TPG Week 246: Backstory Is Not THE Story

| September 12, 2015


Welcome back, one and all, to The Proving Grounds! This week, we have a new Brave One in Edward Davis. We also have Liam Hayes in blue, a pencil assist from Ryan Kroboth, and I’m the guy gibbering in the corner in red.

Let’s all see what Edward does with

Immortal Issue 1

Just as an aside: this came in with a font size of 11. You’re all welcome.

Page 1

Page 1, Panel 1 (I don’t mind this overmuch. It should help to keep pages and panels straight later on. More writing than necessary, but I won’t ding him for it. It just isn’t my cup of tea.)

The year is 2200. The city of the future is seen. It is a sprawling metropolis with immensely tall buildings as far as the eye can see. There would be no beauty in the construction of these buildings. Instead, they would be buildings where the tops were simply torn off to stack taller new layers onto older layers. The landscape is treeless, and no wildlife can be seen. There are dark clouds of pollution covering the sky above the city. Only small slivers of sunlight manage to peek through the clouds. In front of the buildings, there is a cracked and decrepit sidewalk with only small grains of cement covering the dirt. Pedestrians can be seen walking casually on the sidewalk, through the decaying city. They wear the high fashion of the time. It resembles current fashion but the angles of the seams are twisted and wrong. There are seams sewn in multiple places, giving the dresses a raw homemade look. (There’s no way we can see details such as this if we’re also looking at an entire city.) The hairstyles vary on the women from long and flowing, to dreadlocks, and even completely bald. The men wear collared shirts that also have strange angles of the seams. Their pants would look similar to current slim-fit slacks. However, they have a patchwork pattern that reflects the lack of good material. They also wear overcoats that drape behind them as they walk. In front of the sidewalk is a rough dirt road. Hovering Cars can be seen floating above the road. The cars are grotesque things. They are Frankenstein cars pieced together from whatever parts of automobiles that could be found and used. The hovering shows an evolution of technology; however, the design and materials reflect the fact that natural resources are scarce. This panel would be a 1/3 page splash. (Most of this is stuff the artist would probably come up with themselves. You could just say hover cars are a thing and materials are scarce in a primer before the actual script. That would whittle down this wall of text at least, which is off-putting from the get go.) (There comes a time in every writer’s life when they want to emulate Alan Moore. I’m going to give one word of advice: don’t. It ends up as buzzing, and that’s exactly what this ended up being. Buzzing. You ever get a fly near your ear and it just buzzes, and the vibrations screws up your ears so you’re rubbing it even though the fly is long gone? Not imagine that, but in your brain. Yeah. I’m hitting myself in the head and face, and drawing odd looks.)

On the top left there is a partial page from a journal in sloppy text: (This is letterer direction. Address it to them so they can clearly see it.)

Ari’s Journal: The world is fucked.

Page 1, Panel 2

Susan Rockford is holding baby Rob, face down, on her chest in a hospital room. She wears a blue hospital gown and is lying in the hospital bed. Her mid-back blonde hair is unkempt and stuck to her head and face with sweat. She is kissing baby Rob, who wears only a blue cap on his forehead, and a diaper (if the cap is on his forehead and he’s lying face down…). The background will be blue curtains on one side of the bed. The other side has a catheter bag, and an IV drip hooked onto a metal pole. Next to the pole is a small table with a brown teddy bear holding a floating blue Mylar balloon. It’s a boy is written under the picture of a flying stork holding a bundled baby in its long thin beak. Next to the table is an uncomfortable looking green vinyl chair. (You’re being extremely specific. To the point that you describe a chair. Use broad strokes for finer details. Describe the hospital and the artist will fill in the minutiae. Just focus on the storytelling and how best to tell the story.)

Ari’s Journal: From what I’ve learned, it wasn’t always this way. People used to live predictable lives. First, they were born.

