TPG Week 89: Don’t Let Dialogue Kill You

| September 7, 2012

Once more, we’re back in The Proving Grounds! This week’s Brave One is Rich Chedester, who’s bringing us a tale of the Black Dragon. As is the norm, we have Steve Colle in blue, and me in red.

Let’s see what we have, shall we?


PAGE 1 (5 panels)

PANEL 1: Close up of a man sitting in an oversized throne. You can only see the man from his chest up to the top of his head. Very little detail of the throne behind him. The man is wearing a white robe with splotches of blood visible, but faint. He has a golden chain around his neck with a golden dragon’s head attached at the bottom. His face is covered by the hood but you can make out the whites of his eyes, the tip of his nose, a sly smile and bottom of his chin. (Okay, I’m already having problems. The first problem is that Rich is hiding information from the rest of the team, because no one knows who this person is. The second problem is that there’s a hood that just magically appeared. The first panel, and things are already magically delicious.)

Caption box: The not so distant future (Missing a period, but that’s only part of the problem. This sounds awfully cliché and detracts from the power of what follows, which is the character’s monologue.) (When it’s the first caption, and it is little more than setting up a time or time and place, I personally am not so quick to say that a period is missing. As long as it remains consistent.)

Alex Reed (box 1): My name is Alex Reed

Alex Reed (box 2): and I am a Black Dragon.

PANEL 2: Now we are pulling out of the close up. Alex is seen leaning back in the throne with a katana sword across his lap. His white robe flows down to the floor, but Alex is sitting with his legs apart and you can see he is wearing black combat utility pants and black combat boots. The robe has more splotches of blood that get progressively bigger and darker until you get to the bottom of the robe where it is drenched in blood. The throne is very large but plain looking except in the back where there are two large dragon heads facing each other. The heads have a snarl about them and are mirror images of each other.

Alex Reed (box 1): I serve the ancient organization known as the Order of Dragons.

Alex Reed (box 2): For centuries they have operated in secrecy, starting wars

Alex Reed (box 3): preventing wars, (Ellipsis marks here) / (Start a new balloon here with ellipsis for connectivity) and guiding mankind in the process.

PANEL 3: Pulling further away from the throne, Alex is centered in the shot, he is still sitting in the throne but now we see dead bodies lying all around him, most are wearing black robes. There are swords near most of the bodies. Behind the throne is a large pair of glowing red-orange eyes, like a large dragon head but all you can make out are the eyes.

Alex Reed: Most members of the Order are born into it, but not me.

PANEL 4: Pulling even further away from the previous panel, we can now see the throne is at the end of a very long and narrow throne room that opens up wider the closer it is to the throne. The throne is very small at this point.

Alex Reed: I was recruited. (Having read the next page already, I’d just as soon have this reveal made on the next page’s dialogue. Leave with a hook.)

PANEL 5: We have now pulled so far out of the throne room from panel 4 that we are looking into it from a window, the throne is barely visible.

I’m picturing this as having a Conan-esque purpose to it, where we get an introduction to the character in a still aftermath-type of image, with the story of how we got to this point following on the next page. Not something I’m particularly fond of in a new story with brand new characters, but lets give you some leeway. The other thing is that you absolutely DON’T need five panels to create this establishing series of shots. It makes for an extremely boring read, especially given the last panel has no text. All you need is one panel as a splash page or full bleed, preferably panel 3, which has the most visual impact.

So, we have P1 in the books, and to be honest, I’m bored. I get the vibe that Steve mentions, and it might have come off better if this were being told in the third person, but that isn’t the vibe I’m getting. I’m getting that Alex is the one talking in the captions, and that’s lessening the impact of what’s going on.

And what’s going on is this: a first-person speaker in captions means one of two things: internal monologue, or he’s talking to someone. Since there are no quotation marks, I’m going for an internal monologue, which more than likely means that he’s still alive, nondescript dead people on the ground notwithstanding.

Know what it also does? It makes reader sit back instead of leaning forward. It bores them, because they’re being told the story, instead of feeling like they’re in the now. Whenever you have an internal monologue, being told the story, means that the story is already told, and the only thing we’re doing is catching up. Lots of times, that can work, but that means the ending that we start at is also interesting. If this first page is the ending, then it isn’t interesting. Know what’s making it boring?

The dialogue.

Utterly predictable, boring, and cliché. This is not an auspicious start.


