TPG Week 57: Don’t Be Highbrow

| January 27, 2012 | 14 Comments


Hello, and welcome back to another installment of The Proving Grounds! This week, we have Brave One Kyle Raios joining us once again.

I’m also trying an experiment for the next few weeks. Let’s see how you like it/how it goes over.

Anyway, Kyle brings us

Element – Forces of Nature pt. 1

Page 1

Panel 1: Largest panel on the page, covering the top half of the page, maybe a little less. Aerial shot of the final battle of Titanomachy. From here we can see the fighting: (These two sentences could have replaced by something simpler: Wide elevated of a battle. Don’t go into details that have no bearing on the artist’s work like specifying it’s the final battle of Titanomachy . However, a detail he’s going to need to know is what the décor looks like. Apart from the chaos-tinged sky, these people are fighting on a bright spotless linoleum floor.) Hades and the creatures of Chaos (a Chimera, centaur, skeletal soldiers with their skin pulled very tight over their bones, and a Cyclops,but not one of them can be a Hydra, nor a Minotaur here.) Poseidon and Atlas duel; Zeus and Kronos (Zeus is both armoured and earthed up in this, in the same way that Element will be in his own earthed up form, and Kronos has a chaotic aura about him here., separated by about twenty feet, their respective weapons (spear and staff raised). The sky is swirling with Chaos; a mix of dark purple, and a putrid green. Zeus’ spear is serrated and edged in the lightning shape in the front and back, with the centre of it a smooth and long shaft so that Zeus may hold it. Krono’s staff is smooth on the shaft, but swirls at the end: think Dragon Age mage stave: up this panel description: you have character details mixed in with character placement. Character details should go in the character descriptions document. Also take care to order your elements in the same order they appear in the panel: from front to back or from left to right. Is there anything more important than the rest? Should anything mentioned here take centre stage in this panel?)

Caption: For ten years, the battles raged.

Panel 2: Zoom in now on the fight between Hades and at least a dozen chaotic minions of Kronos. (To show one character battling a dozen others, you’ll need a wide shot.) He is hitting two with a tremendous wave of fire, while impaling another through the chest with his spear. Hades’ arms are bleeding, as well is his forehead, cut open like that of a wrestler – think Ric Flair, he always bled well.

Caption: It was brutal.

Panel 3: Poseidon is tangled with Atlas. (What’s the shot? An what does tangled mean here? What is it they’re doing exactly?) One arm hangs uselessly in front, clearly broken. Atlas is not without his share of blood. An open, festering wound on his right side is clearly hurting him, his tee (Who’s arm is clearly broken? I shouldn’t have to infer that it is Poseidon’s. It should be clear. Where’s the rest of this description?)

Caption: It was savage.

Panel 4: Low angle. (You only specified the angle of the shot. What’s the shot framing?) Zeus and Kronos clash in a burst of chaos that blocks all background imagery from the shot. (This tells me almost exactly nothing.)

Caption: It was war.

Okay, as a page, this doesn’t work all that well. You’ve got four panels—one large and three smaller—and they aren’t telling the story well. Immediately, the reader is going to have questions: who are these people fighting, why are they fighting, and why are the captions so cliché? It’s the captions that are doing the most harm on this first page, Kyle. The purpose of dialogue is to heighten the meaning of the illustrations. The illustrations depict war. Saying It was war does little more than insult the intelligence of the reader. Don’t do that. You have space for at least 200 words here. At least. You used 15. Imagine the amount of story you could have gotten across with another 185 words on the page (including a different 15). Don’t get so caught up in trying to be clever and intriguing that you forget to tell the story. Identify people, tell the reader why they’re fighting, and make sure the stakes are understood. You could have done all of that in 100 words, with another 100 for expansion.

Page 2

Panel 1: The force of last panel’s impact has sent both combatants flying. Here, we have a close up of Zeus, no longer earthed up. He is clearly a younger man here than often depicted. His hair is blonde, (To the character description document with this information!) not the traditionally thought white, and tangled, caked with blood and sweat. He looks at the camera directly, with an exasperated look. (No, you can’t just state in your panel description that both characters have been sent flying and then set this up as a close-up. We need to see both Zeus and Kronos being knocked away one from the other in order to plug up that big hole in border time you got here.)


Panel 2: And here we have a close up of Kronos. (If we can see his body and his attempt at pulling himself up, it’s technically not a close-up. It’s more of a tight medium shot.) He is on his knees, his head lowered. Both his hands grip his staff in an attempt to pull himself up. The aura of Chaos is no longer around him. (What’s his expression?)


