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Thread: Silence Is Golden: a workshop

  1. LeeNordling Guest

    Quote Originally Posted by drgerb View Post
    That was what I intended but forgot to. Gah.

    And yeah. I kinda realized that but was just trying to 'shrug it off.' If I were to redo it, I'd have to show him reach for the axe, then use another panel to have him hold it up like a mirror to see his own reflection.

    And a quick question regarding camera angles. You tell us to avoid them. Is that just for this particular assignment? Or do writers normally / usually tend to avoid them and let the artist figure them all out? I understand that artists probably have a better visual imagination than writers, but I thought a lot of writers use camera angles to an extent?

    I'll see if I can come up with a second attempt to clear away any of those doubts / sort of's you pinned on me the first time around. Hehe. Thanks.
    Thanks, Roberts.

    Re. the reflection, you're holding onto an idea for an image that doesn't help your sequence one bit.

    Oh, and the next time you "kinda realize" something, put your Spidey Sense on high alert, because that means you intentionally turned in something that you suspected might be an issue...and did it anyway.

    And did it anyway.

    Remember, the goal for this assignment is to nail it first time out...but you did it anyway.

    Your instincts are good, your attention to them poor.

    Re. camera angles, a lot of writers use them, and most of them don't know how to use them.

    Honestly, most writers can't write a picture worth a damn...but still push film-conceived camera angles, which, too often, force the artists to produce bad work or ignore them.

    The best case I can give for this is look at how many times, just in this first day, that camera angles have been the bane of every assignment.

    That said, I'll use them when I NEED them...but I'm also an artist, I know what can and can't be drawn, and I have very specific ideas behind each use of the camera.

    If I call for a long shot from above, I'm often trying to introduce "scale" to the image.

    I feel that if a writer cannot explain his or her use for the reason behind any given camera angle then he or she shouldn't even attempt it.

    Most writers can't. They THINK they see something in their heads, but most of those images can't be drawn the way writers imagine them or, more likely, put them into words.

    Once upon a time I was asked to write a cover to a cartoonist newsletter. I wrote a very exciting image that could not possibly ever be drawn. I intentionally made every mistake a writer could make in trying to describe an image, mostly because I wanted to show the difference between writing an image (where we can go close or pull back in the same paragraph) and drawing an image, where there's no way you can see the expressions on the face of every one of a thousand protesters at a mass demonstration in a panel that's one of twenty on a page.

    See? Even as I wrote that image, we all KNOW it can't really be drawn as I wrote it.

    Much of what you and others should be doing this week is learning what can and can't be drawn.

    Most writers suck at that, too.

    So, if you all get better at it, you'll have a head up on 90% of the comics writers out there.

    I cannot say "don't use camera angles" in your description, but I will say "be smart and aware of how you use them and why."

    Most writers would be better off not using them so much.

    If most writers focused more on advancing a visual story, then they wouldn't try to bind the artist's hands so much.

    Seriously, writers wanting to control the artists, when the writers don't know enough about what artists can and can't do, broadly, not even specifically, is just a crime, and it's the biggest problem comics writers create for themselves.

    And that's why we're working on it.

    So, best answer: be judicious, be self-aware, be a good self-editor.

    How well do you folks think you've self-edited this assignment so far?

    Last edited by LeeNordling; Tuesday, March 30, 2010 at 11:02 PM.

  2. LeeNordling Guest

    PS. I previously forgot to add the three Silver-Hair pages of the actual colored comic (which is just now getting lettered).

    If you're interested, check it out.


  3. danialworks Guest

    Quote Originally Posted by LeeNordling View Post
    Danial, ambitious, lots of stuff, wish you'd tackled something simple.

    I'm sorry to say this FAILS.

    Your page 1 panel 3 & 6 description doesn't really make sense.

    In short, I don't know what you want. I half-read that shot as not including Sam at all (because he's not described in the shot). Now, my biggest problem is that I don't know where that shadow is coming from, so I don't know where the person/whatever casting it is located.

