TPG Week 79: Don’t Let Bad Pacing Kill Your Story

| June 29, 2012

Welcome back to another installment of The Proving Grounds! This week, we have regular Brave One Liam Hayes returning to us.

We’re also seeing a change in format (again.) Well, some revelations in the format.

There are two professional editors looking at the scripts now. The blue areas are Steve Colle, and the red areas are me. Previously, the blue areas were our own Yannick Morin, but Yannick has taken on some other responsibilities with us, and can no longer help out here.

What does this mean? It means that, every week, you’re getting two sets of eyes on every script submitted, and have been for the past little while. In the coming weeks, you’re going to see Steve’s voice come out in the blue areas more.

Everyone set? Then let’s see what Liam brings us in


PAGE 1 (Four Panels)

[Note to Colourist: The first four pages of this story are told in the form of a diary. I think It’d be cool if these pages were tinted to look like old paper.]

PAGE 1, Panel 1

Close up of Thomas’ face as he stands naked in his Victorian house’s cellar staring blankly past the camera. His hair is wild and messy, he hasn’t shaved in weeks and his body shows signs of malnutrition. The room is mildly illuminated by off-panel candles on the walls but we should see nothing of the background. (Victorian style homes still exist, so what is the time period? By the way, this is a lot of long shot description for a close-up.)

[Note to Letterer: The captions labelled ‘ DIARY’ are handwritten ink on old paper.]


(Why do we only find out the time period here instead of in the introductory section you established or even in the first panel description? This would have set up your artist’s view of the world of the story right off the bat.)

PAGE 1, Panel 2

Big Panel. We’re looking over Thomas’ head. Directly in front of him is one of the cellar’s walls on which the words THE WHORE WILL NOT TAKE ME AWAY FROM IT are scrawled in blood. (This is where the whole nakedness description should fall. I assume this is a rear shot and that he is in the foreground looking at the wall, but you don’t say this very effectively. If an editor has to guess, imagine what the artist will go through.)

CAPTION (DIARY): I HAVE DONE SOMETHING UNSPEAKABLE. (Should this read I HAVE DONE THE UNSPEAKABLE , as murder is the unforgivable sin?)

PAGE 1, Panel 3

Big Panel. Angle the camera so that we’re a few metres behind Thomas looking up at him from a worm’s eye view. In the foreground of the camera we see Anna, dead on the ground, with a number of kitchen knives sticking out of her naked blood-drenched body. Thomas is stood ( standing for proper English) in the background, looking down at Anna as tears flood his blank expression. His hands are covered in blood. (This is a very confusing panel description. The camera is a few metres behind Thomas, yet Anna is in the foreground with Thomas in the background looking down at her. Shouldn’t the camera be in the worm’s eye view in front of Anna’s dead body looking up towards Thomas?)

THOMAS: ANNA… (Move this to your next panel for stronger effect)


PAGE 1, Panel 4

Face shot (Is this different from the close-up from the first panel on this page? If so, how is it different?) of Thomas as he looks down at Anna’s off-panel body with anger under tears. (Or angry tears . By the way, do you intend to change the angle from the first panel to this one? It might be a good idea.)

THOMAS: I DIDN’T MEAN TO… I COULDN’T STOP… (First off, this should be in two separate speech balloons, if it were necessary. Second, it isn’t necessary to say anything more than her name here. Let the raw emotion speak.)

CAPTION (DIARY): THAT THING MADE ME DO IT. (Put emphasis on THING by underlining to show his pain and contempt.)

(Which panel on the page should be your focus or power shot ? Consider your first panel.)

So, we’ve got P1 on the books. As it stands, it has some power to it. Some tweaking is necessary, but this is a first page that will engage and hold a reader. Good job there.

Now, here’s what I want you to work on, Liam: you have a lot of people crying in your stories. Lots of anger under tears or x-emotion under tears. It sounds awkward, like when you just have the fragment expression of contempt as a standalone sentence. Just like you started incorporating the fragments of expressions into true sentences, I want you to work on the emotion under tears thing. Like Steve said, angry tears works, or tears of anger, or he’s angry, with tears streaming down his face. I’m all for brevity, as everyone knows, but I don’t want you to sacrifice clarity for it. Being awkward is another way of not being clear. It gets the point across, but it is inelegant. You’re growing too much to continue to be inelegant. Work on it.

