TPG Week 91: Pacing Tweaks

| September 21, 2012


Hello, and welcome again to The Proving Grounds! This week, we have Brave One Leo Penha! As usual, we have Steve Colle in blue, and me in red.


Now, let’s see how Leo handles a tale of




PAGE ONE (five panels)


Panel 1. Wide panel. High angle shot of Steve Karras, Mike Carter and Dan DiPrinzio in the center of a dark room (When you say dark room , are you referring to a photographer’s developing dark room? The answer results in there being a red light over the scene vs. just a regular colored bulb. Which would be more dramatic?) . A light beam shines down on them from the overhead lamp. Steve is tied to a chair, wearing slacks and a button-up shirt, looking up at Dan, who is in front of him, leaning against a table with a cigar in his mouth. He is wearing a white suit, a red button-up shirt and gold chains around his neck. Mike is looking very serious, a few steps to the side, standing rigid in a white sleeveless shirt and jeans with his arms crossed. There is an unlabeled bottle filled with gasoline on the table behind Dan. (Is the camera triangulated over the trio in a straight down shot to the center of the floor or is it over either Steve or the other two characters? Again, which is most dramatic?)






For the last time, Stevie–



Where’s the goddamn disc? (I’d underline both goddamned and disc , as the word disc is the more emphasized of the two.)



Toldja. I don’t know what you’re talking about.


Panel 2. Close up on Dan, looking angry, and Steve, seen from an over the shoulder angle. (Whose shoulder?)



Well, I think you’re a liar. I think you want to rat us out to the police.



Oh c’mon (comma-fail) Dan, you know me, you know(Already used in the speech) I’d nev–


Panel 3. Medium shot of Mike, punching Steve in the face as he speaks.






Oooff (Let the sound effect of the punch dominate the panel. Besides, he’s not weak until after the fact, right?)



Panel 4. Medium shot of Dan and Mike seen from Steve’s POV. Favor Mike in this shot. Mike is looking at Steve and holding the bottle that was on the table. (Have him reaching for the bottle instead, as that action has yet to occur and the direction hasn’t been given until the end of the panel.) Dan is still in the same position—leaning against the table behind him—but smiling now.



Fine. If you want to do this the hard way



Mike, give him a little taste of our snitch medicine.


Panel 5. Close up of Steve’s face as Mike’s and Dan’s hands have forced his jaw open and pour gasoline in his mouth. (Wouldn’t Mike need both hands to control the pouring motion into such an exact target? Would Dan be getting his hands dirty by forcing the jaw open, getting gasoline on his own hands? Wouldn’t it make more sense to have Mike, the lackey, hold the jaw open while Dan, the boss, pours the gas? If so, wouldn’t the previous panel result in Dan grabbing the bottle? Things to think about.)



Gulp (Wouldn’t this be GLUG! instead, as Steve is trying to spit out the liquid?)


I like what you’re going for here, but the page and actions have a few questions to consider so far. Let’s see how the rest follows.


We’ve go P1 in the books, and I have to say, I’m intrigued. That’s always a good sign.

The panel descriptions are confusing, though. I’m having a hard time seeing this in my head. Why? Because of the lack of a true establishing shot. Leo goes into what the characters are wearing more than the location. Not good. Always remember that the artist is going to do the character designs before they ever put pencil to page. You can put the character notes either in another document, or you could put it before or after the main body of the script itself. It doesn’t really matter, but putting it in the panel description itself only serves to stretch it out more than necessary.

There could have been a case of the bottle of gas being magically delicious, but there wasn’t. I have a sneaking suspicion that you went back and added it, though. I’d be delighted if I’m wrong.

However, you do a little teleportation trick with the bottle, having it suddenly appear in Mike’s hand. Steve Colle addressed that, but I want to expand on it a little.

If this were to go through as is, then that two panel span would have been a little choppy. The bottle is on the table, and then it’s in a hand. That isn’t good. What you want to do is to have a panel in between them in order to smooth it out. What would that panel be? Mike grabbing the bottle. It doesn’t even need to be an entire panel—it could just be a closeup of his hand reaching for the bottle as it sits on the table. That would have worked.

Now, the real question will become whether or not you say what’s in the bottle so that the readers will know. Saying what it is in the panel descriptions won’t help. The reader has to know what it is, for it to make the best impact.

I’m liking the dialogue. Redundancies aside, it’s reading well. It’s getting information across. (Personally, I’m getting a 40s-50s vibe of a stool pigeon under hot lights. Then again, I watch a decent amount of black and white movies.) The dialogue is doing its job. Good work there, Leo,

PAGE TWO (four panels)


Panel 1. Tall panel, seen from a low angle. (Where is the camera coming from in the low angle? Mike or Dan’s feet?) Steve is spitting the liquid in one large, explosive gush.



