TPG Week 236: Bad Writing Is Not Good

| July 6, 2015


Welcome back, one and all, to The Proving Grounds! This week, our Brave One is CJ Kral! We’ve also got Liam Hayes in blue, I’m the cranky-pants in red, and we’re all going to see what CJ brings us in

Lucy and Brevis

Just a couple of quick notes: this is late because I lost all the work I had done—I was almost finished with the rundown—and I was disgusted and didn’t want to look at it. So that’s on me.

The second note is that this came in at a font size of 11, and the font Calibri is pretty thin. Short and thin makes for a challenge for reading. I bumped it up to 14 for the ease of all of us. You’re welcome.

Page One

Page One, Panel One

A UNICORN franticly runs through the woods. (Time, season?) He whinnies and looks frightened. (This is a moving panel. What’s the static image here? What are we seeing in the panel.)

-Unicorn: Wheeeeeheehe! (This sounds more like excitement than anything.)

Page One, Panel Two

Cut to five ragged looking Five (Is the second five a typo?) HUNTERS riding horses chasing after the UNICORN. One of the HUNTER’S (Misused apostrophe.) has a bow and arrow ready to fire. (What do these hunters look like? I presume they’re human, since you didn’t specify otherwise, but that’s all we have.)

-Hunter1: (Which one is this? Does it matter?) Come back here (Comma.) you flea ridden animal! I shall skin you and make you into a fine coat! (I will never understand the come here requests that people make when they intend to do harm to someone/thing that’s running away. Come here so I can shoot you in the face with this bazooka! No, no thank you… I’ll pass.)

Page One, Panel Three

Cut to two KNIGHTS, SIR SINJORO and SIR WEBER in shining armor ridding on top of horses that are also heavily armored. (Where are these guys? In the forest charging after the hunters? We don’t know.)

-Sir Sinjoro (yelling): Halt, in the name of the Queen!

-Sir Weber: Don’t waste your breath. These scallywags willn’t stop for nothing. (Yeah, that bit o’ dialect kinda went over like a lead balloon.)

Page One, Panel Four

Wide frame showing the UNICORN on the far left and small bridge on the far right. Between them is a thick dense forest filled with trees and bushes. (Huh? I’m having a hard time visualizing this panel. We’re going to have to be pretty zoomed out to see a think dense forest, so we’re looking down at the unicorn from a height, almost bird’s eye view?)

silent (It’s better to say No Copy .)

Page One, Panel Five

Cut to BREVIS the troll (Describe him.) (His description isn’t needed. Any artist worth their salt will design the character before setting pencil to paper for the sequentials.) sleeping on a large flat rock using a bore’s skin a blanket. (Where is this?)

-Brevis (snoring): (Snoring isn’t really a letterer direction.) Haaark

(link) Shoooo. (Link? Just write his name tag again.)

You panel descriptions are lacking. We’ve got a who, but no where or what. If you don’t include this information then you’re setting yourself up for failure from the outset.

P1 is down, and I’m not impressed.

This should have started off with an establishing shot. We could have gotten a sense of When and Where, and then possibly Who and What. As it is, this feels disjointed because we don’t know where anyone is in relation to anyone else.

If you set things up properly, you can then knock them down neatly.

(Page breaks, please. I know I go on about them a lot, but it’s for a very good reason; clarity.)

Page Two

Page Two, Panel One

Close up of the UNICORN’S hooves as he steps on a thin wire.

-SFX: Clop, Clop, Clop. (Yeah. See that period there? It shouldn’t be there. This is a sound effect, not a sentence. Putting the period at the end makes it sound very, very boring, like they’re taking a stroll through the park. That’s boring. There shouldn’t be any commas in there, either, but the period needs to go. If there’s any piece of punctuation that shouldn’t be in a sound effect, the period is it. Unless you know how to use it ironically, for comedic effect. This, however, isn’t it.)

Page Two, Panel Two

Cut back to BREVIS sleeping on his rock as a tiny bell hanging on a wire nearby his head jingles. (Nope. No bell. You didn’t put it in when we saw him earlier, so it isn’t here.) (It’s magically delicious.)

-Brevis (snoring ): Haark

(link) shoo.

-SFX: Ting, Ting, Ting.

Page Two, Panel Three

Cut to close up of many horse hooves stepping on trip wires. These horses are those of the HUNTERS.

-Hunters (yelling off panel): YAR! YE! HAW! HOO! YAR! YAW! WOG! (What is this supposed to be?)(Wog? Yeah. We all know I just had an aneurysm.)

-SFX (horse’s hooves): Trump, Trump, Trump. (Why do these hooves sound different? Why do they make the same amount of sound as one unicorn?)(Bad writing? I’m willing to go with bad writing.)

Page Two, Panel Four

Back to under BREVIS’ bridge (Brevis isn’t under the bridge. You didn’t set that up when we first saw him.) with a wider shot showing more bells in various sizes all around his rock. He raises his head and yawns. (More info that should have been set up earlier. Anyone else feeling it coming? It’s close, isn’t it?)