(So, one panel in and we’re in a flashback? Hmm… Not a fan of that, myself. I’d start in the flashback if anything, or give it a page or two to allow the reader to settle.) (Flashback? I don’t know yet. I hope not, for the reasons Liam specified.)

Page 1, Panel 3

Susan Rockford (Since this character seems to be reoccurring, take her description out of the panel descriptions.) is seen standing in the center of a wooden stage receiving her College Diploma in a red cap and gown. Her long blond hair cascades down her back. There is a large crowd of people all wearing Red caps and gowns with gold tassels in the foreground. A woman wearing a Doctoral cap and gown, standing behind a podium, is seen handing Susan her diploma in a black folder. The background is a stale gymnasium.

Ari’s Journal: Then they lived their lives. Some were happy; others were sad; many were endless days of continuous pain.

Page 1, Panel 4

The exterior of a graveyard is seen at night. It is raining and there is a full moon in the sky. Only one grave can be seen. On the tombstone would be the words Top: R.I.P. Middle: Susan Rockford Loving Mother and Daughter Bottom: Forever in our Hearts. (Whoa, what happened to your punctuation? Also this is letterer direction.) Next to the grave, on the left, the silhouette of Rob Rockford can be seen standing with his back to the camera. He is now 18 years old and has broad, athletic shoulders. He is wearing a soaking wet trench coat and stands with his head down. (There no indication that he is the baby all growed up. Just so you know. We know not their names.)(Know what I love? When you know a writer has purposely misspelled something. I’m loving Liam right now. Just wanted to say that.)

Ari’s Journal: Regardless of how their lives were lived, they all ended the same way – death. (Hmm… Tell us something we don’t know. This line is the culmination of the hot air that is your captions.)

Page 1, Panel 5

A 150 year old Asian woman is seen standing in her humble house. There is little decoration in the house. Only a small bed can be seen. The bed frame is just pieces of soldered together metal forming the basic frame shape. Next to the bed is a window that shows that this home is at least 100 stories up. The outline of another massive building can be seen next to building she is in. The person would be hobbled and shakily supporting herself with a cane, standing next to her bed. She would be wearing a ragged hood over her head, and a brown burlap dress. Beneath the hood, we would see wisps of white hair poking through. (You go from describing the character to scene to character. It’s jarring. Start with scene, then go for character.) (Actually, I don’t think this panel can be drawn and get across the information wanted. Ryan, could you lend us a pencil? Thanks!)

Journal: (What happened to Ari?) There was none of this eternal life bullshit.

Okay, this is just a collection of seemingly unrelated images. I don’t know what this story is about so far, so I have no idea how any of this is related. No, this is not good.

P1 is down!

I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’m kind a ready to set the Line of Demarcation right now. Just so you know. It would be a kindness, really. However, I’m going to give the benefit of the doubt and continue to press on. But it’s there.

What do we have here? We have panel descriptions that are very specific. I wouldn’t go so far as to say overly specific, because some writers have a specific vision they’re wanting to get across. However, I don’t think that is the case here. Here, methinks this is an aping of Alan Moore, done poorly.

I’m a fan of brevity. Panel 1 has almost 300 words to it. Panel 2 has almost 150. Panel 3 has 75, and panel 4 has almost 100, with the last panel having almost 120. Why? What does this get us?Not much at all. Most of this can be cut, especially when we see that they’re not doing much to push the story forward with the specific vision.

There’s a green vinyl chair in the hospital room. That’s nice, but who really cares? If it doesn’t do anything to push the story forward, why is it there? I don’t care that it’s there, I don’t care if it isn’t. What I care about is the time it takes to read (and write) for something that doesn’t have a meaningful impact on the story being told.

There’s a lot of flab here. Since we’re only on P1, I can’t even tell if there’s a pacing issue as yet, but here’s what I do know:

None of the characters are named. We don’t get the name of the person who’s died until we read it on her tombstone. We see the baby, then we don’t see them again until they’re at the grave. There’s no way for the reader to tell this is the baby all growed up. (I’m not above stealing good lines.)

