TPG Week 61: Padding And Forcing Can Kill A Scriptship

| February 24, 2012 | 15 Comments

Welcome one and all to another installment of The Proving Grounds! This week we have a new Brave One in Matt Johnson. Let’s see what his tale of Legacy brings us, shall we?



Panel 1: An establishing shot of the CIA headquarters from a bird’s eye view. The shot is far enough away to see it’s smack dab in the middle of the Northern Virginia woods. (First of all, this is great: you got your classic establishing shot making things clear right from the start. However, if I had to scratch until this script bled (as I’ll do for teaching purposes) I’d go with a wide elevated shot instead. A bird’s eye view places the camera directly above the subject and you lose a lot of eloquent details that way. After all, most buildings look the same from above. And while we’re at it, why not a nice juicy reference pic for your artist since you’re using a real-world location?)


CAPTION: Langley, Virginia. 11:35 PM (You know what I like of this caption? Apart from the fact that there’s no end punctuation, thus avoiding a classic pitfall? Matt specifies a specific time of day once and he keeps on doing it for the rest of his script. Consistency, folks, is a sure mark of professionalism. However, Matt, you missed one thing and you’re going to kick yourself for it: which DAY is this? Because reading further ahead, I see you’re spilling out into the next day.)

PANEL 2: A wide shot of a long corridor running inside the building, cubicles are running down both sides of the row. You can see the entrances to the countless cubicles as the hallways stretch on.


PANEL 3: Close up on a cubicle where a nameplate is mounted on it. “Eastern Europe Desk” is written on the nameplate. (Oh! Why did my dubitative eyebrow just shoot up? Justin, are you still with us? Let’s see what you’ve learned.)


PANEL 4: A shot inside the cubicle. Hank is sitting at a desk, his back to the readers. His desk is sparse, with nothing but a computer (tabletop or laptop?), a phone, and a few papers on it. To his right is a coffee mug with pens and pencils stuffed in it. The CIA logo is stamped on it. There’s a bag of opened gummy bears to his left with a few uneaten gummy bears laying just on the desk just outside the bag.


MAN 1 (On the computer) (You did say we could see a computer on his desk. However can we actually see the screen? And if we can see the screen, can we actually make out what’s on it? Because that would go a long way in determining if this line is OP (off panel) or not. Another thing: the letterer might catch that on the computer means an electric balloon. However you might want to use the actual conventional terms, just to be on the safe side.)

<Zala is a fool. He thinks that blood will get people behind our cause. He is mistaken.*> (Nice use of brackets to denote a foreign language! The placement of the caption is a bit unorthodox though. You’ll want to place your caption inside the same panel as the first occurrence of Albanian.)


PANEL 5: Close up on the computer. On the screen is a grainy image of two men talking on a deserted street.


MAN 2 (On the computer)

<If you want to challenge him on it, I will fully support you> (Missing period at the end of that sentence.)


PANEL 6: Shot of Hank’s face from the computer’s POV. His slim face is clean-shaven and the dark hair on his head is combed with a part to the right. I’m leaving this as possible, because I want Hank to be as nondescript and everyman as he can be while still giving him noticeable features and a personality. (Nice, but that should all be in a separate document.) Hank’s eyelids are beginning to droop over his blue eyes as he watches the scene in front of him with a bored look.


MAN 1 (ON THE COMPUTER) (If the shot is from the computer’s POV, that means we can’t see the computer so this line is OP.)

<Then let Henrik know how I feel. I’m prepared to meet him whenever he wishes.>



(One page down and we still don’t know who the main character is yet.)


Okay, it’s P1, and I’m bored already.

Let’s take it from the top.

In the very first panel, you give the time of day in the caption, but you fail to give the time of day (day/night) in the panel description, forcing the artist to read the caption in order to know what time of day it is. Not a big mistake, but it’s a trap that’s easy to fall into time and again.

Now, I’ve never been to the CIA’s headquarters, but I’ve read enough books and seen enough movies to know that it it has to be relatively close to DC in order to brief the President on a daily basis, and the impression you’re giving is that it is off in the woods somewhere. A quick search tells me that it’s located on about 250 acres of land, most of which could be woodland. I suggest coming down from the view and focusing more on the buildings, and showcasing the area that the building is located.

