TPG Week 240: When Dialogue Is The Real Failure

| August 2, 2015


Welcome back, one and all, to another installment of The Proving Grounds! This week, we have a new Brave One in Solomon Steen. We also have Liam Hayes in blue, I’m the guy shivering in the corner in red, and we’re all going to see if Solomon can take care of his


Okay, this came in at a font size of 10. I raised it to 12. You’re all welcome.

Log line: A superpowered thief comes clean to her roommate about her new-found income.

Cassandra A second-generation Mexican-American pre-med student, she has a thoroughly pragmatic sense of style: she wears her hair long but neat, and is dressed in a plain button-down and jeans. She has a boxy, but rounded build.

Eris A child of New England WASPs, she has a thin smile and high round cheeks. She wears round, oversized glasses and her thick, straw-like hair in simple ponytail. She wears six different rings, all old-world style and a flowing, breezy dress.

Page 1.0 (Meh. I get it, but I don’t like the 1.0 here. There’s no such thing as a 1.1 or anything like that when it comes to page numbering. You can have a gimmick with issue numbering like this, which really doesn’t do anything besides make accounting for your collection more difficult, but for the page number, it doesn’t make much sense. I get it, but I don’t like it.)

1.1 Overhead view of the living room in a small studio apartment, modestly furnished by IKEA. The bookshelves are loaded, mostly with school reading: medical textbooks and art history collections. CASSANDRA and ERIS are sitting at their own desks. (These desks aren’t placed well. This makes the character’s interaction in the next few panels a little confusing.) CASSANDRA’s holding a financial statement; the open envelope sits on her desk, which is covered with other past bank statements. ERIS is looking forward at the wall; CASSANDRA’s turned her head to look at her roommate.

ERIS It was me.

(Space out the dialogue a bit. It’s a little bunched up against the panel description.)(By space out , Liam means to add a blank line between the panel descriptions and the dialogue.)

1.2 Close on CASSANDRA: completely blown away, she has one hand on desk, the other raised in the air, waving the letter around.

CASSANDRA $21 thou- Wh- (Double dashes.)

1.3 View of CASSANDRA from over ERIS’ shoulder. CASSANDRA, face filled with worry and astonishment, looks at ERIS. (See what I mean about the lack of desk placement? I’m not sure where Eris is in relation to Cassandra, so it’s hard to construct a mental image of the shot.)(Clean emotions. You can’t do worry and astonishment. It’s going to look like one thing or another, but not how you described it. This is prosaic.)

CASSANDRA Where did you get that money?

1.4 View of ERIS over CASSANDRA’s shoulder. ERIS is staring at her desk, her hands tightly gripping her knees, shoulders hunched.

ERIS You were going to ask why I was able to pick up more of the rent.

(Why is this on another line?) I decided to broach the subject myself. (This dialogue doesn’t flow from what was previous said. It’s disjointed.)(If this is supposed to be another balloon, then you have to label all the balloons. Don’t be lazy.)

(If we’re having so many over the shoulder shots, it would seem like you intended the desks to be facing each other? I didn’t pick up on that straight away. I would have put them facing the walls, away from each other. See how this can be confusing to your artist?)

1.5 Looking at the women (Which one?) from behind, slightly low angle. CASSANDRA has set down the letter.

ERIS Legally, it’s better if you don’t know: (Why is there a colon here?)

ERIS plausible deniability.

TITLE Blindspot

A weak panel for a page turn. It’s mostly the angle. Couldn’t we go for a close up of Eris instead? That’d work better.

This seems like a jarring cut into the story. You’ve gone in a little too quick, without easing the reader in. This can be solved with an establishing shot of the apartment and a line of dialogue to set the context.

P1 is down!

Really, Liam called it all. This moves too fast and feels disjointed. This is terrible for a first page, because there’s no context at all for what’s going on.

The panel descriptions need a lot of work. If you do a good establishing shot, then you’ll have everything you need. You’re missing information in the first panel. Actually, that first panel cannot be drawn.

You have information in that first panel which can’t be seen from the angle you give. Visualization is great, but when you put things that won’t be shown, or shown well…that becomes problematic. You’re then writing more than you need to. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it slows you down. If you’re able to cut down on unnecessary typing, you can increase your output, and increasing your output increases the amount of money you could potentially make.

The dialogue isn’t choppy, it just isn’t engaging. You have five panels to begin telling an interesting story, and you don’t come anywhere near being even slightly engaging. That’s sad. Start building the world! That’s what P1 is for—introducing characters and the problem in an engaging way.

