TPG Week 223: In Search Of A Real Ending

| April 4, 2015


Welcome back, one and all, to another installment of The Proving Grounds! This week, we have a new Brave One in Amit Sharma. We also have Samantha LeBas in purple, I’m the one in red, and we’ll see just how Amit gets along with


NOTE: 3 pages, 9 panels per page in a 3×3 grid. I envisage this being black & white, Clean lines with blank white background. The story is mostly talking heads from the chest up. (I’ve recently been re-reading Watchmen. I fear this could go very badly for Amit when compared to that.)

NOTE: Characters. There are 5 characters in total in this story.

WISE: Central character to the story. Male early 20s, white

PUNCHY: Male early 20s, white

OPPONENT: Male early 20s, East Asian

FRIEND: Female early 20s, black

CHARLOTTE: Female, early 20s, in a wheelchair. white

All five are gamers. Here for a collectable card game tournament. They are all from London. This is set in modern day 2015. All other details in terms of build, fashion etc, I leave to you.


Panel 1) Medium shot. The panel has 2 characters. PUNCHY on the left, WISE on the right. PUNCHY is swinging a fist at WISE’s face. The fist hasn’t made contact yet, it is 2 to 3 fist lengths from connecting with WISE’s face. WISE is just standing there with a blank expression on his face looking at PUNCHY. PUNCHY has an angry demeanour.

There is no background detail. Plain white background. (Where are they? Any setting info or props you to include? Camera angle? This is literally happening in a white void, but at least you seem to mean for it to.)

NOTE: PUNCHY will be in exactly this position for all of the panels on this page. He doesn’t move.(Move this up to your description of Punchy.)


Panel 2) Medium shot. As page 1 panel 1, but now WISE has turned his head to look at the camera and address the reader. Has a wry grin.(Question: Is this going to be a repeat panel [9x?] with only Wise moving? Same set up as far as shot, just with Wise talking to us? Or does he move around frozen Punchy like he’s a statue? I am not sure, but I think that might be more interesting.)

WISE: Hey.

WISE: Yeah, I’m about to get punched. I’ll come back to that.

Wise: But yeah, I can see you.(Keep your formatting consistent, character name in all caps throughout if you start that way.)

Panel 3) Meduim shot. PUNCHY is as page 1 panel 1. WISE is leaning his left shoulder against the right gutter of the panel. His arms are by his sides with his hands coming together at the waist. He is smiling. Has a smug demeanour.

WISE: Might not seem that special to you, you’ve probably see(seen) this before.(connect sentences with ‘, but’ OR separate balloons) It’s a big deal to me.

PAGE 1 cont(Don’t need this, just number your pages. Select –Insert — page numbers on most word processing applications)

Panel 4) Medium shot. PUNCHY is as page 1 panel 1. Similar to page 1 panel 3. WISE is still leaning against the gutter, but is pointing, from the elbow, with his right hand, up at the panel above. He is also looking up at the panel above. (I don’t like this at the moment. Hopefully, it will come out of it and explanations will happen soon, but as of this panel, I’m not liking it. I’ll tell you why in a little bit.)

WISE: Not all that useful mind you. I go back to doing what I was doing once our chat is finished.(Okay, I thought that getting punched was the big deal, it’s not, it’s being able to see the reader. Can you clear that up in your dialogue? Also, how does he know what is going to happen when he is done talking to us?) (Comma’s, people. We created them for a reason. And what do these two sentences have to do with anything? And from the way things are being said, I’m going to say that English isn’t Amit’s first languge.)

Panel 5) Medium shot. PUNCHY is as page 1 panel 1 WISE is facing PUNCHY, he is looking at the fist. WISE is leaning his back against the gutter. He is thoughtfully rubbing his chin, grimacing slightly.

WISE: I get to contemplate the moment with you. (Suggest separating balloons.) Maybe learn something.

Panel 6) Medium shot. PUNCHY is as page 1 panel 1. WISE is now turned to face the camera. He is shrugging his shoulders, palms upwards from elbows in a ‘not sure’ expression.

WISE: Get wise before it happens?(You never actually name your characters, I kind of think you should. I can see this guy’s friends calling him ‘Wise’ as in ‘wise ass’. If we knew his name, this line my be more humorous, have more resonance, and tell us more about the point of the story. Just something to consider. You might also call the story ‘Get Wise’. It becomes a play on words instead of just a morality tale it you change that.

Panel 7) Medium shot. PUNCHY is as page 1 panel 1. WISE is facing camera. WISE is looking down, slumped shoulders. Has a ‘resigned to his fate’ demeanour.(Facing cam is confusing here, if he is not looking at cam. ‘Angled toward cam, but looking down.’ Maybe?)

WISE: Just before it happens.