I like the showing of the building and then getting immediately inside, but I’d cut the second panel. It isn’t doing much, and will be glossed over. No one cares about the cubicles. They want to get to the story. You can cut right from the outside to showing the cubicle and nameplate.

As for the dialogue… I’ve been reading a lot of Vince Flynn lately. (I ran through his books, actually.) This reminds me of that—cryptic statements to start out with that will be relevant later. The problem with this is this is a script, not a novel. The very first page is boring me at best, and is boring and confusing at worst. No, you don’t have to start on the one , as James Brown (The Hardest Working Man In Show Biz) would have you do, but you at least have to be interesting. This isn’t.

It’s feeling like this first page can be cut entirely. Let’s see what happens next, but if you change scenes, I’m going to call you a padder, and then tell you (in a bad French accent) that your mother was a hamster, and your father smelled of elderberries. And then I shall taunt you some more!

PAGE 2 (6 PANELS) (Page break)


PANEL 1: A shot of the cubicle from just above the computer looking down. We see Hank is dressed in a light blue dress shirt with a solid red tie and gray slacks. There’s a photo ID clipped to Hank’s left breast pocket. A class ring is on Hank’s right hand ring finer. (More info for the Character Descriptions document. Also I think you meant finger .) Hank has his head propped up under his left hand as he’s looking at the computer screen.


MAN 2 (ON THE COMPUTER) (OP once again)

<I will send him the message. You will have your answer within the week.>


PANEL 2: Close up on Hank’s ring. The ring is white-gold with “Westington University Class of ’04” engraved on the side. The gemstone in the ring is onyx.


Will (off-panel)

Hank, you busy? (Ah! There it is! And it’s done in a very organic way too. Nice!)


PANEL 3: Pulled back shot of the cubicle from the left side. Hank is in the process of swiveling around in his chair. (Careful about a moving panel here! Either he’s still turned towards his computer or he’s done turning and is now facing Will. Anything in-between and it just looks awkward.) At the cubicle entrance is a fellow smoothed-skin CIA colleague with sandy blond hair. He’s dressed in a white dress shirt with dark gray slacks and a black tie. (Either this character is important to the plot and he gets an entry in the Character Description document or he’s not and it’s not important what color his slacks are.)



Just listening to some Intel. What’s going on?


PANEL 4: From Hank’s POV, looking up at Will, with his left hand on his hip, has his right thumb stuck out and pointing over his shoulder (OK I got good news and bad news for you, Matt. The good news is that your panel descriptions up to now are almost flawless: all the info is there (although you tend to put in too much) you got your camera angles down pat and you’re varying your shots. The bad news is that you’re courting with padding. This panel here? Unnecessary. The line of dialogue spoken by Will could very well have been part of the previous panel. In the same vein, ask yourself if the silent shots after your establishing panel on page 1 were that necessary. How about the ones where Hank is listening to the Albanian guys? It’s looking more and more like you could have done one page with these two.)



Somebody’s on the phone for you.


PANEL 5: Long shot of Hank walking down the rows of cubicles, passing the empty work stations. (Where’s the camera here? Is Hank walking away from us or towards us? Or is it a side shot?)


PANEL 6: Medium shot from behind. Hank, with his back to the reader, is walking towards one of the many security stations at Langley. The middle aged security guard is sitting behind his desk, holding a phone out for Hank. On the desk to the guard’s right is a small TV tuned to a football game. (Once again, ask yourself how necessary all of this is. Do you really have to show Hank walking to the security station? One of the best ways to know when and where to cut is to construct your layout around important beats like cliffhangers and reveals, that is incentives for the reader to keep turning yet another page. In this case, you finish page 1 with a shot of Hank’s face as he’s listening to one of the unnamed Albanians agree to a meeting. There’s nothing there to push your reader into turning to the next page. However, if you manage to condense these two pages into one and finish with Will telling Hank he’s got a call – and making it an ominous and special occurrence – then you’ve piqued you’re reader’s interest and here he is flipping to page 2.)


P2, and I can say that while your mother wasn’t a hamster, your father definitely smelled of elderberries. That’s only because you didn’t change scenes, so good for you there.

Here’s the problem you’re running into, though, besides the obvious padding: THIS IS NOT INTERESTING.

Wait. Let’s take it from the top.

You know those two people who’re talking on the computer? How is the reader supposed to differentiate between them? How are they supposed to know Speaker 1 from Speaker 2?

