TPG Week 88: Panel Descriptions Need Meat

| August 31, 2012

Hello, and welcome once more to The Proving Grounds! This week, we have a new Brave One in Sara Weaver, who brings us a tale entitled Richard Unhinged. As per the regular status quo, we have Steve Colle in blue, and me in red. And…we’re off!

Chapter One. Who Murdered Charles White

The First 16 Pages Of 32 Of Issue 1


Apartment Room Reference –

Slephners House Reference –


PAGE ONE: (3 Panels)


Panel 1. This is a city left after World War III. Picture a multi racial ghetto in the distant future. Prole ville is stuck in the era of the early 2000’s. However in the sky was can see skylights coming from lavish fruit gardens in the upper elite city along the glass dome. Indicate a space age city in the early 2090’s. (Do you have this as a low angle or worm’s eye view showing the Prole ville at the base of the image in the foreground? That would be your best bet.)



11:45 PM (It seems really odd having a year and time, but no date or day of the week to support it. Throw in a date to complete it.) (One slight nitpick: 2094 is not the distant future. My youngest child could feasibly see this date, being born in 2000. I’d either push it out more, or don’t say this is the distant future. Just a nitpick.)


Panel 2. A small group of abandoned children live in a rundown apartment room. Richard is mostly useless, but is somewhat competent with first aid. Bianca is a girl who likes to fight. Akiko and Hiromi typing on their laptops at the table by the couch. (If you’re going to show the interior of the apartment room here in Panel 2, then it should have the exterior showing in Panel 1.Perhaps what you can do here is look through the window from outside of the apartment to give us the idea of both exterior and interior with the window frame being a frame within the frame of the panel border, seeing as how not much is happening in this panel.


Panel 3. Richard, who has his right knee and his left shoe on the floor, tends to the wound of Bianca, who is sitting on the couch with her eyes glazed over. (These two panels need to be combined, especially considering that you don’t say what Richard and Bianca are doing. And, the position Richard is in is called a kneeling position.)


RICHARD(Bubble): Bianca, try to be careful. You don’t want to rip off the turniket. Its the only one we have.

BIANCA(Bubble): I appreciate the concern Richard, but I think I’ll be fine. (Comma-fail. I like that you got their names in, but it does sound forced.)

RICHARD(Bubble): Hey, I know you will. I care about the turniket. (Misspelled tourniquet )


You’re off to an okay start. You’ve got some pretty good panel descriptions happening that just need to be fleshed out a bit more.


Hm. I won’t disagree with Steve, but I don’t exactly agree, either. You’ve really got three panels here, true, but you’ve done them wrong.


The first panel should be an establishing shot, which you generally have. The second should be an exterior of the building they’re in, as Steve said, and the third is of Richard tending the bandage.


But there are problems. The first problem is that you don’t describe the panels that well. What do I mean by that? Where is the tourniquet that’s supposed to be on Bianca? Arm? Leg? I don’t know. There’s also the problem of the use of tourniquets: to control bleeding (generally). And not just any bleeding, either. Profuse bleeding. Arterial. Tourniquets can also kill body parts, because they restrict the flow of blood. Generally, they shouldn’t be used, and I personally find it irresponsible for writers (novelists and screenplay) to use them. It perpetuates incorrect information, like the use of over and out while using a two-way radio.


The next problem is the number of panels. I’m not a fan of it. It’s the first page, with minimal dialogue. There is a LOT that can be done with this page in order to draw readers into the story more. You want to grab them as soon as possible. This isn’t doing it yet. I’m getting a whiff of elderberries (padding).


Also, let’s call things what they really are. These aren’t bubbles, these are word balloons. That’s first. Second, they aren’t necessary. The letterer already knows that these are bits of dialogue. Looks like more study is needed.



PAGE TWO: (4 Panels)


Panel 1. The groups hears a racket outside.


Panel 2. Bianca pushes Richard aside.


