TPG Week 48: Dialogue Should Teach Something

| November 25, 2011 | 4 Comments

Hello, and welcome back to another round of The Proving Grounds! Today, we have returning Brave One Jon Parrish! Let’s see what he brings us, in

Tales of Crimson Avenue

[Page 1][3 Panels]

Panel 1: A side view of Mark, wearing a white winter coat, sneakers and black jeans, sitting on a swing in the middle of an abandoned playground looking up at the snow lightly falling to the ground on a winter night. (Okay. Right off the bat, this is confusing. Let’s get this reworded so that it makes more sense. Evan! Let’s see how you do with it. And don’t forget to ask my famous question.)


Panel 2 (inset): A downward view of a gloved hand offering him a warm coffee cup with the lid on it. (Okay, why is this panel inset to the first? Oh! Looking down, I see what you did. I’ll beat you up for it in a minute.)

REGGIE (op): You look like you could use a pick me up.

Panel 3 (inset): A shot of Mark looking up to see Reggie, wearing a blue goose down jacket, baggy black jeans, and boots, smiling down at him while still offering the cup. (Why is this panel also inset?)

MARK: Reggie?

REGGIE: What’s up, kid?

Okay. Here’s what we have that’s going on. The confusing first panel is really a splash page, and the two panels after that are both insets of that page. Got it. Why am I beating you up over it? Because in order to have Reggie appear out of nowhere, you have to be damned close up on Mark in the large panel. That means you’re not going to get much of anything else, because you’re then cheating with Border Time in having Reggie appearing with a cup of coffee. It can’t happen, because you’re saying that the panels that are inset to the large panel are part of that timeframe, and they aren’t. So, you’re going to have to break these two panels out into their own timeframes. However, that isn’t going to work, either, because you’re still going to have to be right up on Mark. You’re not going to be able to see anything else, and if you pull out, then you’re going to see Reggie, so that he’s not magically delicious. You might want to do this from Reggie’s pov. Something to think about. And as a page, this is pretty weak. There’s nothing here that makes me want to turn the page. The good part is that you’ve gotten Reggie’s name in there organically.

[Page 2][5 Panels]

Panel 1: A shot of Mark walking away from the bench. Reggie is standing behind him with a look of confusion on his face and his arms outstretched. (Bench? What bench? That bench is magically delicious. Mark was on a swing. You said it. I can go back and show you.)

REGGIE: Yo Mark, what’s your problem? (Comma-fail.)

Panel 2: A side shot of Mark walking away. Reggie is close behind him with the arm holding the cup outstretched. (Covered the distance kinda fast, didn’t he? But I can let that go.)

MARK: Get away from me!

REGGIE: Man, I’m just trying to help.

Panel 3: A close-up of Mark looking back in anger.

MARK: Help?

Panel 4: A shot of Mark slapping the cup out of Reggie’s hand.



Panel 5: A shot of the cup spilling into the snow. It’s not filled with coffee, but with a warmed red liquid. Steam is rising from the liquid.

MARK (op): This is your fault, you piece of shit!

This page is made better because of the last panel.

[Page 3][4 Panels]

Panel 1: A side shot of Mark screaming at Reggie. His fangs should be showing.

MARK: I wouldn’t need help if it wasn’t for you!

Panel 2: A bust shot of Reggie. (What does his expression say?)

MARK (op): You wanted to go to that abandoned church. You knew what was in there.

Panel 3: A shot of Mark pointing at his fangs angrily.

MARK: Now look at me, I’m a fucking freak! (I wouldn’t use a comma here. I’d use another exclamation point. So, this is a different kind of comma-fail, because you want a hard stop, not a soft pause.)

REGGIE (op): It’s not so ba–

Panel 4: A side shot of Mark pointing at Reggie. (Expression?)

MARK: That’s what pisses me off the most!

MARK 2: You’re enjoying this!

I love character pieces. I like the emotion that is generally inherent in them. Call me a sucker for them. However, this seems just a tad bit forced to me. Just a feeling I have. I’m not connecting emotionally here. Maybe soon. However, this is another page that is better than the first. I’d combine that first page with the second, and keep it moving, freeing up a page for more story. Right now, that first page is looking like padding.

[Page 4][5 Panels]

Panel 1: A bust shot of Mark looking upset.

MARK: You might have hated your old life, but I didn’t.