Here’s what’s going to happen: unless you present a clear argument as to why this information is important, the editor is going to tell you to condense these 2 pages into 1. Possibly starting the dialogue as a caption in the establishing shot. But then, the editor is going to call bullshit and you forcing the story with what happens next.

First, a question.

What kind of phone is on the desk? Is it a desk phone, or is it a cellphone? You don’t say, and it’s important, because this is where the bullshit comes in (either way you want it, it’s bullshit. Sorry.).

Will comes to tell him he has a call, right? WHY? If Hank has a call, why isn’t that call coming through on his desk phone? EVEN IF the person doesn’t have his direct line, the guard (who’s also a switchboard operator of sorts) would direct the call to him, or send it to his voicemail. So, it’s bullshit and you’re forcing the actions to fit your story, instead of letting the story tell itself.

The other part of the bullshit? Let’s say you say that Hank only has a cellphone on the desk. WHY? Where’s the desk phone? He has to have one. It’s part of his job. Imagine a bureaucracy as large as the CIA (with an estimated 20k employees) that doesn’t have ANY desk phones at all. Everyone uses a cell. Are you seeing that as probable? Neither am I. So I have to call bullshit.

Elderberries and bullshit. This, Matt, is not smelling good.

You have us 2 pages in, and what of interest has happened? Not one thing. You’re going to have people asking for their money back.

I’d rather you fell back into cliché. Hey, it works.

P1: You start with the establishing shot, with the captioned dialogue, and the ringing of a phone. Panel 2 shows the cube and nameplate, the dialogue is now off panel, and the phone is still ringing. Then panel 3, Hank picks up the phone and says his last name as a greeting. The person on the other line is either the guard or the person calling. Hank tells him to put them through, or they say his first name. The next panel is Hank sitting up in alarm, saying I told you never to call me here! And that’s when you turn the page. Cliché as all hell, but it also gets reader interest and gets them turning the page, which is what you want. Or, you could have the caller ask Hank to meet them somewhere, or to look out the window, or whatever. It doesn’t matter. What matters is NOT putting the reader to sleep, which is exactly what you’re doing.

PAGE 3 (5 PANELS) (Page break)

PANEL 1: Medium shot looking at Hank with the phone pressed to his ear. The guard is in the background, leaning back in his chair and watching the game. (I gotta ask: why does he have to take this call out in the hall with the security guard? Doesn’t the CIA have a switchboard to transfer calls to his desk?)



This is Henry Kelly. (Another successful name drop! This is how it works, folks: if you want to give the reader background info – and names are part of this – find a plausible reason for the info to pop up in the story.)


TURNER (ON THE PHONE) (See what Matt did here? He didn’t say Man on the phone , he said Turner . No surprises for the rest of the creative team!)

Mr. Kelly, this is Samuel Turner with the State Department. (And again!) How quickly can you get to D.C.?


PANEL 2: Same shot as before, slightly zoomed in. Hank looks at his watch. The guard has shifted his eye line and is now watching Hank (If we moved in even closer from a medium shot in the previous panel, that guard’s going to be – at best – nothing but the top of a head and a pair of eyes. You sure you want this?)



Umm…I could be there in a half hour. (Missing space after the ellipsis)



Excellent. Meet me at this address- (Double dash for when a character is interrupted by another, not single)

PANEL 3: Close-up on Hank, still on the phone, with a stunned look on his face. (What you mean here is a tight shot . A close-up would only show a part of Hank, like his mouth or his hand.)



Wait a second, what’s this about?



They haven’t told you already? I have a man sitting in my living room, a Chinese embassy worker who wants to defect. He saysays that- (Oops, typo! And double dash again.)



Mr. Turner, I need to stop you right there.


PANEL 4: Pulled back shot looking at Hank who has his back to the readers and is looking around the guard’s desk, the phone still beside his ear. The guard has inched back, watching Hank curiously. (If Hank is back to us, it’s going to be hard for the artist to make it clear that he’s looking around the desk. All we’ll see is him hunched over the desk.)