Panel 3: Medium shot, side view. Zeus now stands, rearing back, holding his signature lightning bolt shaped spear, in that classic, Greek spear throwing position. Blood is caked on his chest and armour, as well as his face and ruffled, tangled hair.

Caption: And then, with one fell strike

Panel 4: Medium shot, side view. Kronos is impaled with the spear through his chest. As this happens, the sheer force of the impact sends Kronos off the ground. Think 300 here for a good reference. I prefer more Greek-accurate sources, but this one is good for this shot.

Caption: It was over. (When speech trails off with an ellipsis at the end of a dialogue line only to continue on another line (caption or speech bubble), the second line must start with an ellipsis. This is a standard comic book punctuation error that an experienced letterer should pick up, but better not take any chances.)

And again, another page that isn’t done that well. It’s building on the foundation set on the first page. More fighting, which is great, but no one is going to know who these people are. You haven’t named a single character where a reader can see it, and when you de-aged Zeus, you threw more readers for a loop, so they have absolutely no idea of whom they’re looking at.

And again, the captions. Four panels, nine words. This is going to be an extremely quick read. Here’s what reading a caption does: mentally, people sit back, and they have the story told to them. They aren’t engaged in the story, because nothing is happening in real time. You want the reader to be engaged. That means having characters speak. This will make the reader sit up in engagement.

Don’t fall into the trap, though. The trap is trying to mask exposition as dialogue. Don’t fall for it. Have the dialogue be worthy of being on the page without being obvious about it being exposition.


Page 3


Panel 1: A bloody hand being chained to a stone table, the fingers outstretched. (What’s the shot here? I’m assuming a close-up but then you still have to show enough of the stone table that the reader will understand what it is. Also try to specify what you mean by outstretched : with pain? with effort? It probably won’t look the same for the artist.)

Caption: Battered and badly wounded, he was imprisoned in the darkness of Tartarus. (We’re starting on page 3 and so far no one’s been named yet. This makes it impossible to know who he is here.)

Panel 2: A lone flame, billowing in an unseen wind, lit atop a torch with a long, stone base shaft beneath it. (Close-up? Medium shot? How much of the background you want to see here if any?)

Caption: Chained and bound to the stone table, in the lowest chamber, where no light may ever shine, save for a lone torch, forever ablaze.

Panel 3: A panel of complete blackness. (Here you have a page with only three panels – one of them completely black – where absolutely NOTHING is happening. Kyle Raios, I find you guilty of PADDING and sentence you to move the first two panels up to page 2 and to destroy the last one!)

Caption: There he lay, thousands of years, drifting ever closer to madness

Ungood. In three pages, you’ve done nothing that couldn’t have been done in two panels. Literally. Okay, fine. Three panels. Three panels and less than 100 words. This is back on the shelf. After three pages, this is what the reader knows: nothing. They don’t know who’s fighting, they don’t know why these beings are fighting, and you haven’t made them care enough to find out. You’ve given them no reason at all to spend money. Not good.

Condense. Condense these pages down to a single page, and start telling the story.

Page 4

Panel 1: Far off shot of the stone table where Kronos lies. (Do we see this from the side? From above? Camera distance is there but no angle!) He is only a silhouette here, writhing on the table, his arms and legs pulled back against the table as his chest is arched up. (So Kronos appears as a silhouette. How about the table? Or the torch? This cannot be drawn.)

Caption: But time has claimed Zeus (And we have a name! Too bad that character is nowhere in this panel. At best, your reader is going to be befuddled. At worst, he’ll confuse Kronos for Zeus.)

Panel 2: Closer shot, now Kronos is visible, still writhing. (Is it a medium shot? We’re closer but we don’t know how far off we started. And if we can see Kronos now, what’s his expression? Pain? Madness? Anger? Feverish dreams? Are his eyes opened or closed?)

Caption: And the Olympians have left our world (You’re courting with Ellipsis Abuse! I can’t help but hear this with labored breath, like an obscene phone call at two in the morning – usually, that’s my lawyer.)

Panel 3: Close-up on a single chain that snaps.

(No SFX for that snapping chain?)

Caption: His bonds are weak. (WHOSE bonds? As an average reader, I’m thinking these are Zeus’ bonds you’re talking about. Only in the panel descriptions did you make it clear who’s who and the reader won’t get to read those.)

