TPG Week 210: New Year, Same Bad Storytelling

| January 2, 2015



Hello, one and all, and welcome back to the first installment of The Proving Grounds for the new year! This week, we have a new Brave One in Daniel O’Reilly. We have Liam Hayes in blue, and I’m the suave one in red. Let’s see what kind of tour guide Daniel is as we all travel through


The Valley



Page 1:6 Panels (See this? The number of panels at the top of the page? I’ve got no problem with that. However, not doing it on every page will lose you the Flawless Victory for being inconsistent. More importantly, though, you have to maintain the correct count. Having more or fewer panels on the page than what was stated at the top won’t lose the FV, but it could lose you a tiny bit of credibility in the eyes of the creative team.)


Panel 1: This is a simple, wide, establishing shot of a hotel. The hotel is neat and clean (and set up against a hill) but nothing fancy with a single story comprised of 12 units (the office and 11 rooms) arranged in an L. One of the rooms toward the middle of the hotel has it’s curtains very slightly open. The approximate time is late-morning, just after checkout, and the parking lot is, consequently, nearly empty. At the bottom of the panel, crossing the parking lot, is a lone figure (Little more needed on this figure e.g. the figure of a large male.) rolling a suitcase.


(Remember, the script is a technical document. Make the artist’s process turning your words into images as painless as possible. For instance, This is a simple, wide, establishing shot of a hotel. The hotel is neat and clean (and set up against a hill) but nothing fancy with a single story comprised of 12 units (the office and 11 rooms) arranged in an L. can be cut down to Establishing shot of a simple, clean L-shaped hotel comprised of 12 units in one story set up against a hill. You could cut that down even further unless you explicitly need 12 units. Also, the artist isn’t going to presume the hotel is dirty unless you specifically say soe.g. Establishing shot of a simple L-shaped hotel set up against a hill. See how clearer that is? You get an instant image.


I’m also getting the impression you’re going for motel more than actual hotel. Reference images would help.)


Panel 2: We are now inside the hotel room with the open curtain. It’s a standard issue hotel room. There’s a window with an air conditioner, a small round table with a couple of chairs next to a single bed, a dresser with a TV, and matching framed paintings of flowers, and a ceiling fan. The closet next to the bathroom has a mini-fridge. It’s not necessary to see all this in the frame, just be aware it is there.


For right now, we are simply focused on a shot of an enormously fat man, facing away from us, thick rolls of fat on his neck, as he peeks out the curtain. The fat man is Brian Schair, age 44. He has a triple chin and one of those goatees that floats there, bobbing in a sea of flesh. (You’re veering into prose here. Cut all this for a separate character description document/page.) In the slit between curtain and window frame, just above Brian’s head, we can see the lone figure again. The figure, a thin man in sunglasses, polo shirt and khakis, is looking off to the right. (Describe this figure when we first see him, then tell the artist to obscure him. They won’t have to go back and make amends then.) (This panel description doesn’t work. Someone tell me why. No! Even better. Rin, please rewrite this panel description in 30 words or less. Challenge!)



Panel 3: A wide panel. We can see both the door (with it’s peephole and fire warning sticker). and Schair, now with the curtain shut (but still grasping the edge of the curtain panel) looking anxiously at the door. From beyond the door come two quick, small knocks. (That last line is direction to the letterer. It shouldn’t be in the panel description.) (This doesn’t work, either. Where’s the camera?)


SFX (FROM THE DOOR): Knock. Knock. (This isn’t quick. This is slow. Know what’s quick? Knockknock. See how that changes the intent behind the sound effect? Either put them together or put a dash between the two. The period is extremely unnecessary and lends itself to being very sedate, which belies the panel description.)



Panel 4: Same composition, except now Brian is peering into the eye hole. He speaks through the door.

(That’s going to look odd, like he just teleported across the room. It’ll also take up unnecessary space.)


Brian: Who is it?