Let me get a pen and some paper…


PANEL 5: Shot of Hank from behind. Hank has a pen in his right hand, leaning against the desk while he has a napkin in his left hand. (Another shot from the back? Once again, we won’t be able to see what he’s doing!) The guard has wheeled his chair off to the side and is watching Hank with an annoyed look on his face. (I repeat the question because you seem to insist on this point: why does Hank have to take the call at the security guard’s desk? Especially a call from someone from the State department? Hank has a phone on his desk! I know he does, you’ve told us in a panel description! This is starting to look like needless comic relief in what’s shaping up to be an otherwise serious piece.)



Now, go ahead and give me that address…I’ll be there in fifteen minutes…. (Missing space after the first ellipsis and the second one is not only unnecessary, it’s one period too long.)

(I like the way you finish this page. A question has been raised (what’s Hank going to do about the Chinese defector?) and the main character is jumping into action. That’s the way you hook your reader and get him to turn another page.)


P3, and there’s good news and bad news.

The good news is that I no longer smell elderberries. (Tell your father I said sorry.) The bad news is that the bullshit is overwhelming. And this isn’t prime Angus bullshit, either. This is piss-poor bullshit that’s coming out of every pore of the body of this script.

This is so terribly forced that I might have to give you a bad DC character’s name: Major Force. (I think he’s DC.)

From the top: Getting the names in was done extremely well. Congrats. The circumstances around getting the names in? Major Force.

The State Department is calling him, telling him to be at an address. First, HOW do they know he’s still in the office? It’s 11:30 at night! Everyone else seems to be at home, right? Or, most of the people. If they know enough to know his schedule (if he’s scheduled to work nights—the CIA has to be a 24/7 operation), they should know enough to have his direct line, either to his desk or to his cell.

Next, how is he supposed to be informed about a defector? Turner’s calling him at the guard shack! This is just stupid. Frustratingly so. Hasn’t anyone ever heard of a secure line?

Then, Hank is going to take information right there in front of the guard, whom you’ve given a lot of attention to. If the guard has a purpose, it should hopefully come through somewhere, otherwise, cut him out and leave him out.

Then, Hank cuts his arrival time in half. Is he going to speed, or was he just going to be lollygagging before?

That’s not even the big thing. Here’s the big thing. Ready for it?


The State Department shouldn’t be calling an analyst directly. He has a boss. The BOSS should be calling Hank and telling him what to do. Yes, I know this is fantasyland and most people aren’t going to get it, but still, you can at least TRY to pay lip service to reality.

I once edited a story where the writer was telling a time-travel story. This writer had no concept at all of the chain of command, and tried to put the First Lady as someone whom advisors and such answered to. While this isn’t as egregious as that, it’s still pretty bad.

Major Force. This is terribly, terribly forced.

At least you’ve stopped boring me. It only took 3 pages. However, you’ve swung the other way into incredulity.


PAGE 4: (1 PANEL) (Page break)

PANEL 1: Full splash page, a close up on Hank’s CIA ID badge. The CIA emblem is to our far right, underneath the logo is a bar code and serial numbers. Hank’s picture is to our far left on the badge. His haircut is a bit longer and his face is slightly thinner, indicating the time that’s passed since the photo was taken. Underneath the photo is his full name, “HENRY R. KELLY”. Underneath his name is his job description “ANALYST” (You’re already taking more pages than you should with your opening scene. Are you sure you want to burn through some more real estate by doing a splash page of something so mundane as an ID card? No, this is half a page – max – and I’m being generous since this is also the spot you put in your title and credits. By the way, just for fun, here’s what real CIA credentials look like.)


Actually, I just lost my entire mind. This is an absolutely criminal waste of space. Everyone can smell the elderberries. Even a half-page would be too much, to tell the truth.

You want to show time has passed? USE THE CAPTIONS YOU ESTABLISHED IN PANEL 1. You can get specific with time there, just like you did. Then keep it moving with whatever non-elderberry, bullshit-free, Minor Force you want to put on this page. (Yes, Minor Force.)



PAGE 5: (6 PANELS) (Page break)


PANEL 1: Establishing wide shot of a two-story home nestled in the Washington suburbs. The front lawn is short, but the grass is yellow and dead in the early winter air. there are shrubs up close to the house,and they run across the front of the house, with a gap at the front door. A lemon tree planted off to the far left on the lawn. There is no fruit or leaves on it, signifying the time of year. (Unless all of this is essential to some plot point that hasn’t come up yet, this is just a heap of useless information. Everything in blue can go. You’ve already established that’s it’s a two-story home nestled in the Washington suburbs and you used the state of the grass to set the time of year (clever!). The rest can either be left to your artist’s imagination or – better yet – give him a reference pic.)