Panel 8) Medium shot. PUNCHY is as page 1 panel 1. WISE has gone back to leaning his left shoulder against the gutter. His head is turned towards PUNCHY. WISE is looking at the fist. WISE has his arms crossed (defensive posture).

WISE: So yeah, you’ll see me get punched. We just get(Not sure about the word choice here, ‘need’ instead? ) to understand why first.

Panel 9) Medium shot. PUNCHY is as page 1 panel 1. WISE is facing camera, standing up straight. He is tilting his head to the left and pointing with his left thumb at the right gutter, indicating to the reader to go to the next page. WISE has wry grin.

WISE: Time for some context and a flashback(comma) I think.

(I like the opening. It’s a good hook, and I think Wise’s narration is pretty engaging. Other than not being sure why he thinks it’s a big deal that he can talk to us, I think it works fairly well. I am not sure about using 9 panels and 1/3 of your space for set up, but what you’ve written seems effective, so far. Depending on where you go with your story, it might be fine. A little bit of a stretch, maybe a touch padded, but I see what you’re trying to accomplish. I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt.)

P1 is on the books!

So, I said I was going to say why I’m not enjoying this. The reason is pretty simple: the character is doing more than breaking the fourth wall. The character is using the borders as props, and knows where he is in relation to panels. That’s a bit much for my blood, especially for something that doesn’t seem to be funny.

Remember in Spider-Man, the first one with Tobey Maguire, where Flash Thompson tries to punch Peter the first time? Peter moves out of the way in slow motion, looks at the fist, kinda looks at the camera, and then looks at the fist again before moving back into position. This reminds me of that, only the action has stopped so that the character can have an aside with the audience.

The 9-panel grid here seems to be much, especially considering there doesn’t seem to be much happening here. Again, I’ve been reading Watchmen, and there isn’t an ounce of fat in that book. Here? Panel 4 is padding. You could also add a few more words per panel in order to make the story pop more. The high panel count combined with the low word count makes this entire page feel like padding—and we just started.

Having a 9-panel grid is fine. You just have to have enough story to back it up. There doesn’t seem to be enough story here yet.

I’m not bored, but I’m not watching with anticipation.

At least there’s a hook at the end of the page.


Panel 1) Medium shot. WISE and OPPONENT are sitting opposite each other at a simple rectangle shaped table. Wise is on the left, OPPONENT on the right. They are shaking hands. Both are smiling. The table has a table number on one edge. The table number is 6. Cards have been laid out in front of each player as well as their decks.

If the cards on the table are visible/ large enough that we need to show what is on them; use simple symbols of swords, shields, arrows, castle etc (some sort of fantasy motif).

WISE: Good Game (GAAAH! My head just ‘sploded! Who wants to guess why?)

OPPONENT: Good luck in the semi. Your deck is really good.

WISE: Cheers, did a lot testing for this.

Panel 2) Bottom left of the panel, in the foreground, head & shoulders of WISE, PUNCHY and FRIEND. In the top right of the panel, in the background, there is a table with CHARLOTTE at the table in her wheelchair. Above the table is a banner saying Semi-Final . The table number is 3.

WISE is heading towards the table, so we are seeing the back of his head mostly. PUNCHY and FRIEND are standing in front of him, facing him, so we see their faces. Everyone is smiling.

No dialogue.

Panel 3) Medium shot. WISE on the left of panel. PUNCHY and FRIEND on the right. WISE has a quizzical expression. PUNCHY and FRIEND are smiling.

FRIEND: You’re playing Charlotte in the semi. She’s donating her winnings to charity.

WISE: Oh, right.


WISE: Sooo..?

I kind of have to agree with Wise, Sooo..?

Panel 4) Medium shot. Similar to panel 3 page 2. WISE has a surprised expression. PUNCHY is looking at FRIEND with a raised eyebrow of disbelief. FRIEND is smiling.

FRIEND: So you’ll concede to her?

WISE: Ai! Why?

PUNCHY: So she can win top prize for charity.(Maybe name the charity? Explain it a little better, maybe we will get on board with Punchy and Friend if we know more about the charity? I am not sure, might help.)

PAGE 2 cont.

Panel 5) Medium shot. Similar to panel 3 page 2. WISE looks unsure. PUNCHY has put a reassuring hand on WISE’s shoulder. FRIEND has her hands out in a ‘what’s the problem here gesture’.

PUNCHY: Dude, come on. It’s for charity.

WISE: Look, what she’s doing is cool, but this is a competition.

FRIEND: Everyone else got on board with this.

Panel 6) Medium shot. Similar to panel 5 page 2. WISE has shrugged off PUNCHY’s hand from his shoulder. PUNCHY is standing with is arm out hanging in the air. FRIEND has put her arms down by her side. WISE has a grumpy expression. PUNCHY and FRIEND are frowning.