Panel 4: Kronos’ head rears from the table, screaming (So close-up shot, right? You know I shouldn’t have to ask this, right?)

(So it’s a silent scream? Like Al Pacino at the end of The Godfather III?)

Caption: The time has come.

Know what I am, Kyle? I’m bored. Four pages in, and nothing of real merit has happened. That means I’m bored. This means, as a writer, you failed to draw me in.

Here’s what you did: you finally named a character, but the average reader is going to think the character named is the character shown. This could be deliberate on your part. Could be. I’m willing to give the benefit of the doubt. But that benefit only goes so far. If this is something that isn’t intended, then it has to be fixed. Well, it’ll be fixed when you condense it, anyway. This won’t be shown.

Actually, I think I know what happened. You didn’t start late enough. Either that, or you incorrectly think that these panels are important. Let’s take a look back and pull out the important panels:

The big fight, Zeus maiming Kronos, Kronos’ imprisonment, Kronos’ escape. That’s four important panels. That’s a single page of script. You could have 150 words on that single page, and get across a LOT of story and move this thing along. That would engage the reader. Get the setup out of the way so that they can get into the story. I’ll even throw in a fifth panel of a closeup of Kronos as he escapes, which would help you with the next page. See how kindhearted I can be?

Page 5

Panel 1: It is dark in the bedroom (yet we see all these things you describe below – including a flash of lightning – so it’s not really dark, is it?), and we see Joe Travis rear in the same position as Kronos, as lightning flashes in the background. (Do you literally mean lighting flashing right behind his head – like a kind of abstract background – or do we see this lightning through a window?) He is sitting on the floor, up against the left side of his bed, and that is where Joe is snapping awake. The bed is positioned perpendicular to the wall. (What wall? Please clear this up, Kyle!) To the left of the room, further back than Joe, is a small wooden desk, on which several books are scattered next to a closed laptop. In front of Joe is a medium sized window, from where the lightning illuminates the room. (Here’s the confusing part: if we see Joe in the same position as Kronos from last page, that means he’s facing us. That would be consistent with the placement of the bed you’ve described as well as Joe being on its left side. If we can see lightning flashing in the background, how can it come from a window that’s positioned in front of him? This panel cannot be drawn. Oh and your camera angle is missing. You have two possible strategies here: a close-up shot to perfectly mimic the preceding panel or a wide shot to establish the scene. Or you could also have your cake and eat it too: split this in two panels, one mimicking the Kronos shot with metaphorical lightning in the background and another establishing shot of Joe on his bedroom floor with lightning seen through the window.)

Panel 2: Medium shot on Joe, rubbing his eyes with the pinching of his fingers. Lightning flashes again, illuminating the room. (It’s the second time that lightning flashes in so many panels. When are going to hear some thunder?) Beside him, is a half empty 12 pack of soda, and several crumpled bags of chips.

Joe: Guess junk food really does give you nightmares… (Aaargh! Those ellipsis!)

Panel 3: His hands are now pushing his hair back, and his eyes are wide in an attempt to wake himself up, as he looks at his left hand where he holds his cell-phone. (Unless Joe’s using his TWO right hands to push his hair back, I don’t see how he’s going to hold a cell phone in his left hand. Methinks you have a moving panel here.)

Joe: Ugh I’m done with the comic books. That was crazy. (First of all, ellipsis-fail. Not because you put in yet another ellipsis, but because you forgot to put in a space after it. But you know what? I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt that that is what you wanted. I’d have put the space in, though. Let them read as two different sentences. Or I would have just had a period. Anyway… Second, I noticed right from the start that you’re always using two spaces after each period. I wasn’t going to say anything as long as you were only doing this in panel descriptions. However you’ve just done it in a dialogue line. This is going to make the letterer very sad because he’ll have to take it out. Two spaces after a period is an old typing practice people used with typewriters. Modern word processors and publishing tools are designed to set just the right amount of space after a period so we don’t have to double-space anymore. Otherwise it just creates this distracting blank between sentences. Don’t worry, this is something I had to learn, too.)

Joe: Ah man. (Comma-fail. I get that this second line of dialogue is Joe just realizing he’s still on the phone with Beth. That confirms it’s a moving panel: FIRST he tries to wake himself up, THEN he realizes his phone is still on.)

Panel 4: Side view shot. Joe stands (When did he do that? Or did you mean that he stands UP?), his eyes narrowed as he looks out at the storm, still trying to fully regain consciousness (superfluous). He has pressed the cell-phone to his ear. (Same problem we had with the side shots earlier: what direction is he facing? In any case, he’ll have to hold the phone with the hand on the reader’s side, otherwise we won’t see he’s on the phone – unless it’s one of those huge 80s phones.)

