To know your characters, you have to write about them. You have to sleep with them, brush your teeth with them, learn their eating habits, learn their favorite colors, sometimes you must even become them. There are many ways to go about figuring out a character before you even get to scripting. You can ‘interview’ them, write about them being forced to eat evil Aunt Mildred’s fruit cake and watch as they try to find a way out of it, even Role-playing can help you figure out your beloved Gary So-and-So. Once you have walked in the shoes of your character, you are ready to write a script for your comic.
There are many ways to go about writing for comic books. Many people, such as Allan Moore (Watchman) and Neil Gaiman (Sandman) use the tried and true ‘panel by panel’ method.
This is not my method, therefore I will not be going over it. Should you find yourself more interested in this particular method, please refer to these links below.
Moving on, I am going to teach you the method I was taught in my Storytelling and Scriptwriting class. It is a format initially intended for Animation, but I find that it works exceptionally well for comic books in conjunction with another tool that I will address later. This format is very similar to writing scripts for films.
So let us pull up a new word document in our word processor of choice. Hopefully, you know the setting and characters of your story well enough to know how you want to start the script. If not this is going to be one hell of a ride. What you want to do first is figure out the setting. The setting would be configued thusly:
Ext, which is short for Exterior, helps you to better visualize where this is going on. In a animation studio, it would keep the story boarding department from setting your script in space for the lolz. You follow Ext with a short description of the setting.
The next step is to write a small paragraph of narration telling about what is going on in your scene. I have a personal preference for left alignment on all of this basic setting and narration, but if you like to center it or right align it, that is up to you. If you are working with a partner or group, your goal is to make it as readable as possible so you don’t end up playing the artsy version of Telephone. Here is a example of what your pretty script should look like
As you can see in the example above, I have the characters names in all caps and centered. This helps to make it easier to see who is saying or doing what. The next piece to add to your arsenal is how to denote action. This is pretty simple. When writing dialogue for characters, you put what they are doing into parentheses before they speak. Illustrated below:
You can also add things such as camera angles in italics. I simply prefer not to as I have a different way of figuring out my paneling.
Now that you’ve got all of that, put it together. You should have a script. This brings me to my next point in the creative process. Panel layout.
Since we aren’t using the panel by panel layout, how are we going to take all that and turn it into a comic page? Enter my personal savior, the comic layout template.
Thistemplate is a godsend for laying out pages. Not only can you thumbnail 4 at a time, but it even has a huge margin for notes.
So let us break down how to take our script and cram it into thumbnails. Let’s look at our main setting. IT’s outside, and we have a breakdown of what we are looking at. This part is a bit tricky as you need to learn to sort of get a ‘feel’ for the natural rhythm of a comic page. I would suggest looking at comics you admire and studying closely how they transition from panel to panel. If you don’t collect comics or manga, look online. The internet is a fabulous resource for would be artists.
Back to thumbnails. A thumbnail is a ridiculously rough sketch and is in no way indicative of your skill. It simply serves the purpose of laying out a page. So here is what your your first bit of notes and thumbnail will probably look like. Mine are kind of sparse and I tend not to make the date and page simply because this is page 1. It’s a good idea to mark your page number the higher in pages you go. Here is the bit of script that I took and made into this thumbnail.
The lonely god was born into storms and chaos. He was born alone and never knew of his parents, nor did his know his purpose. The god simply knew that he was alone among the winds and storms.
Notice how I made quick notes about what I wanted to happen in each panel. These may or may not work so don’t be afraid to erase and edit until you are satisfied. Repeat these steps many many times until you are satisfied. The next steps are up to you.