TPG Week 23: Giving Info Organically Through Dialogue

| June 3, 2011 | 14 Comments


Hello, one and all. Welcome to another installment of The Proving Grounds! This week’s Brave One is  Jon Parrish, who is no stranger to my brand of editing.

Let’s see if what he brings is


[Page 1][1 Panel]

Panel 1: A view from behind a woman sitting at a table in a dark gray room. It should look like an interrogation room or perhaps even the visiting area at a prison (dark gray concrete walls, high windows, metal tables, etc). Sitting at the table is Mary, a woman with short blonde hair and blue eyes dressed in a dark gray jumpsuit (it should be similar to a prison uniform). Two men are sitting across from her. They are wearing gray suits and ties, but other than that, they have no distinctive features (no hair, eyes, ears, etc.) except for mouths. The one on Mary’s right is Hanson, the one on Mary’s left is Micheal. At this point, they don’t have anything that distinguishes one from the other.

CAP (MARY): I don’t know how I got here, or even how long I’ve been here. (Comma. And while I’m against putting in too many stressors in a script, I’d stress the word long. It gives it a more desperate feel.)

CAP (MARY): All I know is that they won’t let me leave.

Splash page. This isn’t the best use of real estate right here. I’m going to call it padding. There isn’t much to draw the reader in and start asking questions. This should be two to three panels, not one.

[Page 2][3 Panels]

Panel 1: A side close-up of Mary. She has a slightly glazed over look on her face.

CAP (MARY): Everyday, it’s the same thing.

Panel 2: A view of the two men from Mary’s point of view. They are talking to her.

CAP (MARY): They come in and try to carry on like they know me.

HANSON: How are you feeling today, Mary? (You missed a word. Anyway, are these regular word balloons, or are they going to be special in some way? It can go either way. It would be creepier, methinks, if they were regular. It would make their appearance all the more jarring if they sounded like regular people.)

MICHAEL: Are they treating you well?

CAP (MARY): Usually, I don’t say anything to them…

Panel 3: Mary is smiling at the reader.

CAP (MARY): But, today is different.

MARY: I’m doing just fine. How are you?

CAP (MARY): Today, I’m going to escape.

Three panels. Better. And there’s at least something here to draw the reader.

[Page 3][4 Panels]

Panel 1: A side view of two men speaking to Mary as she sits with a small smile on her face. (No. If they’re talking, what are they saying? You don’t provide any dialogue for them, so how is the reader supposed to know that they’re talking to Mary, besides the fact she says so? Add their dialogue, and revise hers so that she’s not having to describe what’s going on in the panel.)

CAP (MARY): That’s it, keep talking to   me. Act like you’re my friends.

Panel 2:   A view of them from Mary’s POV. They turned to each other and laughing. (I’m not going to hit you so much in the panel descriptions if they aren’t perfect. I’ll just point them out so you can re-read them and know you messed up. I’ll continue to do this as long as I can get the general gist of what you’re saying, as I did here.)

CAP (MARY): Act like you’re not holding me against my will…

Panel 3: A close-up of Mary looking at them with a wide smile, but something about her eyes should be unsettling. Maybe a little wider than usual.

CAP (MARY): Keeping me from my husband, my son, and my life…

CAP (MARY): Keep smiling in my face, you bastards.

Panel 4: A close-up of Mary pulling something out of her waistband. It should be the black handle of a knife. (No, it’s not of Mary. It’s of Mary’s hand. You know better than that, Jon.)

CAP (MARY): It will make things so much easier.

MICHAEL (op): We have some good news today, Ma—(New term, everyone. This one is called dropout. We haven’t had too many of them here in TPG, but this is a classic example of it. It usually happens with internal monologues. You’re writing them, and then you suddenly stop, only to pick it back up later—generally, a few pages later. This was only a couple of panels, but the effect is the same. They should have been saying something during the last few panels, and they weren’t.)

The good part is that you knew when to stop. This is a good place to end the page. This, however, should have been P2.