    Your page 2 panel 1 description really confused me. I cautioned against using camera angles for a reason, and that's because I really don't know what you were intending about our POV and the TV.

    Next time, use the KISS rule: Keep it simple, stupid (no offense, that the rule, not me).

    PG2/P2: A bigger hand than Sam's has "brushed" against the bedroom door. The "brushing" action isn't clear, and we really don't know how big Sam's hands how does the reader know they're bigger than Sam's. If this was important to you (and presumably it was), this is lost on the reader.

    Now, the more interesting and potentially debatable images were PG2/P4&5.

    4. Sam's eyes wide.

    5. The holstered gun on the shelf.

    P4 was to let us know Sam saw something, but then we've got this gun on a shelf.

    Now, I believe the gun was highlighted to let us know what he was going to leap for, which is nice.

    And maybe this would've worked.

    But if there was an image between the two, holding the angle on Sam, showing his eyes shift to the right...THEN showing the gun in the next panel, we'd have made a connection and thought Sam was looking at the gun, and the last panel would've been that much more dramatic.

    There's a lot of tense dynamism here, so I see the mood building.

    But the writing isn't as clear as it needs to be.

    If I can't understand it, there's a good chance the artist won't understand it, and that's why this is a FAIL.


    I want to caution each of you that if you try something big before you really get a handle on this then you won't get much from the experience.

    You'll get an edit, some suggestions to fix stuff, but you won't be able to write these pages every time without notes.

    We've spent a LONG time just working to get you to write clearly.

    So, please, each of you, start simple, and make sure we don't get lost in your creativity, as I was with Danial's.

    Danial, if you choose to revise this before the next one, please post the entire piece with the corrections. This way we won't have to go back and forth to track it.

    Thanks going first, and I hope the next person heeds my advice: start simple, get your sea legs here.


    Panel 1.

    A hand has just pushed a key into a deadbolt lock.

    Panel 2.

    A badly-lit apartment building hallway-- there's a hint of daylight from a window at the back. Sam is standing in front of that open door-- he's looking through his mail.

    Panel 3.

    A split panel. We're inside the apartment, and looking through the open doorway into the bedroom. We can see the corner of the bed-- a pair of old shoes-- and a human shadow falling onto the floor at the middle of the room-- coming from off-panel IN the bedroom. No real sense of menace yet, just a hint of mystery. Who's already in the bedroom? Because the rest of our split panel shows us a calm, even bored looking Sam with his hand on the OUTSIDE doorknob; the door has only been pushed open a crack.

    Panel 4.

    We're still inside the apartment, and now so is Sam. Motion lines around his left foot show us he's just kicked the door shut. More motion lines run from his right hand to the mail having just landed percariously on a mock foyer shelf.

    Panel 5.

    A refrigerator door blocks our view of the rest of the kitchen as Sam drinks OJ from the bottle. Safe and sound at home!

    Panel 6.

    Same shot as the first half of panel 3, looking into the bedroom. Our POV is a little tighter. That human shadow on the floor should now be placed closer to the doorway. We want to put it in the reader's mind that the shadow belongs to a BIG man-- who remains OP in the bedroom. We're conveying more menace, now.


    Panel 1.

    Sam's living room. The curtains on the windows are pulled tight. Sam is behind the sofa, looking at his tv remote-- the TV is OP. That open doorway-- lots of shadows, and the slightest hint of the shape and color of a human hand at the right level. A bookcase-- a holstered gun on top.

    Panel 2.

    A man's heavy workboot has just stepped down onto that one floorboard that can give an intruder away. Small motion lines on either side of this booted foot and along the left and right edges of the floorboard should spell out the words CREAK and GROAN in tiny letters

    Panel 3.

    A profile of Sam-- the wide-eyed look of a man who has just heard an unexpected footstep BEHIND him. Let's make his ear a focal point so that the readers know that Sam is perceiving danger by hearing.

    Panel 4.

    Face shot-- Sam's eyes have looked to the OP gun.

