Friday, January 7, 2011

No “Bam!”s or “Pow!”s Were Harmed During the Writing of This Post

Oh. Hello there.

I was so caught up in developing material for our upcoming web comic that I didn’t hear you come in.

No, stay. Stay.

I’m sure. Since you’re here, I’ll take a much-welcomed break. Oh, here’s an idea. Let’s warm up some hot cocoa while I tell you about my approach to writing for comics.

Okay, you can have hot cider if you prefer.

Unlike screenwriting, which has a very specific structure that is used for everything from feature-length film to live-action television to animation, there’s no one way to write a comic book script.

Take a gander through a bunch of different books on writing for comics. (Here’s one I really like.) Or flip to the back of one of those special edition graphic novels that includes the script. You’ll see the myriad of ways that comic book writers get their stories out of their heads and onto paper. Scripts, summaries, thumbnails, information tables…it seems anything goes as long as it conveys what has to happen on the page.

I’ve tried a few different approaches.

The first approach I took was to write in a basic script format while dividing the action and dialogue into panels and pages as I wrote. This, of course, was with the understanding that what works in my head, might not work out on paper once it comes to doing the thumbnails and layout sketches. This always seemed like a “standard,” straightforward way of doing things. What sucked though was that when re-writing the script, if I took out a chuck of dialogue or added a bit of action it would throw off the panel and page divisions that I’d already written into the script.

In reaction to the first approach, I decided to write the scripts without the page and panel divisions. If I got a specific idea of how the panels would unfold I took note of it, but other than that, I didn’t stress about it. For me, this type of script is faster to write simply because I don’t have to think about how many words or actions can fit into a panel. The downside is you don’t really know the page length until the script has been annotated or turned into thumbnails, so if you’re writing to achieve a specific number of pages you might want to be prepared to do some cutting. (Scripts seem to run longer than whatever I had in mind when I’ve done it this way.)

The latest approach I tried was to do thumbnails as I wrote the dialogue. This works for me since I’m usually pretty specific in my scripts anyway. Again, I do this with the understanding that when Jose starts working out the sketches, he may find better ways of executing certain things. So far doing this has lent itself well to the more action-oriented stories. While it seems to take longer, I think having the thumbnails already thought out is ultimately a time saver because it better communicates what’s going on in my head.

Oh, and there’s a fourth approach we’re trying out. That’s basically where I back off, stop being so annoyingly specific, and let Jose do whatsoever he wants. We’re not working with scripts at all with this approach. Instead I’ve handed a bunch of flash fiction and poetry over to Jose for him to decide what to do with. I can’t wait to see what they’ll be turned into.

What’s that? Time for you to mosey on out of here?

Alright. Thanks for visiting. Swing by again sometime soon, okay?

Have a good one!


  1. There's some good insight here on how to translate ideas from your head into readable material. Can't wait to start on the stories!

  2. Sounds like you've tried a few different approaches. It seems like a combination of these might work - start with the straight sory of the 4th approach, send it to your artist for a rough layout/script, bring it back to ensure it's telling the story correctly, and work back and forth until you have a product that you're both happy with. It's sort of a whittling down of the narrative form into the comic form. I'd like to hear how your new method works out.

    I've not read that book you mention, but my favorite is Scott McCloud's Making Comics. Pure Awesome.

  3. Heck yeah! Making Comics and Understanding Comics are both superbly awesome. (And I should probably read Reinventing Comics too.)

    Thanks for a good suggestion. That approach really takes advantage of the collaborative part of a collaborative partnership.