[Page 4][5 Panels]

Panel 1: Mary is stabbing the Michael in the shoulder with the blade. Hanson is moving back in shock. (John Lees: what are your questions here?)


HANSON: What the fu-?!

Panel 2: Mary is kicking the table into Hanson’s chest. (Mmm. I don’t know, Jon. You’re describing metal tables in a prison-like setting. I’ve never been to prison, but I imagine that the tables are bolted to the floor, just for reasons like this. But even if they aren’t, I’m going to say she’s unusually strong in order to kick a table into someone’s chest.)

Panel 3: Michael is holding his shoulder as blood seeps through and stains his suit. Hanson is on the ground next to him looking up in shock. (Looking where? At the ceiling? Here’s a better question: looking how? Because they don’t have any eyes.)

HANSON: What have you done?

MARY (op): What have I done?!

Panel 4: A side view of Mary grabbing Hanson by the throat. (You’re not leaving much on the bone for Yannick, Jon. What does Mary’s expression say?)

MARY: After keeping me locked up for all this time? (Okay, Yannick. This should be enough for you.)

MARY 2: You’ve got some balls, you son of a bitch!

Panel 5: Several men, lacking the same features as the first two, in orderly style uniforms are bursting into the room.

MARY (op): Pity you won’t be leaving with them.

[Page 5][6 Panels]

Panel 1: An upward view of the orderly figures grabbing her. She should look angry. One is in the background holding a small case. (Finally! We get an expression! And this might be better as a POV shot from the unnamed guy on the ground, or the unnamed stabbing victim. And do you know what the case is? Magically delicious. )

MARY: No, let me go!

Panel 2: A close up of the orderly opening the case to reveal a syringe.

NO TEXT (Kyle, what’s wrong here?)

Panel 3: A close up of the needle being injected in her neck.


Panel 4: A close-up of Mary’s eyes slowly closing. (No. Pull this out a little. I want to see her entire face, possibly from the chest up. And then, John, I want you to tell us what’s wrong with this, and what the artist is really going to do.)

MARY: No, you can’t… (She’s just been hypo’d in the neck. She’s going out. Her voice sounds pretty strong for someone on their way to Nod.)

Panel 5: A view of her collapsing onto the floor. (Why? Why aren’t they holding her up? That’s just wrong.)

Panel 6: A worm’s eye view of her on the ground. One of the orderlies is helping Hanson up off of the ground. (Nope. Ruiz: why is this a bad view?)

ORDERLY: Are you okay, Mr. Hanson?

HANSON: A little shaken, but I’ll live. Jesus…

[Page 6][5 Panels]

Panel 1: The panel should be almost exactly the same as the panel 6 of page 5 in terms of where the people are. Stylistically, it should be much different. The drab gray should be replaced with bright colors. The ground Mary is lying on should be a carpet. Mary should now look years older, her late 60’s or 70’s. Her hair is gray and she’s wearing a knitted sweater and a long skirt.

HANSON: How the hell could this have happened?

ORDERLY: I just don’t understand it,. she seemed to be making progress. (You want a hard stop, not a soft pause. And this isn’t the orderly’s line. This is someone else’s line, like a doctor. Give it to someone else, or rewrite it.)

Panel 2: An upward view of Hanson, a man in his mid 30’s with short brown hair wearing a blue suit and a black tie. The orderly is a larger black man with a shaved head and wearing white scrubs. (I just lost my entire mind. Jamie, why is that?)

HANSON: I mean, she talked to us today for the first time in months. (I know you wanted to get the timeframe in there for the reader, but it isn’t done well. Her first time talking to them in months. So what? They didn’t immediately suspect something was up? Personally, I think they deserved to get stabbed and table-chested for not being on their guard. However, that has nothing to do with the fact that Hanson hasn’t said something important, although you think he has. Unless he’s a visitor and not a doctor. Hmm. Yes. Sometimes, I’m slow.)

ORDERLY: It’s hard to determine what is going on in her head.

