TPG Week 87: Dialogue Should Be Logical

| August 24, 2012

Welcome once more to The Proving Grounds! This week, we have a returning Brave One in LJ Wright! As is the new status quo, we have Steve Colle in blue, and me in red. Let’s see what LJ has as he brings us


Primitive Memories


Page One (Four Panels)

1: An establishing shot of a field area filled with oddly formed trees similar to something you’d expect to see in a Dr. Seuss book (I’m sure you know what I’m talking about, but if not, something like this: The camera is focused on two people standing in a bare area amongst the trees, one is Toni in a dress, and the other is Tony dressed in a pair of jeans and a T-Shirt. (How old, roughly, are these two characters? Is Toni, the girl, much smaller than Tony, the boy? How are they standing? Are they looking at each other? Beyond the trees, all you need are your standard stick figures doing nothing because you haven’t given the artist anything specific to draw. You’ll need better descriptions than this.)


CAP/Tony: It was the craziest dream I’ve had in a long time. (Unlike prose, where you leave an open ended quotation until the very last line of dialogue in the sequence, in comics you close every captioned dialogue that starts with quotation marks with quotation marks, so they are self-contained within that caption.)




2: A close up of Toni’s smiling face looking upward. (Again, not enough specific detail. Is she facing Tony? Is she looking straight up from facing us?)


CAP/Tony: She seemed familiar, but I couldn’t place where I’d seen her before. (Closing quotation marks.)


CAP/Tony: And then I looked at some of my older dream journal entries (I’m getting the feeling that you’re not sure where to find the nuances in speech regarding underlining to accentuate words or ideas. It takes time and a talent of hearing and listening [two totally different things] to become effective doing it. Until then, don’t underline.) and I think I’ve dreamed of this same girl a lot, or a girl like her. (Closing quotation marks.)


3: A medium shot of Tony, now on his knees, holding Toni’s arm up as she’s midway into a ballerina’s spin. (Who’s on the left and who’s on the right of the panel?) (Since we read comics from left to right, panel descriptions should be written as such. I’m going to assume that Tony is on the left and Toni is on the right, since that was the way it was written, and there’s nothing else to gainsay it.)


CAP/Tony: She grabbed my hand and wanted to dance like a little ballerina. (Closing quotation marks.)


CAP/Tony: She reminded me so much of all of those pictures I’d seen of Marcy when she was a little girl doing ballet. (Closing quotation marks.)


4: Toni has jumped into Tony’s arms, her head resting on his shoulder, tears streaming down her face. (Is she facing us so we can see those tears? Say that.)


CAP/Tony: And then she said something, but I couldn’t make out what. (Closing quotation marks.)


CAP/Tony: Man, it’s been a little while since I’ve had a dream that vivid.


So, we now have P1 on the books!


Yes, I’m bored. Already. Why? Because we have a 1st person narrator telling us the story. However, we can infer a couple of things from the captions. Let’s take a look into it.


The first thing we can infer is that the speaker is alive. The second thing, right on top of that, is that the speaker is telling someone a story. How can we tell both of those things? The quotation marks. The quotation marks tell us that there is a speaker, not just an inner monologue, and that there is someone (or something) there to listen to the speaker. Fun, right?


What else do we have on the page? Vagueness. Like Steve, I’m having a hard time visualizing things. Some more description here would go a long way. Like, an establishing shot. You do an establishing shot, and you have most of the things you need in the scene.


Finally, the dialogue. I’m going to agree with him, in that you used the underlining to stress the journal at a very inopportune moment. Go back and re-read it, then come back and tell the class what you should have done.


Why am I bored? Because its four panels, and it doesn’t seem like anything much is happening. A guy relating his dream. Nothing overly special about that.

Page Two (Four Panels)

1: An establishing shot of a street in Bagdad in daytime (Here’s a nice shot of downtown Baghdad:; the camera is focused on two men in ACUs (Like this, but without the beret: walking amongst the crowd of natives, like the picture of downtown above, there are a line of cars parked on the side of the road. (Better establishing shot description. It tells us they are walking and it gives a clearer visual to the artist. Now all you need is directionality, as to which direction they are walking in, left to right, right to left, coming towards us, or walking away from us. Give those kinds of specifics to your artist to clarify your vision.)


