there may be a stutter here, too, because of the trauma. But what do I know?)


Still, this panel description is marginally better because it describes something that can be drawn. There’s only one beat here.


PANEL 4: Paga runs leaving Aira and the Zhur behind.




And another comma-fail. It’s called the vocative case and it appears to be the most common cause of comma-fails in comic scripts. Calling out to someone? Use commas. ( Vocative comes from the Latin vocare, to call. )


Speaking of calling, Aira gets named! Hurray! And too late!


This panel could benefit from a camera angle. Are we with Aira, watching Paga run away? Or are we with the latter, looking back on the poor schmuck getting kebabbed?


In any case, I feel like there might be an optional missing beat here, if only for Aira to realize he’s not getting any help:


First beat: Aira realizing he’s alone with the Zhur: Boss?
Second beat: Paga already a good distance away: Sorry!


PANEL 5: Close Shot. Aira roaring with rage and pain grabs the Zhur by the throat snapping it’s neck.




And SFX: SNAKT, might I add, lest the readers think he’s just giving the Zhur a neck massage.


PANEL 6: Aira is dragging himself along the grated floor the sword still through him.




Unless he’s been stabbed through the side, there’s no way he can drag himself across a grated floor with a sword through him. He would just run the sword deeper into himself, up to the hilt, and that protruding part would keep getting stuck in the grating, thus preventing him from moving along. For the sake of plausibility, let’s just say he’s lying on his side, on the floor, bleeding to death.


Also, Paga is finally named, although it’s way too late for that by now.


PANEL 7: Aira looks down through the floor a look of horror on his face




And here I’m assuming we see this from the other side of the grating. And I shouldn’t be.


And that’s FOUR 7-panel pages in a row! FOUR! HAHAHAHA!


There’s no story here. I’m no longer interested.


There was supposed to be a story, but somehow, it got lost. And by lost, I mean it was never there to begin with. This is an idea that somehow got stretched to five pages. That’s terrible. An idea does not a story make.


I’ve got ideas. I’ve got an idea about a woman, and a whole sequence with her and her unique look. Know what I haven’t got for her? A story. I don’t start writing until I’ve got one. You shouldn’t have started writing until you had one, either.


For a writer, not having a story is a mortal sin.


* * * Missing page break * * *




This is how you’ve headed each page so far:








Sometimes it’s a number, sometimes it’s spelled out, sometimes there’s punctuation, sometimes not. Sure, it has no bearing on your ability to tell a story, but it still says something about the care you put into the work you present for consideration. Good spelling, the right punctuation, correct syntax, consistent typography – these are all ways that you’re presenting yourself to the world, and that’s even more important coming from a WRITER seeking collaboration or publishing opportunities. You wouldn’t show up to an interview with mismatched socks, would you? Well the content of this script are your interview answers; the way you wrote it is how you dressed. Today, you showed up in a tie over a tank top and brown socks in flip-flops. You better be damn good with your answers if you’re going to look like that.


PANEL 1: Paga is running toward the exit.


PAGA: Almost out, almost f-free.


Speaking of consistency, now the dialogue has switched from all caps to sentence case. Or was this supposed to be whispering? In that case, use the (SOFT) lettering tag. (Or, more appropriately, (whisper).)


And the panel description says nothing.


PANEL 2: Upward Shot almost from Paga’s point of view. The door opens in the doorway is the real Dev Zur-Ent Krimzon. He’s in prison garb, his head shaved save some stubble on his head and face, a bar code tattooed onto his forehead, and blood splattered on his face and clothes. A blaster is in his hand pointed at Paga.




Found one of the missing commas!


Again, I feel like there’s a missing beat here, as if the reveal of Krimzon was happening too fast. Seems to me like a panel of Paga stopping dead in his tracks as the door opens and Krimzon’s shadow falling over him would fill that gap nicely. Otherwise you’re not using the medium to its full power to create dramatic tension. It’s just: and this happens, and then this happens, and then this Tension isn’t only something you stick at the end of a spread before the page-turn. You need small measures of it spread throughout the story, using the unique mechanic of the comic panel to generate it.