Also, there’s no timeframe given to the reader. The only thing they know is that they’re reading about some world that may or may not be the future (it could be some alien world) and things look a bit run down. (Know what else looked run down, despite the fact that they were technologically advanced? The original Star Wars. That universe looked well lived-in. Then you get to the crappy prequels, and even though it’s gone further into the past, it looks a lot brighter and cleaner. There’s a viable explanation for why that could be, but it also brought us Jar Jar, so I’ll just remain irritable about it, thank you very much.)

Without that timeframe, the reader doesn’t have a point of reference. They’re just reading along. While that can be fun, it’s better to have a frame of reference. This way, they can have some sort of idea as to what to expect from the story—even if those expectations are flipped on their head or not met.

Finally, there isn’t enough dialogue here. I like to read my comics, not just blow through them. There should be a lot to say here, because you’re building a world. It’s pretty quiet. I should be telling you to shut up instead of saying you should speak more.

Let’s see what P2 brings us.

Page Two

Page 2, Panel 1

There is a television in the center of the panel. On the television, there is a young attractive Asian reporter standing in front of a large multi-story hospital. The hospital looks like a series of different sized rectangles stacked randomly together (I understand what you’re getting at, but architecture has rules for a reason: structural integrity.) . The name of the hospital – Payne Valley Medical Center – can barely be seen on the top of the panel. Her shoulder length hair rests on a white power suit with a pink undershirt. (Where is this television? Floating in the void?)

Reporter: Amazing news tonight! Hospitals across the nation continue to report that there have been no recorded deaths since the first of the year. This makes five incredible days without death. (She has no facial expression, contrary to the dialogue. Not good.)

Ari’s Journal: At first the lack of death was celebrated joyously around the world.

Page 2, Panel 2

Again there is a television set. This time the reporter is a middle aged man with disheveled brown hair and a stubble covered face. He has tired brown eyes and wears a cheap, wrinkled, tan suit with a blue tie. He is broadcasting this illegally (How does the reader know this? Have we stepped into the Matrix? Is this a pirate signal?). He is seen stealthily walking through the corridor of a hospital, holding a microphone.

Stephen: Stephen George here. As you know (No, we don’t. We’re finding out about it now. There’s a better way to get this across.), I was fired from my job for not simply nodding my head and pretending that this madness was a blessing. My former colleagues want you to believe that all of this should be celebrated. I’m here to expose the truth.

Journal: Before long the harsh reality was finally shown. (I’m a fan of commas. There should be one here. And in the previous panel as well.)

Page 2, Panel 3

The television set is now gone. Stephen is seen standing in the long white corridor of a hospital. His cameraman, behind him, is holding a large television news camera. The 35 year old camera man wears blue jeans, and a plain white shirt that accentuates his large stomach. He has receding brown hair and a round friendly face. Behind the camera man, a slender young African-American man holds a long boom mic. Just ahead of Stephen and his crew is a blue door that says Authorized Personnel Only. (If he’s holding a microphone, why is there a boom mic as well? It doesn’t make sense. However, I’m willing to be schooled. Someone let me know if I’m wrong. Now, as for placement: The door is in the background, the Stephen is facing us in the mid-ground, the cameraman has his back to us in the mid-ground, and the unnecessary boom mic person is in the foreground. Know what this means? We can’t see most of what’s written in the panel description. Ryan, you have a choice: You could do this one, or the previous one. )

Stephen: If you have a weak stomach, I would normally suggest you tune out. However, today, you need to see this, weak stomach or not.

Page 2, Panel 4

Push in to Stephen who is seen kicking in the Authorized Personnel Only door. (And this is the reason why I placed the characters for you. If he’s kicking in the door, the door has to be in front of him, or at the very least, behind him if he’s facing the camera, but it still needs to be in front of us. The way it was placed, the door would be behind the boom guy, which isn’t the case. You have to do better.)

