TPG Week 179: Don’t Bore The Reader Into Submission

| May 30, 2014


Welcome back, one and all, to The Proving Grounds! This week, we have a new Brave One in Micah Bryant. I’m by myself this week, as Sam is taking care of some personal stuff. So, it’s just Micah and myself. Insert tones of doom here. Let’s get started!


1000 Days


Page One – Four Panels (Hey, a panel count at the top of the page! I like it. The only thing about these is that you have to keep the panel count straight as you continue to write. Let’s see if Micah can keep count as the story goes on.)


1. Panel 1 –

We open the comic with a man staring into his reflection in a bathroom mirror. It’s a slight over the shoulder shot that shows the back of his head. This is MARK YOUNG. He is a 30 year old computer programmer at a large corporation. He is a tall, somewhat slim man with dark black hair that is short but long enough to have a slight messed up style to it with a trimmed up beard that runs along his angular jaw. He is wearing a black business suit with a red shirt and tie. The tie is loosened but not all the way undone. He is a man who has reached the end of his rope. He has given up on life. He has no emotion on his face as he stares into the mirror. He looks more disappointed in himself than despondent. He also had a noticeable red mark on the right side of his face. (Needlessly wordy. Most of this ican be cut, and should either be in a character description document, or just not added since it isn’t doing anything for the panel description except add words that don’t need to be there.)


2. Panel 2

We pull out a little bit to see his hands on the sink with him in a leaning position. He isn’t slouched over but he keeps a slight straight poster while leaning over. His right hand is resting on a large revolver. On this hand is a silver bracelet. It looks like a power balance bracelet but a little bit more dress like than sport like. The number 1000 is written on the circular plaque in the middle. There are also plaques on the bottom and sides of the bracelet that have the number 1000on them also (How about some ending punctuation? I have no idea why, after harping on it over and over again in different scripts, that I’m still saying this… Anyway, this panel cannot be drawn. Do this experiment: grab someone and take them to a mirror. Preferably a bathroom mirror, but that might be strange depending on whom you grab. Arrange them as you described, then stand behind them so that the first panel is replicated. Then, take a step or two back and look down. Could you see a gun? Sure, even though it’s mostly obscured by the person’s arm/hand. Can you see the bracelet they’re wearing? Not at all. Or, if you can, not well enough to make out any words on it. The angle is wrong. This cannot be drawn.)


3. Panel 3

He picks the gun up and gives it a look. He doesn’t have his hand on the trigger he has it resting in his hand. The gun doesn’t need to look too fancy or anything and it doesn’t need to look like and particular gun. It is just a simple revolver with a decently long barrel. It should be pretty obvious at this point what the man is about to do. (You can’t have your hand on the trigger. For regular-sized guns, the trigger is too small to have a hand on it. A finger, definitely. I don’t care about what you meant to say. This is a comic script, and I’m not here to try to read your mind. It’s supposed to be in the script so I won’t have to. Anyway, you go on to say it doesn’t need to look like any particular type of gun, then say it’s a revolver. There is a difference between a revolver and an automatic. Make up the artist’s mind, and they’ll give you what you ask for. All of that, and this is a moving panel.)


4. Panel 4

He puts the gun up to his head. A slight click is heard from the gun as he puts his thumb on the hammer of the gun. He has his finger fully on the trigger. He still has no emotion on his face. He has no tears or look of anguish on his face. He lets out a simple sigh. (Another moving panel. And where’s the sound effect for the click? Don’t make the letterer scour through the script, looking for sound effects. That isn’t their job. That’s why we have the SFX element. Also, do you know how revolvers work? I’m sure you’ve seen it a billion times in movies. The gun doesn’t cock just because there’s a thumb on the hammer…)


Mark – <sigh .>


P1 is down, and Micah commits one of the ultimate sins that a new writer can: he has a silent opening page.


Generally, I hate opening silent pages for a new series/story. The reason for that is simple: there’s too much worldbuilding and storytelling that needs to be done in order to have a silent opening page. I hate them.


Then there’s the moving panels. Those are easy to correct, but you have to be cognizant of them. I think we’re going to be seeing more of them as the story continues.


The big thing, though, is visualization. You have to be able to visualize the panel that can be drawn. Panel 2 cannot be drawn as described because of the camera placement. It can be easily fixed by moving the camera to a better vantage point, but as described, it doesn’t work.