    Panel 5.

    The holstered gun on the shelf.

    Panel 6.

    The shadowy-shape of an indistinct but very large man in the bedroom doorway. Sam has just turned and jumped for his gun--
    Last edited by danialworks; Wednesday, March 31, 2010 at 02:22 AM.

  4. LeeNordling Guest

    Danial's revision grade:


    Try another, pull back for more simple, try to nail it first time out.


  5. RonaldMontgomery Guest

    Format: Comic Book Trim

    Note: This is the story of Meredith Elfry, a 12-year-old misfit, who's bought a grimy costume and dented metal flashlight she believes will make her a superheroine.


    Panel One: Evening after bedtime in Meredith's backyard. Her ranch house is a black rectangle dominating the panel, broken only by the open back door illuminated by inside light. Meredith stands at the door, wearing the clownishly baggy Girl Intense costume. She holds the flashlight in one hand, the arm hanging at her side.

    Panel Two: Meredith has stepped into the back yard. Next to her is an old metal swingset. A satellite TV dish is bolted to a side leg near Meredith's waist, the dish pointed to the ground.

    Panel Three: Meredith has turned the dish skyward, and her hand lingers on it.

    Panel Four: A close-up of Meredith's face. She bites her lower lip nervously.

    Panel Five: The flashlight held in the palms of Meredith's hands. A piece of masking tape is affixed right of the ON/OFF switch. It reads: POINT OF NO RETURN.


    Panel One: Wide view of the backyard; a Big Wheel or other riding toy, Meredith standing slump-shouldered inspecting the flashlight, the swingset with its recalibrated dish.

    Panel Two: Meredith holds the flashlight above her head with both hands, striking the recognizable, dramatic pose of Luke Skywalker in the famous Star Wars movie poster.

    Panel three: Meredith has squeezed her eyes tight, a grimace on her lips.

    Panel Four: Meredith presses the flashlight switch with a thumb...

    Panel Five: ...Near-blinding white light erupts from the flashlight, throwing Meredith and her surroundings into stark black and white contrast.
    Last edited by RonaldMontgomery; Wednesday, March 31, 2010 at 06:10 AM.

  6. ChrisLewis Guest

    Hi, Lee. Well, I finally caught up on all the reading and am ready to contribute. Thanks so much for the great column and I look forward to learning more! I hope the panel descriptions are not too sparse here. I wanted to K.I.(as)S.(as possible)S. but might have done so at the expense of the story.

    Format: comic book trim.


    Panel 1. In a living room we see a man sitting on a couch with his back to one of the armrests and his legs stretched out (also on the couch). He has a TV remote control in one hand and is pointing past his son, who is sitting on the couch at the man’s feet. The boy is looking at the TV just past the end of the couch. The TV is turned off. There is a small coffee table within reach of the man.

    Panel 2. CU of the man’s thumb on the depressed power button on the remote.

    Panel 3. We see the TV and it is still off.

    Panel 4. The boy, confused, is turned in the direction of his father.

    Panel 5. The man looks down angrily at the remote.

    Panel 6. CU of the man’s hand holding the remote so we can see the back of it. The plastic piece has been removed and there is only one of two possible batteries in it.

    Panel 7. He places the remote down on the table as he is in the process of getting up, his feet now on the floor.


    Panel 1. The man, bent at the knees, spreads apart two of the cushions on the couch, looking for the other battery.

    Panel 2. The boy, now facing towards the couch, is in the process of trying to get down off the couch. His face is screwed up in concentration as he is on one knee, the other leg dangling off the couch. To the right the father is now on his knees looking under one of the cushions for the missing battery. We might be able to see his lower leg or foot here.

    Panel 3. From underneath the couch we see the father looking, but there is no battery here. Just some fuzz and maybe a small toy or two. If there is room we might see either the boy’s legs on the left or one of the legs of the coffee table on the right side of the panel.

    Panel 4. CU of the boy’s finger just as it depresses the power button on the TV.