Visitor (muffled): It’s Denny. (Why don’t you just tag him as Denny?)



Panel 5: Medium shot, both Brian and Denny in 3/4 profile as Brian is standing with the door open, a quizzical look on his face, and Denny is walking past without a word, lifting the suitcase. (So Denny was the figure? Why didn’t you just say that? Why keep things from the artist? All it does is complicate things.) (Moving panel. I don’t even know where the stopped action is here. Is Brian facing outside, or is he facing Denny? Either would work, but we just need to know what’s being seen. I’m not seeing this. I can’t place the camera in my head how you’re seeing this. Ryan Kroboth—can you thumb out this panel? Morganza, if you’re around, can you?)


Page 1: CONT’D


Brian: Denny, what’s going on, man?? (I’d swap that first comma out for a question mark.) (Okay, folks, here’s the deal: we do not double-up on the same ending punctuation. It looks extremely stupid. Just don’t do it. Know what a double-dash is? It’s a single piece of punctuation, like and ellipsis. Don’t double-up on the same ending punctuation. That’s why we have other forms to give expression, like italics, bolds, and different types of balloons.)



Panel 6: A little wider as Denny, in the foreground, has the suitcase on the bed partially open. Brian is watching in the background, gesturing towards the table and chairs.


Brian: Have a seat. Let me fix you a drink.


Between needless detail in your panel descriptions and keeping things from the artist, your going out of your way to complicate the script.


I’d also like more dialogue on this page. A reaction from Brian when he sees Denny would be great. Something that suggests conflict (or at least something’s about to happen) and pulls the reader straight into the story. As you have it, it’s just a guy walking to another guy with a suitcase. Meh.


P1 is down.


Liam has mostly everything nailed down, and I’ve already expanded on the things I felt needed to be. Just waiting on Rin to do his thing. (And I picked on Rin on purpose.)


Know what this page is, though?


It’s boring. Not only is it boring, it’s the worst kind of boring: it’s the kind where the only inkling you have of immediate things to come is something that’s just as boring. So, unless I’m extremely wrong—and I hope to be—at least the first three pages of this is going to be boring, causing the reader to put the book down and move on to something else. No one wants to be bored right out of the gate. It’s six panels, and I’m already in the mood for a nap.


I’m only 1 page in, and I’m already wondering if this was the best place to start. Is this the latest that the story could have been started? I don’t know. Like I said, I hope I’m wrong.


Like Liam, I wish there was more dialogue here. This is the opening salvo of a new story. You have a lot of worldbuilding to do. You believe you’re being cryptic, and in being cryptic, that you’re drawing the reader in. I’m going to tell you that you’re wrong. You’re not being cryptic. You’re not drawing the reader in.


Actions can be cryptic, when there’s something for those actions to play against. Dialogue can be cryptic, when there’s enough of it. There isn’t enough dialogue here to be cryptic. There’s work to do here.




(No actual page breaks. Oh dear.) (And there goes the Flawless Victory.)


Page 2: 6 Panels


Panel 1: Close up on the suitcase, open and empty (I generally don’t harp on ending punctuation in panel descriptions. However, it’s an indication there’s going to be missing ending punctuation in the dialogue. When I see that, my head will ‘splode. Just saying.)


Denny (OP): Place the money in the case, please.



Panel 2: Brian, surprised and holding up a hand. He has droplets of sweat on his face and growing stains under his arms. (A tidbit of a moving panel here. Pit stains can’t grow in a static image.)



Brian: Whoa. Slow down. You just got here.


Brian: Sit down and relax a minute, will you? We need to sit down and talk about this.


Brian: I’m not going to just pay you without knowing how you’re doing it.


(You could cut a potion of this dialogue and it’d say the same thing. You’ve got Sit down. twice for example.)