Page 2, Panel 5

The inside of the Authorized Personnel Only room is now seen. It is filled to overflowing with patients that should for all intents and purposes be dead. They lay or sit on a sea of hospital beds pushed tightly together. There are no heart rate monitors, or any of the other machines normally seen in hospital rooms. There are car accident victims missing limbs, gunshot victims, and other unpleasant people moaning in eternal misery, begging for death, if they still even have the capacity to speak. In the doorway, Stephen has dropped his microphone and stands stunned.

(No sound or dialogue? It’s a silent misery?)

No Text

Page 2, Panel 5 (This is panel six.) (Remember what I said before about keeping the panel numbering straight? Yeah, I’m often wrong, but not because I’m incorrect. It’s because the writers go out of their way to make me wrong.)

Push in on a side angle of a Hispanic gunshot victim. He is clearly a gang member with a shaven head and a long shite t-shirt. He has multiple tattoos on his neck and what is left of his head. There is a large hole where his left eye should be, and a massive hole where the back of his head should be. He is screaming in unspeakable agony.

No text

I’m not involved in this story at all. There’s no cohesion, just a bunch of random cut ins. Pick a location in time and stay there for a bit. Allow the reader to get grounded. I’d recommend starting with this Stephen guy, and using panel five as a reveal/hook.

P2 is on the books.

Still haven’t set the LOD, because this page seems to be a bit more interesting.

However, we do have a case of the dropsies. Here, there should be more world-building going on, and we instead have a total lack of anything happening to push the story forward and tell exactly what’s going on.

Yes, I understand that the goal is to have the art tell the story. However, having the panels be silent isn’t helping the reader any. This could be the rictus of death being shown on faces. Without the moans, it’s hard to tell.

Now, as before, there are assumptions being made. How does the signal get sent out? How does the reader know the broadcast is illegal? I won’t even get into the fact that he not only got into what should be a restricted area, but that he brought in two other people plus equipment with him. There are no guards. That seems curious to me, but it happens when you want to force actions in order to move the story forward.

No, I’m not happy about it. I don’t like forced actions that defy logic.

Page 3

Page 3, Panel 1

Pull out on a burning city from the year 2000. Cars and buildings are seen in flames. Looters are seen running along the streets carrying various items. Some can be seen throwing trash cans through the windows of buildings.

Journal: As you can imagine, once the population discovered the gravity of the situation, things became miserable in the blink of an eye. (How would you even cover something like this up, though? Surely everyone would have realized the second someone didn’t die from an accident. Which happen on a daily basis.)(I work in 911. Imagine how many fatal accidents I’ve been on the phone with. There’s no real way to cover this up, but I’ll go along with the story. However, how is the reader supposed to know what year it is?)

Page 3, Panel 2

Pull out on a completely felled forest. There will be only the stumps of trees for countless miles. In the foreground we see a brown bear that will soon starve without the proper resources to feed it. Carrion eating birds circle above the empty forest, waiting for a final meal.

Journal: Within five years, most of the Earth’s resources had been completely depleted. It’s not like humanity was exactly good about conservation before all this went down; however, without the natural cycle of life, they created a wasteland in no time.

Page 3, Panel 3

Here we see a series of 20 story apartment building in their early form, as they would have been seen in the year 2000.

Ari’s Journal: Within 10 years, there was nowhere left to put the hordes of humanity that just kept coming, and coming, and coming.

Page 3, Panel 4

The same set of buildings is now seen with 10 more layers added on to them. The colors of the new layers are mismatched, and the construction has a rushed and crude appearance. This would show the urgency with which they were built.

Journal: With no other apparent options, buildings just kept getting taller, and taller, and taller.

Page 3, Panel 5

Again the same buildings are seen with at least 50 new layers added on. As the layers ascend, the construction appears sloppier and sloppier. By the top layers, there is no longer any paint, just grey stucco, which gives the walls an unfinished raw look. There are also significant gaps between the windows and outer walls that would lead top residents to frequent exposure and illness.