That panel description where you’re contradicting yourself? You know better than that, and you should be ashamed. You’re going to make your artist schizo. That’s all I’m going to say about that.

Now, the standing/stood thing. We have a few writers who are from the UK, and they phrase things a bit differently. This is readily apparent in the use of some words, such as stood and sat. I personally don’t harp on it, because while it reads a bit strangely to me, it has nothing to do with the clarity of the description. However, the first time nuffink creeps in somewhere, I’m gonna go off me ‘ead, yeah?

PAGE 2 (Four Panels)

PAGE 2, Panel 1

Establishing shot of Thomas’ large wooden Victorian house at midday. We see that it’s in the country and bordered by a dense forest. (Reference material.)

CAPTION (DIARY): I SHOULD’VE DONE SOMETHING WHEN IT FIRST APPEARED, BUT AS THE ONLY RESULT OF MY OTHERWISE FAILED EXPERIMENTS, IT FASCINATED ME. (You established time and proper English for your character, so it should read I SHOULD HAVE DONE . Also, for more powerful effect and pacing of the text, separate the BUT part of the text into a new caption box, ending the previous APPEARED, and beginning with BUT AS . Speak your dialogue out loud and you’ll see the pauses.)

PAGE 2, Panel 2

We’re now inside the attic in which we see Thomas, now clean shaven, with slicked back hair and wearing a white Victorian shirt and black slacks. His body shows no sights ( signs , not sights ) of malnutrition. We have him in a medium close up, looking awestruck at the off-panel contents of the attic in front of him. (Where is the camera in relation to his body? Right ¼ turn, left profile, what? Change up your angles.)


PAGE 2, Panel 3

Face shot of Thomas as he remains awestruck. (You seem to be using the same basic shots of close-up, face shot, and medium close-up. It makes for a visually boring set of pages.)



CAPTION (DIARY): THE SECRETS IT POURED. (This sounds incomplete. Should it read THE SECRETS IT POURED OUT ?)

PAGE 2, Panel 4

Big Panel. Angle the camera so that we’re looking over the top of Thomas’ head at the Attic’s contents. (Again over the head? Why not over the shoulder? Here’s where you can specify that Thomas is on the right of the panel so the tear is still in the center of the image.)) A few metres in front of him, in the centre of the attic, is a dimension tear floating above a large metal pad. It’s a strange floating blob of black fluid, like a weightless liquid, reaching out from a tear into another dimension. It’s surrounded by strange steampunk machinery which lines the walls and gives the impression of a laboratory.


THOMAS: GOD? (Combine this and the text above it to read GOD? )



Liam, you’re backsliding. Unless this is an older piece, I’m kinda disappointed. We’ll come to that in a sec.

So, this is a well-placed page. The first page was to get you to turn the page, and that was done decently. This page is to keep you in the story, and that’s done well. That last panel is the kicker that gets readers to continue to stay with the story.

I think I’ve said before that I want you to vary your shots. You use them over and over again. Here’s what I want everyone to do: go to and look for a book called On Directing Film by David Mamet. This is a slim volume, but it will help you to learn to think visually, it will help you with pacing, and it will help you to learn to write a description without having to reference a camera angle.

Now, don’t get me wrong: some panel descriptions need a camera angle. A decent portion do not. Remember, you’re writing to the the story, but the artist is also a creator. They want to be able to flex their muscles, as well. Your writing should be tight enough to be understood, and loose enough that the artist is able to do their thing. It’s a tightrope.

Anyway, I want everyone to notice what Liam did. P1, he gave us some closeups within a structure. No idea where or what that structure is. The location isn’t established. Liam doesn’t get around to establishing the location until P2.

This is good storytelling!

Liam is stretching himself by not putting the establishing shot front and center, and then letting everything else follow that. No, instead he drew you into the story, and then he let you know where it was happening. I’ve said before in Bolts & Nuts that the establishing shot is important, but it doesn’t always need to be first. It’s helpful to have it first, but the story doesn’t always call for it. Good show, Liam.