Panel 3. Richard slams into the wall.


Panel 4. She then looks out of the window.


Okay, here’s where the minimalist approach is not working. The devil is in the details, so get back in there and give us more. Distance, angles, viewpoints, etc. are what will make this easier to picture both from an editor’s and artist’s standpoint.


You have four panels here where three would work fine. Panel 2’s action of Bianca pushing Richard aside can be combined with Richard being slammed into the wall. By doing this, you are helping create suspense and impact because she is so rushed to get to the window that nothing and no one is going to stand in her way.


To be honest, I’m VERY much not a fan of a minimalist approach. Why write a script, if you’re going to do that?


So, here’s what we have: some sort of racket in panel 1. What kind of racket? Because you utterly failed to provide that information, only the artist knows. And the artist is going to ask, I promise you.


Now, for panel 2: we have a person who’s wearing a tourniquet, possibly for arterial bleeding, pushing someone aside. I’m not seeing that, at all.


For panel 3, we have Richard hitting a wall. The wall must have been pretty damned close in order to hit it from a kneeling position. Of course, that all depends on the layout of the room they’re in. The other alternative? Bianca is damned strong, but if that’s so, I’m not seeing the need for a tourniquet.


I don’t think this is a tourniquet at all. I just think this is a regular bandage. Which one is it?


Finally, for panel 4, I’m not seeing this, either. Where’s the window, and how are we seeing her as she looks out through it?


Know what I think? I think you just started writing, without any thought whatsoever about what the page is supposed to look like. It looks like you put more thought in the first page than you did the second.


Also, this is more elderberries. These first two pages should have been combined. You didn’t need four panels for this. After more thought, this could have been done in two.


And depending on where this disturbance is, you’ll have to redo the first couple of panels. I’m just hoping the disturbance isn’t outside. If it is, you’ll have to redo it, in order to give some foreshadowing, and a reason for the ruckus. I’m hoping it’s in the hall, myself. But then, Bianca wouldn’t have gone to the window…


Looks like some rewriting is in order.

PAGE THREE: (4 Panels)


Panel 1. She then goes back inside to sit on the couch. (Two things here: First, this isn’t a necessary action. Second, this would be better served as part of the previous page if it were necessary, which it isn’t, so get rid of it.)


Panel 2. Outside, Malcolm is walking along the sidewalk to get to the apartment room.


Page 3. A motor cycle gang wearing leather jackets are vandalizing the apartment. All he can see are their silhouettes. (Where did these guys pop up from? There’s no lead in to show them breaking into the apartment, that is if you mean this is the same one where Richard, Bianca, and the rest of the group are. The action needs to make sense, which it doesn’t here.)


Panel 4. Malcolm tries to get the other kids attention. (Who are the other kids ? Is this Bianca and the others?)


MALCOLM(Bubble): Hey guys, can I help you? (This dialogue seems awfully soft given the situation. And who is he talking to, the kids or the gang? I’m more apt to think he’s talking to the gang as he’s very casual in his speech.)


Here’s a page that screams confusion. And again, you’re down to three panels, just like the previous two pages. Is there a way to combine the pages? I’m sure there is, but with the change of scene, you kinda need that page break. Let’s look at what the next page has to offer that may help things along.


P3, and I can comfortably say that this is crap.


Panel 1: she goes inside where? I thought she was already inside. And if she’s going to sit on the couch, how do we know? If she sits on the couch, then this is a moving panel. Moving panels are terrible. Also, when taken with the rest of the page, this panel is unnecessary, as Steve said. This panel is crap.


Panel 2: We get a guy just strolling along. Since this would really be P2, this is okay, because we’d have the page turn to get through. However, the timing is terrible, because we’re expecting to see the ruckus that got Bianca upset. We don’t see that here. We see an unnamed (to the reader) guy walking down the street.