Tony: I’ll let you read it sometime, Ted. This dream was like a kid’s book or something, (End the sentence here, as the next is a sentence unto itself, not a direct continuation.) can’t believe it came out of my head.


Ted: Man, Tony, only you’d dream of something like that out here.


Ted: Hell, I thought as soon as everyone else’s shoes hit Baghdad (Comma-fail, and another example of the underlining without full understanding of its use. Don’t do it.) their dreams were just about sand.


2. A medium side shot of the two focused Ted (This description up to this point is unclear as it looks as though you missed some words. What’s happening with Ted?) ; Tony is slightly in front of him with his hands out as he speaks, both have private stripes on the sleeves that face the camera. (


Tony: It’d been awhile since I’ve dreamed like that. I was looking at the ones I had a few years back, (Don’t need a comma here.) (Yes, you do. It gives the pause that you hear when the sentence is read aloud.)and they were ( there was , not they were ) some pretty wild stuff like that, too.


Tony: And almost all of them have a little girl like that.


Ted: Marcy is pregnant, right?


Tony: Yeah, about a month in.


3: A similar side shot focusing on Tony now (Who were we focusing on in the previous panel?), who is scratching the back of his head, and Ted has his head back with a big grin. We see they are directly in front of a car parked on the side of the street in the background. (Which means they’ve stopped, which means you’ll need to show either a simulated continued movement in Panel 2 or that they’ve stopped at this vehicle in Panel 2. How close were they to this vehicle in Panel 1? Stage your images in the sequence so that where you’re coming from and where you are now make sense.)


Ted: It sounds to me like you’ve got a kid on the brain, man (Period-fail)


Tony: I guess that’s true. Marcy’s pretty sure it’s going to be a boy, though.


Ted: But do you want it to be?


Tony: No, (Either have No stand on its own or add the word but to make a connection in the sentence.) tell you the truth, I always wanted a little girl.


Tony: I grew up in a family of all boys, and I figure— (Double dash, not triple.)


4. Same shot, but the car in the background has now exploded, and we can only see brief outlines of the two men’s figures amongst the explosion, both with their hands up against it.


SFX: BOOM! (Here’s where you underline caps. The sound effect itself would be in caps automatically, but because they are right next to the exploding vehicle, you’ll want to place that extra emphasis on the word, maybe even making the explosion as the panel shape by having the men trapped in the word BOOM! )


P2, and we’ve got some more vagueness going on.


I’m also concerned about the first page. Why was that page necessary, from a storytelling point of view? I’m hoping that it has some extremely serious impact late in the story. Otherwise, it’s a waste of space.


Dialogue: you have too much back and forth going on. Look at the last panel. Five balloons, but four speak-and-repsonses. Yes, the panel count is low, so you should more than likely have the space for it. However, I don’t want you to get into the habit of having so many back and forths per panel. You get into that habit, and some editor is going to slap you around. Then you’re going to blame me for not looking out for you when I could have. So, I’m doing it now.


The explosion! Don’t mistake the explosion for anything less than what it is: a gimmick to try to offset the boredom you were inflicting on the readers. However, it should have been on P1, not P2. You’re now losing the opportunity to use it as a page turn, instead of just having the reader’s eyes slide over to the next page.

Page Three (Seven Panels)

1. A wide shot of the area looking downward; we see a lot of smoke (Just smoke?) from around the middle of the road with a lot of the natives we see earlier scattering in panic. (This would be better served as a fifth panel on Page Two. Why? Because that way you’re keeping the previous scene within itself and also providing a better visual opportunity for the reader to connect the last and the next panels and their respective scenes. In film, it’s all one flowing mass of images, but in comics, it’s a matter of knowing where to end your scene and start the next, pacing it out. Also, you’ve got a lot of dialogue coming in Panel 6 and you’ll need that extra space to accommodate it. Nice transitional device, by the way.)

2. The same shot, but now we see it as a newspaper clipping put into the back of a journal by a paperclip, underneath the picture we see the caption:

By Stephanie Lewis

Baghad ( BAGHDAD misspelled) | Sat May 19, 2009 7:47pm EDT

Doctor Monroe/OP: You put a clipping of the bombing in here?


Marcy/OP: Tony always liked to write about good things and bad.