Ari’s Journal: Before long, the skyline was filled with monstrosities not fit to house rodents.

You’re just throwing information at the reader. No story at all. Just bits of exposition. And it’s boring exposition. Why should we care that buildings got taller?

P3 is down.

This page is boring. I don’t feel anything for any of the people shown so far. Their plight isn’t personal to me. The reason for that is because there isn’t one person we’re following. We’re getting an overview of the world as it is, which is good, but we don’t know who’s giving us the exposition we’re getting. We’re just left to wonder.

We’re also not getting all of the information that we could. It’s coming out piecemeal. Basically, when you remember to put in a caption. Not good.

This is P3. This is the point in the story where the reader normally goes what’s going on here? and expects something of an answer. There are no answers here, and there are no questions. There are happenings, and that’s all. The normal questions that should be asked aren’t, and that is because you haven’t provided the reader with enough information

In order for this to be viable, the reader needs to know at least some things. They don’t know anything.

Here’s what’s happened so far: someone gives birth and then dies. A reporter who’s been fired finds a cache of people who are all severely injured—we don’t know if they’re dead, dying, or living and being tortured because they’re not dead. And then there’s a tenement that’s been built to house people with intimations of population explosion but nothing coming out and saying so.

Three pages, and they have the most tenuous of connections to one another.

What’s the timeframe? I don’t know, and neither does the reader. The creative team does, but that doesn’t help the reader at all. They aren’t going to read the script. And if they do, it’s because they’re bored, or they’re looking for something. (Maybe they’d be interested in seeing an annotated script, but those people are going to be few and far between.)

Where’s the story? Where’s the reason for readers to continue to turn the page? It isn’t here.

The real problem is this: you’re trying to build the world, and you’re giving a bunch of backstory and you’re finding it interesting. It isn’t. Backstory is the reason we have a present story. Backstory isn’t important until someone asks for it. What happened to bring us/you to this point? That’s when you launch into the backstory. Right now, you’re giving information that hasn’t been asked for, and you’re boring the hell out of the reader instead of telling them something interesting. If you’re interesting, readers will follow you all the way to the end.

You just have to give them a reason to follow you.

Cut all of this. No one wants to read this. They want to read the inciting incident and be swept along from there.

Page 4

Page 4, Panel 1

The camera man from earlier is seen sitting at a table with his left arm extended. He is 20 years older, and the years have taken a toll on him. There are multiple scars on his face, over which he has grown a patchy grey beard. His once large stomach is now thin. An attractive brunette nurse, in a white uniform, holds a strange looking gun to his wrist inserting a chip in his arm. In the background, we see a room full of many others also receiving chips.

Journal: Within twenty years, the world was irreversibly overpopulated (There’s no such thing. There are ways. Stop having sex.). They outfitted each existing citizen with a microchip in their arms. These chips verified that they were approved citizens of the surface cities. Each city was equipped with scanners to assure that all citizens had their chips. (Yawn.) (Backstory.)

Page 5, Panel 2 (Wait, what? Did we miss a page? Or did you just forget to proofread?) (Yeah, like I said, the mechanism to help keep things straight…broken, because writers want to prove me wrong.)

Mr. and Mrs. Ayala are seen embracing each other in the front of a small apartment. Mrs. Ayala is clutching a paper in her right hand. Some words of the paper can be seen. It contains the text from the next panel. She holds her husband warmly, who embraces her stiffly in return. Their apartment is larger than the older woman’s; however, it is still incredibly small by today’s standards. On the left wall, there is a small couch with burlap cushions. On the back wall, there is a small frameless bed. On the right wall is a small kitchen area. The stove is a wood burning stove. A fire can be seen burning at the bottom. However, it is not wood that burns. Instead, it is dried human feces. (Would that even work? Actually, I don’t care.)(It would work, and no, no one will really see the detail and care.)