As the writer, your job is to tell the artist what you see in your head, so they can come as close as possible to replicating it. If they tried to replicate panel 2 as you described it, it wouldn’t work, because it’s impossible.


Know what can be drawn.

Page Two – Two Panels


1. Panel 1 –

He pulls the trigger. The bullet flies straight through his head snapping his head violently sideways. The bullet is followed by chunks of skull, pieces of brain, a massive splatter of blood and chunks of skin and hair. (Moving panel, and death porn. Got it.)


SFX – KABLAMMMM!!!! (Hey! A sound effect! Where’s the previous one, then?)


2. Panel 2 –

Mark’s lifeless body falls with what is left of his head awkwardly hitting the bathtub. Blood is all over the place and more splatters when his head hit’s the side of the bathtub. You see his hand hit the ground with the gun falling out of it. The bracelet has to be shown here with the number 1000 clearly shown. (Moving panel, and more death porn.)




Okay, so there’s P2.


P1, for its flaws, sets up a minor mystery: is he or isn’t he? The last panel of P1 is placed nicely, so that the reader has to turn the page (thus, going deeper into the book) in order to find the answer to the mystery. That’s great. I love it.


What I don’t love, though, are the moving panels. What I detest is death porn. That’s all what these two panels are.


I went and bought the Final Destination series of movies. (I love film, as anyone who pays attention knows, and I love horror movies—especially bad ones within a certain era.) I bought it as a four set, and bought the final one as a single, because it was a good deal. Do you know what the FD series of movies are? Death porn. The filmmakers want to see just how gory and realistic they can get with each movie. FD is death porn in a way that other horror movies aren’t. Sure, films like Hostel and Saw are torture porn, but movies like Friday the 13th and Halloween aren’t.


Michael Myers scares the hell out of me. He’s this huge, silent force of nature that just refuses to die. He only kills if you’re in his way. However, the filmmakers (especially John Carpenter) understood that the killings are scarier if they’re implied. Sure, Michael kills on film, but most of them either cut away before the killing is done, or someone finds the body later. Implied.


You don’t need death porn. You could have had the camera hold position for these two panels, probably about mid-body, with the first panel having the shot being heard, and the second panel with the body dropping.


So, we have another silent page. Know what this is doing? It’s making the reader pause for maybe five seconds before they turn the page. That’s lightning fast. There’s the picture to see, but nothing to read.


And that last panel… Which is more important, the body placement, or seeing the bracelet? You can’t have it both ways. You either have to pull out to show the body, or push in to show the bracelet.


The bracelet is supposed to be important, yes? How is the reader supposed to know that? The page is silent, and as such, you’re not giving any reason at all as to why the bracelet is supposed to be important.


If the artist were to draw this the way you described it, the reader would never understand that the bracelet is supposed to be important. They’d just think it a piece of jewelry.

Page Three – Splash Page


1. Panel 1

In this full splash page Mark’s body is shown from an overhead perspective with his body lying in an uncomfortable position with what is left of his bloody pulp of a head up against the bathtub. His head has a huge hole in the side of in it. Blood is pouring from what is left of his nose, mouth, eyes and everything else. It is a gruesome and bloody scene. Chunks of brain, skull, and skin litter the bathroom. (More death porn.)


P3, and there’s no story here. Right now, with this page, I can tell that Micah doesn’t have enough story to carry his page count. What does this page do to push the story forward? Not one damned thing. The reader has now put this back on the shelf. Three silent pages that don’t tell anything means no sale.


This page isn’t placed correctly. Time for a lesson in counting and placement.


When you open the cover, P1 is on the right. You then have to turn the page to get to P2, which is on the left, but you only have to move your eyes over in order to get to P3, which is on the right. This means that your splash page loses effectiveness because it isn’t hidden by the page turn. The reader can see it while they’re still on P2.


Since there’s no story here, time for me to tell one of my own.


I joined the Marine Corps right out of high school. When you’re going through something as intense as boot camp with other people, you get to bond with them pretty quickly. Things get personal.


There were, of course, the Dear John letters. Guys lost their girls during boot camp, and tears were shed. I was dating a girl from high school, and I wasn’t any different from most as I got my Dear John letter. I didn’t cry, though. I was expecting it.