PAGE 2 (7 panels)

PANEL 1: Angled overhead, long view of a diamond shaped table (similar to a home plate in baseball). The pointed end should be the furthest away as it is the head of the table. There are seven men all dressed in blood red robes sitting around the table. At the head of the table is one figure that is wearing a white robe.

Caption box: Present Day

PANEL 2: Close up of a red hooded figure, face is aged, that of an old man, picture a man in his 70’s.

Master Loke (note – this box should be overlapped in panel 1 and 2): My brothers, another of our Black Dragon (This use of Black Dragon isn’t as necessary as when you use it in the dialogue of Panel 3.) warriors have been killed ( Fallen instead of been killed . It just sounds better from a reader’s standpoint.). There are ( now ) only five left now.

PANEL 3: Left-side view of a hooded man leaning forward on the table. His elbows are on the table and hands are up to his face. His face cannot be seen from the side, right hand is not in view.

Master Cenhelm: My Esteemed colleagues of the Dragon Council, I may have a solution to our problem (Watch for over-wordiness and needless text.)

Master Loke (off panel): What solution could you be talking about,(You’re repeating yourself with needless dialogue) (Add something to the beginning of this sentence, such as You are aware ) there are no lesser Dragons ready to be promoted to the level of a Black Dragon.

PANEL 4: Front view of the man in panel 3. Now we can see his face, he is in his 40’s, with a short haircut. He has a scar running from under his left eye that angles back to his ear and down towards his neck. His right hand mechanical in nature, as is his entire right arm. Both arms are visible up to his elbow.

Master Cenhelm: My solution is simple, (Solution, solution, solution. Change it to something like Simply put, ) we recruit (Don’t need the ellipsis at the end of this sentence.)

Master Loke (off panel): Recruit who?! We all know that you must prove yourself at each stage to become a Black Dragon.

PANEL 5: Pulled back side view, most of the council can be seen again, the head of the table is centered in the picture. Man with mechanical arm is now standing and leaning over the table, hood pulled down, mouth open as if he is yelling. White robed figure is sitting with his hands in front of his face, hands forming like a temple. One hooded figure is pushing away from the table, the rest are seated and observing.

Master Cenhelm (man standing up): I know of one such individual that ( who ) is more than ready to rise to the rank of Black Dragon.

Master Loke (man pushing away from table): How can you suggest ( Are you suggesting ) bringing in an outsider?

PANEL 6: Low-angled close-up of the white robed man. He is much older than everyone, picture someone in their 90’s. He has long grey hair and several scars on his face. He also has a thin, grey goatee that forms into longer point at his chin.

Grand Master Methodios: Gentlemen, please, we are all trying to get to the bottom of this situation. You are all Blood Dragons and as such (Comma-fail) must remain civil and hear each other out. Please continue (Comma-fail) Master Cenhelm.

PANEL 7: Dramatic close-up of Master Cenhelm.

Master Cenhelm: Thank you (Comma-fail) Grand Master, (Comma-fail. Period for new sentence.)As I was saying, I know of an individual that ( who ) can take up the rank of ( become our new ) Black Dragon, his name is Alex Reed. (You’ve already established his name in the introduction on Page One. Don’t be repetitious.)

Master Loke (off panel): Who is this person?

Master Cenhelm: He’s my nephew ( , Alex ).

This is pretty slow paced right now. A big problem you’re having is with dialogue. There’s too much repetition and you’re not getting the dramatic effect out of what you’ve written. It’s dry. Something to work on is listening to what you’ve written out loud to find what works and what doesn’t. As it is, it doesn’t sound natural.

Yep. P2 brings us more boredom. There are some things to go over, though.

First, you called something boxes. I have no idea what you’re talking about, because these are all word balloons. If you meant word balloons and not boxes, then you have more studying of terms to do.

Every comic book writer needs to have a decent comic book vocabulary. Why? So that the rest of the team knows what you’re talking about. If everyone is all on the same page, then there’s no way that there will be any confusion. If I were lettering this, I’d have questions as to what you meant by boxes. Learn your terms.

Now, here’s the thing: while people come for the art, they stay for the story. Even if you had the most fantabulous art, the writing is killing you. Like Steve said, it’s slow, it’s repetitious, and very clumsy. Comma-fails aside, how many words/phrases did he correct/replace? More than a few. Clumsy. Reader-friendly, this isn’t. If I were editing this privately, I’d tell you that I’m treating all the dialogue as place-holders, because it’s going to be totally gutted, and new dialogue put in.