Journal: Finally, after way too many years, the government finally stepped in to limit births. (Finally. And too many finallys.)

Page 5, Panel 3

The paper congratulating Mr. and Mrs. Ayala is seen close up.

March 1, 2175

Mr. and Mrs. Ayala,

Congratulations, you have been permitted the opportunity to take place in a live birth. As you are aware, there are many applicants who desire this luxury. Therefore, you have exactly one year from this date to conceive and complete the birthing process. It you fail to meet this deadline, you will forfeit the birthing opportunity and will be forced to wait 6 months before applying for future births. Upon completing the live birth, your child will be fitted with proper chips and paperwork.


Dr. Nix

Payne County Medical Center

At the bottom of the letter, there will be a government seal written in the Wiccan alphabet spelling infinity . (Yeah. First, that letter is kinda long. It might not be able to be shown in its entirety. Second, I don’t know why you want the Theban alphabet to spell infinity. Doesn’t make sense. Third, here lies the Line of Demarcation.)

Page 5, Panel 4

In this panel, we see an attractive woman with a huge baby bump. She is wearing a beautiful black future dress, and has waist length blond hair. She is standing on black sand next to a polluted beach. (What time of day is it? Why is she even here? What does this panel have to do with anything? Where’s the text that should be going along with this? Why am I even bothering to ask?)

P4 is done, contrary to what the panel description numbering says. And this is crap. We can all let go that sigh of relief since it’s now official, and we can put our energy into just making it to the end.

Everything that’s happened so far is nothing but backstory. I don’t care about it. I want to read the actual story itself. The backstory is there to inform the story, not to actually be the story.

Go study any popular comic, novel, film, or show. If they don’t start out in media res, they will either start with character or with action. They will then do their best to get the audience engrossed in the story, and then sometime before the end of that tale, the backstory will come out. It will come out during the most interesting part, because the backstory is what drives the rest of the tale.

Why is this crap? Because the story hasn’t started yet. You’re doing everything in your power to get the reader to turn away from the tale, instead of trying to get them to read. Jumping from place to place and ‘splainin’ is only hurting your effort. Find the protagonist, get them moving, and get the story started. We’re four pages in and we still haven’t gotten an inciting incident. I know you think we have, but believe me when I say that we haven’t.

You, Edward, have to learn how to tell a story in general, not just for comics. This isn’t it.

Journal: Giving birth then became something that was only allowed by a strict lottery. Only 100 births were permitted per year in each city. Lottery babies were then given chips and welcomed into society. Unfortunately, humans are animals who don’t seem to have the ability to stop fucking and reproducing, which led to countless unchipped babies. Page 5 (Your page number has become lost in a panel description? Yeah, that about shows the level of care you’ve put into this, and the amount of respect you have for people who edit your work.) (And here is where the Flawless Victory is lost.)

This matters to nobody. This is just information. I could read a wikipedia article and get the same thing. And yes, that was satire about how fictional wikis can be.

Page 5, Panel 1 (This is page six, I think. I’m not entirely sure anymore. Pages are just colliding into each other.) (No, this is the real P5.)

Hundreds of babies are seen in front of the hospital from page 3. (Just sat there?) The hospital looks much the same as it did aside from the added layers placed on all of the buildings. The construction looks better than that of the houses. However, it is still crude and looks much like a three year old’s stacked blocks. The now incomplete name P..NE Vall.. Cen.. is seen. (What?)

Ari’s Journal: Unchipped babies Well let’s just say things didn’t go very well for them. At first, the parents of these illegal babies thought it would be a good idea to leave these babies in front of hospital doorsteps like they had done in the past. After all, it was a policy that had served their decedents well in the past. (Edward so wanted to use a big word here. However, it got screwed up. Decedent is a person who’s died. You probably wanted to use the word descendant , but that’s also wrong, because that’s what comes after you (your children). The real word you wanted to use was ancestor. Ancestors are those who have come before you, such as your parents and grandparents. If you aren’t sure, there are dictionaries. If you don’t want to drag out the tome and look it up, there’s always the internet. Takes only a couple of moments.)