Marcy/OP: One passage is ( Was , not is ) about how much he loved baseball, and the next one was about how much he missed his mother after she died of cancer. (26 words in this balloon. I hope it all fits in the panel with the other bits of dialogue. One thing I would counsel you on is natural dialogue vs. abbreviated natural dialogue. In other words, what absolutely needs to be said in the script vs. what are just extraneous words that sound alright when spoken, but aren’t necessary in getting the point across. Here’s how to cut down by at least three words: One passage was about how much he loved baseball, while the next was how he missed his mother when she died of cancer . I took out the words One , the second about , and the second much . It didn’t change the meaning or effect of the speech, but made the dialogue shorter and a little easier to manage in the balloon. It’s all in the editing, including self-editing.)


3. A medium side shot showing Doctor Monroe and Marcy standing behind Toni, who sits in a chair and wears a large metal visor over her eyes with thin wires going up toward the ceiling. In the background we see other people dressed like Monroe sitting at computer consoles. (How is Toni seated? Again, give us the direction for better visualization.)


Doctor: Sounds like he was a very interesting man.


Marcy: He really was, Doctor Monroe.


4. A shot from behind Doctor Monroe as he hands the diary back to Marcy.


Doctor Monroe: I’ve only seen the passage in his dream journal that relates to what we’re projecting now (Good usage of the underline/bolding, but it’s so sporadic that it becomes useless. Don’t do it.), but I see he was as detailed in writing that as he was ( in ) his personal diaries. (32 words in this one balloon. Do you see where you can split it into two? Right before the but , using ellipsis marks [ ] at the end after now, and again in the next balloon before but . It’s a completely natural opportunity to break it up, not like trying to break up a sentence without a comma or period.)


Doctor Monroe: I hope you realize the significance of this, Ms. Morris.


5. The camera switches to behind them, (it’s already behind them in the previous panel from my understanding ) Marcy has taken the diary and Doctor Monroe is standing with his hands in his lab coat pockets; we see a screen is in front of Toni displaying the scene from the final panel of the first page. (Huh? So what you’re saying is that she’s seeing the exact same image as what appears in the last panel of Page One, where Toni has jumped into Tony’s arms, her head resting on his shoulder, tears streaming down her face ? Why? This is where you’re losing me, and I’ve read ahead to know what’s coming next, bracing myself.)


Doctor Monroe: When the theory of time travel via DNA memory first came about, it was laughed at as science fiction.


Doctor Monroe: No one would even consider publishing a serious work on it, ( with it being ) just a plot point for comic books and video games.


Doctor Monroe: How the world changes, and this project (Comma-fail) with this journal and your husband’s attention to detail (Comma-fail) shows that it could be possible. (Again, don’t use the underlining until you know how to incorporate it throughout your dialogue.)


(You’re going to need a good sized panel to accommodate all three balloons of this dialogue, LJ. Otherwise you’re covering up some of the visuals.)


6. The camera switches back to facing the two as Doctor Monroe is walking away with his back to the camera (I thought you just said the camera was facing the two?) and his head turned slightly back talking to Marcy, who is looking down at Toni as she holds the diary to her side.


Doctor Monroe: It’s not proven yet, of course, but isn’t it truly an astonishment.


Doctor Monroe: They have the diary locked away at the State’s Affair (Should this be Affairs , plural?) Office, but if all the dreams we design match the journals other entries


(Generally speaking, and in all honesty, all I’m getting from Doctor Monroe’s dialogue is ranting. He just goes on and on. I know he’s excited. We ALL know he’s excited. But get to the points and keep them. The rest is all needless fluff.)


Doctor Monroe: Well, Ms. Morris, it may be a primitive form, but your daughter could very well be the first time traveler. (And here it is, where you’ve completely lost me. Somehow you’ve put 2 and 2 together and made 22 instead of 4. That’s a HUGE LEAP for the readers to accept, especially given the lack of reality or realistic setting you seem to be going for in the first scene. And what does her time traveling have to do with his dreams? Nothing. If he was actually experiencing her physically instead of in a dream state, I could understand the whole time travel thing. However, you’re saying that he thinks his dreaming is his reality, that select solitary aspects of his life, not major occurrences like the war, are simply dreams. Yet he’s recognizing them as dreams , which means he isn’t diagnosable as being sheer cuckoo. It seems to me you’re putting two separate themes together hoping to make one, that being time travel and the unconscious or subconscious mind, but it isn’t working.)


Doctor Monroe: This could change everything.