CAP: Washington, D.C. 12:03 AM


PANEL 2: A mid shot from the very end of the short hall. Inside the house, a short and bald middle aged man is walking down the hallway with Hank behind him. A notebook is tucked under Hank’s arm. (Does Hank have a jacket on now? A coat? And are the men walking towards us or away from us? But most importantly, if Turner is the short and bald middle aged man , just call him Turner in the panel description. Don’t start playing mind games with your artist now!)



I’ve met him a few times before. At diplomatic functions and things like that. I had no idea he had followed me home until I pulled into the driveway.



So, Mr. Turner, how exactly did you find out about me?

(I want everyone to take a good look at what Matt just did here. He didn’t start this scene with Hank’s car turning into the driveway. There was no walking to the house or formal introduction between Hank and Turner. He just started with them already inside, talking and slipping in Turner’s name so we can understand that this bald little man is the same guy who was on the phone earlier. This is called starting a scene as late as you can and not enough of you do this. This is a skill that you must develop in order to strip your scripts down to the bare essentials and save up on pages and panels. It’s invaluable in tightening up pacing and getting rid of padding.)

PANEL 3: A medium shot from over Hank’s shoulder. Turner is turning around to talk to Hank as they walk.



I called a friend of mine who works for the Company, he said you were the most senior officer on watch tonight. (Replace that comma with a period. You want a hard stop here instead of a soft pause.)


PANEL 4: Medium shot looking at the two men from their right sides.. Both of them are stopped in front of a door and looking at each other.



Is there anyone else in the house besides us?



No. I sent my wife and son to a hotel for the night.



Good. If you don’t mind, how about you leave for a few hours to go check up on them?



Of course…I have to admit, Mr. Kelly, I’m glad they sent out a Westington Boy to take care of this. (Although this is very nicely-flowing dialogue, I wish there was less of it in this panel. Usually, three speech balloons is more than enough: person A speaks, person B replies an then person A gets a last word in. Otherwise, you’re starting to crowd your panel with dialogue and you’re left with a lot less space for characters and art.)


PANEL 5: Close up on Turner’s right hand. A gold class ring with “Westington University Class of ’82” circling the gemstone. Unlike Hank’s, Turner’s gemstone is ruby red. (I sure do hope this becomes relevant in the second issue because reading ahead, I don’t see it popping up again.)



Westington Boys know how to get the job done.


PANEL 6: Close up on Hank’s face. His eyebrow is slightly arched and he has a bemused look on his face.



That’s what they say, anyway.

Okay, we’re on P5. I have to go back to P4, though.

What I want to focus on is the disparity of the picture in the badge and how Hank looks now. The impression given in the panel description is that time has passed between the time Hank got the phone call and now, instead of Hank leaving the facility in order to get to Turner’s.

I was totally expecting a jump forward in time, instead of the 30 minutes we got. That means, when drawn, you’re going to lead the reader on in the wrong way, and they’re going to pop right out of the story.

This also means that P4 is now totally irrelevant. What’s the point of an entire, non-action, drama-less splash page? There is no point. It needs to be cut even more. Turn the page, he’s magically there (as opposed to being magically delicious), use the caption to showcase the time, and keep it moving. This page, as it is, is good. It just could have been gotten to faster. No elderberries, and just the merest hint of bullshit. You still ignored the chain of command. Or, someone did. Either you, or the friend he called.


PAGE 6: (6 PANELS) (Page break)

PANEL 1: Wide Shot of Turner’s living room from a corner. The room has hardwood floors with a rug in the center of the room. There is a fireplace with family photos on the mantle. The walls have a collection of family portraits on them, either group shots or single photos. From this distance, all the photos are indistinguishable, no finer details, only the shapes of the figures can be seen. Sun, with his back to the reader, is sitting on a plush couch in front of the fire place. Directly in front of him is a heavy oak coffee table with a coffee mug and ashtray on it. Hank is coming through the door on the far wall. (And a nicely done establishing shot once more. See, folks, Matt knows he’s going to spend some time in this room so he starts by showing us the set. Now he’s going to have the characters play out their lines.)



