I received an email recently asking how I “write” my comics. That’s an interesting question because seeing as My Sister, the Freak is my first comic ever, I am still learning how to do this myself.
However, I thought I’d write this blog post anyway just to give you all a sneak peek into the way I work and write. It’s been a big learning experience for me, and I’m sure you can learn from it too if you’re trying to tackle your own graphic novel.
Unlike with screenwriting or prose novels, there really isn’t a standard way for writing comics (that I know of), so comic scripts can be all over the map. But I’d imagine all of them would have the same elements, including:
Description of the action
Dialogue and captions
And it should be very clear in the script which is which.
Because of the highly visual aspect of comics and graphic novels, there are several other things you must consider as well, such as:
Descriptions of the illustrations
Writers approach graphic novels in many different ways. I’ve heard of people who simply describe the illustrations in words right alongside the story text, and others who go so far as to write the descriptions in actual boxes drawn on a page. In my opinion and in my process, this is unnecessary at this stage. When I write my story, I do not worry about the illustrations at all, but simply concentrate on making a clear story.
Not that there’s anything wrong with breaking down your panels and illustrations; if you get into working for the larger comic companies, this type of thing is probably required. But if you want this illustrator’s opinion, it’s not necessary. If you are a writer planning to hand your script off to an artist, and you start to get nitpicky about how many panels per page and what should be in each one, you’re gonna lose the illustrator’s interest. It’s the same way in the children’s industry – most picture book manuscripts are not broken down into pages before being handed off to the illustrator. The publisher trusts the artist to do it. Artists have greater visual skill and generally do a better job with these types of tasks. So, I would advise writers to stick to the words and action unless a certain panel or page is sooo important to the concept that it can’t be left out. If you have written a visually-exciting and successful script the artist should have no problem breaking down the story into illustrations on their own.
If you are both the artist and the writer, things get a bit more fuzzy. However, I still think it’s a good idea to separate the two tasks. Write the story out so that it reads well and is clear, and worry about the visual stuff later. The comic won’t work if the story is bad, no matter how great your artwork is. Of course, as an artist I always have certain scenes and pictures that influence me as I write, but typing it out is a great exercise and it’s also a good way to see that the story is working without getting distracted by the visuals.
My script ends up looking like a combination of a screenplay and novel. I write out the story and action as if it were regular prose, and highlight the dialogue as it is being said.
After the script is written, I start making thumbnails. I’ll take the script and see how it is working on the page. This will usually result in revisions to the writing (in most cases, cutting a lot of stuff out) and I’ll go back and revise the original script as needed. That’s what’s so great about being an artist/illustrator – you can go back and forth and make changes until you get it just right.
To get a better idea of my specific writing process, I have a portion of the My Sister, the Freak script available to download. This is the exact script I was looking at while I was drawing the thumbnails.
Before you read it, I have some caveats:
This is my first comic. Ever. Keep that in mind please.
I am not an expert in the comics field, or writing in general for that matter.
Since I am both writer and illustrator, this was not written with the intention of handing off to another artist, but I would be fairly confident doing so. I don’t get too descriptive about the illustrations, but the gist of the story is there.
This is not a standard for the comics or publishing industry. This is just how I work personally.
There are many many ways you can go about this comics writing thing. I would recommend researching other writers and artists too, not just me. Use the approach that works best for you.
Here’s the sample script: http://danidraws.com/media/MStF_scriptsample.pdf
I hope this will give you a better idea of my process and give you some insight if you want to write your own graphic novel. And if you have suggestions or feedback, I would love to hear them – I’m still learning all this stuff too!