2012
02.02

I’ve written a lot of screenplays. I’ve been a reader at film festivals and gone through hundreds of scripts. I’ve joined screenwriting groups and sat in more than my share of table reads. I’ve worked with small groups and helped break a lot of stories and scripts.

Today I just finished my first draft of my first comic book script.

It felt like I was writing in a completely different language with a totally different alphabet.

Part of the “Weird Girls” project is creating a comic book that goes into another part of the world that’s being built around it. So I need to push myself to write those scripts. Actually let me rephrase that. I need to learn how to write those scripts. There are a lot of differences between writing for comics and writing for film.  Fortunately there are a lot of resources to help people learn how to write comic book scripts. Here are a couple of pages I found and liked…

Script Frenzy

BBC Comic Book Format

So what exactly are the differences? It’s still just a script, right?

Let’s start off with the format. Screenplays are really standard in their format. That strict format helps me gauge how long each episode is. Correctly formatted, one page is generally estimated at one minute of screen time. That’s why a one-hour TV show is usually 44 pages long. (Lot of commercials, huh?)

Comic book scripts don’t have specific formats. That’s not to say there aren’t rules or expectations. How you define each page and panels are fairly standard. But there are a couple of ways to format the dialogue. Even Movie Magic Screenwriter (my writing software of choice) has a couple of different templates with different formats for comic book scripts. Here’s the same section of a script  in two different templates…

Generic Comic Format

Gossett-Kayle Format

 

It’s a subtle difference, but try to get away with that writing for film. Actually don’t. Because you probably won’t get away with it.

Another subtle difference turned out to be one of the toughest things for me to adjust to. It really is a difference in mindset.

It’s always pounded in to screenwriters to not “overwrite.” Keep character actions minimal. Keep descriptions of actions minimal. The more white space on a page, the better.

In comic book scripts, you have to describe every thing you expect to see in the panel. As a writer, if you want to see a certain expression, reaction, scenery, prop, weather, puppy, reflection, spaceship, you name it, then you have to describe it in the panel description. That’s how you express to your illustrator what needs to be in the panel.

To adapt, I found myself writing the dialogue first and then going back to fill in the panel descriptions. Maybe that’s how everyone does it. Maybe that’s just how I do it. But it got me through the first draft of my first issue.  Now it’s just a matter of revising the script so I can send it off and get an illustrator officially attached.

There are a lot of other things I learned as I wrote this script. Comic books really are another language. It’s unique from screenplays and novels. It’s somewhere in between. The greatest thing for me is that it forced me to think about story in a way I haven’t in a while. Now I’m excited to start working on the second issue.

If I learn anything else I’ll be sure to let you know. What do you guys think? What are some other differences between writing for comic and writing screenplays?

2 comments so far

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  1. Congrats Mark! It is a different world. When I was younger I harbored dreams of splitting my time between Comics and Film*. For a long time I actually had more comic scripts sitting on my hard drive than screenplays.

    As I started working more and more on screenplays and comic scripts simultaneously I actually found an unexpected benefit– I discovered I was starting to visualize my edit on the page as I wrote instead of after.

    It didn’t change the way I was writing screenplays per se, but it helped me make the jump from screenplay to the shotlist a lot quicker. I’d just gotten used to thinking in in angles and “coverage” at the writing stage in a way I previously hadn’t. I’d be curious to know if you find it’s the same for you.

    *who am I kidding. I never stopped having that dream

    • That’s a great point, Avi. This really could help speed the shotlist along.
      I’m going to keep reminding myself of that as I continue to hammer out the next issue, and keep hammering my head on the desk. :-)