However, we have a slight whiff of elderberry in the air. Panel 3 could be considered padding. I know you want to show that this is in the past, and as such, have him be the picture of health, but you don’t need panel 2 and panel 3 before going to panel 4. Either cut panel 3, or have him do something else in these two panels before getting to panel 4.

As for the disappointment? That basically silent balloon with the ellipsis. I want a whole case of whiskey shipped to me, at least 18 years old, in order to quell the rage I’m feeling inside. I’ve told you before, there’s almost no reason to ever have a balloon with just an ellipsis. Either have them say something, or have them be silent. A whole case. I’ll send you my address in an email.

PAGE 3 (Five Panels)

PAGE 3, Panel 1

Cut to an over the shoulder shot (Here’s where you can change it to Thomas on the left looking over his right to open the new page.) of Thomas holding open the front door of his house. Anna stands outside facing him with a smile. She wears a Victorian dress (reference) and in one hand holds a painting wrapped in brown paper and tied with string. She is gesturing the painting towards Thomas. (Where did this flashback start? Here or in the attic on the previous page? Here’s where you need to distinguish present from past/future, either with gutter changes or differences in the panel shapes. Don’t confuse your artist or your reader.)



PAGE 3, Panel 2

Close on the painting as Thomas is now holding it with one hand. With the other, he is tearing off the brown paper. We see that the painting is silver-framed and of Anna in portrait, wearing a white dress.


PAGE 3, Panel 3

Close on Anna and Thomas as they kiss.


PAGE 3, Panel 4

Cut to a shot of Thomas and Anna in Thomas’ bedroom having sex. (Here’s some reference material; For the bedroom, not the sex.) Their clothes strewn on the floor. Thomas’ stares blankly at Anna. Anna’s looks up at him with worry.

ANNA: THOMAS? IS SOMETHING WRONG? (Let the action and her facial expression speak for you. Know when to talk and when to look .)

CAPTION (DIARY): BUT WITH EACH DAY I ENJOYED HER COMPANY AND BODY LESS. (Comma-fail after DAY . Watch out for stuff like this.)



PAGE 3, Panel 5

We have a side shot of Thomas stood (Again, standing , not stood ) in his attic, staring at the dimensional tear with awe. He has no clothes on and his body is malnourished and unclean, his hair is messy and unshaven stubble hangs (Hair hangs; stubble is so short it pokes out.) from his face.

THOMAS: I’M… I’M FINE. (Is the bedroom in the attic? How did we jump back here? He’s back to where he was on the first page, unshaven and malnourished. What’s going on here, as I’m completely lost now?)

CAPTION (DIARY): THE WHISPERS HAD TURNED TO SCREAMS. EACH WITH THE PROMISE OF INSIGHT. (Another comma-fail, as the two sentences should be one with a comma instead of a period.)

(This entire panel belongs as the first panel on the next page so as pacing isn’t completely messed up.)

P3 brings us some vagueness.

Okay, so I understand that Thomas is well-to-do. I’m also guessing that Anna is, too. But the painting? How large is it? Is it like a small portrait, or is it a medium-to-large canvas? You don’t say, so the artist will have to guess.

As for panel 4, you’re cutting to a scene of them having sex. That’s fine. I love sex. I have no problem with it. However, you then say that he’s staring blankly at her, and that she’s looking up at him with worry.

There are three ways to do this.

The first way is that your artist adds another panel for pacing. This panel will be the new panel 4, with this panel 4 moving down to be panel 5. The new panel 4 would be a long shot of them having sex.

The second way is to put the camera on one side of the bed, putting them in profile. This is the only way to have the reader see both the looks on their faces. It would be a medium-close shot. This would be without the new panel for pacing.

The third way would be to put it from one of the character’s perspectives. This means you’d lose the look of one of them.

The bad pacing here gives rise to this dilemma.

Also, note that she’s looking up at him. That means he’s on top, which is not something Liam stated in the script. Did it have to be explicitly stated? No, but it would have helped.