Joe: You still there Beth? (Comma-fail)

Bethany (phone): That is an uncanny ability you have Joseph, falling asleep anywhere. (Comma-fail again but at least there’s no ellipsis. Also I’m betting Beth’s a young girl, same age as Joe. As such, I think she’d contract That is into That’s .)

Joe: Tis a gift really. ( ‘Tis starts with an apostrophe; it’s an outdated contraction of it is . And comma-fail.)

Panel 5: Focus on the scene outside of the window, Joe off-panel. (It would be simpler to say: Joe POV shot of the view outside the window. ) A single bolt of lightning is seen crashing in the distance, beyond the view of Joe’s neighborhood, and the rain is pounding heavy. The lone tree of the yard is bent low by the force of wind and water. (There’s a tree in a yard and a neighborhood. That’s all we know and all the artist will ever learn. Anything else outside? What kind of neighborhood is it? Inner city slum? Yuppie suburb?)

(And still no thunder? That’s one silent storm!)

Joe (off-panel): It’s like Titanomachy out there. (That word again. You’re a very cultured guy, Kyle, actually studying in this branch, I think, so you know what you’re talking about. I’m a pretty smart guy myself, having amassed a rather big load of knowledge that seems completely trivial in the eyes of normal folks – I know what that word means too. Unless you’re writing for the type of people you and I are and you’re ready to accept that reduced readership, I don’t think the average comic reader knows the meaning of the word Titanomachy . They’ll have no idea of how clever your character is because they sure won’t look up Wikipedia while reading your comic. As much as I hate dumbing things down, I’d suggest you try for something a little more low-brow, like It’s like ‘Clash of the Titans’ out there! Not to mention that Titanomachy is quite the mouthful; it just doesn’t flow well.)

Bethany (off-panel phone): I love it when you reference Greek mythology at two in the morning. (Honest question because I haven’t found the answer in the rest of the script: why is Joe so knowledgeable in Greek mythology? Is he an anthropology student? A mythology buff? An art student? If I were you, I’d put a reason in there somewhere otherwise it sounds completely arbitrary.)

So, we’re on P5, which is really the new P2. We have Joe waking, we have an extremely patient girlfriend, we have just a tiny fraction of forward movement to the story.

You’re killing me.

Dialogue! Let’s take a look at a couple of words: comic book. Let’s break ’em down a little. We get the comic part from the funny papers, when comic strips were king. Then they were collected into books and sold. It was a combination of words and art that made the comic strip. One dependent upon the other. So, an argument can be made that we can look at the word comic to mean the word art.

Books, though, are filled with words. In their most basic, common use, that is their function: to be filled with words. So, if we take the word comic to mean art, and we take the word book to mean words , then that means the comic book should be art that is read. With me so far?

Good! Now, here’s what we have: we have more looking than reading. We have more art than words. The reader needs to read. What are they reading? Not much. You still have yet to draw me into the story. Not good.

Now, it’s two in the morning. Any indication as to how long he’s been asleep? Nope. Any indication as to how long he’s been on the phone? Nope. Any indication as to why Beth is still waiting? Nope.

There is a good thing, though: you got in both names in a single panel! It was organically done, too! Nice work, there! If only the story moved as well as you got their names in.

Page 6

Panel 1: Over shoulder shot, keeping the storm in the window in the background. Joe has stepped forward, his eyes still fixed on the scene outside. (My problem with this shot is that the view outside was already the only thing we could see in the last panel. Now you’re only superposing Joe onto the shot. I’d suggest shaking things up a bit: invert the shot in that last panel. Show Joe as seen from the other side of the window with the rain beating upon the glass. Then the reader turns the page and has the surprise of seeing that strange multicolored sky. This adds variety and a post-page-turn reveal.) The skyline is still red, but the upper sky has changed. The center is swirling, turning from black to purple, and a hint of the putrid green litters the swirl.

Joe: I’ve never seen the sky like that.

Bethany (phone): That is a wicked sky. (Use underlining instead of bold for emphasis. Bold characters can easily be omitted by a weary drunk letterer at four in the morning.)

Joe: You know, I think I love you.

Bethany (phone): Oh Mr. Travis, do go on. (You’re stretching the limit on the speech bubble count! The usual guideline is three. Don’t forget you have six panels on this page; that means less space per panel. By stuffing this one with four speech bubbles, you’re losing some space to show that groovy sky of yours. Oh and comma-fail too.)