Panel 2: A two shot of Reggie looking slightly upset. Mark facing away from him and is wiping his eyes.

MARK: I miss my family.

MARK 2: I want to go home.


Panel 3: A close-up of Reggie’s hand on Mark’s shoulder. (Connor, what is this panel doing?)

REGGIE (op): I’m sorry.

Panel 4: A side shot of Mark knocking Reggie’s hand away.

MARK: Don’t touch me!

Panel 5: A shot of Mark and Reggie looking at the reader. (Expressions?)

EZEKIEL (op): Now, now

[Page 5][2 Panels]

Panel 1: A full page shot of Ezekiel, with his arms crossed, standing in front of four other black gangsters. Each of them should have a red bandanna on. Each person is wearing it differently (tied around the head, over their mouth bandit style, etc).

EZEKIEL: As much as I would love to see how this lovers quarrel will play out

Panel 2: A bust shot of Ezekiel with a slight smirk.

EZEKIEL: Why don’t you two just kiss and make up?

Okay, this just went back on the shelf. I get that this is a short story, but right now, it isn’t doing anything for me at all. It’s leaving me cold. I’m bored, Jon. And as I’ve said time and again, boring is death.

[Page 6][3 Panels]

Panel 1: A two shot of Reggie and Mark. Reggie is looking at the reader and flipping the bird. Mark looks somewhat nervous.

REGGIE: Man, fuck you.

Panel 2: A side shot of Ezekiel pointing at the reader. (Expression?)

EZEKIEL: I’d watch my mouth if I were you.

Panel 3: A two shot of Reggie and Mark looking back over their shoulders. (Expressions?)

EZEKIEL (op): My friends don’t take too kindly to potty mouths.

[Page 7][5 Panels]

Panel 1: A shot of several other gang members standing behind them. Also wearing red bandannas.


Panel 2: A shot of Reggie smirking.

REGGIE: What? Are we supposed to be afraid of you? (See this? This is an example of bad dialogue.)

Panel 3: A shot of Reggie baring his fangs.

REGGIE: Please. We’re at the top of the food chain. (Ah! I get it! This is supposed to be a late 80s movie, right? Because that’s the only way this dialogue fits. Either that, or as an Asylum movie.)

Panel 4: A side shot of Reggie dashing toward Ezekiel.

REGGIE: And you’re my newest meal. (I feel more one-liners coming.)

Panel 5: A close-up of Ezekiel’s hand gripping Reggie by his throat. (This panel isn’t doing anything. It’s a close-up of a hand gripping a throat. You might get some chin in. Where’s the drama in that? Yannick, what would make this more dramatic?)


[Page 8][5 Panels]

Panel 1: A side shot of Ezekiel holding Reggie up by his throat. (Expressions?)

EZEKIEL: Not even close.

REGGIE: But how? (Another example of bad dialogue. Remember the early 80s in Marvel comics, where the bulk of the characters were Captain Obvious? That’s the feeling I have right here. Instead of Reggie choking, he’s asking a question. Unrealistic.)

Panel 2: A close-up of Ezekiel grinning, revealing fangs. (That page that was saved? You could use it right here as a splash page. Combine the previous panel with this one, so Reg is being held up by Zeke as Zeke shows his fangs. That would be a dramatic page just by itself. You might also want to try to get Mark in there. He hasn’t done anything but complain, and hasn’t been seen for 2 pages.)

EZEKIEL: I love when outsiders get turned

Panel 3: A shot of Reggie looking worried.

EZEKIEL (op): You always think that you’re the only vampires on the block. (In order to keep this line the way it is, you have to add some words to the previous panel. Like you comes to mind. Otherwise, in this panel, you should really be they. )

Panel 4: A close-up of Ezekiel with an evil grin.

EZEKIEL: It’s almost too easy.

[Page 9][5 Panels]

Panel 1: A shot of Ezekiel punching Reggie in the face.


Panel 2: A side shot of Mark getting punch in the back of the head. (By whom? Can we see his attacker?)


Panel 3: A shot of the vampire gang members jumping Mark and Reggie while Ezekiel watches with his arms crossed.


Panel 4: A shot of Reggie and Mark curled up in the fetal position as their getting kicked around.


Panel 5: A close-up of Ezekiel snapping his fingers. (This panel isn’t doing anything. You have a lot of those. What is this panel doing as a page turn? What makes the reader want to turn the page? The interesting thing is that you don’t see too many physical beat-downs of vampires. Usually, one is trying to kill the other.)