WISE: So(comma) she wouldn’t have made the semi if she wasn’t doing it for charity? (A comma here isn’t necessary. I’m happy without it. If there was to be a pause, I’d go with an ellipsis.)

WISE: This is my first top eight. I can make the final.(‘I can’ or ‘I want to’?)

Panel 7) Medium shot. Similar to panel 3 page 2. Everyone has their arms down at their sides. WISE has a exasperated expression. PUNCHY and FRIEND both have expressions of disbelief.

PUNCHY: Dude.(change period to comma, lowercase ‘i’) It’s just a card game.

FRIEND: The money will make a difference(comma) here.

WISE: The money would help anyone.(What would Wise do with the money? Maybe if he is planning on something frivolous he seems like more of a jerk?)

Panel 8) At the bottom of the panel is the head and shoulders of PUNCHY and FRIEND. We see the back of their heads as they are looking ‘up’ the panel at WISE. WISE is in the middle of the panel walking backwards away from PUNCY and FRIEND. WISE has his hands up in a submissive gesture. WISE has an embarrassed-uncomfortable demeanour, smiling apologetically.

WISE: Look.(change period to comma, lowercase ‘s’) Sorry.(change period to comma) I came here to win. She’ll still take prize money for finishing in the top eight.(This seems a valid point to me.)

Panel 9) Full shot. PUNCHY and FRIEND are standing on the left of the panel looking at WISE. WISE has walked halfway off panel on the right. WISE’s back is to PUNCHY and FRIEND. PUNCHY and FRIEND look annoyed.


FRIEND: Total dick.

(Am I not in on some bigger part of this gaming culture? You don’t enter a competition with the expectation that everyone will just concede because you are giving your winnings to charity, do you? Is this how it works? Another thing, now that you have up to four characters a wheelchair and a table in some panels, you are going to be crowding your grid. So, I am struggling with content and format. The pacing is fine enough, the dialogue seems okay. I just don’t know about the premise that a guy who entered a competition to win some money and show off his skills owes it to anyone to throw a game because an opponent is more noble than he is. Does he deserve to be punched? Are you writing Charlotte as too much of a martyr? She’s nobel because she is in a wheelchair? Seems like a bit of a stereotype, even if it’s kind of a nice one. Meh?)


Watchmen is getting worn out today.

I counted. Dave Gibbons put twelve characters in a single panel. Only one characer spoke (Rorschach) but there were still 12 people in the panel. 12 people, a bar, a table.

A lot of new artists can’t do this, because they don’t understand spacing. A lot of new writers can’t do this, because they don’t understand spacing.

By putting characters at the top and bottom of the panel (foreground and background), there’s this void in the center of the panel. That’s not good, because the dialogue may not fit in the center. You may be covering some important art.

Remember, most of the time, dialogue is going to be anchored at the top of the panel, especially in a 9-panel grid. There may not be much of a choice otherwise, especially when you have more than 2 characters to show. Understand what you’re doing with your layout. Some of this will not work.

From a storytelling perspective, this story isn’t working. We start with the unnamed character about to be punched, talking to the audience. We then go into a flashback. Where’s the voiceover captions to tell us what’s going on? It’s akin to what I call a dropsy: starting an internal monologue in captions, and then just dropping it until later. Here’s a great opportunity to tell the reader what happened, and what we get instead is a story that doesn’t really have to be.

There’s a competition. Got that. Someone has to win the competition, don’t they? Of course they do. I guess it’s for a decent amount of money. Fine. The amount isn’t important. If everyone else is in on having one person win the competition for charity, why have the competition at all? I’m not seeing the point of it.

The object of any game is to play to win—even if you’re playing for a charity, you’re playing to win for your charity. This story isn’t making sense. Other people are getting upset because someone is playing to win? Doesn’t make sense. And that’s on top of all the things Sam brought up.


Panel 1) Medium shot. WISE is sitting across from CHARLOTTE at a table. WISE on the right, CHARLOTTE on the left. They are shaking hands. WISE is smiling half-heartedly. CHARLOTTE has a confident smile on her face. They each have they deck of cards on the table. This is before the start of the match, so there are no cards face up on the table.

CHARLOTTE: I’m donating all my prize money to charity.

WISE: Yeah, well, good luck in the game.

Panel 2) Medium shot. Similar to page 3 panel 1. WISE is shuffling his deck; he is looking down at his cards as he shuffles. CHARLOTTE has her hands on the table looking at Wise’s face. She looks a little worried/unsure.

CHARLOTTE: um..(capitalize) Top prize would mean modifying a home for disability access.

WISE: Toss a coin to see who goes first?