Panel 3: A side close-up of Hanson with his hands over his face.

HANSON: Shit, this was supposed to be a good day…

Panel 4: A view of MICHAEL, sitting and watching as an orderly inspects the pair of scissors sticking out of his shoulder. He looks very frightened and shocked.

HANSON: He was thinking of letting her stay with him.

ORDERLY: I don’t see that happening now.

HANSON 2: Shit, I doubt he’ll even want to visit after this. (You just said shit in the previous panel. Break it up some.)

ORDERLY 2: It’s not her fault.

Panel 5: A close-up of Hanson. (John Lees: what is my question here?)

HANSON: I know that, but christ alive, man…

[Page 7][4 Panels]

Panel 1: A downward view of them standing over her. (Meh. Not the most dynamic of views. What is the purpose, anyway? I’m not seeing it. This will have to be changed somewhat in a rewrite, anyway.)

HANSON: What kind of woman would stab her own son? (See this? THIS is good information.)

ORDERLY: You have to understand that her mind isn’t what it used to be.

Panel 2: Hanson and the orderly are looking down at her.

HANSON: I’m just the lawyer. I don’t have to understand, I just have to keep him safe. (MORE good information. See this, folks? This is important info, and it is coming across organically through the story. It isn’t an info-dump. THIS is what you’re supposed to be doing. Good work, Jon.)

Panel 3: Hanson is pointing back over his shoulder at Michael who is off panel.

HANSON: Speaking of which, I’m going to take my client to the hospital before he bleeds to death.

Panel 4: An upward shot of the orderly pointing at Mary. Hanson is walking away.

ORDERLY: What should I do about her? Should I tell her? (Not the best line of dialogue, but I’m seeing the reason for it. It sets up the page turn. Good, but it needs some work.)

HANSON: What’s the point…

[Page 8][3 Panels]

Panel 1: A downward shot of Hanson walking away as the Orderlies carry Mary pick her up off of the ground. (Ah, see?! What’s the action here?)

HANSON: She won’t remember any of this tomorrow.

Panel 2: A full shot of Mary being dragged away by two orderlies. (Not even a gurney to take her back to her room? That’s a home I’d like to rest in )

HANSON (op): Lucky her.

Panel 3: A bust shot from the same angle as the previous panel, but this time the style has reverted back to the drab style from the first five pages. She should have a single tear running down her cheek. (And what was that previous angle? Nope. I don’t know, either.)

Okay, let’s run ‘er down!

Format: Flawless. Good work.

Panel Descriptions: A little sloppy here and there, but pretty solid, all around. What I want you to do, Jon, is to think more dramatically, which will help you to think more visually.

Pacing: I think you could do this in the same amount of pages, but you wasted the first page on a splash that wasn’t necessarily needed. More storytelling opportunities are available when you think through the space needed and what you want to do. Other than the first page, the pacing here is solid.

Dialogue: I have to say, I really like what you did with it in getting some needed information across. I really liked that. I wish writers would do that more often.

There were some problems, though.

The dropouts. You have two sets of them. (Can someone tell me where the second set is?) Fix that.

You also had a nice setup for a page turn. We’ll come to that in a moment, though.

Content: As a story, it really didn’t have much of a point. Beginning, middle, and end, yes, but there wasn’t a point to it. I kept waiting for the twist, especially near the end, and it never came. Either a twist, or a strong emotion to resonate with the reader. It wasn’t there.

Your dialogue on P7 sets up for a nice emotional beat, and you whiffed it. (That’s a technical term.) You could have had a nice, strong beat, or a twist with the beat, and instead you just let it whimper and limp to the end. It made me feel like I wasted my time reading it. That’s never good, Jon. The ending needs to be strong.

All of that was from a reader standpoint. Editorially, there are places to tighten it up. I’d definitely beat you up on the ending, that first page, and making sure the story is doing what you want it to do. Right now, it isn’t.

And that’s all for this week. Check out the calendar to see who’s next!


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Category: 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.