-Brevis: Haaaarmhh.

-SFX: Bring, Brong, Bring. (It’s getting closer…)

Page Two, Panel Five

Close up of now the armor clad hooves of the KNIGHTS horses as they too step on the trip wires. (Why? We’ve seen this thrice now. It only mattered the first time, and even then, he’d have presumably heard the cavalry coming.)

-Sir Sinjoro (yelling off panel): You are breaking royal law and dishonoring your kingdom!

-Sir Weber: Give a rest, Sir Sinjoro (Stop.) they don’t care. (I’m still not totally convinced that writers are keeping me in a job by not knowing their punctuation. Just saying.)

-SFX: Clang, Clank, Clang. (It’s like you’re not even trying.)

Page Two, Panel Six

A giant gong is hit by a malate (A what?) that is held by a wire. This loud noise shakes the large rock causing BREVIS to fall off.

-SFX: CLUG-TOOOOOM! (It’s like you never heard a sound before… And really, with this, the Line of Demarcation is set.)

P2 is done, and really, this page is about half padding.

Here’s what’s going on: you have hooves and bells, but not much to actually drive the story. Since the characters aren’t saying much at all, readers are flying through this, wondering why they’re still reading.

You need to add dialogue. Readable dialogue, that is. Dialogue that either moves the plot or reveals character. Right now, this is boring. I’m bored.

Don’t think I forgot about setting the LoD. This is officially crap. Just so everyone knows it.

Page Three

Page Three, Panel One

BREVIS pulls his pants up as bells continue to ring all around him. (So he was naked before this? You didn’t say that.)(A lot of things weren’t said.)

-SFX: Bong, Chong, Ting, Bong! (The bells should stop, surely? They’re not tugging the string anymore.) (And why are the bells sounding different? I’ll tell you why: bad writing.)

Page Three, Panel Two

BREVIS slips on his vest, but his big gut sticks out.

-SFX: Broom, Ching, Bing, Tink!

Page Three, Panel Three

BREVIS struggles to clasps his belt over his big belly. His belt holds many pouches that hold a variety of different things.

-Brevis (grunts): Mmargh!

Page Three, Panel Four

BREVIS puts on his pointy helmet (Describe this. Pointy helmet doesn’t give the artist much. What’s it made out of?) (And where’s the spear to go along with his magic helmet?) and makes a grimacing look.

-Brevis (mumbles): Wake me at this hour?

Page Three, Panel Five

Close up of BREVIS pulling his boots up.

-Brevis (grunt): Humph.

Page Three, Panel Six

BREVIS grabs large hammer from the rack over his bed. (Pooh! No spear. Oh, well. Can’t blame me for trying.)

Silent (I like the attempt at the notation, but it’s better to say No Copy. This lets the letterer know there’s no text/dialogue in this panel.)

Page Three, Panel Seven

BREVIS walks up the slope from under the bridge. (Thin. What’s the angle? What’re we seeing?)


Page Three, Panel Eight

BREVIS stands guard in front of the bridge. (Doing what exactly?)

-Brevis: Okay, who’s the dingbat that thinks they can cross my bridge. (Why is this not a question? The words form a question, the period makes it a statement. This should be a question, despite the fact that he’s talking to himself.)

That’s a lot of space to waste on him getting dressed.

Just about this entire page is padding. What happens to the story if six of these panels are cut? Not a damned thing. And that doesn’t mean take the first and the last and blow them up to half a page each.

Basically, you’re taking too long to get to a point. Seeing the troll get dressed is uninteresting, because it doesn’t add a blessed thing to the story. If it were funny, then I could get behind you on it. If it were interesting, I’d back you up. But this is P3, and I don’t care. That’s not a good place to be.

Pick up the pace. Give the reader something to read.

Page Four

Page Four, Panel One

BREVIS stands strong in front of the bridge with his hammer high. (This is what you should’ve put for the previous panel.)

-Brevis: Halt!

(link) Who dares to attempt to cross the bridge of the dreaded forest troll, (You can’t break a balloon up with a comma.)

(link) Brevis!?

Page Four, Panel Two

BREVIS looks shocked as the UNICORN runs past him as if he wasn’t there.

-SFX: Clop, Clop, Clop.

Page Four, Panel Three

BREVIS looks behind him to watch the UNICORN run off into the distant forest.

-Brevis: Well (Comma.) I guess I can let unicorns pass, (Stop.) they are magically sacred creatures (Comma.) after all. (Dialogue is not your strong suit.)

Page Four, Panel Four

BREVIS turns back to see the HUNTERS riding on their horses towards him. (Moving panel.)

-Brevis: This next group of lowlifes I won’t let pass without a fight. (Still talking to himself. It isn’t bad, but it isn’t doing what you think it should be doing.)

Page Four, Panel Five

Two HUNTERS ride past BREVIS not paying attention to him as he yells curses at them.

-Brevis: Hey, you swamp mud, (Stop.) what do you think you’re doing? Come back here (Comma.) you sewage mouth! (No, dialogue isn’t your strong suit at all. This is terrible.)