We also have a huge case of the dropsies. You started off with an internal monologue, and then completely abandoned it the next page. Not good.

PAGE 3 (6 panels)

PANEL 1: Evening view of the San Diego skyline. See link for how I think it should look.

Caption Box: San Diego(This is completely unnecessary as Alex is about to say the location directly.)

Alex Reed (off panel narrating) (This doesn’t make sense: Off panel narrating . It’s a caption box, so say what it actually is): San Diego, (Period instead of Comma) America’s Finest City, at least that’s what the brochures say…

PANEL 2: Downtown San Diego. See link.

Alex Reed (off panel narrating) (Same thing here. Caption.): but there is a seedy underground ( seediness to help with the underground-under combination in the same sentence.) that goes under the radar, as if no one cares about this beautiful city.

(Either use Panel 1 or Panel 2′ visuals. You don’t need both as establishing shots.)

PANEL 3: Angled (How is the angle, high or low?) over-the-shoulder (Whose shoulder?) view into a dimly lit alley. Two individuals are standing near the light and appear to be making a transaction. Selling drugs if you must know. Not many details can be made out of our hero. Think of a ninja but without the sword, he also wears body armor and carries a pistol but I doubt this fits into the picture(Don’t tell the artist what isn’t in the picture.). (You say there are two individuals in this image, the two thugs, yet you then mention the hero. Which is it, two or three characters?)

Thug 1: This the product you told me about?

Thug 2: Yeah (Comma-fail) dawg, it’s legit, (Period instead of comma) It’swhy the price is steep.

Thug 1: My boss ain’t worried about the money, just so long as this stuff does what you say.

PANEL 4: Close-up on the thugs. Doesn’t really matter what these guys really look like so have fun with it.

Thug 2: Shoot (Comma-fail) mang, that’s why this is just a taste, (Period instead of comma here as well.) We meet up again in two days for the rest.

Thug 1: True dat, (Period instead of comma here again) Better hope the boss ain’t disappointed.

PANEL 5: Low-angle shot of the thugs. Alex Reed can be seen on the roof tops, still no visible details can be made out.

Thug 2: I ain’t worried (Comma-fail) bro.

PANEL 6: Same low-angle view but now Alex Reed can be seen jumping down into the alleyway. He’s still in the air. (This panel seems to be repeated to better effect on the following page. Hook the reader with the visual of him hovering over the thugs, making him apparent in the shadows.)

Punctuation is a major issue. This shows the mark of an amateur and would result in any other editor looking for a sellable story to immediately put it down. Research proper usage, Richard. It isn’t hard.

You basically have four panels on this page instead of the original six: An establishing shot, a high angle POV, a close-up, and a low angle. That’s not a bad page design and leaves it as a hook if you follow the suggestions I’ve made.


So, I was at work, talking to my trainer. She used to be an elementary school teacher before this job. I told her that I was a teacher of sorts, as well, and that I commend her. I couldn’t deal with other people’s children. Dealing with adults is enough of a challenge.

Anyway, I was telling her about the new crop of writers that I get coming through here. I was telling her that a good portion of them don’t know how to use punctuation correctly, especially the comma.

Simple punctuation is what can keep you out of the round-file a little while longer. Sure, you have to be good at what you do, telling an intriguing story, but even if you have that, you won’t get far with terrible punctuation.

This also goes into sentence construction and such, but, like Steve said, learning punctuation isn’t difficult at all. Do a search on punctuation lessons, and you’ll get a list of free lessons. You want to be a writer? Know how to use your tools.

As it stands, this is P3, and it could have been placed better. Personally, I would have liked to have seen this as P4. That means this page would have appeared on a page turn, giving the reader a psychological break when they turned the page. They would have been better prepared for a change in scene.

I’m also not a fan of the fast cuts. So far, we have three pages, and in those three pages, we have three scene changes. How are the readers supposed to get grounded in one place and get a sense of story if you’re jumping around like this? At least P2 is thematically linked to P3.

PAGE 4 (full page splash)

Alex Reed will appear to be jumping off the rooftop into an alley. Should be a full frontal shot coming toward the reader. He is dressed in all black. Black combat style boot. Pants are similar to military style camouflage pants, just black, red stripe with gold trim down the leg. There is a holster on his right thigh, pistol still in it. Upper body is black, lightweight body armor, thins out around the shoulders. Pouches are spread around the vest. Long sleeve, form fitting shirt is worn under the vest. Face and head is covered by a black ski mask, eyes visible. (Are the thugs in the picture, because you didn’t mention them. Also, is this your title page?)

