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Thread: TPG: Week 27 - Mark McMurtrey

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    TPG: Week 27 - Mark McMurtrey

    Hello, one and all. Welcome back to the Proving Grounds.

    I'm not here this week. Nope, right now, I'm in the wilds of SDCC, pressing the flesh, giving the glad hand, handing out my card, seeing and being seen. Because I'm not here, I've asked everyone's favorite guy, Sebastian, to post this up for me. Thanks for the solid, Seb. I appreciate it. (Everyone, don't forget to thank Seb. Make him blush with your gratitude!)

    This week, we have Mark McMurtrey. Let's see how he does, shall we?

    Untitled: Part One: Undead?

    Mark McMurtrey

    (Kitchen Layout, a bit like this:


    (Page 1, 5 Panels)

    PANEL 1: Daytime. A man with combed, dark hair sits at a table in a brightly lit kitchen. The walls are yellow and white and there's a sliding glass door behind him, and you can see that it's a nice, sunny day. There's a coffee mug on the table in front of him and he's covered in blood. (Nice, but what's he wearing? If it's not important, say so. The character design should already be done with the artist, but that's just to get the look of the character. If this was superheroes, we'd be talking costume and what the character's face and build look like outside of it. Is the guy wearing a suit? Workout clothes? Is he naked? Let the artist know, and you won't be unpleasantly surprised later. Oh, and one other thing, which speaks to scripting format: every element should have a space separating them. The caption shouldn't be butted up beneath the panel description, as it is here. I'm leaving this one for illustration, but I'll fix the rest.)

    CAP: This is, Dave.

    PANEL 2: An overhead view of the kitchen. Dave has his hand around the coffee mug. The kitchen floor is white tile and there's blood splotches trailing in from out of frame. (Where? You have a nice panel to start, immediately having me intrigued, but you need to describe where the blood trails off to. Out a door? Under a table? Into a cabinet? Throw the artist a bone.)

    CAP: About a half an hour ago, Dave woke up, got dressed, and murdered his wife.

    PANEL 3: (Possibly black and white, with red for the blood, flashback panel) Dave stabbing his wife with a large kitchen knife, on a queen sized bed. (Is she asleep, is she fighting back, is she already dead and he's just making sure by stabbing her a couple-billion times? What's her reaction?)

    DAVES WIFE: AHHHRGH! (I'm not really buying this. This is more of a guy's sound, to me. I'm hearing a man-scream, with some bass to it, instead of a high-pitched womanly scream.)

    PANEL 4: A semi-close up on Dave's face, holding the coffee mug to his mouth. He has a blank expression on his face. Over Dave's shoulder you can see a man opening the sliding glass door, but there's not a clear look at his face. (What's this guy wearing?)

    CAP: Dave doesn't know why he did it. He doesn't even care. (Right about now, you need to start giving the captions some punch. Punch helps. Basically, some rewording. Give it a shine.)

    PANEL 5: A side view of the mans arm, with a gun pointed at Dave's back.
    (This, Mark, is a very nice place to turn the page. Good job.)

    CAP: But that doesn't really matter, now... (More shine.)


    (Page 2, 6 Panels)

    PANEL 1: A front view of Dave. A bullet has come through his chest where his heart is. His coffee is spilling and blood is gushing from his chest. Over Dave's shoulder, you can see the man behind him is wearing a hood that's casting a shadow over his face. (Is that all he's wearing? You have the opportunity for something special here, methinks. A lot of it is going to depend on what the guy is wearing. I'm envisioning a suit, but that's because that's how my mind works. If you describe him, you won't have this problem.)

    CAP: 'Cause Dave's not gonna be a problem anymore. (See this right here? You changed the narrator's voice. Not good. It was something formal to begin with, and then it degenerates into this. Stay with one voice.)

    PANEL 2: A close up on the gunman's face. You can see him clearly now. He's smiling. (What's he look like? Generic-Man?)

    PANEL 3: Same as last panel except now his eyes are all watered up.

    CAP: Shit.

    PANEL 4: An overhead view of the kitchen, with Dave laying on the table, dead. His coffee is spilled on the floor. The gunman has his hands to his eyes.