Page four, Panel Six

BREVIS grabs the tail of one the HUNTER1’S horses and is dragged across the ground. (Moving panel. Cut out the grabbing. We don’t need to see that. Brevis being dragged across the ground by the horse and holding the tail implies that.) (Don’t cut out the grabbing. That’s integral to how he got to be dragged. However, what’s needed is a panel showing he’s grabbing something. An inset panel would work wonders here.)

-Brevis (yells): Waaahhhh!

(link) Stop, you tramp spawn! (Yeah. Anyone else getting a headache from this?)

Page Five (And there goes the Flawless Victory. What else is new, right?)

Page Five, Panel One

BREVIS holds onto the HUNTER1’S saddle as he climbs up. (How has he managed to get from the tail to the saddle?) The Hunter notices him turns around reaches for his large knife that he has holstered on his belt. (Nope. Doesn’t have that. You didn’t give it to him. Whoops.) (More magically delicious stuff. And a moving panel.)

-Brevis: It may not be much of a bridge, but it’s my bridge (Stop.) I only let the people that I like pass.

-Hunter1: Get off my damn horse, you little (Little? I was imagining him large. See the confusion that can happen when you don’t describe properly?) maggot pie.

Page Five, Panel Two

The HUNTER1 sticks the large knife right in BREVIS’S face making him mad. (Literally? I don’t think so. Otherwise he’d be screaming. Also, don’t write figurative descriptions.)

-Brevis: And I don’t like people with big knives that call me little!

Page Five, Panel Four

Close up of BREVIS biting the wrist of the HUNTER1 causing him to drop the knife.

-SFX: Chomp!

Page Five, Panel Five

As the HUNTER1 holds his bloody wrist, BREVIS leaps over his shoulders. (I get what you’re after here, but you need more. He’s leaping over the hunter to what end?)

-Brevis: Duck your head. (Why would he say this? I know you’re just trying to put something in here, but why would he say this? It makes absolutely no sense at all.)

Page Five, Panel Six

BREVIS uses both feet to kick the HUNTER1 off the horse while holding onto the horse’s main to support himself. (Spelling!!! There’s a difference between main and mane . I try not to harp too much on spelling in the panel descriptions unless it can lead to confusion, and this definitely can.)

-SFX: Thoomf!

So far, this is just passive storytelling. A thing happens to a guy and he does something about it. There’s no active component to make us interested in this troll as a character. Not yet, anyway. Passivity is fine at the start of your story, but you have to have your character want something soon that isn’t reactionary.

On a technical level, your panel descriptions need a lot of work. You’re just thin in some cases, but on the border of moving panels in others. Visualize the panel, then describe it. I can see that you’re still thinking in moving images, and that’s the issue. It takes time to learn how to see things in static images, so don’t be discouraged. Just work on it. It helps if you can sketch some of this out, then describe what you’ve drawn. Reverse engineering to see how it’s done, if you will.

Liam’s stopped, so that means I can stop! (And I’ve saved it several times this time around. I couldn’t take going through this again.) Let’s run this down!

Format: No Flawless Victory here. Who was surprised about this? A show of hands.

Panel Descriptions: These need work. You have items that are magically declicious, you have moving panels, and you have a panel that can’t be drawn (except maybe one way that Liam gave you, but even then, you’re missing elements). You also aren’t thinking your panels through. The soonest you can show something important, it should be shown. An item that appears in panel 5 that should have been seen in panel 2 should show up in panel 2 so it doesn’t seem like it appeared out of thin air.

Pacing: Terrible. There’s no other way to say it. Out of five pages, you really only have 2.5 here. Half. That means you have a lot of wasted space. That needs to be fixed. Condense. And while you’re condensing, give the reader something worth reading.

Remember, every panel has to do something that moves the story forward. If it doesn’t, then it doesn’t belong in the book. It’s not hard to understand, but a lot of writers fall into the trap of showing too much and dragging the story down. Very few have the opposite problem: showing too little, thus jumping around all over the place.

Pacing isn’t just what happens, it’s also the rate at which things happen, and it incorporates everything, to include dialogue. The sooner you understand that, the sooner you’ll tell better stories.

Dialogue: I have nothing good at all to say about the dialogue. The punctuation in the sound effects will give the letterer more work to do, because they have to remove that. No one is happy about having to do extra work. Learn your craft.

And then there’s what’s actually being said.

Every word should be ripped out and replaced with new, better words. That’s the only thing that will keep the reader’s head from ‘sploding. As it stands, I’m considering the dialogue to be placeholders only. That’s the only way I can escape with my sanity.

Content: As a reader, this holds no interest for me. Bad writing only makes me look for errors, and that’s not enjoyable. I’d much rather praise what was done than focus on the negatives, but with so much wrong, it’s easy to focus on the negatives.

Editorially, this needs a complete rewrite so that it’s interesting. That’s really the best thing for this piece. A complete rewrite.

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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