Hey there. Sorry for the wait. (Comma-fail.)


PANEL 2: Medium shot looking straight-on at Sun from the waist up, sitting on the couch. He’s rail thin and dressed in a dark suit with a white shirt and open collar. His once dark hair has now gone snow white and his olive skinned face is pockmarked on the cheeks. He has a thick mustache that is is as white as his hair (Don’t we have a certain Adam Williams now lurking around, reading though all the B&Ns? Let’s put you to the test, Adam! What’s missing in this panel description and what’s in extra?)


You are the American? CIA? (Nice! Look at the way the sentence is constructed and the lack of contractions denoting a foreign speaker of English.)


PANEL 3: Over the shoulder shot of Sun looking at Hank. Hank is now Sun. (Wait, what? That last sentence was more confusing than anything.)



I’m American, yes. So you speak English?



Yes, but not as well as some.



I can speak Mandarin. Would you be more comfortable if we spoke in Mandarin?



Yes. (Same as earlier: too many lines of dialogue here.)


PANEL 4: Pulled back shot of the couch from the fireplace’s POV. (See, Matt can do this, setting camera angles relative to pieces of furniture, because he took care of doing a good establishing shot when he started this scene.) Hank is now sitting on the far side of the couch away from Sun. He’s in the process of placing his notebook on the coffee table in front of them. (What is Sun doing?)



Just so you know, I’m going to be recording our conversation.



I would not expect anything less from a fellow intelligence officer.


PANEL 5: Close up on a small digital recorder that Hank is placing on the coffee table. The screen shows that the device is on and recording.



<An intelligence officer? I thought you were an embassy employee?*> (Same comment as before regarding the placement of the translation note)



<A cover. Like all of China’s embassy’s across the world, the People’s Republic have ( has not have ) a few intelligence officers inside the American embassy.>


PANEL 6:Shot of Hank looking at the reader from the Sun’s POV, his notebook now opened and on his lap. A pen in his hands.



<Let’s start off simple. Tell me your name.>




P6, and while there’s no hint of any force (Major or Minor), nor any elderberries, there’s the mystery of the sudden burst of nonsensicality going on. (Yes, I just made up a word.) Why is Sun asking if Hank is American? What kind of question is that? Asking if he’s CIA I can understand. I could even see asking if he were American if this was happening in a different country, but this is in America, and asking if he’s American makes as much sense as asking if he’s male.

And I don’t know much, but doesn’t China have different dialects? A quick Wiki check also shows that there are different standard forms. Paint me confuseled. What about Cantonese? Canton is in China. Bah. Screw it. Mandarin. Whatever. At least we’re getting into something interesting.


PAGE 7: (3 PANELS) (Page break)


PANEL 1: A medium shot of the defector from Hank’s POV. (Actually, saying that this is from Hank’s POV determines the camera angle already; the mention of a medium shot is unnecessary.) He’s gingerly pulling a pack of cigarettes from his jacket pocket. ( Gingerly can’t be drawn.)



<My name is Sun Wu Leung. I am a twenty year veteran of the Ministry of State Security of the People’s Republic of China.> (I see a lost opportunity here for doing something interesting with the dialogue. The same way Sun seemed uncomfortable in English, why not make Hank the awkward one in Mandarin? Let only Sun use contractions to represent his ease with his native language.)



<And what is your reason for approaching me?>



<I wish to defect to America.>

PANEL 2: A medium shot of Hank from Sun’s POV (Same comment as panel 1 here), an engrossed look on Hank’s face and the pen still in his right hand. His notebook already has illegible scribbles scrawled across the page.




PANEL 3: Close-up of Sun from the his right side, he has a cigarette in his mouth and a black zippo lighter is ingnited and only a few inches from the tip of his cigarette. (If Justin gets it right above, his answer should apply to this panel too.)



<Because I have nothing left. I gave it all to my country, and still they want more. Always more.>



<Tell me about your past, Mr. Leung, where’d you come from?> (That second comma should be a period. You want a hard stop, not a short pause.)

P7 is nothing but elderberries! (That’s my new word for padding, in case anyone is confused.)

There’s nothing here that couldn’t be condensed down to 1 panel. Or, barring that, ADD MORE to this page to make it interesting. When you have a short page, folks, especially when it’s talking heads, there’s nothing wrong with adding more panels (with the caveat that those panels are interesting).