Like I said, you get close with others when you’re all going through something intense together. Not with everyone, of course, but there was a small group of us that grew close. About six of us. We had some down time, and we were telling personal stories.


One of the guys started talking about a nice memory he had about cooking with his grandmother. I then told mine: how my grandmother had moved in with us because she had colon cancer and couldn’t live by herself in her large house anymore. How she had taught me to make the butternut squash pie she had made my entire life, and was making sure my mother paid attention because she was really passing the secret on to her. And then I told them about how she had passed away about 2 weeks after that day.


I wanted them to feel what I had felt. I told them about that night, and how she was in so much pain. She was crying and making a sound that was terrible to hear. I tried to replicate it, so they could understand.


A couple of them laughed. They laughed! And so did I. It was a poor attempt at the sound. It sounded funny, even to my ears. So I laughed a little. One of the guys said to leave out the sound effects, and I said he was right, and I continued with the telling. I told them about how I didn’t want to go to school the next day, but my mother had made me, even making me go to the track meet after school; about how I came home after the meet, wanting to show off the medal and noticing the cars on the street but not understanding why they were there; about how I literally ran away after I found out she was gone, and how my cousin whom I couldn’t stand followed me to my not-so-secret place and climbed a tree with me and stayed with me as I cried.


I shed a few tears during that telling, as did a few of the other recruits. They felt something of what I felt. It was a good night.


See what I did there? I told a story, beginning, middle, and end, and it had more pathos in it than these three pages. Micah’s wordiness in the panel descriptions does not translate to any kind of empathy toward the character, even though he kills himself. I told more story in my anecdote than this entire scene. Not good.



Page Four – Five Panels


1. Panel 1 –

We now see an overhead shot of a rather large office. It has a large number of cubicles. The panel should be angled to where it looks like the cubicles go off into the horizon. The few cubicle residents we see are not happy to be there. This is a sad and depressing office.


Caption – 25 Hours Earlier (I’m not going to ding him on the lack of a period here. This is a timestamp, and as such, I’m looking at it as a writer’s stylistic choice to not have a period here. The capitals, though? Totally unnecessary.)


2. Panel 2 –

Inside of Mark’s cubicle is just as sad. He is sitting at his desk with a still somewhat emotionless look on his face. It is almost as if he has lost his ability to feel ANY emotion as he bears the weight of the world on his shoulders. Despite all of this he still sits up straight. It’s as if it is engrained in him not to slouch over. His life has been sucked out of him due to a massive number of reasons that will be explored in later issues. This man has a story and it is not a happy one. A CO-WORKER is popping his head in to give Mark some information. (Needlessly wordy, and then you devolve into telling what’s happening instead of describing what people are doing. That last sentence turns this into a moving panel. Also, where’s the camera?)


Co Worker – Hey, man. I ran into Simmons in the hallway. He wants to see you in his office.


Mark – Sigh. What for?


Co Worker – No idea. Couldn’t really tell if it was good news or not


Mark – How often does he call you into his office for good news?


Co Worker – Not that often. Good luck man (Your first balloon tells me you know how to use a comma. Here? Comma-fail.)

(Too much back and forth here. Remember that the word balloons need to take up space, and with five panels here, you’re going to have a cramped panel.)


3. Panel 3 –

Mark rubs his face in frustration. (Moving panel.)


Mark – Gaaahhhhhh


4. Panel 4 –

Mark heads down the opening separating the rows of cubicles. It’s as almost he is heading towards certain doom. (Moving panel.)



5. Panel 5 –

Mark makes his way to his boss’ office. The door is open and Mark is walking through. His boss, MR. SIMMONS, is sitting at his desk with his hand locked together in front of him on his desk. He is a big bad boss man type with a balding head and strong jaw. (Sam. Sam Read. Please tell me everything that’s wrong with this panel. Then explain why clarity is important.)


Mark – Uh, you wanted to see me sir?


Mr. Simmons – Yes, Mark, please have a seat.


P4, and we’ve changed locations, both physically and temporally.


We start off decently. We’re in an office building, starting inside. I don’t mind that at all. Do I need to know where this building is? Not necessarily. There’s no need to go outside-in here. This is good enough.


However, making it so that there are cubicles as far as the eye can see means the office that was called for has to be somewhere else. Since there’s no camera placement, it’s going to be a challenge for the artist to know exactly where to place the office that Mark has to go to.