Body armor:

Leg armor:×1000/noname45.jpg


So, we have good points and bad points here.

Let’s start with the bad, and then work our way to the good.

The bad: Know what I really, really hate? Main characters having their descriptions in panel descriptions. I hate that. It’s one of a few things that frosts my buns (which includes an ice cream cone about three feet high). Why do I hate it? Because it doesn’t belong.

It’s like this, folks: your artist is going to do the character designs before they put pencil to paper. They shouldn’t have to read the script in order to find out what the characters look like. The script is for instructions on what to draw. They should be able to insert a main character with no problem, because they’ve already got it worked out. Otherwise, there’s a lot of time wasted.

This means that most of this panel description is almost totally useless, because most of it is used to describe the main character. And, like most of the other panel descriptions, even though he’s jumped, he’s not really doing anything in the air.

None of the characters are doing anything as they talk. You give camera angles, pushing in and pulling out, but you don’t say what the people are actually doing. They’re just standing about, generally with blank expressions. Standing about with blank expressions is boring.

The good? This is a page turn! We get a full splash right at a page turn, so that makes me happy. (It isn’t hard to make me happy.)

The only thing missing here, besides what he’s doing/how he’s positioned in the air, is dialogue.

PAGE 5 (7panels)

PANEL 1: Front, level view, no angle. The thugs are in shock by the appearance of Alex Reed. Alex should be in a 3-point landing in the background, in the view between the shocked thugs.


PANEL 2: Overhead view (Do you mean a Bird’s eye view? Over who’s head?).Thug 1 is sent flying into a side wall in the alley. Try showing the follow through of the punch and the thug being slammed into the wall. (This could work well as an over-the-shoulder from behind thug 2, who is witnessing the action.)

SFX: CRACK, THUD. (First off, NEVER put a comma in sound effects. Second, you don’t need both SFX as you can only represent one action at a time on a single individual. If both thugs were being attacked simultaneously, then the two would make sense. That isn’t the case here. Stick with CRACK .)

PANEL 3: Thug 2 is on the run. Use motion lines to emphasize his movement. (Do you really need motion lines for someone who isn’t a speedster?? If you show him running, we’ll get the idea.)

SFX: GASP (The sound effect here is unnecessary.)

Thug 2: What the hell do you want man?!?!?! (Overkill on the question and exclamation marks. If you want to make a statement like this resonate, underline it in the script so the letterer will know to emphasize it in capitals or through bolding.)(And, comma-fail after want. )

PANEL 4: Close up on Alex Reeds eyes to show the anger and determination in his eyes.

Alex Reed (whispering to himself) (You’re better off having this as a caption, as you’ve already established first person narrative in previous pages): They always run.

PANEL 5: Close up on Thug 2 looking over his shoulder. He should be scared. Alex Reed can be seen over his shoulder. (We can’t see that the thug is scared because his face is away from us. How else can you convey his fear in this panel?)

PANEL 6: Low side angled view. Thug 2 has thrown all of his stuff back at Alex Reed, money and drugs mainly. Alex has his left hand outstretched to Thug 2s shoulders.

Thug 2: Here man, take it(!), all of it. You can have anything you want! (The rest of the dialogue is just filler.)

PANEL 7: High angle view. Thug 2 has been thrown high into the air by Alex. Thug 2 should be in the foreground with Alex far into the background. (How high? Is Alex super-strong? How high can a normal man throw someone straight up?)


A lot of unanswered questions on this page. You’ll need to be clearer in your panel descriptions.

We finally have panel descriptions with facial expressions, and people doing things that aren’t just them standing about!

Too bad that you’ve done a poor job of establishing the scene, so there’s no real sense of place as these people are being thrown about.

This page needs to be fleshed out, along with a rethink.

Like Steve asks, does Alex have superpowers? I mean, sure, Batman and Daredevil do fantastic things that are totally impossible in the real world. Are we supposed to put this guy into the same realm of Batman and Daredevil? If so, you have to do a better job of getting us to suspend our disbelief. Right now, because of the myriad other problems with these pages, that suspension is extremely hard to come by.

Rewrite this page, making sure you rewrite the page before it, giving a better establishing shot for a sense of place. That should help to ground this page better.

Then, place Alex closer to the thugs when he jumps down. Don’t forget to make sure that the landing makes sense with the pose for the splash page.