    Panel 5. The boy, triumphant, stands looking back toward the couch and his father. The TV is of course on.

    Panel 6. CU of the father’s face with a “why didn’t I think of that” look.

    Panel 7. Similar to Page One, panel 1, but now both the man and the boy are smiling, watching the TV that is now on. The worthless remote is still lying on the table.

  7. LeeNordling Guest

    Ronald's grade:


    A suggestion...but only a tweak, not an issue.

    PG2/P4: Meredith presses the flashlight switch with a thumb...

    This could also have read: A thump presses the flashlight switch...

    Had it done so, I believe you would have FORCED the artist into a close up without directing. Better yet, had the artist drawn a long shot on this, we might not see the action you intend as much.

    I offer this suggestion because everything here is simple and clean.

    Others note, I didn't call for a CLOSE-UP; I made a dramatic suggestion for what a juxtaposed uninflected image could be.

    What's the different? One SAYS what you want (which may or may not be possible), and one IS what you want to advance the story.

    And I wouldn't have made this suggestion if the rest wasn't already working well.

    Thanks, Ronald.


  8. LeeNordling Guest

    Welcome aboard, Chris.

    First, you really need to work on your left-to-right panel writing, because your PG1/P1 description is very back and forth, not as clear as you think it is. Check out the Comics Panel Time-Master columns.

    Your grade: FAIL (with lots of important notes)

    PG2/P2: Classic minutiae panel. So much detailed description about the boy's and dad's position, and why? For no good reason, except that this is how you see it. The artist is either going to ignore it, or struggle to find just the right angle to be able to show everything you've described, and will this particular shot make the storytelling better or worse? Probably worse. Had you kept this simpler, the artist would've been freer to find the right angle for the storytelling. Which is more important? I think it's the storytelling, rather than the exact position of the kid's and dad's feet.

    PG2/P3: Nice image, but there's a potential problem. You ever look under a couch? It's dark down there. You've noted some objects that aren't the missing battery, but the only way an artist can make this clear is by drenching the space beneath the couch with light. It can be done, but I suspect this isn't what you imagined.

    Now, what you've almost done is hurt your story. It isn't important whether dad can see the battery. What's important is seeing the boys legs, and you're actually giving the artist permission not to draw them.

    But THEY are the point of this panel. They're the thing that sets up the next panel better than if we didn't see them.

    This panel could have simply been: While Dad scopes out the space beneath the couch for the missing battery, we see the boy's chubby legs walking away from the couch.

    Simple, right? Why is more necessary...for storytelling?

    Again, the minutiae is cluttering your story.

    PG2/P5: But this next missing element isn't minutiae; we don't know where the dad is looking. He could still be looking under the couch, right? He could be just turned to look at his son.

    Now I want to come back to the idea of left-to-right writing inside the panel.

    How well this most important panel is going to work depends on whether the TV is on the left- or right-hand side of the panel.

    Presuming it's the outside, if it's on the left, we see that it's on first, then the proud boy, then dad (in whatever position he's in, looking at the boy, presumably). If this, then the next panel could be redundant, because we could show his reaction here.

    If the TV is on the right, then we see dad, the proud boy, the TV. In this case, we, like the dad, don't know the TV is on yet (because we haven't yet scanned to the right to see this).

    This is why left-to-right writing is important, because it reveals information to us in a very specific order that affects how we perceive the story.

    PG1/P7: MOST IMPORTANTLY, I want to go back and point out something that's very "film," and not so good for comics. In this panel you have the man setting down the remote while getting up. In film or TV that's simple. In comics, though, with only one drawing, it gets increasingly difficult to add actions to a character and still convey a clearly recognizable "action." Usually, one action will be drawn to supersede the other, meaning the artist will be making the choice, not the writer.

    In this case, you can have the man half-standing and putting down the remote, especially since rising to stand is mostly an awkward position, and you should be careful about using it, unless the next image somehow interrupts the completion of the act of standing, like suddenly being shot by a gun or pushed back down by a thug or angry Girl Scout.