Either that or there have been so many missed beats before that I’m seeing some everywhere now. (No, you’re not seeing things. You’re seeing that there’s something missing here. It’s pretty deep when you can see an absence, folks!)


PANEL 3: Paga points his small blaster at Dev.




Another non-panel description. Can we see Dev? What is he doing? Are we focusing on his expression or on Paga’s? Or is it a sort of two-way Mexican standoff deal with the camera showing both participants in a wide shot?


PANEL 4: Dev lowered his gun.




Why the past tense?


And again: what can we see? Same issue as before. It looks like


PANEL 5: A flood of red fluid pours upwards from the floor encapsulating Paga.


you’ve completely


PANEL 6: Paga’s flesh dissolves leaving bone.


given up.


PANEL 7: On the bridge of the Sanguine, Dev sits in the Captain’s chair, cleaned up in his own clothes and shaved. The skeletal remains of Aira and the Zhur are encapsulated in the red goop similar to Shifterscanner’s makeup. One of the Zhur’s skeleton’s head slumps to the side from the broken neck Aira gave it, . They are working various consoles, Aira’s skeleton with a hole in the ribs is working the wheel. Paga’s goop encapsulated skeleton rests on Dev’s shoulder.




Aaaand seven panels again. So anyway let’s have a look at the story structure


Thieves want to steal ship. Terminator dudes want to kill ship captain. They meet, fight, and get eaten by red slime. Ship captain comes back and uses remains as new crew. Reader goes: Oh now I get the title! The end.


The problem that I see here is that there’s no relation between the resolution of the story and the struggles of the characters. The thieves want the ship but they’re thwarted by the Zhur. The Zhur want to kill Krimzon but they have to contend with the thieves. And Krimzon wants a crew but the last one got jailed too, I guess. All of these characters’ goals intersect which, in itself, is a good source of conflict. However, there’s one thing missing for that conflict to result in good drama along the way and a satisfying resolution: agency.


None of the characters get what they want because of their actions, nor did any of their actions ever have a chance of preventing their failure. Krimzon gets a new crew without ever having to fire a shot or outwit anyone. As for the thieves and the Zhur, even if they had been the best fighters in the galaxy, they were doomed to fail from the start as you establish that the red goop system is fool-proof. No matter who got the upper hand in the fight, they literally had no chance to win in the end.


Everything just falls into place for everyone. In Corneille’s masterpiece play Le Cid, a character declares: À vaincre sans peril on triomphe sans gloire. In English: Winning without risk brings no glory. And it also brings no dramatic tension and no payoff in the resolution. And that, my friend, is no story.


In closing, I will run down a few general suggestions to improve this piece:

  • Re-think your panel breakdown in terms of static images. You obviously already know what’s going to happen; your mistake was to stop there. Go one step further and break it down into static images that can be drawn by the artist. That’s the essence of comic book scripting and what sets it apart from simple storytelling.
  • Pay special attention to spelling, punctuation and typographical consistency. They are your calling card for prospective collaborators and publishers. Until you make a big name for yourself, this is what’s going to speak the loudest about you, not your résumé.
  • Re-work how your characters attempt to reach their goals. Make sure that if they succeed, it’s thanks to something they chose to do and, if they fail, it’s also because of something they chose to do. Without agency in their fate, characters become simple pawns in a melodrama, hurtling towards inevitable doom.* It’s the difference between Man gets stuck in traffic and wife gets murdered in the meantime and Man stays at the office for extramarital affair and wife gets murdered in the meantime. This last one is more compelling to readers because the resolution is related to the character’s actions. Another example, positive this time: Author gets publishing deal after her name is drawn from a hat and Author gets publishing deal over ferocious competition despite having to take care of her dying father.