Panel 5 doesn’t work on this page. This page should have been cut at panel 4. Would it have been enough to get the reader to the next page? Yes. It isn’t a winner, but not every page has to be. It just has to keep the reader long enough to get back to the good parts. Let’s see if Steve’s right in moving panel 5 down to the next page.

As for panel 5 itself, I’m with Steve: I’m confuseled as to how we got somewhere else. Extremely huge chunk of Border Time there. So much that I think we took a trip on the TARDIS: we traveled in time and space and just arrived here. Not good. Totally bad, really. Okay, crappy. It needs to be fixed. Again, let’s see if Steve’s right.

PAGE 4 (Five Panels)

PAGE 4, Panel 1

Angle the camera so that we have Thomas in the foreground, staring past the camera with awe at the off-panel dimensional tear. In the background behind him is Anna. She stands staring at him with worry and wears a corset and bloomers. (Here’s where you can go over his head and just show his eyes and forehead. By the way, why isn’t she fully dressed?)



PAGE 4, Panel 2

We’re now looking at Thomas from over Anna’s shoulder. Thomas stays facing the dimension tear but looks back, over his shoulder, at Anna with a maddened grin. (Maddened grin? Is he screaming back at her impatiently like a wild man? Take advantage of the words and have the mouth imitate some of them, like GOD . That would definitely not be a grin, but something more intense.)



CAPTION (DIARY): IT DIDN’T WANT ME TO LEAVE. I DIDN’T WANT TO LEAVE IT. (Another comma-fail. Combine the two sentences with a comma instead of a period. It honestly doesn’t read well otherwise.) (I disagree. I think it reads fine the way it is. The previous caption, however, should start with the word But, not And. )

PAGE 4, Panel 3

Cut to back to the cellar. We see Thomas knelt over Anna’s body, stroking her face with one hand as tears pour down his saddened expression. (Your pacing is completely off. You’re jumping from scene to scene and time to time haphazardly with no clear distinction besides a jump here and there. Not good. If you were telling the story like a quick series of flashbacks, that may work, but each scene seems to be a present tense situation. End each scene with a definable hook and pace it out better. Also, make sure to tell your artist to make definite differences in the panels or gutters. This is getting too confusing.)


CAPTION (DIARY): I WILL BIND THIS ABYSS CLOSED. FOR ANNA. (Your words need to be repositioned. It reads better as I WILL BIND CLOSED THIS ABYSS . Sounds better and more appropriate to the time period.)

PAGE 4, Panel 4

Face shot of (a?) Thomas as he looks determined and tears continue to flow.

CAPTION (DIARY): SOLID MATTER IS NEEDED. SOMETHING TO ABSORB ITS ENERGY; TO PLUG THE HOLE IN SPACE. (Never, EVER, use a semi-colon in comic book speech!! Use a comma with ellipsis marks and bring down TO PLUG THE HOLE IN SPACE . NEVER FORGET IT!)


PAGE 4, Panel 5

Establishing shot of Thomas (apostrophe s , right?) house at early morning.

CAPTION (DIARY): BUT WHAT – (Liam, why the double dash and, moreover, why no question mark?? It’s a simple BUT WHAT? )

P4, and what do we have? More bad pacing.

Liam, I’m shocked. Honestly, you know better than to jump around like this. It’s confusing, and makes the story less effective than it should be.

Like Steve, I have no idea as to where we are or even when we are. That’s terrible for the reader. Abso-smurfly. This is a page that is going to need to be rewritten in order to have it make sense with the rest of the story.

PAGE 5 (Four Panels)

[Note to Colourist: Standard pages as we’re now out of the diary.]

PAGE 5, Panel 1

Same shot (comma-fail) only now we’re in the present. We see that the house has been aged considerably and is in disrepair. The bordering forest has become over grown (one word).A modern car is parked outside the house.



PAGE 5, Panel 2

We’re inside the attic again, only in the present. The dimension tear and all the machinery has (Have) gone, leaving only scattered old boxes of antiquities. Phillip is sat (Sitting) on an old chair with his back to one of the walls, reading a small old withered book. On the wall behind him is the painting of Anna, altered (affected, not altered ) by age. Sarah stands a few metres away from Phillip, inspecting a box of old antiques. Both wear modern day clothing (Jeans, t-shirts ect.). (ETC.)