Panel 3: Over Brian’s shoulder, looking at Denny, who has not removed his sunglasses (You haven’t yet described Denny at all. Maybe on another document/page? Odd, though, that you’d do that for Denny but not Brian. I’m going to call this a mistake on your part.) and is standing with an unnatural rigidity (This will not come across the way you want it to. This is comics, not prose, and not film. Remember, this has to be drawn.). His expression, such as we can see, is impassive.


Denny: This is the procedure you agreed to, sir. (Sir? Seems an awful formal way of talking to someone who knows your first name. Is that intentional?)


Denny: Place the money in the case, please.


Panel 4: Reverse the angle now, going over Denny’s shoulder.


Brian is adamant. His right index finger is pointed at his heart. (There’s no facial expression here.)


Brian: Huh-uh. No. (Should that ‘Huh-uh’ be a ‘Nuh-uh’? Sounds out of place, otherwise.)


Brian: This is mywife. (This line would work well as your page one hook.)


Brian: And I’m not paying you anything until I know how it’s going to happen.



Panel 5: Close on Denny, emotionless as ever.


Denny: That is against my protocol, sir.


Denny: Place the money in the case please, sir.


(Another missing break.)


Page 2: CONT’D


Panel 6: Matching close up on Brian, who now registers surprise.


Brian. Protocol?


Brian: Are you a droid?!(See this? This is called an interrobang. We see it a lot in comics. A lot more in comics than anywhere else, really. This is not wrong at all. This is not the doubling up of a single piece of ending punctuation.)


I think you need to condense. Have Denny arrive on panel two after your establishing shot. That’ll clear up the silent opening and give you a great hook for page one when Brian mentions his wife. The reveal isn’t that effective as you have it, buried in the middle of page two with another revelation (Denny’s droid status) straight after.


Do that, and you’ll have my interest.



P2, and I’m still not impressed.


I think Liam is right: reconfiguring these two pages, condensing, will give you a much better hook. As it stands, I’m not impressed, because the interest is buried. Condensing this down to maybe a nine-panel page would be a much better use of space. Or hell, even seven panels. Cut out everything that isn’t necessary, add more dialogue, and cut to the chase. That will help keep reader interest.


Why? Because now you have a minor mystery! Now, you’re being somewhat cryptic. Know what the reader infers? That this guy wants to kill his wife, and has hired someone to do it. That someone may be an android. Repulsive? Sure. But it captures interest.



























Page 3:


Panel 1: Medium shot, both Brian and Denny in profile. Their expressions could not be more different. Brian scowls, shoulders slumped forward, arms crossed. Denny stands rigidly at attention, poker faced.


Denny: Sir, the service you have requested is not yet covered by the Stanton Act.


Denny: You have no reason to be afraid.



Panel 2: Same composition as panel 1.


Brian is both offended and annoyed. Denny hasn’t moved. (That first sentence? That can’t be drawn. That’s not a panel description.)


Brian: I’m not afraid.


Brian: I’m just not paying you.


Denny: Sir, if that is the case, we must discontinue this conversation at once.


Denny: Are you sure you would like to discontinue this conversation at once? (Cut this line. Unnecessary.)


(You could’ve easily fit Brian’s dialogue in panel one and cut panel two down to just Denny, thus saving yourself some space.)


Panel 3: Above the ceiling fan looking down, a lazy fan blade passing directly between Brian and Denny. (You do realize that in a static image, a moving fan blade is just going to look stationary. Unless you add motion lines or blur which’ll just cloud our view of what’s important; Denny and Brian. As a mood shot, I’d say this doesn’t really work.)(I concur. There’s no real thought here. You’re just trying to change the angle. And with that being said, there’s no panel description here.)


Brian: Conversation!? You–. (No need for the stop.)(Also known as a period to us Yanks.)


Denny: Sir, I assure you I speak for everyone.


Denny: My presence is simply to indemnify–


Brian: Indemnify your boss.


Brian: And put everything on me. (Put what on him? I’m lost. How is not telling him how it’s going to be done putting everything on him?)


