Intimidated by the writing process? Having a hard time getting what’s in your head down on paper? (Do you even use paper? If so, does it have “From the desk of…” printed at the top or is it 23 napkins that you snatched from the coffee shop?) In any event, I want to teach you the “quick and dirty” way of making a script for your comic. It’s not as complicated as you might think, and you don’t need any fancy software to do it either!
The Basics of Writing a Script
Before diving into writing a script, you really should write an outline first. Outlines are a way of organizing your thoughts so that you can write your script. List each idea as a bullet point, then revise it to find a logical flow for the story. Once that’s done, you’ll be able to approximate the number of panels needed to pull off each bullet point. This will give you an idea of how much you can do within each issue of your comic.
The principle is the same regardless of whether you’re creating a webcomic or a 22-page comic book. For my comic, Frik’in Hell, I only had to plan out 8-11 panels per episode, so my scripts tended to be half a page at most. If you’re working on a 22-page comic you might have around 132 panels per issue, which is why it’s a good idea to create an outline first so you know where you’re going with the story.
Once you have an idea for the length of time each bullet point represents, use your favorite writing implement (pen and paper, computer, telepathic goat) and write down the action and dialogue, including key elements that need to be in each panel. Let me emphasize that you do not need to buy fancy scriptwriting software for this! An example script could look like:
Notice how the dialogue is separated into its own line? That makes it clearer to read, especially if there’s more than one character talking. Notice how some panels describe shot composition (close-ups, wide shots, down-angles, etc.)? This will help to explain what you’ve pictured in your head, even if the only person that will read this is you. Every detail matters; the more information that you put in the script, the better equipped you will be to visualize this world when you later draw it.
The photo up top is from my notebook for Frik’in Hell (not pictured: legible handwriting). I use a very stripped-down scriptwriting approach since I’m both the writer and artist. I don’t use panel numbers and such — I bracket-off each panel and put the descriptions inside parentheses to separate them from dialogue. As I said, there’s more than one way to do this. If I were tackling a 22-page comic, I would probably not use this technique at all.
Are You Handing the Script Over to an Artist?
If you are the writer and plan to pass the script off to an artist, you will need to be meticulous in the details. Don’t assume that the artist will figure out what you want. Make sure that the script has everything that is important to you so that the artist can include it. The example script (above) may be fine if you’re also the artist, but if not, you will probably need to explain what the hallway looks like, or the furnishings, lighting, and facial expressions, just to name a few.
Also, consider incorporating screenplay terminology in your script. Use keywords like Exterior or Interior, Day or Night, and reference the scene’s location. In the example, I would include in my description: INT. HOUSE HALLWAY – NIGHT. Doing this will help the artist figure out where each shot is located, as there will be times when multiple locations are shown in the same page.
Of course there’s a fine line between “detailed-oriented” and “dictator.” Your artist needs some degree of creative control and should not be treated as a robot to your whims. (“Robot to Your Whims” sounds like a band name… if anyone uses that, I would like credit please.) Your script should tell the story, not micromanage the look of every pen stroke. That’s the artist’s job!
For more information about this process, check out Gene Kelly’s article on Rocketbot called Writing a Comic Script: From Plot to Outline to Final Draft.
Thanks for reading!
How To Write A Script For Your Comic by Todd Tevlin is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.