How To Write Comics using Pro Tips
The internet has countless articles with Pro Tips: How To Write Comics scripts. In these countless articles you will find, guess what, countless ways to craft the “perfect” comic book script.
Why is that?
To put it plainly, there is no industry standard for comic book scripts.
There are specific details that must be present, but there is no one-size-fits-all approach. The craft of creating a Comic script is a perfect example of art meeting structure to build a better comic book blueprint. That can be both freeing and frustrating for aspiring writers.
Unlike Screenplays there is no industry-accepted format to guide you. Specifications vary by Publisher, Editor, or collaborator preference. For this article, we will focus on a basic Spec format that you can utilize when creating a script for submission or collaboration. This is called “Full Script”.
Lean, Clean and Easy to Follow
Full script is the most common “type” of comic book script out there.
I say “type” because even within the Full Script model there are numerous variations. These variations are dependent on YOU, the writer, and the collaborators (penciler, inker, colorist, letterer, editor).
This makes sense if you think of the Comic Book Script as the Blueprint for a comic book. At its core the script is an instruction manual for the collaborators to piece the story together.
This step in the process is essential. It can make or break a project before it ever gets off the ground. The reason is simple.
Collaborators are not mind readers.
The clearer the instructions the more likely your vision will be translated onto the page.
A tip for success in this phase. Clear Communication is key. You can never assume the team will know exactly what your vision is so talk to your teammates at each step to avoid “fixes” or delays.
Panel Description and Dialogue
This is the meat and potatoes phase of the Comic Book Script. You already know to keep the Script clear and easy for the collaborators to follow.
So, what does that look like?
A good rule of thumb is to limit one page of script for each individual page of comic. This is again for collaborator ease as they use the “blueprint” to help build your vision. This one script page per comic page ratio is less confusing and packs all essential info on one page. This limits confusion and promotes a page-by-page construction of the story.
The struggle is in limiting unnecessary information from the script page and adding only the necessities to get your vision across.
You can achieve this by writing lean panel descriptions and methodical dialogue. This is where “Killing your darlings” comes in handy. If that beautiful piece of dialogue or descriptive landscape in the panel description doesn’t move the story forward, then kill it.
Kill it dead.
Keep your script format clear and easy to follow. Trim the panel description and dialogue down to only the essential real estate required to keep the story moving. How do you achieve such a streamlined yet informational page of script you may ask?
Edits. So many edits.
Cool. Now Do It Again.
Rewrites and Edits are not the sign of a weak script. It is the sign that you are treating this process with respect and professionalism. Professional comic book scripts are minimalistic, packing an enormous amount of information in the most condensed spaces.
You are the barometer for when your script page is ready to move on to the collaborators so be methodical. Write many drafts. Adjust description and dialogue as you go. Send the script to an editor or friend for their input. Ask the basic question, “Does this make sense?”
Why is this even necessary?
Two reasons. Economics and Professionalism.
Economics. Making script changes at this phase costs you nothing. Making changes after the artists begin is essentially giving your money away.
Professionalism. You may get one chance to impress a Publisher or Editor. If your script is disorganized, has unnecessary information or is hard to understand then that chance to impress is all but wasted.
Page 1. Panel 1. – Pro Tips: How To Write Comics
The rest of the script is structural and act as directions for your collaborative team.
For best results make sure that each page of your script has:
- Clearly labeled page numbers and panel numbers.
- Panel count total at the top of each page to help guide your art team.
- Indentions for dialogue, captions, sound effects, and lettering instructions.
- Clear format distinctions to differentiate panel descriptions from dialogue.
- Number dialogue, to assist the letterer with word balloon placement.
More tips to streamline your script page:
- Draft a Synopsis of the issue with vibe and distinguishing characteristics in each scene.
- Create Character Bios with descriptive notes for the art team to review.
- Implement a Notes Page for any collateral information you want your collaborators to keep in mind.
One Down. Twenty-One More Pages To Go.
You now have some tried and true tips on how to write comic books like a Pro. The baton has been passed and I urge you to take the next steps to broaden your knowledge. I recommend Stan Lee’s: How to Write Comics and Words For Pictures by Brian Michael Bendis.
Do your homework and I’ll see you in The Eisner Awards at San Diego Comic Con!
Keep in mind that this is only the blueprint to building a functional and professional looking script. There are many other tricks like outlines and storyboarding that writers can use to enhance their journey… but THAT is a story for another day.