Panel 3: A motorcycle gang suddenly appears out of nowhere, being magically delicious. Now, what are they vandalizing? The apartment, or the apartment building? I don’t know. Words are important, and you seem to be missing one or two. Not good.


Panel 4: I understand what Steve’s driving at with his confusion, but here’s what I’m getting: the other kids are the motorcycle gang. Now, since there isn’t a document saying how old or how many there are in the gang, it’s almost impossible to tell whom you’re talking about, or who Malcolm is talking to.


Massive rewriting is in the offing.

PAGE FOUR: (4 Panels)


Panel 1. The other kids are not really paying any attention to him. So he asks again.


MALCOLM(Bubble): Hey, I asked if I can help you!


Panel 2, One of the kids turns around.


Panel 3. He stares at Malcolm blankly.


Panel 4. Malcolm is frozen in fear, situated upon the other kids fixed gaze.


This page, again, has a panel that can be combined with another, where one of the kids turns around AND blankly stares at Malcolm. And this is the page you’re looking for that can be combined with the previous one to make six panels instead of keeping the 3-3-3-3 pattern going.


I’m not understanding the casualness of the kids Malcolm is talking to. Their apartment is being attacked by a gang and yet they stand there blankly. Again, the actions aren’t making any sense.


Turn up the heat on the descriptions as you’re continuing with the minimum amount.




Not just crap, padded crap, which is worse.


What is this page supposed to do? You have this as P4, when it really should be something like P2. Like Steve said, these previous two pages should be combined.


It doesn’t really matter, though, because this is going to be rewritten. That’s pretty apparent. This is bad.


On top of being bad, this is an astoundingly fast read.


Out of 15 panels, only 5 have words in them. Know what that means? Only 1/3 of the panels in this book have things that can actually be read. That is completely horrible. It’s almost pointless. Four pages in, hardly anything has happened, and we still don’t know anything about the story.


This is back on the shelves.


At least there’s some (small) reason for the bare-bones panel descriptions. If you had given a proper establishing shot, then this wouldn’t be so bad.

PAGE FIVE: (4 Panels)


Panel 1. The kid turns back around.


Panel 2. The biker kid continues vandalize the apartment.


Panel 3. Richard leans out of the window.


Panel 4. He notices that the kids have an unusual color for kids that live in the neighborhood,


I’m officially lost, Sarah. Your minimalist approach is akin to what we call plot format, but even at that, there’s too little of it. On top of that, all I’m reading on this page is kid, kid, kid Is that biker kid the same as the kid who just turned back around? And what do the kids outside have to do with the scene? Was the kid who turned around in the window prior to Richard coming over to look out? Just all around confusion that I can’t visualize. Even if this were written as prose, the sequence of actions wouldn’t make sense.


Altogether now: crap!


I’m still waiting for something that has bearing on the story to happen.


So far, each page is little more than a waste of time.


Let’s take a look at panels 3 and 4:


How are we supposed to be seeing Richard? I have no idea as to where the camera is supposed to be. But that’s not the worst part.


The worst part is panel 5. This panel is truly terrible. Let’s go through it.


First, what is the artist supposed to draw? I have no idea, because you didn’t say. Are they supposed to draw Richard with a quizzical look? Is it from the same view as the previous panel, or is it a more pulled-in shot?


For that matter, how far up is the window? I don’t know, and you don’t say. Why do I ask? Because you have Richard able to see their color…at night. I’m going to call that highly improbable, unless he has powers like Bianca.


Next, the color of the biker gang. (I’m about to think they’re on bicycles since you keep calling them kids.) How are they a different color? How is it that this wasn’t noticed earlier, by anyone? Because they’re some weird color, the colorist is going to be upset, because it wasn’t mentioned earlier. (This is where it helps to have a separate document with character descriptions.)


See how this page is terrible? You aren’t thinking it through, and it shows.

PAGE SIX: (4 Panels)


Panel 1. He leans back inside.