Panel 2: Close-up on Joe, as he grins.

Joe: You’re a bit closer than me. How is it? (Extra space between sentences.)

Bethany (phone): It’s…something else.

Bethany (phone): I’ve never seen one this bad.

Panel 3: Joe has jumped slightly out of shock, his right shoulder leaning back as his right foot has planted behind him to keep him from falling. Outside, the sky is swirling just as it did in the Titanomachy flashback in the beginning, though the green and the purple of the sky are less prominent here than earlier. (OK so we need to see Joe jumping back and the sky too. That means we have a medium shot of Joe jumping back in shock towards us, away from the window in the background. I shouldn’t be assuming all this, Kyle.) A loud crack of thunder permeates the sky, (I’ll assume you meant lightning and not thunder which can only be heard, not seen.) and in the distance, on the horizon, a successive line of severe lightning strikes crash upon the ground. (I think they’d crash TOWARDS the ground. There’s no way Joe can see the ground at the horizon to see lightning crash UPON it. This cannot be drawn.)

Joe and Bethany (together): Ahhhhhhh!!! (I’ll let slide the fact that two people are saying the exact same thing at the exact same time since it’s such a visceral reaction. However, there are two things I’ll point out. First, it’s the A sound that you want drawn out, not the H . So that would be Aaaaah and not Ahhhh . Second, no matter how loud people scream and no matter how extreme their reactions, only one exclamation mark should be used. If you want it to be really loud, use a burst balloon instead of multiple punctuation marks.)

SFX (positioned in the skyline): Ka- BOOM. (First of all, SFX don’t need punctuation, even loud ones like thunder. Second, the order is wrong. They need to hear the thunder first before Joe and Beth react to it so these two lines of dialogue need to be inverted. Finally, you have an extra space after your hyphen.)

Panel 4: Side view medium shot of Joe. The lightning is still striking on the left side of the panel, illuminating the room through the window. Joe stares on in awe, the phone still pressed against his ear. (Haven’t we seen this shot already? Let’s spice it up: I suggest Joe in silhouette from the back, facing the window. See, that’s the trouble with talky bits: you need to show some variety in your camera angles otherwise it gets stale very fast.)

Bethany (phone): Nope. Not dealing with that. Into my bed I go. (Extra space between sentences.)

Panel 5: Joe is climbing into his bed, keeping the phone pressed against his ear. (Camera angle? Although I’m wondering if it wouldn’t be better just to merge this panel with the one before. After all, it’s a simple statement/reply dialogue structure that can fit in the same panel. Also the preceding panel didn’t really add much in the way of moving the story along visually.)

Joe: Yep. All fair points. (Extra space between sentences.)

Panel 6: The room is now completely dark, and only the light from the computer gives any illumination to the room. (That’s not a panel description, Kyle, that’s a room description in prose. What’s the camera angle and what’s Joe doing? And wasn’t that laptop closed? Are you telling me you intend to light the remainder of the scene with the computer’s battery indicator light?)

Bethany (phone): Dude. Gaea is pissed. (As long as we’re trading mythology fun facts, isn’t Gaea goddess of the Earth while Ouranos is god of the sky? Shouldn’t HE be pissed instead? And what about Zeus? Isn’t he the go-to lightning guy? Not to mention most people are more familiar with the alternate Gaia spelling. That should ring more of a bell for them. Also you got an extra space in there again, although I’d change that period for a comma: you need a soft pause here and not a hard stop.)

Joe: I love your two in the morning Greek mythology references. (The expression two in the morning is used as an adjective here so it should be hyphenated: two-in-the-morning .)

Bethany (phone): It’s all we got.

Okay, so we have a page of talking heads. What are they talking about? Nothing at all. Nothing that moves the story forward, at least.

It’s like this, folks: dialogue has to serve two purposes. It has to either reveal character, or it has to move the plot along. This is doing neither. From the dialogue on this page, what can we infer about the character of either person? They’re into Greek mythology (as opposed to Christian mythology, but that’s a provocative discussion for another day). That’s really about it. What can we tell about the plot? Not a single thing.

That means all the dialogue here is unnecessary.

The silent question then becomes, what do you replace it with? These characters are important to the story, so they need something of import to say. Something that will reveal character AND move the plot along.