I think that’s enough. Let’s run this down:

Format: Pretty nice! You would have had a flawless victory if you’d remembered the page breaks.

Panel Descriptions: Again, pretty nice! You put in enough info for the artist while still allowing them space to do their thing. Very nice. Now, just get rid of the descriptions for the major characters, and you’ll be good.


This is padded out to ridiculous proportions, Matt. You did in 7 pages what should have been done in three or four. That’s about half. (And thanks to you and your father for being good sports about the elderberries thing. And if you don’t know what I’m talking about…someone please enlighten him. After, though. Not right now.) Anyway, you have to be interesting faster. If you’re not fast, you’re going to lose readers. If you condense the way I suggest, you’d be getting to interesting stuff by P2, and then readers would stay onboard.

Dialogue: Good! I have no problem at all with your dialogue. I can see all the people saying what they say. Just watch your punctuation. Don’t worry. That’s what editors are for. And watch the 2×2’s. It should be 2×1 in most cases. ABA, not ABAB,

Content: The first half is bullshit, because you were being Major Force. I mean, oh my wow! After you get past the forcing of the setup, you get into interesting territory, but still, getting over that was rough.

Writers generally force things for one of two reasons: the biggest reason is that they don’t do their research. This is inexcusable. This is the Internet/Information Age. Just like the X-Files, the truth is out there. Not only is it out there, but it’s also not hard to find.

The second reason writers force things is because the story wants to go its own way, instead of the way they want it to go. I’m not getting the sense of that happening here. I’m getting a lack of research, rather than the story wandering around. You’re telling the story well, you’re just shoehorning stuff into a mold that a little bit of research would have easily fixed.

Besides being Major Force, you started being interesting. Just do it faster.

Editorially, this doesn’t need to be razed, but it needs to be directed. I’d have you cut the elderberry bush/tree, stop being Major Force, and let the story be told in a very organic way. Just like you trimmed the fat in getting Hank inside the house, we’d trim the fat off those first few pages. Just like dew, we want condensation. A decent editorial hand would help you achieve that.

And that’s all I have for this week. 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 (15)

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  1. Matt Johnson says:

    Thanks for reviewing this. It was brutal, but I had it coming. Pacing was something I was concerned about when I first started it. Thanks for the pointers, I’ll look this over and edit it with your notes. Sorry if I did go a bit overboard with descriptions. Another script of mine in TPG got torn apart because it lacked a bunch of detail, so I might have over-compensated some.

    • Brutal? Actually, it wasn’t that bad, Matt. Not really. Once you cut out the padding and clean up the easily closed logic gaps, then this is readable. Trust me, I’ve seen worse.

  2. PANEL 3: Close-up on Hank, still on the phone, with a stunned look on his face. (What you mean here is a tight shot . A close-up would only show a part of Hank, like his mouth or his hand.)

    Wouldn’t showing a part of Hank be a extreme close-up? While a tight shot and close-up are the same thing? At least in film.

    Medium Close Up (“MCU” on camera scripts): Half-way between a mid shot and a close-up. Usually covers the subject’s head and shoulders.
    Close Up (“CU”): A certain feature, such as someone’s head, takes up the whole frame.
    Extreme Close Up (“ECU” or “XCU”): The shot is so tight that only a detail of the subject, such as someone’s eyes, can be seen.

    Also a question about this:

    I’m American, yes. So you speak English?
    Yes, but not as well as some.
    I can speak Mandarin. Would you be more comfortable if we spoke in Mandarin?
    Yes. (Same as earlier: too many lines of dialogue here.)

    I agree with the usual A, B, A, for conversations in comics. But I also frequently see A, B, A, B. Usually when I see it I think “Steven would not like that.” But I find when its used its during short sentence exchanges. Which I find this is. So in instances like this do you not agree that it would be excusable?

    • I can excuse a lot, Conner. It depends on how it all looks. Comics is very visual. I’m not so rigid that I think that things HAVE to be a certain way. But if most writers stick to basic conventions, they’ll rarely go wrong.

      Would I let it go this time? I don’t know. I don’t think so. Not when you can get the same thing with an ABA. But that’s just me.

  3. Forgot two things. First regarding the pacing, I thought it was dull at the beginning. But for some reason I thought you were building up to a insane action scene or revelation. And I was waiting in great anticipation for it.