    CAP: My name is, Speaker. Speaker Allen Cage.. (What's up with the two periods? It's not an ellipse, and it's not a period. It should be a period. You did that a couple of times. And you have an unnecessary comma. Now, the question is this: is his first name Speaker, or is Speaker a title? It could be both with the way you make it sound. It has the “My name is Bond. James Bond” vibe, but done absolutely wrong. If this is a title, then his name isn't Speaker. It's like saying “My name is President Barack Obama.” You can see where that's wrong. Now, if Speaker is his first name, then most people aren't going to say their middle name when they introduce themselves. Decide how he's going to introduce himself. Lastly about the name: as a name, it's horrible. As a title, it's a little better, but as a first name, it's absolutely terrible. My cousin has a theory that I don't subscribe to. His theory is “what's in a name?” He has a character named Beefy who's a badass, on par with Captain America. I cannot take the character seriously because the name is Beefy. I think you should look into changing the name. And I'm not overly fond of voiceovers. Who's he talking to?)

    PANEL 5: A look at Speaker as he's wiping his eyes. (Why is he wiping his eyes? Tears? Blood? Brain matter? Transdimensional goop from Zarhopham?)

    CAP: And I've got to pull my shit together and make a phone call.

    PANEL 6: Speaker has a phone to his ear. (What kind of phone? This script is sparse on necessary details.)

    SPEAKER: Faye? We're good, bring in The Hounds. (Period, not a comma. I know you saw the green lines, saying that these are fragments. And this isn't as good a place to turn the page as the last one.)


    (Page 3, 5 Panels)

    PANEL 1: A semi-zoomed in, overhead shot of Dave, laid out across the table. You can see gloved hands scooping blood into test tubes around his body. (What kind of gloves? Eskimo mitts? Driving gloves? Equestrian gloves? The Infinity Gauntlet? And they're scooping? Really? That's horrible. And how many hands are we talking? A single set? More?)

    FAYE: ..Don't even know why The Brain's sent you in on this. I could've killed this sorry sonofabitch on my own. (Okay, ellipses are three periods, not two. And her dialogue should be coming from off panel. This is simple 101 stuff, Mark. You should be beyond this. Now, for The Brain, you have it as being possessive, but its not possessing anything. Again, is it a title of a person, or is it a title of a section of their group, like Speaker? One way or the other, this reminds me of V For Vendetta.)

    PANEL 2: A zoomed out shot of the kitchen. 3 men wearing surgical masks around their mouths, and black body suits are taking samples of blood and hair off of Dave's body. A woman with dark hair, pulled back, tight in a pony-tail, and wearing a black body suit is standing next to Speaker. This is Faye.
    (And now, you want to start describing people. What happened earlier?)

    SPEAKER: They don't like to take chances. Maybe he would've gone back to Mr. Hyde mode once you came in.

    FAYE: Horse shit. (one word, unless you want to put periods after each in order to stress each part. I like the periods after each part, but that speaks to a higher level of dialogue than you've thus far shown.)

    PANEL 3: A shot of just Speaker and Faye, facing each other. (How do they look? It sounds like there should be tension here. Let it show on their faces.)

    SPEAKER: Maybe they just wanna keep me on light duty because of what happened in Gibson.

    PANEL 4: Same as last panel except now, Faye is facing Dave and The Hounds. (Again, how does she look?)

    FAYE: Get outta here, Speak. We got this.

    PANEL 5: Same as last panel except now Speaker is walking out the sliding doors. (Uninteresting page-turn.)

    FAYE: This guy's done, go take samples off the wife, we're on a schedule here. (How about some periods, or different types of punctuation?)

    SPEAKER CAP: Faye and The Hounds here are the clean up crew. They take samples and shit back to The Brain's for them to do whatever the hell it is that they do. (Exposition, and there's nothing bad with that, in theory, but again, who's he talking to? If he's not talking to anyone, then he's just telling himself information that he already knows, which is the worst kind of exposition there is. It's Butler and Maid--they tell each other things they already know in order to catch the audience up. Horrible and lazy. There are better ways to get this information across.)


    (Page 4, 6 Panels)

    PANEL 1: Speaker walking around the side of a nice, white house.

