So you are ready to write the first draft of your comic script. Yes, you, the one looking away right now, wondering what exactly a comic book script is. Maybe you do know what a comic book script is, but, I will explain it anyways. A comic book script is like a film but with static images; there is movement but it’s all done on the page. Writing them is much like writing a film script, but less similar to novels. You need to understand how to incorporate things like images into the script. In a first draft, images are paramount. So let this piece guide you towards finishing the first draft of a comic book script.
Things You'll Need
- Basic Writing Software (MS Word can work)
- Willingness to work on a new project
- Understanding of what makes a comic book work
Study everything you can get your hands on before you even begin a script. Take out one of your favorite comics, a notebook, and a pen. Go page by page, panel by panel, and detail everything that is happening. Don’t copy and write dialogue or storytelling down—just say what you are seeing. This helps you begin the first draft of your comic script by showing you what the pros (published comic writers) are doing. Also study the independent comic book scene, which is growing fast. If you study independent comics, you will note how different they are from mainstream comics (usually). For instance, there may be more storytelling and less action scenes, like in the hit indie comic “American Splendor.”
Start the draft with an outline. You don’t just jump into the script as you would a short story. A comic book first draft doesn’t have to be perfect, but you do need to see where the story is going. Make a 1 to 3 page outline of all the major events. A good strategy is to just use stream of consciousness to assemble the outline. Another common form of outlining is to break the script up into three acts, each with an inciting incident that gets the story going and a turning point where major change occurs. There is no wrong way to outline. You can write 1 page for an epic of 20 comics or 20 pages for a 4-issue limited series.
Get out the way. You’ve written the outline—good job. Now it’s time to, as many writers have said, get out of the way. This means remembering the basics like the three act structure, but going more for a stream of consciousness storytelling. You are just breaking the story down; it still needs to be entertaining. Dissect every scene you have in the outline, putting its importance into order. For instance, do you really need a 4-page fight scene? Or can the story improve with some more character drama and conflict? Again, to get out of the way means to think as much as possible on the outline. You are, in the end, just trying to tell an entertaining story that readers will buy and remember.
Write scene by scene. It can be hard to work on a comic script while thinking “This will be a hundred issue epic.” You need to think small, specifically, and in scenes. Write one scene at a time now that you have the outline and are ready to begin drafting the actual story. It’s fairly simple: Write one scene and go to the next. This is actually the more enjoyable part of the comic drafting process, because all you are doing is developing your themes conflicts, and story from start to finish. There are several routes to go for this step: There is the traditional “full script,” where there is a page of script for every page of comic, and the “Marvel Way,” where you give the artist more leeway. For example, in a complete script, you would have 22 pages of scenes, and what’s happening in the scenes, for a 22-page comic. Technically, following the Marvel Way is much easier: You can have a 5-page script for a 2-issue comic. Neither way is superior; it just depends on the writing.
Be mindful of the small details. Many beginning comic book writers have no concept of things like pace, transitions and acts. If that sounds foreign to you, start reading some how-to-write books. Small details are what make comics work. For example, if you have a comic script with a cop chasing down a drug dealer, showing who the drug dealer is selling to is a unique detail. He could be selling drugs to kids, which brings out an emotion—and all for a small detail. These small details form the core of any story—comic, novel, play or screenplay. Pace means not rushing through the story. You want to pull your reader in by creating character conflicts—like battles between a super hero and a villain. Transitions are how you move from one scene to the next. A perfect example is using the moving dialogue trick, where one piece of dialogue is left unfinished by a character on one page, then finished by a different character in a different scene on the next.
Wait for the second draft. Finishing should be a joyous time. Sure, there may be many holes in this first draft. What do you do now? First of all, don’t just jump into the second draft immediately. You need to come at the story fresh. It may be time to write another script, then you can come back to this first draft, at a point where you can be far more critical (like seeing confusing parts).
Tips & Warnings
- Just because you see how a writer can make use of splash pages doesn’t mean you have to. Be conservative in the beginning. You want publishers to see your talent, not the artist’s ability to draw.
- How do you find an artist? It can be as simple as going to a convention or joining an online group. But make sure you’ve been through several drafts before you do.
- A good primer for beginning comic writers is Peter David's book, "Writing for Comics with Peter David."
- Don’t go into comic book writing for the money. There are tens of thousands of writers and artists who want your job, with fewer and fewer being published. Don't forget your dreams, but do it for fun in the beginning.
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