Comments (14)

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  1. Jon Parrish says:

    Honestly, this was much lighter than what I expected. Still, I can agree with everything you were saying (as always). This was just something I wrote after visiting my Grandmother and saw how badly her dementia had gotten while away at school. I later learned that one day, she tried to stab my Dad because she didn’t recognize him. That always stuck with me.

    I was on the fence about the splash page when I wrote it so now I know I should have done something else. But, I really just wrote it out and never really gave thought of where I wanted it to go. I need to work on that.

    Awesome editing as always, sir.

    • It wasn’t that bad, Jon. Not that bad at all.

      I can see where this could be something that was very personal. I wrote something that people took as personal, myself. Made one of my readers want to cry. You just didn’t pull the trigger on this one. That’s all.

      I always advocate knowing where you want your story to end before you begin writing. That way, you have a goal. You know where you’re going.

      I have a story right now that I have no idea as to how I want it to end. I know how I want it to begin, and I have some bits in the middle, but I don’t know where I want it to end, and because of that, I can’t start writing it. And yes, it is driving me crazy.

  2. John Lees says:

    Panel 1: Mary is stabbing the Michael in the shoulder with the blade. Hanson is moving back in shock. (John Lees: what are your questions here?)

    I have a few questions. The first would be to describe what expressions Mary and Michael have on their faces. Is Mary afraid, angry, laughing maniacally? Is Michael screaming in pain, or just gaping in shock? Also, though it’s reasonable to suggest it’s open to artist interpretation, you might want to specify the angle here. Is it a medium shot of the pair in profile? A long shot, to better allow room for Hanson’s reaction? Or an over-the-shoulder shot from behind Mary, letting us focus on the reactions of Michael and Hanson?

  3. John Lees says:

    Panel 4: A close-up of Mary’s eyes slowly closing. (No. Pull this out a little. I want to see her entire face, possibly from the chest up. And then, John, I want you to tell us what’s wrong with this, and what the artist is really going to do.)

    You can’t have someone eyes closing slowly in a still image. If the eyes closing SLOWLY was an important enough beat, I suppose you could have it spread across multiple small panels, going from open eyes, to half-closed, to shut, which might create a sense of slow movement. But as it stands, the artist is likely to just draw the eyes closed here. Because any attempt to draw eyes in the middle of “slowly closing” in a single still image is likely to come across more like squinting.

    • Right!

      And wrong.

      While you can’t draw eyes closing slowly, and it would take a few panels to do, more than likely what the artist is going to draw is Mary going limp, with her eyes rolling up in her head. That is an almost universal visual of someone going unconscious.

      Good try, John! Thanks!

  4. John Lees says:

    Panel 5: A close-up of Hanson. (John Lees: what is my question here?)

    Yikes, keeping me busy today! Again, I imagine the question would be “A close-up of Hanson doing what?” Tell us a bit more about the emotion you want the artist to convey here.

  5. Panel 2: An upward view of Hanson, a man in his mid 30′s with short brown hair wearing a blue suit and a black tie. The orderly is a larger black man with a shaved head and wearing white scrubs. (I just lost my entire mind. Jamie, why is that?)

    Hanson has appeared in just about every other panel so far, and he had suddenly been described, and in a contradictory way. I imagine that this is simply a case of putting in the wrong name, but it is still a rather big error.

    • Partially right!

      If you’re going to describe someone or something, do it at the earliest possible place. For this script, that means doing it in panel 1, when everything goes to normal, not in panel 2.

      That’s the first part.

      Secondly, even more importantly, this isn’t a panel description. In a panel description, you’re describing what is being seen. That means someone is doing something. What are the people described doing? I don’t have any clue. I could say that they’re standing around doing anything I can imagine, and there isn’t anything that can be said to gainsay me because it isn’t described.

      Thanks for chiming in, Jamie. I appreciate it!

  6. Jon Parrish says:

    Ah, I see. I meant for them to just be standing over her, but I forgot to put that in. I could have sworn I went back and fixed panel descriptions. I guess not. Lesson learned (hopefully). In a way, it’s great to see some red text on my script again.