PAGE 5, Panel 3

Mid shot of Phillip as he holds up the book and smiles. The reader can clearly see DIARY OF THOMAS ALBEN on the cover. (If it clearly states DIARY OF THOMAS ALBEN, then why did Thomas write that in his diary entry at the beginning of the story??) The painting is also clearly visible on the wall behind him.


PAGE 5, Panel 4

Medium close up of Sarah as she continues to inspect the contents of the box with an annoyed demeanour.


P5, and we’re in the present.

First, let’s talk about that dangling caption. This caption is in an omniscient narrator voice, which usually is fine, except that this is the first time this is showing up. It’s the end of the story. What’s the point?

If you want to have that caption, you need another caption at the beginning to have symmetry. Otherwise, the reader is going to be a little jarred. It’s like a case of the dropsies, only you dropped the caption in the beginning instead of at the middle, where it occurs most of the time.

Then, that bit of dialogue in the first panel: there should be a tail going toward the house. If not a tail, then it should be a voiceover caption. One or the other, but having it be tailless isn’t working from a storytelling perspective.

And we’re at another weak point as the page ends. It’s only one more page, and hopefully it should be a kicker, but it’s at a page-turn. Is there enough interest to make the reader turn it? As long as the previous page is rewritten to make sense, then the answer is yes. If it isn’t, then the reader will be confused because of the jumping around, and be lost with this page. Connect them by making the previous page make chronological sense.

PAGE 6 (Three Panels)

PAGE 6, Panel 1

Mid shot of Phillip as he is now holding the book closed on his lap and looking past the camera with unease. The painting of Anna is clearly visible on the wall behind him. A small trickle of black liquid, like that of the dimensional tear, has leaked out from behind the painting and down the wall.


PAGE 6, Panel 2

Same shot. Phillip”s expression turns from unease to confusion. Anna’s expression in the painting turns from a smile to a sinister grin and more black liquid has leaked out from behind the painting and down the wall.


PAGE 6, Panel 3

Big Panel, ¾ the page. Close up of Anna’s face in the painting. Her grin remains and black liquid has begun leaking from her eyes.



Bah. This is a weak ending.

Let’s run this down.

Format: Flawless victory!

Panel Descriptions: Most of them are okay, but some of them are needing work. Clarity, Liam. It’s been a while since we talked about that. I’m hoping this is an older piece that you dusted off to submit. You’re better than what you’ve shown here.

Pacing: Like I said, you’re better than what you’ve shown here. Your pacing was fine at first, but then you totally went off the rails. Not good. Normally, it’s just one thing: chunks of border time that are too big, or jumping around from one location to another or one time to another. Here, you combined both. Not good. Fix your chronology, and then fix the gaps in border time.

Dialogue: Generally not bad. Some tweaking. You’ve done better.

Content: I’m not impressed. As a reader, it’s pretty predictable. Starts in the past with something horrible, the horror is thwarted for a time, and then we end up in the present with the horror threatening to begin again as the story ends. Predictable, and as such, boring. It’s a story we’ve all seen before. As a reader, I’m forced to ask, What’s the point?

Editorially, it needs work. I’d ask why you’re choosing to tell this story, and if there’s any more to the story that isn’t here. It needs work, to say the least. Complete rewrite isn’t necessary, but it would be nice. At least make it not as predictable. Give it a twist that no one sees coming. Or at least isn’t as predictable.  

That’s all we have! Check the calendar to see who’s up next!

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Category: Columns, The Proving Grounds

About the Author ()

Steven is an editor/writer with such credits as Fallen Justice, the award nominated The Standard, and Bullet Time under his belt, as well as work published by DC Comics. Between he and his wife, there are 10 kids (!), so there is a lot of creativity all around him. Steven is also the editor in chief and co-creator of ComixTribe, whose mission statement is Creators Helping Creators Make Better Comics. If you're looking for editing, contact him at for rate inquiries.

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