Page 6, Panel 2 (Again? Really? It’s that difficult to keep track of your page numbers? You can’t just take the few moments to look up and see where you left off?)

Dr. Mann and Dr. Nix are seen in the foreground. Dr. Mann is seen, full bodied, picking up one child from the mass of illegally born children. Next to him, Dr. Nix picks up another child. Dr. Nix is a short curvy woman with a friendly attractive face. She has curly brown hair that rests just above her chin. Dr. Mann is tall, slender, and attractive. He has cropped hair and a neat brown beard. She and Dr. Mann wear draping white lab coats similar to the trench coats worn by citizens.

Journal: Parents watched hopefully as their burdensome bundles of joy were picked up and carried inside by Caring doctors. (Why is the word caring capitalized? Why do Ewoks and Mogwai and Treasure Trolls look similar in the face? Why am I asking questions that no one knows the answers to?)

Page 6, panel 3

Dr. Nix is seen close up holding a baby in each arm. Her face is twisted in a dark grin.

No text

Page 6, Panel 3 (I’m not even surprised now.) (Care, like a chicken, has flown the coop.)

Here we see a panel with nothing but flames and the outer grey edges of an incinerator touching the edges of the panel.

Journal: Unfortunately, by the time they learned what hospitals were really doing with their babies, it was far too late.

This is awful. I would rather incinerate a baby than read more of this. Now, you could probably accuse me of being disrespectful with that comment, but I’m only giving you back what you’re giving me; a total lack of care. I don’t care about this. And neither do you, judging by the lack of proofreading. This is a series of unconnected events vaguely tied together with exposition from an unknown source. There’s no character to cling to, no logical plot to follow, no real dialogue to pull us in.

Rewrite. Rewrite. Rewrite.

Think about how you can pull the reader in and anchor them. Start in a definable time and proceed with actual storytelling.

Liam has stopped, so I can stop to. Let’s run this down!

Format: Format is basically about the elements, not keeping track of them. You missed the page break for P5. It’s that simple. Losing track of where you’re at three times, though? Inexcusable.

Panel Descriptions: Strangely specific to start out with, and then it just kinda went vague enough to be drawn. I’m surprised there’s no talk of fillings in someone’s teeth…

Cut down on the words in the panel descriptions. They aren’t helping you to tell the story. Most of the time, they shouldn’t be more than 50 words. That could probably be doubled for establishing shots, but not much more than that. There comes a point in time when more words just gives diminishing returns.

You also have to learn how to break out your elements better. Things that are for the letterer need to be labeled as such. They should be able to see what they need to do, and not wade through the script and reading everything. That’s a good way to piss them off and make them not want to work with you again unless you pay them really well.

Dialogue: It isn’t interesting at all, and the reader may be wondering whose journal we’re reading, and why. At no point in time is there any indication given as to whose journal this is. It’s just some random person’s. The journal gives a lot of information, but since it’s basically just a history lesson, there’s no connection to anything, so there’s no feeling for anything that’s happening. Dialogue is supposed to reveal character or move plot. This fails to do either.

Pacing: Absolutely terrible. The story doesn’t start here, so there’s no story. Five pages, and we’re still story-less. And the things that do happen are lurching from one location to another, from one timeframe to another, and not once does the reader know where they’re at. It makes for uninteresting reading. Again, this is all backstory, and it’s only interesting once things have actually happened. Nothing happens. If there was a speedometer for pacing, it would read zero.

Content: Crap. As a reader, I’d be unhappy with getting all this backstory that’s trying to pass itself off as story. Uninteresting.

Editorially, this needs a complete rewrite. Too wordy by far, with no real movement or connection to anything. This is because you’re telling about the world instead of letting the reader experience it and get answers organically.

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

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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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