Writing Comics Film Style

Let’s chat about Scripting. In comic writing, there’s a style known as the Marvel Style where someone like a Stan Lee essentially dictates a general synopsis of the story idea he has to his artists and they go off and create a comic.  They bring back 22 pages of illustrations that Stan then plugs in actual dialog.  It’s like writing and recording a song, THEN adding in the lyrics.  I find that process a bit backwards and have always written in a complete script style.  This is where I write scene by scene  exactly what’s going to happen.  This article will cover scripting for a long format story, not a joke a day format, though you could apply much of what I do here to any format comic.

Now, my first draft is much like the Marvel Style, and it is very natural to write an outline of a story first.  But, once I start getting into the nitty-gritty of the comic story, I want to leave nothing to chance and that’s where writing in a full script style comes in handy.

By full script, I am referring to TV/movie scripting (refer to the example image).  A scene is called out by either Interior or Exterior and then a simple description. For example: EXT – Parking Lot – Day.  That is followed by a description of the action in the scene, then the Character’s dialog.  This style has been around for a long time and it works.  You don’t need a fancy software package to do this, just type it in a text editor if you want.

I start all my writing with Bullet Points. I brainstorm ideas and write them down, in no particular order.  Sometimes you come up with a great ending first.  No problem, write it down and sort it later.  Let’s get the ideas down first.  If you pause to move things around, you’ll break the flow of your ideas and loose momentum.  Write, damn you, write!

Okay, from those Bullet Points, I rough out the ideas and start adding in some dialog.  My writing style has always been let the characters tell the story, so it is natural for me to just write a character’s name then their line.  Then the next character’s response, then rinse and repeat until you have the scene written.  Then once the basic dialog is written, I flesh out how the action in the sequence takes place.  What local are they in?  What are they doing?  And remember to make it relevant to what they’re talking about.

Now here’s where I apply a TV/movie writing trick: I storyboard the script.  This can be simple Post-It Notes with stick figures drawn on it.  This will help you layout the frames of your comic.  I use really cheap drawing paper to do quick sketches of the scenes.  It helps me flesh out how I want to present the scenes.  See the scan of a recent comic page I laid out.

Once I’m done sketching out the storyboards, I then start to draw!  My fellow Alliance member Ken Drab adeptly points out that we artists will spend 80% of our time on drawing, and only 20% on writing.  But it is the writing that actually pulls most readers in.  I can enjoy a simple or poorly drawn comic if the writing is good.  “The Farside” is great example of a guy who really couldn’t draw that well when the comic started, but it was funny as hell.  We came back for the writing.  So, we should spend most of our time on the writing of our comics as that is where the real value is.

If you follow these simple steps, you will begin to see that the effort of taking more time in your writing will be worth it and will make drawing your comic easier as it has been laid out properly.

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Posted in Featured News, Helpful Hints, Writing.

8 Comments

  1. Alright!
    I’ve pretty much deduced an average, bird’s eye view of the process of putting a comic together from plenty of comic podcasts. And all of the gleened processes vary, or make different points more important than others, but its awesome to read this.
    You’ve set it up in a no-nonsense approach. IMHO, something appreciated by newbies like me. Thank you so much for sharing!

    • I took a lot of creative writing and writing for TV & Film courses. Even did an independent study summer class where I wrote a complete film script.

      From that I took that writing for comics is no different than film or TV. It’s a visual medium, only static. Comics are really just detailed storyboards of a movie. Once that idea hit me, how to write them became clear.

      I’m glad you liked this! Webcomic Alliance is all about sharing ideas; both from us and our readers. What works for one person, may not for another, but at least you’re aware of other processes. Thanks for reading and for the compliment! You rock!

  2. I’ve written a few plays and such, so I tend to approach my writing almost like a play script. I’ll nail the scene, then flesh out the dialogue.

    Thanks for the advice, Byron!

  3. I write my scripts in screen format. The first draft is in spec format, meaning it has no camera direction or specific shot composition details. By the final draft, I have included specific shot information so that the artist can properly render the strip. In certain circumstance I include a crude thumbnail sketch of the panel layout I had in mind while I wrote the script.

    I focus on dialogue first, then the actions or setup. Very rarely is a comic successful just on its art, so making sure the dialogue is solid is priority one.

  4. I use a similar method myself, although my “script” tends to look a little more like a “treatment”. 😉 I like the post-it layout idea, I might just yoink that for problem pages! Thanks for the tip. 🙂

    -The Gneech

  5. With my comic I always tried to do a “gag a day” style strip so new readers wouldn’t feel lost. Recently I’ve been trying short story lines to help me build up a buffer. I’ll definitely take your advice to heart. Thanks!

  6. I use poser so in some ways my process is harder because i have to build the sets and mess about with lighting and clothes and storage of all the props ,but writing is the fun bit and the of course the first step. my first stage comes with ideas that i write on post it notes and pin up on my board in time that idea is used to fill a plot hole ( sometimes is just a line of text i heard spoken somewhere) i do my first scripts in pencil into a note book and then after a few editing lines here and there i write the script in to a shooting format thinking about angles and page layout.however sometimes after all that i sometimes add lib when I’m putting on my lettering that i do in photoshop. my comic is more drama that funny (but it has its moments) my comic is not on the net yet but i have the first 50 pages done so im like a kid waiting for Christmas here.

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