    You get the idea, though, right?

    Earlier Danial had a guy kick a door shut AND toss something to one side. Again, good for film, not so good for comics.

    There's no "rule" against it, but most readers don't have the capacity to immediately register more than two actions in a panel (unless it's a Top Ten splash page where we're SUPPOSED to wallow in what each of the characters are doing).

    So, best advice, especially when clarity of visual storytelling is the goal: no character should be doing more than one thing.

    Hold onto that idea, and a lot of your visual storytelling issues will melt away.

    Now, Chris, this was very nearly a PASS, and one of the reasons was because you were keeping the writing simple.

    Had you written more, I don't don't doubt you would've hurt the story, not helped it. This very nearly something that an artist could do something very nice with, and be able to bring his or her skills to the forefront.

    Paul Levitz (former Publisher at DC Comics) once said how much he admired Denny O'Neil's sparse comics writing style. More isn't usually better; more is usually just more clutter.

    The more you can work, as you mostly have, towards a clear, clean style, the more compelling your scripts will be.

    And, when you know what you're doing, the more REAL control you'll have over conveying what's truly important for the storytelling.

    Now, what I'm writing here is about style, and my thoughts are totally subjective, but they're also based on reading too many comics scripts where the writers get lost in trying to convey the specific images they imagine, images that are too often convoluted and unclear for all their verbiage.

    This is another reason I'm asking folks to start simple, because simple is clear...and clarity reveals intent, and writing with intention is our goal.

    Thanks, Chris, this was a terrific first effort.


  9. RonaldMontgomery Guest

    Quote Originally Posted by LeeNordling View Post

    PG2/P4: Meredith presses the flashlight switch with a thumb...

    This could also have read: A thump presses the flashlight switch...

    Had it done so, I believe you would have FORCED the artist into a close up without directing. Better yet, had the artist drawn a long shot on this, we might not see the action you intend as much.

    It's funny you write that...this panel was the only one that I didn't have a strong visual for in my head. I wonder if that lack of intent is betrayed in the writing.

    I'm one of those people who's written dialogue first and then patterned the action to fit the words. Your discussion of coming at it from the visuals first was a revelation for me.

    I'll try to do another exercise this week...getting lucky the first time doesn't mean I'm accomplished.

  10. LeeNordling Guest

    Quote Originally Posted by RonaldMontgomery View Post
    It's funny you write that...this panel was the only one that I didn't have a strong visual for in my head. I wonder if that lack of intent is betrayed in the writing.

    I'm one of those people who's written dialogue first and then patterned the action to fit the words. Your discussion of coming at it from the visuals first was a revelation for me.

    I'll try to do another exercise this week...getting lucky the first time doesn't mean I'm accomplished.
    Hey, Ronald. I think you smartly played it safe where you weren't sure of how to play the image.

    The use of cutaway images, or a series of images that don't have a character in it, can be part of this exercise, but doesn't need to be.

    As I wrote, Mamet's book was a revelation to me, too, and it changed the way I think about visual storytelling, too.

    Actually, if forced me to think like an artist, like Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, getting a page or two of story from Stan, and having to figure out what the hell I was going to put down.

    Go back and read some of those comics again, by the way, and you'll see how much dialogue really isn't necessary and is extraneous.

    Good luck on your next effort.

    Like our previous exercises, this should be something any of you can do without even working at it, especially since the two pages can be about anything you want them to be.

    All you need to do is write a series of wordless panels with intention.

    For those of you wondering what your pages should be about, try just writing.

    For example, in less than five minutes: a large portion of the universe, to a galaxy, to a star system, to a planet, to a continent, to a city, to a block, to a house, to a kid's room, to, in the room, a map of large portion of the universe.

    Ten panel images. No words.

    See? Easy.

    Work on the exercise, not on your masterpiece.

    This also functions as a creative writing exercise that will help you loosen up.

    Last edited by LeeNordling; Thursday, April 01, 2010 at 05:27 AM.

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