Why aren’t they talking about his dream? Why aren’t they talking about why he fell asleep on her? It seems to be a regular occurrence. I know if I fell asleep on my girlfriend without any prior notice, she’d be fed up with it pretty quickly. Why isn’t he talking about the sky, and how it is the same color as the colors in the dream he just had? Why isn’t anyone saying anything of importance?

As for the panel descriptions, I can tell that you haven’t been writing while you’ve been studying. You’ve regressed. You have things here that just cannot be drawn, because you haven’t visualized them. That’s not good.

If we restate the actions on the page, the page itself is solid and can be kept. The two pages themselves would need to be re-dialogued in order to move the story forward. Even if you add mystery, that’s moving the story forward, because you’re moving toward a resolution.

So, let’s run it down:

Format: Flawless victory.

Panel Descriptions: As I said, you’ve regressed. You’ve got panels that are confusing, or that simply cannot be drawn. This is not as good as your previous entry, Kyle, and I haven’t looked at that in months. Not good.

Pacing: Criminal. You have criminally wasted space here. You literally used four pages when you could have used one, and didn’t move the story forward at all with the next two pages. In six pages, the reader is still wondering when the story is going to start. So, for six pages of content, you literally have one page of story movement. Decompression at its worst.

Dialogue: There are two problems with the dialogue, Kyle. The first problem is that there isn’t enough of it. Yes, I’m something of a wordy bastard, but a quick read does not do anyone any good. Look at the complaints of the market. Books are costing too much, and they’re too fast of a read. Two pages of this don’t hit twenty words apiece!

The second problem is that for the dialogue that is there, it doesn’t do anything to illuminate the art. It doesn’t add much depth to what’s there. In fact, it does the complete opposite, especially for the first four pages.

Again, the readers don’t know who’s fighting. Of all the combatants, only one is named. The one combatant that is named is NOT the one shown in the panel. This will confuse the reader when that character makes an appearance later. They’re going to feel like they missed something. So far, this entire thing needs to be rewritten from the ground up, to include the dialogue. Move the plot or reveal character, or both if possible. What I read here does precious little of that.

Basically, these characters are all cardboard cutouts. They have no depth to them at all. How do you help add depth? Dialogue.

Content: There is very little content here, Kyle.

As was said before, this was written very highbrow. Take a look at Thor (if you’ll allow me to change up mythologies for a moment). The bulk of people don’t know who Thor is, or that he has a day of the week named after him. Those that think they know who he is think that he’s a blonde with wings on his helmet. There will be very few who know that he’s a redhead. Let’s not even get into Sleipnir! However, you wrote this for people in the know, and there are going to be extremely few of those, even within comic circles (whom I believe are pretty damned smart to begin with).

Not to belittle the reader, but your writing should be appealing to the lowest common denominator. Blockbuster movies do this: lots of action, lots of special effects, very little story. It goes like this: explosion, explosion, titillation, explosion, story bit, explosion, explosion, titillation, explosion, story bit, end. And people are munching popcorn and drinking massive amounts of diet Coke all the while, and the movie makes a ridiculous amount of money.

No, your content doesn’t have to follow that, but you have to cast a wider net. If you don’t, your book will fail: it will not get picked up because it isn’t commercial enough, and the name of the game is selling your story. You wrote it, and you want it to spread. Give it the best chance possible by having a story worth reading. As it stands right now, this isn’t.

As a reader, I’d be confused, and would want my money back.

Editorially, this is a mess. A total redraft is needed, and you’d need to work with an editor in order to express what it is you want to do with the story: what is the story you want to tell, how you want it to read, how you want it to affect people, and then go over the plot with the editor until it is something you’re both happy with. Break down those plots on a per-issue basis, and then write those issues to make sure they are hitting the spots you need them to hit. That is what the editor is for.

What you have here are words that needed to get out, but they aren’t telling the story you want to tell. This step is sometimes necessary in order to get to the story you want to tell. You have to go through the process of writing the issue, see that it isn’t doing what you wanted, and then writing it again. Hopefully, the second draft is closer to what you wanted it to be.

I recently went through this with a writer. The first issue wasn’t doing what I thought needed to be done: not enough mystery, not enough action, not enough consequence, not enough impact with the ending. We talked back and forth for a while, and the second draft also missed the mark, although it was closer. The third draft missed, although it was closer, as well. It was the fourth draft that did the trick. It did everything I felt a first issue should: drew the reader in within three pages, had character movement, it had mystery, and it gave an ending that will have people returning. Four drafts.

So, don’t get discouraged. It happens.