(Huh. I’m no longer following the logic of this conversation. Who is Denny speaking for? Your dialogue needs more clarity.) (This has to be a semi-large panel in order to accommodate 5 balloons. These five balloons definitely will not work with the camera angle you’ve provided.)



Panel 4: Denny is turned back towards the bed and zipping up the case.


Denny: We are done sir. (Comma.)



Panel 5: Denny has turned around and stopped, clutching the case in his arms. (Moving panel.)


Panel 6: Brian’s handgun is the largest object in the frame, effectively in both Denny’s (and the reader’s) face. (Hmm… I’m not sure about the composition of this panel. What is it you’re trying to show? Surely if the handgun is in the face of the reader, we’re practically in Denny’s POV and therefore can’t see him. What are you visualizing? Make that clearer.)


Page 3: CONT’D


Brian: You tell your boss he gets his money when he’s done jerking me around. (Where has this come from? All Brian wanted was to know how it was going to be carried out. How is Denny’s boss now jerking him around? I’m totally confused.)


I’m no longer following the story at this point. First we had Brian about to get his wife killed, I assume. That was leading somewhere interesting. Now we’ve got Denny being a robot and Brian refusing to pay him and something about a boss. I don’t really know what’s happening now. You went from intriguing set up to a mess in one page. Let’s see where this goes, anyway.




P3 is down, and I’m still not interested.


Time for a story.


My wife and I have been married for just over nine years. We met on the internet through a dating site. I was working for GEICO at the time, and was living in Virginia Beach, VA, and she was working for GEICO in the San Diego office. We had no idea that we worked for the same company at the time.


We communicated via email and chatting for a week or so, and then talked on the phone for a couple of months. We finally met face to face on Halloween. I went out to meet her, and spent a week there. As you can probably guess, it was a good week.


She moved in with me in December, and we’ve been side-by-side ever since.


Now, understand something: my wife is white, just about 6′ tall, and she had red hair. Busty. She likes to wear heels, and knows how to walk in them. (Believe me, this is not something every woman in heels knows how to do.) When she walks into a room, eyes are drawn to her. She’s literally made men walk into walls. She’s got a commanding presence. She knows her own mind, and she’s very strong willed.


Me? My writing personality to the contrary, I’m rather laid back. Not a pushover by any means, but very willing to go with the flow, until that flow goes against what I want. I can exert my will, but I do it judiciously.


People who work with her tend to love her, because she doesn’t take bullshit. She also almost universally refuses help from people (opening doors even when her hands are full, stuff like that). So people often ask her what her husband is like. They figure I must be a hell of a man in order to deal with her.


I don’t see anything really exceptional about myself, except my ability to see the future based on my knowledge of a person’s actions and knowledge of humanity. I’ve accumulated a lot of equity in what I call the Bank of Right.


The thing about my wife is that she believes she’s right in her actions, even when those actions don’t make sense. When we first got together, I would tell her not to do this or that, because if she did it her way, something bad would happen, and then I’d be pissed off, and she wouldn’t have any recourse but to try to fix it.


Example: I told her not to carry her checkbook in her jacket pocket. It could fall out, and then someone would find it, and then we’d have problems. She didn’t believe me, and did it her way. We went to visit my sister-in-law, and the checkbook fell out of her pocket in the parking lot. We were only gone 20 minutes. She then starts looking for it. She doesn’t want to tell me she’s looking for it, but she has to come clean about it. We go outside, retracing our steps back to the parking lot of the apartment complex. The checkbook is gone. We make a police report, and find that the people who found the checkbook ordered pizza and Chinese food. (Master criminals, right?)


Example: I told her to keep her purse closed while we’re walking along in a store. The reason why is simple: things can fall out, or someone could pick her pocket. She doesn’t believe me, and did it her way. Well, she goes to the grocery store, and is in line to check out. There’s some sort of ruckus in front of her, and when she looks down into her purse, she finds someone’s hand in it! (I wasn’t there, which is the only reason this person’s hand was there to begin with.) She doesn’t cause a ruckus, she doesn’t try to press charges because nothing happened besides they tried to steal her wallet.