Splash (!)


Panel 2. Close up, profile view of Steve. His body is bent forward as much as the ropes allow it to. His head is bent low, as he gags and splutters what remains of the liquid he was forced to drink. Dan is standing in front of him, but his torso is bent low so that his head is level with Steve’s; his hands are on his thighs. (If it’s a close-up of Steve’s profile and Dan is standing in front of him, you wouldn’t see Dan’s hands on his hips as the camera would be too close to the two faces.)



What the fuck, Dan? The hell are you doing?



Well, Stevie, there’s a reason we call it snitch medicine.


Panel 3. Close up of Steve’s head. Dan has grabbed it and shoved his cigar into Steve’s mouth, as if to put it out on his tongue. (Would Steve allow this to happen so easily? Wouldn’t he fight? Reason: You have Dan grabbing his head, but where exactly I don’t know. It would have to be his mouth to open it, right? Thumb on one side, the rest of the fingers on the other side, pinching so that it forces the jaw to separate, creating a thin vertical opening for the cigar in Dan’s other hand. Here’s where you need to be more specific in your panel description.)



And that reason is, it will teach you to keep your mouth shut, even though every instinct in your body will tell you to open it.





Panel 4. Large panel, taking up the entire lower half of the page. Zoom out to show Steve screaming in pain with his mouth and chin on fire. Dan and Mike are standing back, watching with smile on their faces. (Wouldn’t Dan jump back slightly to get away from the fire shooting from Steve’s mouth? Make it dramatic.)






You see,– (Dan sounds like more of a Y’see kinda guy, don’t you think?)



TITLE: Family Tragedy


This last panel, of the fire in Steve’s mouth exploding out, deserves a splash or full bleed, not a tinier panel at the bottom of a page. It’s dramatic, it’s the highlight, and it’s also the title page. Don’t lessen its importance to the story by keeping it confined to a lesser panel size. Besides, your hook is obviously Panel 3, so use it effectively.


Some would say that facing pages for this kind of high action would lessen the impact, but I believe that the reader will already guess at what will happen next and doesn’t need a roadmap to figure it out, so back-to-back pages wouldn’t be necessary.


P2, and we’re continuing to be mostly solid!


I’m with Steve, though: the pacing needs a touch of work. I’d have made this a four- or five-panel page, and then shunted the last panel into its own, being a splash. That’s your money shot. It’s being wasted at its present location.


So, we finally have a fire. Know what we don’t have? The name of the accelerant. Can the reader reasonably deduce that it’s gas? Maybe, maybe not. But it would go a long way if you had named it.


But the good news is that you’re keeping reader interest! A lot of writers find this SO hard to do in the first few pages of the story. Keeping reader interest is key. Without it, your story won’t sell.


Right now, the story is resting on the dialogue being good. This is perfectly legitimate. Readers come for the art but stay for the story, and I have to say, Leo, you’re keepin’ ’em in their seas.

PAGE THREE (six panels)


Panel 1. Close up of Dan, looking amused.



–you can scream all you want, but when you run out of breath, your next intake of oxygen (Or simply air ) will pull the fire right into your lungs.


Panel 2. Close up of Steve, with watery eyes (Are they just watery, or are tears streaming down, mixing with the gasoline?), screaming in excruciating pain (See the note below.). Fire is coming out from inside his mouth.



Or you can shut the fuck up and endure the pain, until the gasoline in your mouth burns out–



Aaaarrrrggghhhh (Here’s the thing with this burst: You’ve already got him screaming on the previous page, which has expelled all of his oxygen already. This means that he has taken a breath in order to scream again. Make sense? So the fire is already in his lungs here. In other words, no sound should be coming from him.)


Panel 3. Close up of Dan.



–and hope you can stifle the fire before it does any permanent damage to your vocal cords.


Panel 4. Close up of Steve, his face contorted in pain. Tears roll down his face. He has shut his mouth.




Here’s where I would take out the close-up of Dan in Panel 3 and let the dialogue from there come into Panel 4. Why? Simple: Momentum. Keep that action flowing by combining panels.


Panel 5. Zoom out to show them both. Dan, looking condescending. Steve is trying to muster some anger now that the fire has died out.

NOTE TO LETTERER: Use a different type of balloon/font for Steve from now onwards.



See? It wasn’t that hard now, was it?



Can you still talk?






Panel 6. Same as previous panel. However, Dan feigns excitement and Steve looks defeated.



Great! Now, where the hell’s that disc?


Your pacing is pretty good except for that panel 3-4 combination. You’re good at hooking the reader for the most part. Let’s see you keep it up.


P3 is another winner!


Except for what Steve pointed out: the continued scream.