Now, Mark and Mr. Simmons have been described, but the person passing the information wasn’t. They deserve something.


At least you got Mark’s name in there in an organic way. I like that.


The moving panels… They’ve gotta stop. This is a static medium. Learn to write static images.

Page Five – Five Panels


1. Panel 1 –

Mark is sitting across from Mr. Simmons. The wall behind Mr. Simmons has various certificates and diplomas on it.(Those wall hangings are magically delicious. They should have appeared when we first saw Simmons.)


Mr. Simmons – Mark, you’re a valued member of this company


2. Panel 2 –

Close up of Simmons (GAH! Where’s the ending punctuation? And what’s Simmons doing?)


Simmons – which is why I hate to have to inform you that the corporate office is retroactively making it a prerequisite for computer programmers at your pay grade to have a college degree.


3. Panel 3 –

Close Up of Mark with a knowing fuck expression on his face (I know that expression well. I have it on my face right now because there’s no ending punctuation.)




4. Panel 4 –

Close Up of Simmons (Every time you forget to put in ending punctuation, an angel drop-kicks a puppy. Just letting you know. So, if Mark is given an expression, why not Simmons?)


Mr. Simmons – I fought for you, Mark, but–



5. Panel 5 –

The panel shows Mark with a look of frustration on his face.


Mark – Sir, I have been with this company 10 years. I worked my ass off to get from the mailroom to get where I am today. How could they do this to me? (This is awkward due to too many gets. )


Mr. Simmons – They want to have a reason to justify what they are paying you. They believe a degree would justify that.


Mark – And the quality of my work doesn’t?


6. Panel 6 – (Hm. I coulda sworn the top of the page said there were only five panels on this page…)

The panel shows Mr. Simmons still sitting at his desk with his hands clenched together.


Mr. Simmons – Not in their eyes. You could always go back to school.


Mark – To get a degree in a job I have already proven myself to be more than capable of doing? I know more than most of the guys here who do have degrees.


Mr. Simmons – Mark, there’s nothing I can do.. (An ellipsis has three periods, not two.) I’m sorry. Please clean out your desk.



5. Panel 5 – (Not only did you lose count, but you have an extra panel here!)

Mark leaves the office with his box of office supplies.


So, P5. I’m still bored, because there’s no story. I do like the time compression in panel 5, though. At least we’re not tortured with watching him clean out his desk.




I’ve spoken before about my dream: to win an Eisner, an Emmy, and an Academy Award for writing a comic and its adaptations. Hell, my adaptation was so good that they created a new Oscar category just for comics, and I win the inaugural trophy. Not only that, I win all these awards in the same year, for different projects.


I then take my gaggle of statues to my local college to one of the deans, and tell them I want to create a class that teaches comic book writing. However, the dean should be prepared for a lot of complaints and drops, because my grading system is going to be a bit backwards.


Forgotten/incorrect punctuation is an automatic failure for the assignment. Incorrect spelling in the panel descriptions is an automatic failure for the assignment.


I’ve said before how there are two different types of creators: writers, and storytellers. Writers know the use and power of words and punctuation, while storytellers just want to tell their story and are unused to putting their thoughts to written words. However, as soon as you sit down to write, you’re a writer.


The editor’s main job is to make sure the story is as good as you can make it. You can make their job a lot easier by doing your part when it comes to spelling and punctuation. It isn’t hard.


Oh, and in my dream, the first person who brings up Brian Bendis as not having great spelling or punctuation would fail the course. He has a job, and you’re trying to get one. You have to do it better than the best in order to get to the bottom of the barrel.

Page Six – Four Panels


1. Panel 1 –

Mark walks out of the front sliding doors into the city. (Where’s the camera?)


2. Panel 2 –

Mark lets out a loud and graphic expletive. (This is not a panel description. Alyssa. Alyssa Crow. Please make this into a panel description.)


Mark – FUCK!!!!!!


3. Panel 3

He notices a bar across the street. (This is not a panel description. This cannot be drawn. Secondly, if he’s been at that job long enough to know he knows more than those with a degree, he should know there’s a bar in the vicinity. So not only is this not a panel description, notices is the wrong word.)


4. Panel 4 –

He starts to head towards the bar. (Yannick, here’s a softball for ya.)