*As an aside, the difference between tragedy and melodrama is that it ends badly for the tragic characters because of something they did, not despite it.


And that’s all I have for this week. I hope you find something useful in my notes, James, and that we’ll be seeing a new version of your script on the Proving Grounds soon! Thanks for submitting!


Time to just run this down.


Format: You could have had a Flawless Victory, but you would have had to simply add a page break. Yannick had something of a breakdown over this, and he hasn’t been back all that long. There are certain things I always say, and one of them is that format is very mutable, which is fine, as long as you are consistent. However, one of the things that is necessary are page breaks. Page breaks are a necessary mechanism that tells the rest of the team that that page of comic is finished. Page breaks are simple, and one of the most mentioned things here at TPG.


Panel Descriptions: You went from some relatively decent descriptions (not perfect by any means, but decent), to crap. I agree with Yannick: it looks like you gave up. Moving panels, panels that tell what is going on instead of describing an action, panels that just don’t have enough information for the artist, or panels that can’t be drawn. Not good. If you put a camera angle in there, you have a better chance of having a panel that is able to be drawn. It is not a guarantee, because I’ve seen jacked-up panel descriptions with camera angles, but at least you’d be thinking about it if you’d put them in.


Pacing: Here is where the story really starts to break down.


You’ve got five pages here, and all five of them have seven panels. You wanted to tell a short story, and you tried to stuff a lot inside of the five pages by raising the panel count instead of adding more pages. I get it. I’ve told some of my clients to raise their panel count when they want to keep the page count low. However, when you raise the panel count, the panels have to do their part.


Because you’re trying to stuff 10 lbs of crap into a 5 lb bag, you have some panels that are trying to do too much. What you then get is that fight: too many things going on, too many shortcuts taken so the action has a staccato feel to it, and actions that aren’t described.


If this piece were correctly paced, it would be a seven- or eight-page story.


You have to be more judicious in the moments of time you want to show. By being more judicious, your stories should turn out better.


Dialogue: Okay, there’s three things about the dialogue that jump out at me. The first thing is the stuttering. Too much more, and I’d have to go and punch grandmothers in the face before kneeing them in the stomach. It wouldn’t have been good. The second thing is the lack of punctuation. More on that in a moment. The third thing is the lack of sound effects.


Punctuation. I found at least one instance of a missing period in the panel descriptions, and Yannick added a fair share of punctuation in the dialogue. He shouldn’t have had to do it. If you’re a writer , then you should know how to use punctuation. If you don’t, then you’re not a writer. Take that as you will.


There isn’t a sound effect in the entire piece, and that’s disturbing. You have a lot going on, a lot of action, and not a single sound effect to help liven things up. Sound effects would have helped a lot. It’s almost like watching a movie that doesn’t have a soundtrack. Dialogue, but no foley.


The dialogue should also have born the brunt of the weight of the story. There’s no reason given for anything at all. Why is one group trying to steal the ship? Dunno. No idea as to what they’re going to do with it once they’ve procured it. The Zen? They’re out to kill a guy. Why? No idea. The guy? How did he escape from prison, what’s his power, and why does he use dead people as his crew?


The dialogue here didn’t do its job. Not the entire job. Not the job it should have done.


Content: It turns out that this story is crap. As a reader, I’d be pissed off in reading this. The story is pointless. And pointless is another mortal sin of the writer.


Editorially, this needs a rewrite. The actions need a point, and the pace needs to be better in order to accommodate all the action as well as the reasoning behind the story. The first scene would be the would-be thieves, the second scene would be the would-be killers, the third scene would be the prison break, the fourth scene would be the fight, and the fifth scene would be the rightful owner coming back and getting his ship back. Each scene would have enough dialogue to give the actual reasons for the actions. See how that works? Pretty simple, when you stop to think about it before writing.

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 hereand 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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