Panel 2. Malcolm arrives at the apartment door.


Panel 3. He opens the door.


Panel 4. Bianca punches Malcolm in the nose.


MALCOLM(Bubble): Watch out bitch! Its me.

BIANCA(Bubble): Oh Sorry! Malcolm are you hurt, you could have gotten killed out there.


Panel 5. Malcolm pushes the girls into the Briefing room. Richard follows closely behind.


MALCOLM(Bubble): Briefing room now! .


I’ve been looking for something to grab my attention in the script so far, something to make me want to turn the page. I’ve yet to find it. You have unnecessary actions such as the leaning back inside, ability to combine actions such as opening the door and getting a face full of fist, and your dialogue is confusing and weak, with that also being minimal. I’m confused with the whole you could have gotten killed out there when there was nothing going on outside to warrant this speech.


I’m going to stop here. I don’t like to stop so soon, but there isn’t anything working so far. I would suggest a complete rewrite with assistance from an editor in developing your story. It isn’t a simple matter of not being familiar with comic talk. The story itself just isn’t there.


I wish you luck in getting this fleshed out. I’m sure you can have a good story with work.


This page isn’t good, either.


Comma-fails, dialogue not matching the actions, actions that don’t make sense, moving panels, and a general lack of moving the story forward, along with an overly healthy dose of padding, with no story yet to be anywhere in sight.


This is crap, pure and simple.


Let’s run this down.


Format: Needs a little bit of work. You need to learn not only comic terminology, but also when to use it. There are Bolts & Nuts on format and writing for comics. The first thirteen are especially useful for this. I suggest you avail yourself of them. You could have had a flawless victory.


Panel Descriptions: Terrible. You were almost okay on the first page, and then you totally gave up. It was a wonder we continued, because we could see you didn’t care with every page. You can do minimalist panel descriptions if your name is Warren Ellis. If your name isn’t Ellis, you shouldn’t do minimalist panel descriptions. Especially when it’s obvious you don’t know what you’re doing with it.


Beef up your panel descriptions. Think them through. Make sure they make sense. Make sure they move the story forward. This isn’t doing it.


Your panel descriptions also shouldn’t be confusing. Not being confusing is easy: just write a single, drawable action per panel. You want to write drawable panels? Grab a comic book and start writing the panels. Write what you see. I bet you that you’re going to come up with more than a single line.


Pacing: Terrible. The snail’s pace this moved at was the opposite of good. Nothing happens in any of the pages here, none of the panels move the story forward, there are some moving panels, there are panels that don’t belong and drag things out…it’s like a centipede: lots of legs moving, but still unable to move quickly.


The only fix is a total rewrite. It needs to be plotted so that the story moves.


I had recently started reading Warren Ellis’ Freakangels. It moves slowly, but it tells a good tale. The worldbuilding was nicely done. Lots of three- and four-panel pages. However, it was interesting. There was a definite feel that the story was there. There isn’t a sense of that here.


Dialogue: First, there is too little of it. Second, it is all very weak. None of it is very good, and none of it is strong enough to carry the story.


The art has to do the heavy lifting of telling the story, and the dialogue has to supplement it. That doesn’t happen here. What you have here is extremely ineffective.


What, if anything, does the dialogue teach us? It doesn’t move the plot, and it doesn’t do much to reveal character. Like I said, highly ineffective.


Content: Terrible, because I have no idea as to what’s going on. That’s not something you want to hear when you’re five pages in. You want to get some sense of something, at the very least. I don’t get a sense of anything, except that you’re flailing around, trying to tell a story, but not knowing what story you want to tell.


As a reader, this goes back on the shelf, and I look for something else that would be entertaining.


Editorially, this needs a complete rethink, top to bottom. It’s called Richard Unhinged, right? Well, what’s unhinged about him? You can get that across in five pages. Correctly paced, you can get that across in two pages.


That’s all we have this week. 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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