    SPEAKER CAP: Honestly, I'd be lying if I said I knew what went on after I do my part of the job.

    PANEL 2: Speaker walking on the sidewalk of a nice, well kept, suburban neighborhood. The house he just left a little ways behind him.

    SPEAKER CAP: The most i can say is that that guy didn't kill his wife 'cause she made a shitty cup of coffee. (Capitalization.)

    PANEL 3: Same as last panel except farther from the house (which is pretty much out of view).

    SPEAKER CAP: Lets just say, when the people i work for cut someone open, most of the time it has a similar effect. (How about capitalizations? I know you saw the line under the I both times.)

    PANEL 4: (Another flashback panel) Three kids hanging by their necks from a power line. A man, skinny with a beard and no shirt, who looks like a hobo, is standing beneath them, grinning widely.


    SPEAKER CAP: Or worse. (I sorely hope this is going somewhere. Especially this flashback panel.)

    PANEL 5: A close up on Speakers face. He's looking over his shoulder.

    SPEAKER CAP: I don't know the specifics, but-

    SFX: GUUURRRRRRTTTT! (vibrating sound)

    PANEL 6: Same as last panel except now Speakers eyes are wide. (This is an interesting place to turn the page. The page itself is boring, but this should hopefully get someone to turn the page.)

    SPEAKER CAP: Shit.

    (Page 5, 2 Panels)

    PANEL 1: An overhead view of the neighborhood, the house Speaker left is blowing the eff up, like huge. (Okay, this is two panels. Does any one panel overpower the other? Both sound interesting enough to warrant a largish panel. Personally, I'd go with the explosion, but that's just me.)

    PANEL 2: Speaker being knocked backwards. A hub cap has cut through three of his fingers on his left hand (the middle, ring and pinkie). There's stuff (bikes, toys, pieces of fences) and dirt flying all around him. (Hubcap…If the house is blowing the eff up, like huge, then this guy should be dead.)

    Okay, that's all the pages I have, so let's run it down.

    I'm intrigued, and that's always a good thing. Too bad there's no real meat to this thing to hook into, and that it seems like you're actively working to turn the reader off instead of keep them interested in the story. But we'll get to that in a little bit.

    Your panel descriptions don't have enough information in them. You didn't give enough to start with, then you started giving enough, then you went back to not enough. Make up your mind. Actually, let me make it for you: give enough information so that the artist won't have to ask a ton of questions. Questions will always be asked, but you want to cut down on the amount of questions being asked. This is a fine line to walk at times, I know, but if you do a good establishing shot, you can then do what I call panel shorthand. Your establishing shot should strive to answer Who, What, Where, and When at the very least. If you answer all of that at the start of every scene, you should be good for the rest of it. Should be. There are always exceptions.

    I'm not a fan of the name Speaker. I've already run that down, so I'm not going to do it again here. I will say to make up your mind as to whether or not this is a name or a title. It works better as a title, and may get your readers more intrigued with your concepts, but really, if he's part of a group of Speakers, and their job is to kill or somesuch, then what are they really “speaking” about? Lots of questions surrounding the name that you have to answer. Just make sure you do it organically through the story.

    The dialogue is okay. Most of it can use a polish, but that's true with just about all dialogue. You changed the narrator's voice, though, and that threw me right out of the story. Stick with one voice, and you'll keep your readers in the story better. The good part is that you have three distinct voices through this. The bad part is that you should only have two. Work on that.

    The setup has me intrigued, but only because of the potential I can see if I were telling this story, not from the information you've presented. There are WAY too many blank spots in this script for it to go into production as yet. And that's part of the shame I'm seeing here.

    You've been following this forum for months, I presume you've been following B&N longer than that, and yet, your writing hasn't evolved any. Barri Lang has submitted a few scripts to be edited, and has shown marked improvement with each entry. As scattered as Dayv Gerberding can be, he's shown initiative to stay focused and get better, and as hardheaded as Calvin Camp is, he's also learned from one script to the next. They've all shown improvement because they've been putting in the work. John Lees contacted me privately as to whether or not he should read all of the B&N columns before submitting his script, and I told him to make up his own mind. He studied, put in the work, and submitted something that got progressively better as I read it.

