Hello and welcome to the creating your own comics 101 weekly column. This weeks installment is all about scripting. It doesn’t matter if you are an artist, writer or any other member of a creative team, one of the first things you will need to start your journey into comic book creating is a working first draft script. Many people fail at this first step and start by creating a concept and/or characters and then jump straight into production. It’s easy enough for anyone to sit in a bar, setting the comic book world to rights and coming up with a loose concept for the next great comic series. It is however, a totally different thing to be able to write a coherent comic book script. One exception to this process may apply if you are an artist. Working in the visual medium, you will most likely start with some concept artwork to pitch to a writer. The bulk of this article is aimed towards stand alone writers as its safe to assume that they will be doing the bulk of the writing. It may still be worth a read by other creative members of a team to give a slightly better understanding of the process.
You may be wondering why a script is so important at the early stages. Well, there are many reasons and here are a few of the main ones.
- Every member of your assembled team or future team all need a point of reference to share. A good script will have notes for each member of the team and take into account each process. For example, it’s no good to have a panel with large amounts of text and not to tell the artist this. The result could be that when you come to lettering your comic, there is not enough room for the text and you may have to implement unwelcome changes.
- If you start working on the comic before you have fully scripted, you may find that you will have to redo much of your ground work as the story could change from the initial concept idea.
- A script will give you a page count. Knowing how many pages your story will fit in to will better help you work out your budget. It is important that you know the full costs before you start production so that you don’t run out of funds part way through your project.
Who can be a comic book script writer? Anyone with a good understanding of written language is theoretically able to write a script. Coming up with a good, original and captivating story is something that cannot be learned. You either have it, or you don’t. That’s not to say that you won’t improve as you write more. Like anything in life, practice makes perfect. There are no universal rules to scripting and different writers have different styles. The two most widely styles are either basic script mode or full script mode.
Basic script mode
This is the basic style for writing a script. The writer gives a simple overview of the panel art such as “John is sitting in a chair at his desk and looking at a newspaper” and writes the dialogue. This mode is fast and can be very useful once an artist has a feel for a project and its characters. It takes much of the control away from the writer and gives the artist much more artistic licence.
This is a preferred style to many writers (including Alan Moore) that wish to control every aspect of the artistic interpretation of the story. The writer describes every detail and background detail with as much specific instruction as possible. Sometimes even the panel shapes, sizes and placement on the page is included. This gives the writer maximum control and the artist has much stricter guidelines. An example of this would be “This panel is in a circle shape and should be in the top right corner of a splash page. John is sitting in his black leather office chair and is reading a newspaper which is on his large wooden desk. There is a steaming cup of coffee on the desk and a lit cigarette is burning in an ashtray with smoke rising into the air. John looks upset by what he is reading in the paper” The draw backs to this style are that it takes much more time and you have to be able to describe an artistic scene. You need to know what will and what won’t work for the artist. If you are not sure the best way to set up a panel, let your artist do it. It is after all their field of expertise and they will be able to portray the scene artistically.
As you can see, each script style offers a different perspective of the same scene. As a writer of the script, you need to chose how best to portray the story to your team. When you have decided on how best to tackle your scripting style you need to think about formatting. There are no industry standards with regard to formatting and many companies have their own specific guidelines. The best advice is to read as many online resources you can and read sample scripts from industry professionals. Other than following the basics, the rest is down to experience and practice. Once you have written a few scripts you will be up and running in no time. Don’t be afraid to revisit your script and rewrite. It is rare that a first draft script is the same script that ends up being used. Reviewing your own work will make you a better writer. Any rewrites should take place before production starts as changing artwork can be time consuming and frustrating for the artist. You can however change the dialogue quite far into the process as the lettering will be done last. Just take into account the panel size when choosing text.
The last step to take when you have a script that you’re happy with, is to send it to an editor. I cannot emphasis enough how important this part of the process is. Editors are the unsung heroes of the writing medium and can turn your already good work into something great. They will check your spelling, grammar and also usage of language. Skipping this step is a fundamental error and will show in your final product.
Thanks for reading and stay tuned folks as next week I will be discussing how to assemble your creative team.