EZEKIEL (op): Enough.

[Page 10][3 Panels]

Panel 1: A shot of the vampire gang members looking up. Some have their fists pulled back.

EZEKIEL (op): I think they get the point.

Panel 2: A shot of the vampire gang members backing away from Reggie and Mark who are on the ground beaten and bloody.

EZEKIEL (op): Let that be a lesson to you. There’s always someone bigger

Panel 3: A bird’s eye view of Reggie and Mark lying in the foreground beaten as the gang members walk away in the background.

EZEKIEL: Welcome to Crimson Ave.

[Page 11][1 Panel]

Panel 1: A downward shot of Reggie and Mark on their backs in the snow. Both of them are looking at the sky.

MARK 1: Reggie?


MARK 2: Do me a favor. Watch the sunrise.

CAP: The End

Yeah, I know. Eleven pages. But it wasn’t fair to leave it, and I’d just have to explain it, anyway. Don’t worry. It won’t happen often.

Okay, let’s run it down.

Format: Flawless victory! But to tell the truth, I wasn’t expecting anything less from Jon.

Panel Descriptions: You start out confusing, have a magically delicious moment or two, but then you settled into things that can be drawn. Just remember your facial expressions, and to think visually.

Pacing: Not good. You’ve got what I now have no choice but to call padding for the first page, and then you have panels that aren’t doing a thing to push the story forward or to reveal character. I think some panels were added just because you didn’t want to have a fast read. I’d call that a poor decision. Every panel should add something. If it doesn’t, then you did something wrong.

Dialogue: Like I said before, it left me cold. And then, you delved into the land of cliché. (An aside: my spell check just corrected cliché, adding the accent over the e, and then put a red line under it, saying it’s spelled wrong. LOVE IT!)

The good parts of the dialogue is that you have Reggie and Mark named organically. The unforgivable sin is that Zeke is never named where a reader can see it. Bad dialogue can be overlooked, but not naming a character cannot.

Dialogue is supposed to heighten the art. The art should tell the story all by itself, and the dialogue should add depth to it. You’re supposed to learn things through dialogue. What have we learned here, or inferred?

Mark is a new vampire, and that Reggie is the cause of it somehow. Mark wants his old life back. Reggie thinks highly of himself because he’s a vampire, and he may be newly turned, as well.

That’s it. That’s all we’ve learned, and it took 11 pages to learn it. That’s criminal.

Content: Sure, we’ve got a beginning, middle, and end to the story. Technically, this is a complete story. However, stories should also have a point. I’m not seeing any reason for being for this story. Nothing compelling happens at all. It’s pretty random. It’s like hearing a story about a bar fight, but at least those are told in either a humorous tone, or in a this is what happened over the weekend type of thing. This is apropos of nothing. What does the reader come away with?

Editorially, this would get a complete rewrite. This is unpublishable. Nothing happens. I recently watched an episode of The Twilight Zone that shocked me. Boxing for humans had been outlawed, so boxing was done by robots. This one guy, desperate for money, has an old boxing robot in need of repair. It breaks down before the fight, so the guy gets in the ring instead, and gets beat down. The end. Didn’t seem very Twilight Zone-ish to me. There was nothing strange in it, and the characters didn’t seem to learn anything. It was just a story of a guy doing what he thought he needed to do.

There’s even less going on here. You took 11 pages to do nothing. While there’s a story here in the strictest sense of the word, there’s no real STORY here. There’s no theme. There’s nothing learned. It’s a story of a bar fight. This needs a complete rewrite, with the editor asking lots of questions, the answers to which would lead to an actual story being told.

So, no. This is not good.

One more thing:

The call is still open! If you want to see The Proving Grounds continue, then I need more Brave Ones to submit scripts. Those of you who have submitted, I thank you. For those of you thinking about submitting, you really have nothing to lose, and everything to gain. This column lives and dies by participation. I literally cannot do it without you.

And that’s all I have for this week. Check the calendar to see who’s up 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 (4)

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  1. Evan Windsor says:

    Panel 1: A side view of Mark, wearing a white winter coat, sneakers and black jeans, sitting on a swing in the middle of an abandoned playground looking up at the snow lightly falling to the ground on a winter night. (Okay. Right off the bat, this is confusing. Let’s get this reworded so that it makes more sense. Evan! Let’s see how you do with it. And don’t forget to ask my famous question.)