    Second. We’d love to have you at the forum.

    Everyone is a winner at the forum. And you’ll always be reminded of it.

  4. Liam Hayes says:

    First leeches, and now elderberries.
    Shall I start work on the Comixtribe Lexicon?


    • Hey, you and Yannick started the leeches thing. The elderberries is all mine/Monty Python’s.

      See where my mind goes when I start editing? There are times when I think I’m a madman.

  5. “PANEL 2: Medium shot looking straight-on at Sun from the waist up, sitting on the couch. He’s rail thin and dressed in a dark suit with a white shirt and open collar. His once dark hair has now gone snow white and his olive skinned face is pockmarked on the cheeks. He has a thick mustache that is is as white as his hair

    (Don’t we have a certain Adam Williams now lurking around, reading though all the B&Ns? Let’s put you to the test, Adam! What’s missing in this panel description and what’s in extra?)”

    Are we talking grammatically?

    If so, there is an extra is in He has a thick mustache that is as white as his hair and there is also no full stop at the end.

    Content-wise, I think it’s a good panel description that paints a clear image of the shot in my mind.

    • Liam Hayes says:

      PANEL 2: Medium shot looking straight-on at Sun from the waist up, sitting on the couch. He’s rail thin and dressed in a dark suit with a white shirt and open collar. His once dark hair has now gone snow white and his olive skinned face is pockmarked on the cheeks. He has a thick mustache that is is as white as his hair”

      The character description should be in another document and there’s no facial expression.


      • Ah, yes I forgot about that.

        What is the rule one this? How often must the characters appear to warrant inclusion in a seperate document rather than in the script.

        For a cliche example, if you had you main charcter get into a lift with two secret agents, dressed in black with ear pieces. Surely you would put that in the description rather than a sepearte document if they were not going to be re-occuring characters?

        As for the facial expression, I think my mind kind of filled in the blanks their because of the line of dialogue.

        I pictured a confident, but slightly puzzled look on the guys face.

        • Liam Hayes says:

          “What is the rule one this? How often must the characters appear to warrant inclusion in a seperate document rather than in the script”

          I go by the rule that if a character is named, said character is important enough for the other document.

          “For a cliche example, if you had you main charcter get into a lift with two secret agents, dressed in black with ear pieces. Surely you would put that in the description rather than a sepearte document if they were not going to be re-occuring characters?”

          Things like Secret Agents or Mail Men ect. need not even be described. These can be left to the whims of the artist.

          I go one step up from a character description document and write a glossary. All important characters, places and objects are describes within. Saves on bogging down panel descriptions when you can just reference.


  6. Lauren S says:

    (Don’t we have a certain Adam Williams now lurking around, reading though all the B&Ns? Let’s put you to the test, Adam! What’s missing in this panel description and what’s in extra?)

    Missing: The characters name
    Extra: The detailed decription of him.

    I will chime in and agree that the splash on Page 4 completely threw me. I thought we were in flashback mode. I hate both flashbacks and splash pages.

    China has 4 major dialects. Mandarin and Cantonese are 2 of them. It makes sense that the CIA agent would know Mandarin. It supposed to become the next language of business. So good work there Matt!

    This story really starts at page 6. No one really wants to read a one sided phone conversation involving a character we know little about.

    Page 1 You have some interesting elements that could be mixed up to better effect. Start the script with Hank at the house first meeting Taylor then continuing on to Sun.

    Page 2 They should just start speaking Mandarin, with a notation in the panel. It’s natural for Hank, a CIA agent, to assume that Sun would be more comfortable with Chinese dialects. Sun could be impressed by his foresight and come to the conclusion that Hank must be CIA.

    2 pages introducing all the important characters and their roles in the story.

  7. Hey Steven,

    I’m not exactly sure what suggestion you have for Page 1 Panel 3, but I’ll give it a shot:

    PANEL 3: Close up on a cubicle where a nameplate is mounted on it. Eastern Europe Desk is written on the nameplate. (Oh! Why did my dubitative eyebrow just shoot up? Justin, are you still with us? Let’s see what you’ve learned.)

    *My take: Is it that this Panel in itself does not add to the advancement of the story, and therefore it can be eliminated while showing the nameplate in another panel that does advance the story?

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