Do you have a story you want to develop as a comic book script? You might think the writing process would be the same as scripting movies, television, or plays, but the medium has very unique needs. Here are suggestions on how to make your story work as a sequential art narrative, as well as pitfalls to avoid.
Don’t put too many panels on a page (or too few, either)
Scripts are traditionally broken down by the page and by the panel (e.g. PAGE 3, PANEL 4:). Generally, one comic page has between five and nine panels per page (although one-panel “splashes” can be used to great effect). It’s important to keep in mind that the more panels there are on a page, the smaller they are going to have to be, and vice versa. If you need a wide, detailed establishing shot of a location, don’t put ten other panels on the page (unless that panel is huge, and the rest are tiny). Similarly, if the panel contains nothing but a man drinking a glass of water, you usually don’t need that panel to take up an entire page.
Make descriptions clear, but not overpowering
You won’t want the text you use to describe the action to the artist in a given panel to be confusing or open to misinterpretation, but you don’t want to stifle the artist, either. Oftentimes, an artist will come up with a more effective way to portray a panel’s worth of content that you might never have considered. The more you know and trust your artist, the more you should allow him or her to feel free to innovate.
One panel equals one action
Many beginners often will use cinematic terms to describe action, but each comic panel is a frozen snapshot in time. Therefore, if you write “Character A walks across the room,” an artist can only SUGGEST movement, either with body language, motion lines, or some other means. Generally speaking, if a character needs to make two or more distinct actions (“Character A stands up and walks across the room”), each action needs to occur in a separate panel. (Of course, an artist could always draw multiple images like a multiple exposure on a camera, but this can make a panel look too busy if it’s not done well.) Likewise, there is no “camera” to move; if the point of view changes, it has to happen in a new panel.
Don’t cram your panels with dialogue
Remember that every word of dialogue you write subtracts space that could be devoted to art. If you’ve asked your artist to draw a meticulous scene of an apartment down to every dust bunny and old lampshade, you won’t want to cover that up with word balloons or captions. Don’t use ten words when three will do. If you need to write longer, break it up across multiple panels, but be aware that “talking head” scenes with no action can be boring (both to read and to draw). If you MUST get a longer speech or caption into one panel, instruct the artist to make the panel large, and suggest that he or she leave plenty of empty space around the figures where the words can go.
“Reverse engineer” a script
If these concepts still seem vague, take a look at a published comic book you think is well done and “reverse engineer” it into a script. Count how many panels it uses, how many words they’re able to effectively put into one panel, how you would describe the action in each panel, and so on. It will give you an idea of what a published comic book actually looks like at the script stage.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Justin Zyduck is the writer of The Adventures of Wyatt Earp in 2999. Read the comic online, get updates, and read more about comic books at http://wyattearp2999.blogspot.com.