Comic book time is comprised of whats going on in the panel, plus what’s being said, plus any sound effects, plus any captions, all enclosed within the panel border. The size of the border also helps to get across how much Time is being held within that panel.


The scream on P2 is perfectly placed. The second scream isn’t. Like Steve said, the guy already used all the air in his lungs. There’s an out that you could have taken, though.


The double-dash. You could have had him end the scream in a double-dash on the previous page, continued with the scream in the first panel here, and then end it on the second panel. However, that would have made it a bit awkward.


What would have made it better?


Make the top row one long panel, but split it into three or four slices, and have the scream overlaid on all of them. Have Mike talking as well, but in each panel.


That could also have been the bottom of your splash page, and that would have been fine. It also would have moved the story along just a tad bit more, without losing any of the pacing you’ve already set up.


And that would have solved the scream.


This is what comics is about, folks. You have to think things through. While this is decent, it wasn’t thought through to its best effect. That gave rise to an issue that could have kicked your reader right out of the story, which is always the worst thing that could happen.


If you don’t think it through, hire an editor. Let them help you make the story the best it can be. They are the ones who are able to step back and take a look, kicking the tires, and helping you to make the story better.

PAGE FOUR (six panels) (Due to pacing issues, this Page Four is now Page Five, a facing page. Here’s a trick to make for an easier visual transition: Have Dan in the same or similar pose and shot as Matt in his own final panel on the previous page. This will create a less jarring visual transition between scenes instead of what Scott McCloud would call a non-sequitur . If they weren’t facing pages, it would make for an easier transition, but because they now are, you need it.))


Panel 1. Medium shot of Matt in Kate’s living room, in a typical suburban house. He’s wearing a Philly’s jersey and a baseball cap and holding out three baseball game tickets. (You really don’t see much of the living room until the next panel’s establishing shot, so keep the descriptive focus on Matt and what he’s doing, just for future reference.)






My name’s Matt Bradley. I’m trying to get my life back on track.



You’re sure you don’t want to come with us? We got an extra ticket.


Panel 2. Zoom out to show he’s talking to Kate (in her suburban home living room), wearing jeans and a blouse. She looks resentful.



Matt, we’re not a family anymore! Stop pretending we’re still together!



You seeing that guy, Bartholomew?



No! Jay’s a friend, is all. I just don’t want to see any of your brothers or their families—(Period instead of the double dash. It shouldn’t be trailing off, but rather self-contained.)


Here’s where a repeat of the first panel would have added to the pace of the story, by having Matt’s question about Bartholomew and Kate’s response from off-panel filling in a frame of its own.


Panel 3: Close up on Kate. She’s turned her face away from him, trying to hide the tears that are coming up in her eyes.



It’s still too painful. They remind me of what we could’ve had.



But it’s not easy. (If this were now Panel 4, the top two panels and the second tier of two would result in a nice visual balance of the opening caption and this caption, creating a diagonal line from one to the other. Just a visual aside on my part.)


Panel 4. Zoom out to show both of them again. Matt is pleading with her, but she’s resolute.



We can still make it work–



No, we can’t. We tried it, but you chose your job over your family.


Panel 5. Flashback. Matt’s mother and father lying dead from bullet wounds on the floor of a jewelry store.



Like my older brother Luke, or rather because of him, I decided to become a cop.



He was just a rookie when our parents were killed in a robbery–


Panel 6. Flashback. Luke, in police uniform, escorting two handcuffed thugs. (This isn’t a powerful shot, but rather generic. Perhaps have Luke, in uniform, having his pistol/revolver drawn and aimed at the two killers. This is make or break, and he decides to not shoot them.)



–but Luke caught the robbers (or killers ) single-handedly.



Despite my grief, I was proud of my brother and knew right then that that was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.



Problem is–


I’m hoping that your last panel can accommodate all of that dialogue.


So I’ve given you a couple of pacing and power ideas which I want you to consider. Generally speaking, this page isn’t as easy to read as your previous ones, mainly due to the introduction of the flashbacks, but if you keep them on their own tier(s), it might help.


My question would be: Just how important are the flashback images? You could easily have used the captions as exposition only and still shown a visual exchange between Matt and Kate, like they were having a deep conversation (without dialogue overshadowing the purpose of the captions), playing up the pain both are feeling through facial expressions and body language.




Know what? Flashbacks are easy. They’re really, really easy. Because they’re easy, writers use them as a crutch.


If you cut the panels and moved the captions, would you lose anything of the story? No. Not at all. Which means you used it as a crutch.


How could you not use it as a crutch and still have it in there? You’d have to make a complete mini-scene out of it. Three or four panels long, and they all have to be money shots. Parents being shot, brother catching them, Matt graduating from the academy, Matt at his desk late at night, looking disheveled. Four panels that would have been a complete mini-scene, gotten the story across, and had emotional content.