And that’s all I have. Something a little different. Let me know what you think in the comments, and check 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. Kyle Raios says:

    Took a while for me to get around to both reading the comments, and commenting back myself.

    First, you’re absolutely right. I haven’t been doing a whole lot of writing, if anything, since I started really studying to get into grad school. So there was definitely that. On the other hand, this was one of my earlier scripts with later touch-ups.

    I can agree in condensing the first few pages, and actually, I think it may be a cool effect to condense to one or two – add to the “dream sequence” kind of thing. I have an idea.

    The dialog between Joe and Beth was meant to establish their knowledge of Greek mythology (the reason being a relationship with a family friend who would eventually turn out to be an Olympian, but that was for later), thereby trying to bring the opening sequence around to what is common knowledge of “Titanomachy.” Of course, I agree – not everyone knows this word, and I totally get that. However, as a future educator and historian, I loathe the idea of a world where people don’t stop to pick up a dictionary or do a quick wiki search at the least.

    There’s also a part of me that needs to show I did my research. You know that 1999 blockbuster, “The Mummy”? I love it. I absolutely do. And then you know how everyone thinks Imhotep was something like that? That they were actually speaking “ancient Egyptian”? Kills me. To an Egyptologist (or a student of the field), the movie is amusing. But when something gets ingrained into the popular collective memory, it’s hard to break it out. How many people think aliens actually built the pyramids? Or that Charlton Heston met Ramesses II? Way more than you really wanna know – and it leads to difficulties in legitimizing science.

    Of course, I’m not offering any illusions of grandeur, that my stories will find that massive niche and become ingrained themselves. I can certainly see why such a word would be an issue with the common reader; but having someone go for outside research never hurt anyone (I’m reminded of what Faulkner thought of Hemingway’s “simplistic” writing style). Striving for that doctorate and striving for a comics writing career – two very different beasts, and I’m still learning to how to separate myself in a workable manner.

    (Thank you for indulging that rant. I certainly don’t mean to come off as spiteful, or petty, in any manner. I just wanted offer an explanation of my “headiness”)

    As for the rest of the edits, thank you. I will study this, I will fix it, and if it’s okay, I’d like to post these six pages as a condensed four in the comments. I’ll be doing my research now, and I won’t regress anymore. Also, sorry for the typographical stuff (comma fails, extra spaces).

    I really do want to emphasize that I appreciate you doing this, and that I don’t intend to even seem snippy. If I have, my apologies, and do let me know.

    And that was way more long winded than I hoped. Enjoy your weekend!

    • I definitely understand feeling the need to apologize. This is the internet, and sometimes things can be taken to have a “tone” that isn’t there. I didn’t get any tone from you, except you were explaining yourself. So, for me, no apologies are necessary. (I can’t say the same thing for Yannick/Lisa. He/She is a troublemaker of the first order.)

      Okay, with that said, here’s what I suggest:

      DON’T resubmit in the comments. Submit it to me directly, and I’ll put it through again. It isn’t often that a “repaired” script comes through (this would be the second–I haven’t yet posted the first), and I think everyone should get a sense of what can happen by highlighting it with its own entry.

      About being highbrow: I’m not above looking things up and checking them out. Frankly, I believe what little intelligence I have is from reading comics. I think you can’t help but to glean something from reading the Fantastic Four. That’s just me. However, that’s a different type of highbrow. The guy’s name is Mister Fantastic, and eventually, you’ll cotton to the fact that he’s the smartest guy in the world. He has to talk a certain way, and even then, it’s only in snippets.

      Your approach is totally different. You give no frame of reference to anything. A reader picking this up would not know what they’re looking at, because they won’t know WHOM they’re looking at. It’s just guys fighting. Couple that with the way the story is being told, and you’re not doing anything except purposely leaving your readers behind while talking above their heads. Think of it like this: walk into a room full of mathematicians who are already in a debate about string theory and quantum mechanics. Would the common person have a grasp of what’s being discussed? That’s what you’re doing to your readers. You’re not giving them a base to work from. Give them a point of reference, and you’ll carry them with you as you tell your tale.

      What about you others? Yes, I’m looking at all of you. If you noticed, no one was called upon, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have to participate. Give your thoughts! That’s what the comments are for.

  2. Flashbacks are a pet peeve of mine in writing. I generally find them to be a lazy device. For this story I suppose the flashback is the simplest way of conveying your idea.

    It’s too long though. 1 page with a good narrative would be perfect. Turn the page and you have story.

