By Derek Adnams
Ah – the script! Where most novice writers immediately begin before doing all the frontend work discussed in the last three posts.
And that’s fine, because, at least for me, it’s the most enjoyable step of writing a comic book!
With all the “structure” previously discussed, one would think that the script itself would adhere to a rigid format. Well, it doesn’t! Unlike the screenplay and the story or novel, which needs to have a set format to even be looked at by a publisher, the comic book script has no such thing! Of course, there are aspects all comic book scripts need, like page and panel numbers, panel descriptions and dialogue, but it can be formatted any way you want!
When looking for a format that works, there are a ton of resources available today, like The Comics Experience Comic Book Script Archive.
I use a mash-up of the formats Scott Snyder and Jonathan Hickman employ on their scripts, all of which were available in the back of various hardcover collections.
The script is really a letter to your artistic collaborator, telling them how you envision the story so they can take those written words and interpret them through their own prism into what will eventually be shared with the world. That being said, there are two common ways to write a script: Marvel Method and Full Script.
Marvel Method is when a basic plot with a few details is given to the artist and they go on to interpret it any way they feel works best. The writer then goes back and retrofits the dialogue into what the artist has drawn. I tend to do this with prolonged action scenes. Unless there are specific motifs or details that need to occur, I will five the artist instructions along these lines: “Pages 14 – 16: have the characters fight, just make sure Character A gets hit on the head and is lying unconscious in the last panel of Page 16.”
For non-action scenes, I write Full Script. This is similar to a screenplay in which everything is spelled out, literally, for the artist. Full script is how most modern comic books are written, and it does serve as the best representation of the writer’s intent. I like writing full script, mainly because that is how I have always written comic books, even when my buddy Brandon Bullock and I were making comics on copier paper back in high school. It leaves no question in the artists mind as to what is going on and allows the writer to include little details, imagery, and motif in case you want to get all literary and stuff.
Another common issue when writing a comic book script is whether to write the action first or the dialogue. Again, there’s no real set method, so what I do depends on the focus of the scene or “beat.” If it’s a “talking heads” scene, I’ll write the dialogue then break it into panels, taking the page count and the page turn and reveal breakdown into consideration. If it’s action, and it needs to happen a specific way so I’m actually scripting what transpires, I’ll write each panel out, then break it into pages, then add any dialogue, if necessary. I’m not a proponent of dialogue during fight scenes, unless it can add subtext to what is transpiring, or one of the characters is Spider-Man.
A few rules I have acquired over the years have made my relationships with artistic collaborator much better. The first is to script no more than 5 or 6 panels per page. This gives the artist plenty of room to show-off and add panels if they feel a different approach will improve the visual flow. I stole this from Jonathan Hickman.
The second rule-of-thumb I employ regards word count. You don’t want so much dialogue that the balloons cover the art, so, according to 2000 A.D.’s submission guidelines; you want no more than 25 words per balloon or caption, with a maximum of three balloons or captions per panel. This may seem draconian, but honestly, once I incorporated this into my writing, it made the editing and rewriting phase much easier.
And that’s where we’ll pick-up next time!
Next Week – The Red Pen Edit
Further Reading (or, Books That Make Me Seem Kinda’ Smart)
Making Comics: Storytelling Secrets of Comics, Manga and Graphic Novels by Scott McCloud
Comics and Sequential Art: Principals and Practices of the Legendary Cartoonist by Will Eisner
Graphic Storytelling and Visual Narrative by Will Eisner
© Derek Adnams