By placing him closer, he can fight better, instead of doing some minor teleporting.

At least we’re in the same location for more than a page.

PAGE 6 (4 panels)

PANEL 1: Thug 2 has landed on top of a dumpster. (Give us more details than this.)


PANEL 2: Thug 2 is now lying face down on the ground in a heap of trash bags.

PANEL 3: Dramatic view looking up to the sky. Thug 2s face should be as a close up in the shot with Alex Reeds foot firmly planted on his neck (Or better on his cheek). The rest of the shot should be emphasizing the raw size and power that is Alex Reed as he is hulking over the downed thug.

SFX: Crack Crunch (Again, only one piece of SFX at a time. Is he breaking the thug’s bones with his foot? Both SFX would insinuate that he is. And ALWAYS write SFX in capitals.)

Alex Reed: I don’t want you, your money or your drugs, (This is all filler.) I want your boss. I want to know where you get your drugs.

Thug 2: Hmmph, (The thug sounds like he’s insulted by using this sound of Hmmph.) I can’t tell you that (Double dash here instead of ellipsis, as the dialogue is more immediate.) huughh (Is the thug about to pass out and that’s why the sound coming out of his mouth is in lower case?)

PANEL 4: Close up of Alex’s pistol on his leg. Should be shown half way out of the holster to show that Alex is already pulling it out. Alex’s thumb should be shown cocking the hammer back. (So he’s pulling and cocking at the same time? Is that wise?) See link for idea.

Alex Reed (off panel): Fine, have it your way. friend. (Unnecessary and uncharacteristic.)

SFX: Click (Again, SFX in caps. And I tend to associate the CLICK to a pistol trying to fire with a blank chamber.)

There are a lot of issues with this script. You’ve got a pretty good idea going, but don’t seem to know how to properly execute, especially when it comes to panel descriptions and dialogue. I don’t believe that it needs a complete rewrite, but you do need to work on the points I’ve mentioned. Good luck!

Let’s just run this down, shall we?

Format: Not bad! I like the separation of elements and such. It’s almost a flawless victory. Almost. Some of the naming conventions of the elements need work. You’re almost there, though.

Panel Descriptions: The good thing about the panel descriptions is that there are no moving panels. Great job, there! The bad part, though, is that they need a lot of work. You need an establishing shot, you need to have your characters actually do things instead of just standing around, and you need to give them facial expressions.

Characters need to act, and you’re not allowing that. The artist isn’t going to know what to draw them doing, because you haven’t given them even an inkling of what they could be, and the dialogue isn’t a good guide, either.

The only cure is to beef up the panel descriptions.

Pacing: Oh, so slow.

P1, nothing happened. P2, nothing happened. P3, we have the start of some action, and P4 brings us a splash page. P5 we have some action. However, I don’t think it’s enough to hold reader attention. Not when it’s coupled with the next section.

You have to deal with two things in this particular section: the fact that nothing happens, and the fact that the dialogue isn’t interesting. If you fix one, you can affect the other. You can overcome boring with interesting. You have to rethink either the action or the dialogue in order to get there, though.

Dialogue: Don’t get me wrong: I’ve read much worse. I’ve read dialogue that was so wretched I thought it was a joke. The dialogue here is nowhere near that.

That being said, the dialogue here is not effective, it is not interesting, and it is not good. It is clumsy and cliché, and not very reader-friendly. It definitely needs to be gutted and replaced.

Dialogue is supposed to enhance the story. If the artist is doing their job, the story can be told without words. The art can do the heavy lifting. The words are there to supplement the art. Your words aren’t supplementing. They aren’t pushing the story forward, and they aren’t revealing character. That means the words aren’t doing their job.

Part of that also has to deal with punctuation. Learn it. That’s part of your job.

Content: This isn’t something I’d pick up. The dialogue reminds me of bad 90s comics. A guy who thinks he’s a badass, trying to be mysterious. It’s trying too hard.

Editorially, this doesn’t need a rewrite, but it does need to have something interesting injected into it. I think that’s the dialogue. Bad dialogue can totally break a book. Decent artwork cannot overcome bad dialogue. I think, if the dialogue worked, this wouldn’t be that bad.

Gut the dialogue, find a way to make this interesting, and people would probably by this (if it also had good art). As it stands right now, they wouldn’t spend the money. Don’t let dialogue kill you.

And that’s all we have for this week! 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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