Panel 3) Full shot. PUNCHY on the left of the panel is pushing CHARLOTTE in her wheelchair heading in the direction of the right panel gutter. PUNCHY is looking over his shoulder in anger/disgust at something off panel on the left. CHARLOTTE demeanour is glum/disappointed. She is looking down at her cards in her hand. FRIEND is walking by CHARLOTTE’s side with a reassuring hand on her shoulder. FRIEND has a weak smile.(Dude, I just don’t know, it seems really odd that Charlotte would think she needs Wise to throw the game in order to win. Why would she enter a competition with this plan? ‘Oh, everyone will just let me win, because I am nice’? Come on.) (I understand why you compressed time here. However, they don’t actually play, and since they don’t actually play, she doesn’t actually lose. They need to play. We need to see her losing. This means you need to learn how to tell your story more effectively.)


Panel 4) MEDIUM SHOT. PUNCHY is on the left, as page 1 panel 1. WISE is facing the camera, standing straight. His head is close to PUNCHY’s fist. WISE looks glum/disappointed, slumped shoulders, arms down by his sides. (When does he come back to confront the unnamed character, and then get pissed off enough to throw the punch?)

WISE: Yeah. I did that.(He hasn’t beat her, he’s just actually going to play.)

WISE: Look, it was my first top eight. (combine sentences) With a real chance to finish first. (This was said already. Why repeat it?)

Panel 5) Medium shot. As page 3 panel 4. WISE has raised his head and eyes to look up at the panel above.

WISE: Should have offered the split(comma) at the least.

Panel 6) Medium shot. Similar to page 3 panel 4. WISE is looking at the camera, facing us. His arms are crossed in front of him. He has defensive, pleading demeanour.

WISE: I really wanted to win. Put a lot of effort into trying to.

PAGE 3 Cont

Panel 7) Medium shot. As page 3 panel 6. WISE’s head is tilted in the direction of PUNCHY, while still facing the camera. His eyes are also looking in the direction of PUNCHY.

WISE: I was going to make a donation too.(Seriously? You really lose the feeling that he deserves to be hit with this line.) (Actually, I don’t think anything said so far gives a deserves to be hit vibe. Being pressured to lose is not cool. Make a donation or don’t, but it should be your own decision, not one that was made for you.)

WISE: Until this happened.

Panel 8) Medium shot. We are closer in on WISE. Only WISE and the fist in shot. WISE has gone back to the position he was in on page 1 panel 2. He is facing the incoming fist but with head turned to look at the camera.

WISE: Okay. Maybe I do deserve to be punched.

WISE: I just don’t think I should be.(Suggest cutting this line.)

WISE: Well. Guess I’ll see ya later.(Weak sign off, you can do better. This should be more humorous, I have faith that you can find the snark that this moment needs. Also we need some reason for this conversation we’ve been having and a point. ‘Thanks for helping me, you know, learn this lesson.’ OR ‘Well, this was cheaper than seeing a therapist, thanks.’ something like that. Make it matter, resolve it.)

Panel 9) Close up. WISE’s face being hit. The fist in contact with his face. His face deforming under the weight of the punch.

CAPTION(bottom right): The End.

(So why can he break the fourth wall? Why is this a story? I don’t know that you have made the case that he deserves to be hit, and I don’t know why we get a time out to hear about it. You come out of flashback in the middle of a page, you really shouldn’t, but your space is limited, so, maybe that gets a pass. I think this needs some further meditation. You should know why things are happening, make a better case for your premise. Get us invested. I think there’s a seed here, something a little interesting, at least worth exploring. The character is fun to read and the frozen moment is a good concept for a short. It needs to be refined. It lacks intention right now, and the payoff is minimal. Spend some more time with it.)

This is crap.

Let’s run it down.

Format: Flawless Victory.

Panel Descriptions: No moving panels, thankfully, but these need a little bit of work. Character positions within the panels for a 9-panel grid. Not a lot of work. Just a little bit.

Pacing: Some things don’t happen. Some things aren’t said. You can’t skip over those. The pacing isn’t terrible, but more definitely could have been done with what was had here.

Now, that being said: there’s no story here. Nothing is learned, nothing is earned, he basically gets punched for no reason. There’s no reason whatsoever for the reader to be here. That’s because the ending is weak as wet tissue paper. The reader doesn’t know they could have spent the past few minutes brushing their teeth, cleaning their ears or trimming their nose hair until the very end, and it’s too late by then. There’s no payoff. Terrible. This is what makes it crap.

Dialogue: Not bad. Just needs a little sharpening. This is where an editor would help.

Content: As a reader, I’m disappointed in this. Again, it’s crap, for reasons stated above. This could have been a lot better.

Editorially, this was a nice reach, but you didn’t get it all. You didn’t come close to getting it all. A rewrite to get to a real ending is necessary. The character has to learn a lesson, teach a lesson, or have a reason to be punched. None of those things happened here.

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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