    If you plan on being serious about this, you have to put in the work. You have to write. Not only do you have to write, you have to do it every day in order to get better. Imagine how much better this could be if you simply wrote every day. That's the shame I'm seeing, because you've been part of the DW community going on two years now, and I'm not seeing any growth. Being “busy” is an excuse. I'm “busy.” These two columns, editing, webcomics, looking for work, my paying job, working out, and family life do not deter me from thinking and putting new ideas into execution. You can be better if you just try. I'm seeing a glimmer of it right here.

    As for the actual story--it definitely has places it can go. There's no doubt about that. However, I think you're keeping the reader from enjoying it. Part of it is the dialogue. While it's okay, I wouldn't call it publishable yet, and even when it gets to the “publishable” level, it could be a LOT better. That's the first thing. The second thing are the names/titles you've given. I can see them being a turnoff to readers, because they seem to make little sense. “Hounds” as a cleanup crew? An assassin that needs to pull himself together after a kill? An internal monologue where the character tells himself things he already knows?

    There are a lot of places where I think you actively got in the way of the reader enjoying this. That would be lack of forethought on your part. Lack of forethought, and lack of practice.

    If you want to be a writer, Mark, you have to write. That means discipline and sacrifice. You get out what you put in.

    That's everything I have for now. Thanks again for putting this up, Seb. I appreciate it. Everyone, see the sticky for who's next up to bat.

    Let's discuss this.
    Last edited by SebastianPiccione; Friday, July 24, 2009 at 04:56 PM.
    "Living Robert Venditti's Plan B!"

    CAT. 5

  2. drgerb Guest

    I've got a question for when Steven returns, or if anyone else has their two cents to throw in:

    The dialogue is okay. Most of it can use a polish, but that's true with just about all dialogue.

    I'm constantly reading Steven mention that. Okay dialogue but it could use some polishing or fine tuning. Could anyone elaborate on what he means? Steven, do you have a page of script laying around somewhere you edited that had the same problems with dialogue, along with a fixed version?

    You said it yourself, that's true with just about all dialogue. If so, like... I mean dialogue is dialogue, words are just words. And people are generally fairly boring. How do you have dialogue that is 100% entertaining and fun to read but still realistic? I guess the first thing I could think of would be almost any Quentin Tarantino movie; Most of his dialogue is good.. But half the time it's not the dialogue itself, but instead it's a combination of the circumstances these characters find themelves in and the characters themselves that make the dialogue interesting.. Bleh. I'm running myself into the ground trying to figure out what makes good dialogue.

  3. BarriLang Guest

    I think Steve's issue is that a lot of dialogue (and the good stuff) is close to being natural... but not quite there. The problem with the written word is that the human voice can vary the way words are spoken to such a degree that the same word can be used in various ways meaning various things.

    "Yeah" for example. Say it to yourself a few times, change the way you say it and you'll see it sounds sarcastic, genuine, interested, uniterested all from how you say it. In text it's the words around it that give it it's meaning and here's where (for me) dialogue falls down.

    I just realised, I said exactly what Dayv said but with poor grammar and lot less direction to my point!

    Basically it's important for us to be able to give the charactor a voice through the words we use... a voice can then give the words meaning.
    Last edited by BarriLang; Friday, July 24, 2009 at 05:05 PM.

  4. BarriLang Guest

    P.s Cheers for posting this Seb and keeping us all on track

  5. CalvinCamp Guest

    Just one question this week, Steven (anyone else can feel free to answer it too, since it sounds like it may take him awhile to get to it).

    On page 2, you comment that it's not as good a place for a page turn as the last page. And on page 4, you say that it's an interesting page turn. But both of those are left-hand pages. So they wouldn't really be page turns, would they? They'd just be glance-to-the-rights.

    It doesn't seem, to me, like those points would be a whole lot more important than the space between one row of panels and the next on any given page, so I hadn't given much thought to them. Should I be treating the end of left hand pages as page turns also? (Obviously it would be beneficial for webcomics. But in general?)