    Here goes: Three problems.

    1) There is a character description for Mark. This should be in a different document.

    2) “looking up at the snow lightly falling to the ground on a winter night” is prose writing.

    3) The famous question: “Where is the camera?”

    So lets answer that question: you did say “side view”, but didn’t specify “close-up”, “medium” or “wide”. Since this is page 1, panel 1, this panel should (among other things) serve as an establishing shot. So lets go medium or wide. And on top of that, as a bit of personal flair, with him looking up, I think an elevated or birds-eye might be a bit better. In addition, a medium elevated shot shows enough of the world around him to show that he is alone, and does a pretty good job of setting the “lonely” tone that I think you were going for.

    So here’s my take on the panel.

    Panel 1: Medium, elevated shot, night. Mark sits on a swingset in an abandoned playground. He looks up, an introspective look on his face. It is snowing.

    39 words down to 25, all the relevant information is still there, plus some extra stuff that will help your artist.

  2. Conner MacDonald. says:

    Panel 2: A two shot of Reggie looking slightly upset. Mark facing away from him and is wiping his eyes.

    MARK: I miss my family.

    MARK 2: I want to go home.

    REGGIE: Damn.

    Panel 3: A close-up of Reggie’s hand on Mark’s shoulder. (Connor, what is this panel doing?)

    REGGIE (op): I’m sorry.

    The panel is doing nothing but wasting space on the page? Could just have his hand on Mark’s shoulder in panel 2.

  3. Jon Parrish says:

    Agh! 0-2 this week. I think I need to work on short stories more because I can’t get the pacing down. But yes, there is a lot of padding. I was trying to make it “artistic”. I was trying to make it very visual (a la how it would look as a movie or cartoon), but I can see that did not work. I just gave things beats that probably didn’t need them.

    Yeah, this needs a lot of work.

    Thank you for the look. This probably will get a re-write or get turned into a completely different story.

    Thanks again.

  4. “Panel 5: A close-up of Ezekiel’s hand gripping Reggie by his throat. (This panel isn’t doing anything. It’s a close-up of a hand gripping a throat. You might get some chin in. Where’s the drama in that? Yannick, what would make this more dramatic?)”

    Drama is action. You can’t have drama is nothing is happening. In fact, the word “drama” is an ancient Greek word that *means* “action”.

    Here, you have a panel of a hand gripping a throat. Since we’re in a static picture medium, you can’t really show the act of grabbing. All we’ll see is some guy’s hand on a throat, assuming we can even recognize whose hand and throat those are in a close-up shot.

    And really, we can detect the same problem throughout the whole comic: shots that are void of drama, shots that fail to advance the plot, to show any action whatsoever.

    Just in this page:

    Panel 1: People standing around instead of advancing on the two young vampires.
    Panel 2: Reggie smiling and
    Panel 3: Reggie baring his fangs – Why not do both at the same time?
    Panel 4: Reggie running towards Ezekiel – Finally! Something’s happening!
    Panel 5: A close-up during a fight

    Pet peeve: Close-ups shouldn’t happen in fights unless you’re showing an important detail that could be lost to the reader in all of the manic action that’s going on. There’s none of that here.

    Show someone DOING something. You need movement, expressions and surprise. Because drama also comes from tension and tension is produced by creating expectations that are then dashed. You’re at the end of an odd-numbered page here, just before a page-turn, so create an expectation that you can blow on the next page.

    People are expecting a fight? Set up a fight. Cut short on Reggie’s bravado, have him charge at Ezekiel and then end you page with the shock between the two vampire.

    Page 7
    Panel 1: The vampire gang circling the two guys like a wolf pack.
    Panel 2: A bit of well-worded bravado by Reggie in a combat stance while the pack still circles them
    Panel 3: Reggie barreling towards Ezekiel
    Panel 4: WHAM! Reggie connects with Ezekiel with a tremendous shock!

    Page 8
    Panel 1: But what’s this? Ezekiel has Reggie by the throat!

    See how there’s basically the same sequence of events except now we have some action. And where there’s action, there’s drama.

    Final note: Sorry for the lateness and not being my usual long-winded self. I’ve come down with something and it’s really eatin’ into me noggin’.

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