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Tales From the Script

I'm back with another video on how to write comics!

Once again, I'm going to expand on the tips I gave in the video and get into some details I couldn't cover in two minutes!

Choose your format

It's true — there are as many comic book script formats as there are comics book script writers, and none of them are "correct." You can find hundreds of examples online, including this very handy repository from Comics Experience that features scripts from donzens of notable writers. (My preferred format lists the panels at the top of each page like Kurt Busiek's, but numbers all of the balloons like Matt Fraction's. I mention in the video that there's no set format like screenplays, and indeed some comics writers write scripts like screenplays, complete with EXT./INT. notes.

If you're writing full scripts (and for most of my tips I'm going to assume you are), The very basics you'll need to include are:

  • A description of what's happening in each panel.

  • The dialogue and sound effects that go along with the actions.

And because your script has one all-important end-consumer — your artist — it's most important that you get the information across in a way that will be easily understandable to the artist, or to the particular person you're working with, if you have someone. Some writers give a lot of details, and some are very sparse with their descriptions. Because I'm not an artist, I like to give the artist just enough details to understand what I want to be happening in the panel, but leave a lot of the visual choices up to them.

Count on your panels

This is the least hard rule of any of the rules I've given. There's no right number of panels for a comic book page. But if you're a beginning writer just getting started with comics and you need a rough guideline, a general rule of thumb is about 4 to 5 panels per page — fewer if you’re presenting action or something highly visual, and it can be more if it’s a dialogue-heavy scene.

(This is one of the first rules you can break when you get comfortable, though. It's entirely possible to do action scenes with lots of panels, or a completely silent character-driven two-panel page. There's a lot of flexibility!)

Panels don’t just determine your visuals, they also set your pace. If you have several 9-panel pages in a row, it’s going to slow down your story. Generally the more panels on a page, the slower that page is to read, which is another reason why fast-paced action usually involves fewer panels.

If you want a moment to feel momentous, consider a splash page (a single-panel page) or a spread (two connected pages — often a single image, but sometimes including multiple panels).

The Golden Rule

From the most flexible rule to the least flexible rule. This is one you almost never want to violate*.

One! Action! Per! Panel!

Each panel is a snapshot, and by and large you can only have a character performing one action in each panel.

This is the biggest mistake beginning comics writers make, and the most important one to get right. And action doesn't just mean "Jack pulls the shotgun from the zombie's grasp and turns it on him, pulling the trigger and disintegrating his head" (that's at least two actions and two panels, possibly three). It can also mean "Jack blushes bashfully at Sally's flirting. His demeanor changes, though, and he suddenly looks nervous as he remembers what Mary said." Even though the only "actions" there are facial expressions, it's impossible to have both of them in one panel!

Don't ask the impossible of your artist! Remember: one action per panel.

*As with any rule, there are exceptions. I'm sure you've seen images like this:

You could definitely use this kind of blurring/ghosting effect to squeeze a couple of actions into one panel. But why would you? Give your story, your art, and your artist room to breathe.

Also, one action per panel doesn't mean you can't have something going on in the background apart your main action. It means don't try to have one character do multiple things in a panel.

So those are the basics for getting started. For the final video, I'll be sharing some of my all-time favorite comics writing tips. Look for that soon!

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