  6. Join Date
    Jun 2008
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    I think Barri pretty much summed up what I would have said about dialogue. It can be tricky stuff, making some one's words sound natural.

    And, Barri, I'm glad I could help Forby out with the posting. The man is meticulous about getting his columns out (as opposed to my inconsistent @$$) and I figured it would be a shame to let a con mess up that record of his.

    Plus, maybe some of his timeliness may rub off on me!
    "Living Robert Venditti's Plan B!"

    CAT. 5

  7. tylerjames Guest

    Here is my take polishing the dialogue. In one regard, dialogue is far less important than story, character, engaging visuals, etc. Comics is a visual medium and I've always found that rather than kill yourself slaving over word choice in the initial writing stages, its better to throw in some filler "Lock and Load" caliber lines and push through your story. That is, as long as you know you're going to go back and shine it up.

    I spent a lot of time doing my homework this past winter, and wrote a blog post a while back that contains pretty much everything I've learned about writing good dialogue. Check it out for some ideas.

    But I'll share with you guys an example of polishing dialogue. I first wrote my graphic novel "Over" as a screenplay. I then proceed to write three more complete drafts of it in screenplay form. Each time, every scene got a dialogue polish. And it got another polish when turned to a graphic novel.

    Here's a part of a scene from the first draft:

    Tony sits behind a large, messy desk, littered with comics, bills, empty snack wrappers and Red Bulls.

    Have a seat.

    Felix sits.

    You got my email?

    I did.

    And you read it?

    I did.

    You're killing me, Tony. What'd you
    think of "Over"?

    Tony waves his hands, trying to slow Felix down.

    Before we get into that, I have to
    ask. Is the "Pendragon" twelve script
    finished? Say yes.

    I'm here to talk about Over, Tony.

    You don't have it. Okay. Fine. I
    see you brought the originals like
    I asked.

    Got 'em right here.

    Can I see them please?

    Felix hands Tony the massive folder of art.

    Know that I do this because I
    respect you and your career.

    Tony throws the folder and all the art into the trash. Felix recoils in horror.

    You didn't like it?!

    Now, here's what actually made it on the page after all those polishes:

    (Over updates M,W,F at

    Note, the main thing I did with the polish of this scene was eliminate. I got rid of all the chit chat and got right to the meat of the scene. In most cases, I think dialogue improves by elimination, so on a first polish of your dialogue, go line by line and see what you can get rid of and not loose the important beat of the scene.

  8. StevenForbes Guest

    I'm here. Kinda. Not enough to answer questions. About to attend the Cup O' Joe panel. Questions will be aswered on Mon or Tues.

    Thanks for posting this up, Seb. I appreciate it.

    See everyone in a few days! Wish you were here. (No, really.) And yes, I have pictures.

  9. AdamH Guest

    Quote Originally Posted by madelf View Post
    Just one question this week, Steven (anyone else can feel free to answer it too, since it sounds like it may take him awhile to get to it).

    On page 2, you comment that it's not as good a place for a page turn as the last page. And on page 4, you say that it's an interesting page turn. But both of those are left-hand pages. So they wouldn't really be page turns, would they? They'd just be glance-to-the-rights.

    It doesn't seem, to me, like those points would be a whole lot more important than the space between one row of panels and the next on any given page, so I hadn't given much thought to them. Should I be treating the end of left hand pages as page turns also? (Obviously it would be beneficial for webcomics. But in general?)
    That's an interesting way to think of it, because those pages aren't page turns in the sense of "after I get done reading this page i turn the page" all the time (the caveat to that being sometimes you're going to have ad pages in the book and they will literally have to turn past an ad page to get to the next page of comics).

    With that in mind, I treat most every page ending/last panel (or two) as a panel I need to make interesting/exciting/etc enough for the reader to want to turn the page, whether it's literally or it's a glance-to-the-right situation as you called it.

    I think that's what Steven's getting at, making every last panel (or two) of the page a mini "hook".

    Even using Tyler's example, look what he does with his last two panels, dude dumps all of his drawings into the garbage, artist dude is pissed, what's going to happen next?

    -Adam Hudson

  10. AdamH Guest

    Also, big ups to Seb for posting TPG this week.

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