You had an opportunity to get in at least one character name organically. Instead, both characters remain unnamed. Right now, as far as the reader is concerned, the reader doesn’t know what to call these two ladies.

Right now, this is just boring. There’s no reason to turn the page. And boring is death.

(I had to put in page breaks. You’re lucky I just had a mood-lifting breakfast.) (No page breaks? No Flawless Victory for you.)

Page 2.0

2.1 Close front view of ERIS. She’s tilted her head to the side, her eyes are closed. Her eyebrows are slightly raised.

ERIS However, you being you, you won’t accept my help after hearing that. (That italics? I almost missed it. It would behoove you to use an underline whenever you want to put a stress on a word. This way, the letterer has less of a chance of missing it.)

2.2 ERIS is now facing CASSANDRA, looking her in the eye for the first time since she started talking. (Again, this depends on the placement of the desks.)

ERIS I can tell you. Or I can leave. The cash has already been disbursed. (New line.) ERIS Either way, you’ll graduate debt-free.

2.3 Close on ERIS’s wry smile.

ERIS Worst case scenario, it’s my parting gift.

2.4 CASSANDRA stares blankly at ERIS, still processing this information.


2.5 Close on CASSANDRA: she has leaned forward, her face softened with concern.

CASSANDRA You should have told me earlier.

2.6 CASSANDRA puts a hand on ERIS’s shoulder. (So she’s no longer behind the desk?)

CASSANDRA Whatever it is, I will help you get out of it.

2.7 ERIS’s rests on hand on top of CASSANDRA’s. Her eyes are still closed; she’s smiling slightly.

ERIS I don’t want to get out.

2.8 ERIS has stood up, CASSANDRA is staring up at her, pleading but confident. (The last three words here mean nothing. How is the artist supposed to depict this?)

ERIS And there’s no way out now that I’m in.

CASSANDRA Listen. People at the clinic say that. All. The. Time. But –

A lot of panels for a little amount of dialogue. Combine some of these panels to correct the pacing.

P2 is down, and not only am I bored, I’m also disinterested. When writers try too hard to be cryptic, this is what happens. Right now, you have on the cape of Captain Try-Hard, and really, you should take it off.

We have another page where the characters don’t give a name where the reader can see it.

Liam is right once again when it comes to this being paced wrong. First, we all know I’m not a fan of pages with eight panels. It’s not wrong, but it’s a no-man’s land. The more panels you put on the page, the smaller each of those panels have to be in order to accommodate the others. Also, eight panels can also be difficult to read, because if the artist basically makes a square out of the panels, the reader won’t know if they should read down and then across, or go across and then down. Whenever I see an eight-panel page, my editor-senses go off, and I do my best to have the writer go either seven or nine for the page.

Anyway, from a storytelling perspective, I’m still not interested. Why are we here? Why are we reading this? Is this story actually worth telling? If I stub my toe, I’ll have more interest in that than what is going on here.

The problem is the dialogue. There’s more here, and again, you’re trying too hard to be cryptic. Don’t. There’s a difference between being cryptic and being oblique.

If the logline isn’t there, what does the reader have to go on that tells them anything about the story to get them to read further? Nothing, which is terrible. Every panel, page, and line of dialogue should mean something, and should move the reader to continue to read. This isn’t doing that, which is a terrible thing to say on P2.

Page 3.0

3.1 CASSANDRA’s POV: ERIS has disappeared (link.)


(I don’t think this is going to have to impact you want it to. Two panels, one of her visible and another of her invisible with the same camera angle could work. Also, dialogue would help add punch.) (What you’ve done here is terrible. More than terrible—it’s bad storytelling. Unless there’s some sort of mark to show the character has disappeared, you should never start a new page like this. It definitely shouldn’t be from another character’s pov, either. We need to see their reaction, to help show what’s going on.)

3.2 Close on CASSANDRA: her jaw has dropped to the floor. ERIS is now behind her (still invisible.) (Still invisible? I have no idea what this means. Does the reader?)


3.3 ERIS (still invisible) runs her finger along CASSANDRA’s ear.


3.4 CASSANDRA flails wildly in the direction where the hand seemed to come from. (What’s Eris doing?)

CASSANDRA Ffffffaaaaaaaaaa

3.5 ERIS (still invisible) has doubled over laughing behind CASSANDRA.

ERIS Mmfhahaha

3.6 CASSANDRA, fuming, has swirled around in her chair, and is facing a now visible ERIS. (She’s been at her desk this entire time? Argh…)


(And she has nothing to say?)

3.7 ERIS, perfectly relaxed, looks down at CASSANDRA.

CASSANDRA That’s not f[xxx]ing funny!