Marcy: I know, doctor


7. A close up shot of Toni’s face, a tear running down her cheek from under her vision, her mouth twist in a grimace, Marcy’s free hand has been placed on her shoulder now.


Marcy: though I don’t know if Toni really cares about that part of it.


So besides losing the credibility of the story for me, you need to work on better descriptions for your panels so the artist won’t be doing the whole What is he talking about? It’s all in the details. Acclaimed writer Alan Moore is notorious for his long panel descriptions, at some point lasting pages per panel. He has vision and knows how to visualize it and describe it to the artist. Learn more about the craft. You’ve only just begun.


Also, work on your dialogue. Make sure to cut out anything unnecessary in getting the points across. Otherwise it’s all ranting and taking away space from the visuals.


Now for the title: It isn’t telling me anything about the story, with the only reference so far in the script being the Doctor talking about primitive form . When I think of the word primitive , I think of cavemen, apes, nature vs. technology. The word memories is pretty self-explanatory. But you’re talking about Tony having dreams, so where do memories come into play? Maybe for a working title, but not for a final product. Look at Bolts & Nuts on Titles for an idea of what makes a powerfully effective one. (I don’t think I wrote one on Titles. I think that was Tyler doing a Comix Counsel.)


And here we have P3, and, like Steve, I’m completely lost.


Three pages, three scene changes, little to connect them, and no sense is made.


Okay, following P1 to P2, we have a guy recounting a dream to a friend. Following P2 to P3, it seems that, somehow, we have this being viewed in someone’s mind/through a metal visor/I don’t know what kind of sci-magic. On top of that, we have a long-winded explanation that makes little sense, because of some illogical thinking. We have this on a six-panel spread of talking heads.


This page, LJ, is terrible. This is the page that makes the reader put the book back on the shelf. The first two pages failed to grab, and the third failed to illuminate.


Let’s run this down.


Format: Flawless victory! Congrats!


Panel Descriptions: These need some beefing up. If you do a good, proper establishing shot, you can then use scripting shorthand for the rest of the panel. You had a good attempt in there of an establishing shot, but you just didn’t go far enough.


Don’t get lost in where you placed the camera, and don’t start trying to crowd the page with panels. The first page had four, the second page had four, the last had six. You could have spared yourself some of that by increasing the panel count on the first two pages by one panel each. But that goes more into pacing. Like I said, though, remember where you have the camera.


Pacing: Meh. It’s close to terrible.


The first two pages drag. Then you try to get interesting with the explosion, and then we turn the page to find that it was a memory of sorts, and then there’s a lot of talking heads. Not only do the first to pages drag, they’re something of a fast read, compared to P3, where you just totally bogged everything down with a lot of unnecessary text.


I’d cut P1 and start on P2. P1 doesn’t seem to be doing anything for you. If you start on P2, you can then have more space later on for other stuff. But P1 isn’t doing you any favors. No, I haven’t seen the rest of this, but here’s what I don’t get, which is why I recommend cutting it: One guy is telling his dream to another person. Through whose eyes/memories are we seeing the dream? Because we then come out of the dream/flashback, and we’re in the real world. Oops! No we’re not! We’re actually looking at the past, through that other person’s memories. If it’s the other person’s memories, how does that person know exactly what the first guy’s dream looked like, so much that they could see it in a viewfinder?


They can’t, which is my point exacly.


You need to work on your sci-magic. But because P1 is now ruled impossible because of your science, it can be cut, and no one would be the wiser. You end the page with an explosion (everyone likes explosions), and then move on to the sci-magic. That’s how this should roll.


Dialogue: There’s too much of it on P3, and it doesn’t make sense. You should cut most of P3’s dialogue. Keep the gushing away from the scientist until the explanation makes sense.


Content: Not good. The opposite of, to tell the truth. I had trouble understanding the 3rd page in context of everything else, even after reading it a couple of times. Not good. It needs to be explained better.


I wrote a boring story in which I explained string theory. I did it, without a lot of hard-to-follow-logic. I’m not saying it needs to be dumbed down. I’m saying that it needs to be explained better.


Editorially, I’d say you’re on a decent path. You need more work in storytelling, so you can know what does and doesn’t work, like that P1. You also need help in turning your sci-magic into science fiction. That shouldn’t be too hard.


Okay, that’s it from us! Check the calendar to see who’s 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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