    Your action was really good. I agree that the art produced based on this script would probably not identify the characters. Especially young zeus.

    Also, this reminds me a lot of Percy Jackson.

    • Thanks for commenting, Lauren.

      When are you going to make a trip through the Grounds? 😉

    • Conner MacDonald says:

      I personally don’t find flashbacks to be lazy writing, I really like them actually. But I’m named after Connor Macleod of the clan Macleod. A character from a movie that is made up of flash backs… so maybe there is a slight bias.

      I personally think that when it comes to lazy writing, Juke Box musicals take the prize.

  3. Yannick Morin says:

    A lot’s been already said but I thought I’d extrapolate on the idea of distillation.

    As Steven pointed out, there are a few places in this script where the narrative could have been tighter. The earliest example is the Titanomachy scene at the beginning, four pages whose content could have been squared away in a single one. We have another example with the bedroom scene where we spend a few pages witnessing a conversation in which we don’t learn much about the characters acting before us nor about the story in general.

    As it’s often said, the trick here is to distillate, to keep on the page only the utmost essence of what the story is about, walking the fine line between austere formality and amusing carelessness. And it’s a very fine line to walk. However, as I thought about it during the week, it appeared to me that most of the time when we’re sinning by padding (yes, it’s an all-inclusive we – me included) we do so, methinks, by failing to put ourselves in the reader’s shoes.

    Indeed, as the authors of the piece, we’re privy to all of the story’s intricacies, all of the characters’ precious particularities. However, it’s easy to forget that not all of this is important to the reader. While fellow writers might be fascinated by the mechanisms we’ve put in place – indeed do we not congregate here every week for this very reason! – the reader has no such interest.

    There’s also the fact that we get attached to our characters, our dramatic situations, our concepts, preferring sometimes to dwell upon them, like a jeweler gets fascinated by the glint in a ruby’s heart rather than setting it in a ring. That’s why we stick much longer than we should on things that are frankly of no value for the reader, things like great mythological vistas and the intimate moments shared by our characters.

    There’s a good reason the maxim is phrased murder your darlings . It’s incredibly hard to kill off what we hold so dear. But once we’ve stained our blade a few hundred times – if you’ll forgive me the rather brutal image – there’s a dulling of the repugnance that takes place, and each subsequent murder becomes an act of salvation for the rest of the script.

    OK I gotta say I just totally creeped myself out with that last paragraph. I might even use it in an upcoming script!

    Anyway, Kyle, you have absolutely stunning ideas in there. I can say so when I read this as a fellow writer. You just need to see your story from the other side of the mirror and chip away at everything that’s not reader-friendly.

  4. Kyle Raios says:

    Thank you for your kind and insightful comments, Yannick. That meant a lot. And again, thank you Steven for the edits. I certainly understand that sometimes, in all walks of life, I come off as a “heady prick.” I don’t mean to, but I definitely get it – I’d like to say it comes with the territory of the field I’m going into, and to some extent it does – as I mature, this won’t be such an issue. When information – really intricate information – is so new and exciting, it’s hard not to want to show it off a bit. I’m going to work on this script especially. It was the first one I ever wrote, and it’s pretty close to the chest.

    Anyway, I love Comixtribe. I love comics, and I love this process. Thanks to everyone who is helping keeping this going. It’s so fantastic.

    Also, per my interests in Egyptology, I’m going to be working to put a non “Percy Jackson” feel on this. I’m going to work hard on this. Again, thank you all. I’ll resubmit this soon; the stress of applications is definitely getting in the way.

    I’m ranting now, going off on tangents. So… enjoy your weekend, everyone. Excelsior!

    • Yannick Morin says:

      I’m glad to be able to help, Kyle, you’re welcome!

      Know that you’re not alone in the “heady prick” bunch. If you only knew the number of ideas I have for comics that revolve around Shakespeare…

      Anyway, like Conner said, a trip on the ComixTribe forums from time to time might procure you some additional help. It’s not as authoritative as TPG but the process is more ongoing.

  5. Conner MacDonald says:

    Well Kyle if you feel as though you want more feed back, or just need a little extra push to get things done, I suggest you spend some time on forum.

    (Its kind of dead over there, and its a real shame.)

    • Yannick Morin says:

      I think the main problem with the forum is that it relies on a very small group of people who have mastered the hermetic ancient art of… knowing its website address.

      I keep thinking a link on the ComixTribe website’s front page would do wonders to get more traffic for the forums.

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