These incidents happened before we were married. After a couple more incidents like this—me saying something and giving the consequences of her current path, she decides not to listen and do it her way, the bad thing happens and I get pissed off—she finally decides I know what I’m talking about and starts to listen to me.


So, we get married. It’s the second marriage for both of us. We both wear cream colored suits. I’ll be damned if we didn’t look good. We then go about our business.


Less than a week later, I’m getting ready for work, and go in the bathroom to begin my ministrations. I find her ring on the sink counter. I smile, knowing I’m going to give her shit about it.


I get to work a little early and go upstairs to the service department. She’s just finishing with a phone call, so I wait. I then ask her if she thinks she made a mistake. She has no idea what I’m talking about. I ask her if she still wants to be married to me. She says of course, why would I– I show her the ring, and she looks shocked and embarrassed. She looks down at her hand and doesn’t see it there, and she’s mortified. She forgot to put it back on after putting lotion on her hands. It was hilarious. She has never forgotten her ring again.


All of that? More interesting than this story.



















Page 4:


Panel 1: Wide shot with both characters in profile. Brian (gun extended), is standing opposite of Denny. Denny’s hands are raised defensively to shoulder level, and he is taking a step back from Brian, attempting to create some space between him and the gun. (What’s happened to the suitcase? How can Denny raise his hands defensively with the suitcase in them? Continuity.)


Denny: Sir, please step aside.



Panel 2: Same composition as Panel 1, but tighter to emphasize the increasingly claustrophobic nature of the confrontation. (Nice visual trick.) Brian is taking a step forward, crowding Denny again. (You do know that going in tighter means you’re going to lose details. Basically, in order to go tighter, you’re simply just going to blow things up a little bigger. What does that really get you? Methinks it’s just another camera trick that isn’t thought all the way through. I don’t think it gets you anywhere. This isn’t a heightened/near-penultimate panel.)


Brian: You going to tell him?



Panel 3: Same composition, but tighter still, each character still in profile from mid-shoulder. Denny has extended his right arm, mimicking Brian. Denny’s palm is open, placating. (Meanwhile, the suitcase floats.)


Denny: Sir, please step aside.



Panel 4: Close up on the two arms and hands, Brian’s with the gun (trembling) (This going to be hard to show. It can be done, but you’ll need a strong artist.) (Meh. Motion lines.) on the left, Denny’s with the open palm (steady and controlled), on the right. There is some space between the gun and Denny’s hand. (This panel makes sense compositionally, but you’re really calling for a two-shot. However, one hand raised and one hand in a halt position…that doesn’t make much sense to me. There’s also, of course, the disappearing suitcase.)


Panel 5: Wide panel with a diagonal split down the middle. We’re going for Sergio Leone style extreme close-ups of both characters (these, frankly, are overused, but the contrast between these guys eyes makes it feel worthwhile here). On the left side of the split we see Brian’s eyes, filled with fury and fear. On the right of the split we see Denny’s eyes, unblinking, unfeeling, unafraid. (If this is just a close-up of eyes, you do understand that you can’t show fury and fear right? They’re either squinting with anger, or they aren’t. Anything else is just prosaic.)


Panel 5: Same composition as panel 4. The gun and the open palm, almost touching now, separated by a bright flash, ostensibly belonging to the handgun. (Yeah. This makes no sense to me.)


(No SFX? I’d have liked one, but it’s a stylistic choice I guess.)



Panel 6: We cut to a low angle. Brian is on the floor, splayed on his back, face still, eyes wide and staring, legs still slightly bent at the knees. His arm and gun hand are behind him. (Severed, presumably?) The hand is scorched and his shirtsleeve is scorched and smoking. Above him, farther back in the frame, the door is closing. Between door and door frame, we can just make out Denny and the suitcase.