    Thank you to John and James as well. You both brought up great points that I will be working on such as explaining what is going on in greater detail. I can’t believe I forgot to state what people were doing in panels. I will make sure to do better next time.

    Thanks all.

  7. Kyle Raios says:

    Panel 2: A close up of the orderly opening the case to reveal a syringe.

    NO TEXT (Kyle, what’s wrong here?)

    I’m assuming the problem lies with the use of “No text” in the script. I suppose it’s not technically wrong, but it would be unnecessary. A panel with no dialogue just needs to have no dialogue in it.

    • Close, but no cee-gar!

      (I’m going to get all of you to start thinking about what comes before I ask you a question if it keels me!)

      If you’re about to be stabbed with a syringe and you don’t wanna be, what are you going to do? Are you going to put up the paltry fight that Mary does, or are you going to struggle more?

  8. Sorry! Sorry! I’m late for the party! It was a very busy Friday!

    “Panel 4: A side view of Mary grabbing Hanson by the throat. (You’re not leaving much on the bone for Yannick, Jon. What does Mary’s expression say?)

    MARY: After keeping me locked up for all this time? (Okay, Yannick. This should be enough for you.)

    MARY 2: You’ve got some balls, you son of a bitch!”

    “Panel 4: A side view of Mary grabbing Hanson by the throat.” – What’s the framing of this shot? Is it a full body shot (heh, body shot) or a tighter shot?

    Also we don’t have any indication of the way she’s grabbing him. Is it a one-handed grab or two-handed? How close to him is she standing? How are they even standing? The stance of each character can go a long way in showing the dynamics between them as well as lending a bit more drama to the shot.

    And what’s their expression?

    My suggestion:

    “Panel 4

    A medium sideway shot of Mary grabbing Hanson by the throat. Her two hands are wrapped firmly around his neck as she’s looming over him. Her expression is one of pure rage: bared teeth and flying spittle. Hanson’s mouth is twisted in pain and his hands are on Mary’s wrists, trying to pry her hands off his throat.”

    With Hanson trying to fight back a little, it seems more like a struggle than an execution.

    WHOA! I just got a flash! Panel 2: Mary kicks a table into Hanson. Panel 3: reaction shot of Hanson. Panel 4: she’s suddenly in his face strangling him? A bit magically delicious, no? Although I admit she *could* ahve moved closer during panel 3, but then we should at least have seen her advancing on Hanson in that panel (maybe with her shadow dramatically falling over him).

    Now for the dialogue. I don’t think “After keeping me locked up for all this time?” is all that necessary. You’ve made it pretty clear for the reader that Mary has been imprisoned for quite some time. We’re not in Claremont country, but there’s still a faint aroma of over-writing wafting through those words.

    At this point in the story, you need to punch it and the next bit is just perfect: “You’ve got some balls, you son of a bitch!” POW! This is all you need. Take out the first sentence.

    Now if I can step outside my given assignment for a moment, I wanna say I agree with Steven: you set yourself up for a nice “Outer Limits” twist – but that’s exactly the problem with it. Unlike Steven, I don’t think the ending is “limp”, I just think it’s expected. My suggestion? Either tighten up the epilogue in order to make the emotional charge more potent or hit the reader with a counter-twist (Mary is imprisoned because SHE is a faceless monster!).

    Apart from that, you got me interested right from the start. A very good read, Jon! Thanks!

  9. Jon Parrish says:

    I just realized that there was a huge jump. This is why I like things like TPG. An extra set of eyes and a fresh perspective can do wonders for a script. Thank you, Yannick.

    As for the twist ending, I was writing it and in my head I kept thinking “What a twist!” in my best M. Night impression. I do like the idea of a double twist of some sort. I may have to go back and re-think it. Originally, this was just something I wrote as a reaction to my grandmother’s dementia. Perhaps enough time has passed where I can make changes and really flesh it out.

    Thanks for all of the input.


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