Mark – Well, if I‘m not working, I might as well be drinking (Because that’s what everyone who gets fired does: they spend money.)


We are six pages in, and no sign of any story yet…

Page Seven – Two Panels


1. Panel 1 –

Mark is sitting at the corner of a medium sized bar. Being that it isn’t even noon yet there isn’t a whole lot of business.


2. Panel 2 –

This is a close-up shot of Mark sitting at the bar with numerous empty shot glasses and beer bottles lying around him on the bar. He is surprisingly emotionless for a guy that just got fired from his job.


Okay, I’m calling it quits, as soon as I go over this page.


First, this page isn’t doing anything. It’s padding. Two panels? For what? What are these two panels really doing that more couldn’t be added here? This entire thing reeks of elderberries, there’s so much padding.


Now, panel 2. It does one thing right, and it does the same thing wrong.


The first thing it does is that it compresses time. It’s telling us that Mark has been there for a while, because there’s a pile there of beer bottles and shot glasses. It’s a widely-used visual to show the passage of time in a single location: pile stuff up. Want to show someone’s been at a desk for a while? Stack up books/papers on it and have them looking haggard. Want to show someone’s been at a bar for a while? Have them at a table and pile up bottles.


Why is this also wrong?


The bar is mostly empty. How hard is it to keep the bar clean of bottles and glasses? Most people, when they drink, they’ll stick with one or two different types of drinks. For guys, usually a favored type of beer and a favored liquor. Know what that means? One bottle, one glass. If it’s the same drink, why dirty another glass? Remember those movies you’ve seen where the guy is sitting at the bar, crying into his drink, and the barkeep comes by and pours some dark fluid into the empty glass? Same thing.


I like the idea, but the execution is lacking.


Now, to run this down.


Format: Flawless Victory! Just watch your panel counts.


Panel Descriptions: These need a lot of work. You have two extremes—they’re either moving panels, or they can’t be drawn. Cut down on the needless words that aren’t doing anything besides making the artist hunt for what’s relevant, and learn to write static images.


I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the trick to writing still images is to imagine the panel as a picture and describe that still image. Don’t say what a person is going to do, don’t try to get into their heads overmuch. Just describe what you see.


What you’re seeing are actions that have just happened, so write in the past tense. Every action is just one picosecond in the past. Writing in the present tense makes it a moving panel. Keep that in mind.


Pacing: Nothing happens in seven pages. These seven pages are really more like three, so more than half of this is padding.


I feel like a broken record. Pacing, from largest to smallest, is the number of scenes in a book, the number of pages in a scene, the number of panels on a page, and the number of words in a panel. The first scene, the guy kills himself. The second scene, he gets fired. You needed seven pages for that?


Nothing here draws the reader in. They don’t care, nor are they intrigued. You could have worked to intrigue them in the first scene, but instead you opted to go the silent route. Those three pages, no words (well, one), and they put the book back on the shelf.


If you had a good artist that understood storytelling and they tried to help you out with the pacing of this, they wouldn’t be able to. Usually, an artist would either add panels or remove panels. In order to help the pacing here, they’d basically be rewriting the entire story. (Add a panel to the first page with the gun going off, cut P2 entirely, rework P2 into the new P2 where the bracelet is prominent, cut the entire you’re fired scene and go to the bar… That’s a rewrite, and you’d wonder what happened to your story.)


Dialogue: There isn’t enough here. People come for the art but stay for the story, and the story is generally in the dialogue. I didn’t read one interesting word of dialogue in these seven pages. Talk about terrible, from an interest point of view. The dialogue itself was readable. Just watch your back and forths. Usually, it’s Person A, then Person B, then Person A. Usually. That’s something to try to stick to.


Content: There’s no story here. From a reader’s perspective, they have no reason at all to read this story, because nothing of interest happens. The mystery of why he killed himself is overwhelmed by the fact that there’s no movement to the story. Any interest the first three pages may have garnered was squandered by the next four.


Editorially, this needs a rewrite. Dialogue needs to be added to the first few pages (viable dialogue, not just words slapped on paper), and then you have to keep the interest with the next scene. Don’t bore the reader into submission. They’ll repay you with a sales number that is very close to zero.


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


Also, we’re getting close to the end of our scripts! Submit now, because the wait isn’t long!


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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