The End


Ah… Hmm… I don’t know what to think about this. It didn’t really go anywhere, did it? You started out with something interesting (a guy paying to have his wife killed), then a robot showed up for some reason, and they talked about stuff which didn’t make much sense and then Brian ended up on the floor. Damn. The whole thing has left me entirely deflated. For a minute I thought you were going to suggest Brian was setting up the assassination of his wife, then pull all that out from under us and have it be a surprise gift or something. That would’ve been a better story than what you have here, anyway. If only in the way that it’s an actual story.


What is it your were trying to say, or do, or show, with this piece? Because all I got from it was that you shouldn’t piss off a robot you’re paying to kill someone. Really? Was that what you were trying to say? This needs a rewrite to make it an actual story with a set-up and a satisfying conclusion. While you do that, focus on simplicity. There’s no need to make your panel descriptions as complicated as you are.


And now, we get to run this down.


Oh! The Line of Demarcation was right at the end. Make no mistake: this is crap.


Format: No Flawless Victory here. The missing page breaks are what did it.


Panel Descriptions: Overly complicated for no reason, with a couple of moving panels in there. There are also a couple of camera angles that don’t make much sense. Like Liam said, simplicity.


Pacing: A bit exploded, but not really padding. It would definitely be better served if it were a bit condensed…and had an ending that made sense. It also needed more dialogue to really get into the world. Some things were said that weren’t explored even a little bit. That could helped the pacing.


Dialogue: There wasn’t enough of it. Not by far. And what is here doesn’t make much sense.


First, the technical. Watch the ending punctuation. If you want to stress some things, there are ways to do that. Doubling up on the ending punctuation is not the way to go. Simple.


Also, only Denny is ever named in a place where the reader can see it. The other guy? He’s just Fat Guy to the reader. That’s the only label they really have for him, because there’s no name given. Go on, look back and see if his name is in the dialogue. Catch up to the rest of us when you don’t find it. We’re moving on.


Next, there were things said in the dialogue that just weren’t explained. We’re just left with inferences. That’s not the way to tell a story and actually have readers interested. It sounds like the guy is trying to hire a hitman to kill his wife. Is that true? Dunno. Then, he wants an explanation of how it’s going to be done—because that matters, for some reason. Why does it matter? Dunno. She’s still going to be dead, and if the police are even halfway interested, unless it’s made to look like a suicide or accident, he’s going to be the prime suspect.


Then he starts talking about a boss for some reason. Because, why not?


Let’s make this clear: the guy hired a hitman (I suppose), but wants to know how it’s going to be done before he pays anything—which goes against the protocols he was given. The person he’s conversing with wants to leave because there’s no payment being given, explaining that his leaving will be an indemnification, which the guy doesn’t want, because it indemnifies the boss, whomever that is.


If I were someone who gave out jobs to people to perform hits, you’re damned straight I’m going to be indemnified as much as possible. Nothing will lead back to me if I can help it. Not to me, and not to my crew. That’s how I’d be able to stay in business. This unnamed guy? He’s just stupid. He would have walked away without a scratch if he had just let Denny go.


Anyway, we have some talk of robotics. Is it true? Possibly. Denny leaves without a mark on him.


But none of that is explained to anyone’s satisfaction.


There needs to be a lot more dialogue here. Draw people into the world, not just skim the surface of it.


Content: As a reader, I’d be pissed off if I read this piece of crap. And make no mistake, this is crap. And it doesn’t turn into crap until the last panel of the last page. Because nothing is resolved. Nothing is explained. The guy breaks the agreement, and then he dies of his own stupidity. How is that even remotely interesting to a reader?


Editorially, this needs a complete rewrite. The ending can stay the same, but the dialogue needs to be beefed up in order to actually tell a story. While this may meet the textbook, technical definition of a story, it isn’t something that a reader will come back to. You will not be lauded for your effort. Probably the opposite. A rewrite, one that gives some explanations, would be wise.


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

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