Step Two: Script

Page 57:

Panel One: Outside the station house. It’s now dark and the streetlights are on. Kate and Mike exit the building, wearing coats.

Kate: “Y’know, Mike, you really should start using that computer on your desk. It makes the job of filing papers a whole lot easier.”
Mike: “I know. Call me old-fashioned, but I just don’t ‘get’ those things. They always seem to break on me.” *

Panel Two: Long shot from down the street. Kate’s on the corner and Mike walks partly into the street, looking for a bus.

Mike: “Damn, no bus, yet.”

Panel Three: They stop at the next bus stop. Mike tries to comfort Kate, but it doesn’t seem to do much good.

Mike: “So… Feeling any better?”
Kate: “No…”

Panel Four: The two walk west toward Wrigley Field. Kate’s in a mood. Mike looks a little awkward.

Panel Five: Down the street, a bus appears behind some traffic. Mike peers at it, happy. Kate barely twitches.

Mike: “Sweet. Well, there’s my ride.”

Panel Six: Mike gets on the bus. Kate stands on the curb.

Kate: “Goodnight, Mike. See ya in the morning.”
Mike: “Go get some rest. It’ll do you some good.”
Kate: “Eh.”

Panel Seven: The bus pulls away. Kate starts walking again.

* The striked out text was edited out in the layout process.

As an artist, I tend to think of my stories visually, so I deliberately chose to write PS in a cinematic style. I don’t use narration, preferring to use visuals and character dialogue to move the story along. The only exception is the “timestamp” I put at the beginning of each scene to denote when and where the scene takes place. While I also try to make the dialogue as interesting and readable as I can, it’s second place to the visuals. One of my rules of thumb is, “if you can’t tell what’s going on in a page before reading the dialogue, there is something wrong”.

For PS, I’ve written out the basic story line ahead of time. I initially wrote up a full plot synopsis through the end of ACT I before going back to write the script, and it wasn’t until after the opening scene with Frankie and Alfonse that I actually decided to script using a panel-by-panel format.** While this is one way of writing a comic, there are many other ways, too. If you want some expert advice on writing for comics, I recommend you read “Writers on Comics Scriptwriting” by Mark Salisbury. It has interviews with Peter David, Neil Gaiman, Frank Miller, Todd McFarlane, Warren Ellis and several others. It also provides sample pages from their scripts. “Understanding Comics” by Scott McCloud is a must-read. It is an excellant treatise on “what is comics?” that really covers the essential interplay of words and pictures that make up the bizarre continuum that we call ”comics.”

Be sure to also read Scott’s latest, the excellent ”Making Comics,” which goes into for more detail on the process of creating comics than I could squeeze into these few pages.

** Even then, I didn’t always stick to it. Nowadays, I tend to write page breakdowns, but skip putting in actual panel numbering.

I try to keep the following in mind while I write:

  1. A page means a page. — I’ve found that one page of script is roughly equivalent to one page of comic. Don’t worry about going under, but once you go past the first page of script, consider starting a new comic page. Otherwise you or your artist is going to have trouble squeezing everything in without it getting very cluttered.
  2. Give yourself room to breathe. This is corollary to #1. Don’t try to be economical and squeeze everything into every single page. Sometimes I to try to do too much in a page, and it ends up being a nightmare to draw.
  3. How many panels? — Try to keep your average panel count per page under seven. Six is optimal, but some scenes may require more. I tend to average around seven. It’s possible to squeeze up to twice that on a page, but don’t expect to have a lot of detail or dialogue on it. It’s all about striking a balance.†
  4. HAVE FUN! — Don’t forget you’re doing comics because you love it. Nothing kills creativity like overthinking a problem. Just go with the flow and have fun. The more fun you have writing the story, the more fun a reader will have when they read it.

† Of course, a page full of tiny panels can be fun, too. See Chris Ware’s work.

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