The lack of dialogue on this page is working against you. We need more of a reaction from Cassandra to guide the reader in how unusual this is.

P3, and what happens? Not that much.

This page is supposed to showcase someone’s powers. Fine, I get that. However, the other person has no reaction to this at all. It’s all average to them. I guess this is Xanth, and everyone has a magic power, which is the only reason I can think of as to why one character didn’t have any kind of reaction.

Storytelling. Storytelling is important. When you’re telling a story, you have to give the reader every opportunity to understand what’s going on. You can do that by showing other people’s reactions to the events of the story. If you lose/hide that, then you’re not doing the story or the reader the best service.

The hell of it is that even though something has happened in the story, I’m still bored. This is supposed to be the inciting incident, where the story really starts. Right now, I’m more interested in going to find all of my Piers Anthony books and sorting them alphabetically by author…

And again, another missed opportunity to name the characters in a place where the reader can see it.

Page 4.0

4.1 CASSANDRA, perplexed but still angry, glares at ERIS.

CASSANDRA How – (Double dashes.)

4.2 CASSANDRA, remembering her purpose, has narrowed her eyes and is pointing at ERIS. (What’s Eris doing?)

CASSANDRA That’s not an answer.

4.3 ERIS is in the middle of tucking some hair behind her ears.

CASSANDRA [off panel] That’s the how, not the where.

4.4 ERIS has bent down to talk to CASSANDRA, leaning slightly on the desk and waving away CASSANDRA’s concerns with her free hand (motion lines.)

ERIS Petty cash boxes at different multinationals – the bourgeoisie.

4.5 Close on ERIS: she’s now sitting on CASSANDRA’s desk, and has rested her hand by CASSANDRA’s, which is balled up in a fist on the desk.

ERIS I’m not taking from a Starbucks cashier’s register, getting her (Who?) fired.

ERIS I have some sense.

4.6 Close on ERIS. Her eyes are lidded; her head tilted toward her shoulder.

ERIS They won’t miss this money.

ERIS They have more change in their couch cushions.

4.7 ERIS is staring seriously at CASSANDRA, whose brow is now furrowed. The anger in CASSANDRA’s glare has intensified. ERIS’s hand rests lightly on CASSANDRA’s.

ERIS But for us? It’s survival.

This went nowhere. Here’s the synopsis; Person pays off debt because she can turn invisible. That’s not really a story. There’s no problem or solution.

Your panel descriptions need to be more specific. There not the worst we’ve had in the proving grounds, by a long measure, but missing information is hurting you. As for dialogue, it doesn’t flow particularly well, and reads as if it’s disconnected. Read it out loud to see what I mean.

Let’s just run this down, shall we?

Format: No Flawless Victory due to lack of page breaks. This is the single biggest reason writers lose the FV, and it’s so simple it’s disgusting. Page breaks. Know your tools. Simple. The other thing about the format is the dialogue. Blank lines should go between each element. The way you have them now, things are bunched up. Give it some space. It isn’t enough to lose you the FV because format is basically about consistency, but the format is also for the ease of use for the rest of the creative team. Format is the easiest thing you can do to help your writing.

Panel Descriptions: These need work. Missing information makes it harder for the artist to do their job. Also, as I said earlier, think about the reader. They need to be able to see things as the story unfolds. Expressions. Reactions. Those cannot be seen when you’re calling for point of view shots.

Pacing: From a storytelling perspective, nothing happens. There’s no story here. There’s no conflict or resolution. Things are just said, and that’s that.

Even then, it’s boring, and things are hidden because you went for some pov shots when the camera should have shown the tableau. But since there was no real reactions, it just ended up being boring.

Dialogue: The dialogue here doesn’t do much. It tries too hard to say something, and then doesn’t say much at all. Here is where the conflict and resolution should be.

If you fix this, the entire piece can be elevated. Have the characters say each other’s names. Right now, the readers don’t know them. They’re just two women talking. One of them has to provide the conflict, and the other the resolution. Their roles have to be properly defined. You do that in the dialogue.

Basically, you failed to set up the situation/problem properly, and then nothing is said to properly support it. The real failure of this piece is the dialogue.

Content: There’s no Line of Demarcation. This isn’t crap. It needs some help, yes, but it isn’t crap. As a reader, though, I’d have to say that this isn’t worth the time it takes to read, which is totally different from saying this is crap.

Editorially, this needs a rewrite. It’s only 4 pages, so a rewrite wouldn’t hurt it at all. Condense, and have the characters say something that actually matters. I know you felt that they did, but they really didn’t. Not when there’s missing information in the dialogue.

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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