The problem is simple, though, and it’s one I always ask: who’s he talking to? A first person narrator has to be talking to someone. I’m eternally grateful that you introduced him to the readers in an eminently natural way, but I’m left with the question who’s he talking to? It isn’t even an internal monologue, because you don’t introduce yourself to yourself. I’m always bothered by it.


But, yes, you should have stretched the flashback into its own scene with powerful imagery. That would have helped your cause.

PAGE FIVE (five panels)


Panel 1. Out of the flashback and back to Matt and Kate. He’s gotten closer to her, trying to be more affectionate, but she resisting her temptation to be together with him again.



–unlike Luke, I’m a screw up. I can’t conciliate my job as a cop and my duties as a husband / (use and instead of the slash in a piece of dialogue) father so here we are.



I can chan–





Panel 2. Matt and Jeff hug each other. (What kind of shot? You’ve been pretty good at this till now. And where’s Kate, who should be in this shot as well?) Jeff’s wearing a Phillies shirt and a baseball hat.



How you doing, pal?






Are you ready to rock?



You bet!


Panel 3. Zoom out to show Kate as well. (Here’s where something like a low angle medium shot from over Matt’s shoulder [as he’s kneeling down] of Kate talking down to him would make the page more visually effective.)



Just don’t let him down again. And remember, Sunday school’s tomorrow at 9. I’ll pick him up afterwards.


Panel 4. Medium shot. Front view of Matt and Jeff are in the car, all smiles. They’re excited to be spending time together. (That is a massive jump cut from the living room to the car, all on the same page. Not working. This is where the introduction of another panel, perhaps a long shot profile of Matt and Jeff walking along the sidewalk leading to the car and Kate standing in the doorway saying Enjoy the ball game! , would make for a visual transition in actions.)



Enjoy the ball game!


Next is where your medium shot of the interior of the car comes into play



You excited, buddy? Uncle Mark and your cousin Claire will be there too. This is going to be one hell of a game.



Mark’s my other brother. He writes and draws comic books. He’s a big kid. Jeff absolutely loves him.



Riiiinng Riiinng


Panel 5. Same as previous panel, but Jeff is watching his dad as he talks, his face tense, on the phone.


STEVE(phone) (Electric balloon):

We need to talk.



This is not a good tim— (Either say the entire word or just ti– , but don’t go with tim— because that’s exactly how it reads. Tim.)



I got the DiPrinzios on video. Father and son. This is good. You’ll want to see it.



And just like that, the job gets in the way again.


I’m going to stop here. You have two pretty strong scenes happening that flow well except for a few pacing issues. On my end, I see lots of opportunities for additions and subtractions of panels to help with that pacing. I don’t have many issues with your dialogue, which reads clearly for the most part. Work with reality when considering your actions, such as the whole breathing-while-fire-in-mouth thing. Finally, work with the camera a bit more, as I’m seeing opportunities for some more dymanic shots. I’m definitely not bored with what I’m reading and would consider picking up this book with some needed changes.


More good stuff on P5. Really, the only true problem with this page is the pacing.


I think you should add a couple of panels: one of Jeff coming into the scene, and one a long shot of them walking to the car, as Steve suggested.


Remember the teleporting bottle? Well, here you have a teleporting child. He says something off panel one moment, and then the very first time he’s seen, he’s being hugged by his father. That’s a pretty big jump. Not good. Then, there’s the jump from the living room to the car that Steve already covered.


The only other big thing is the word conciliate. It’s used incorrectly here. You definitely want to change it. I propose reconcile, which is what I think you meant, anyway.


Let’s run it down!


Format: Flawless Victory!


Panel Descriptions: Not bad, really. They need a little beefing up. A good establishing shot would clear up most of that for you, though. Clear out some of the clutter of character descriptions, and make sure you have your Who, What, When, Where in there, and you’d be good to go.


Pacing: This is your biggest issue, Leo. And, really, it only needs a little bit of work.


This isn’t film or animation, so there every little panel/frame doesn’t need to be described, but at the same time, you have to put in the intermediate panels in order to maintain the continuity from panel to panel. You have a few large cuts in there that could have been easily fixed with a single panel.


Dialogue: This is very readable. It needs only the smallest bit of polish. It kept my interest, which is a great thing. Very good work here.


Content: Overall, this is pretty readable. I wasn’t bored at all. As a reader, that first page held my interest, and then you continued to hold it with interesting dialogue and an intriguing situation. Good work.


Editorially, this needs only a little help. Someone to help you with the pacing, the occasional dialogue gaffe, and panel descriptions. This is good work, Leo.


And that’s all we have 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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