Intro to Comic Craft: Step by Step: Developing A Script

This series is also made possible thanks to the generosity and interest of my Patrons on Patreon.

My Patrons have expressed interest in content on the comic making process, and I am happy to oblige.  Comics are one of my passions, and they're the reason I began this blog in the first place.  It isn't always easy to share comic content here, but their generosity has made it easier to set aside the time and resources necessary to doing so.  Writing about comic craft in depth requires research, setting aside time during the comic creation process to document my progress, and a lot of thought, and I feel is best served through longform series such as the Intro to Comic Craft: Step By Step series.  If you enjoy this series, please take a moment to share it with your friends and loved ones on the social network of your choice, leave me a G+ comment, or send me an email using the sidebar form- your feedback is important to me!  If you have specific questions, please don't hesitate to ask via email.

As part of this series, my Patrons have exclusive access to behind the scenes comic creation content, including the entire plotform synopsis for 7" Kara, the 7" Kara beat sheet, the Chapter 7 Synopsis, the Chapter 7 tight script, and loads more.   If you learn best from working example, joining my Patreon will give you access to those files.

In comics, there are numerous ways of going from concept-comic, and multiple ways to write a script that works for you.  Today I'm going to share my method for writing chapter scripts for my long form comic, 7" Kara, but you may find other methods suit your needs better.  I recommend checking out the links in my Outside Resources section at the bottom of this post for more on scripting for comics.  If you're interested in learning how to script for a short comic or a mini comic, please check out the below video, if you haven't already.

Lets Make a Comic Concept to Scripting to Thumbnails to Roughs-Becca Hillburn 

For story and character development, please read Intro to Comic Craft: Step by Step: Brainstorming and Character Development.

Once I have a solid idea, and have done enough brainstorming to know the main beats of the story, it's time to start solidifying things into a synopsis.

Overall Plotform Synopsis

If you need a further example, here's a friendly reminder that Patrons have access to the full 7" Kara synopsis!

With the plotform synopsis, I start out pretty simple- beginning, middle, and end.  After that has been established, I work on fleshing out the sections, based on the 3 Act structure mentioned in the Brainstorming post.  Over the months, I've taken loads of story and worldbuilding notes, and this is a perfect time to weave them into a coherent whole.

My goal isn't to work particularly tight- as a story is drawn, it evolves, and I want to leave room for filling plotholes, new story ideas, and character development.

As mentioned in the Brainstorming post, it is key that you have an idea of how you want your story to end.

Once I've gotten a fairly fleshed out synopsis of my story, I begin to

Break synopsis down into arcs or books

This is more for my own benefit, so I have a reasonable idea of how much work is involved.  Of course, with 7" Kara, this is really just an estimate, and it's very prone to change.  That's ok!  Be open and flexible with your webcomic projects.

Once I've broken my synopsis down into arcs or books, it's time to

Break  the synopsis down into chapters

Again, this is really just an estimate, to give me an idea of how much content I'm working with, and how long each chapter will be.

I work on a chapter per chapter basis, and occasionally go back to the original plotform synopsis document and make additions, notes, and changes.

So when I'm ready to begin a new chapter:

When writing a chapter

Copy that chapter text into a new file/Google Doc

Another friendly reminder that Patrons have access to all current 7" Kara Chapter 7 files, including the Chapter 7 synopsis and fleshed out script!

Chapters should have a beginning, middle, and end as well.  For children's comics, I lead in with large establishing shots, to give the young reader time to adjust to the change in scenery, and an opportunity to immerse themselves in the world.

Begin fleshing that chapter out

Once I've established where the chapter is going (and this is usually already established by the synopsis segment I've copy and pasted into a new document), it's time to start adding details and flesh things out.

Get an outside view on the overall chapter

For me, this involves sending my chapter (via Google Docs) to a couple beta readers.  The earlier I can get critique, the more I'm able to make necessary changes and improve the story.

Break chapter into page units

Control Enter for each page, so every page is a fresh page.  Convert original text to italic, begin fleshing out page in normal font.

I break my pages down by:

A row of panels, almost always related.  Think call and response, question and answer.  This is based off a technique demonstrated by Kiyohiko Azuma in Yotsuba&!.

Individual illustrations on the page, usually surrounded by borders.  Try to limit your panel to ONE action, if possible, unless its a special shot.

In comics, dialogue is usually contained in speech balloons, narration is contained in boxes.  Try to stick to one type per page, if possible.  Dialogue can quickly overwhelm the page, covering up the background and characters, so limit it in scenes where you need to show action or scenery.

Include background and staging direction

For the full script, please join my Patreon for access to 7" Kara materials!

Send Google Docs link to Beta readers for comments

I enjoy using Google docs for writing as it allows for easy comments and editing.  I can save specific versions of files as an archive if necessary, and have access to these files on any computer and via my phone.  Google docs is free and is saved to cloud storage (although I can also download a PDF copy if I wish), so it's really a very handy way to work on comics when you're constantly traveling. 

As with synopsis edits, script and dialogue edits are an important stage in refining my work.  I try to stay consistent with who I ask to beta read my work, and am careful to pick artists/readers who are familiar with comics, familiar with my work, and feel comfortable being blunt with me. 

I've found that, if you are careful with picking your beta readers, the comments that sting the most are usually the ones that have hit home, and definitely deserve your consideration.  The sting often comes from the idea of having to cut your darlings- remove portions of the script that you love most, or edits that will take additional time to complete.  While these are painful, they're well worth considering.

This is just my method of planning and scripting chapters for 7" Kara.  What's important is that you try a variety of methods, and work with the methods that suit your comic best. 

Tips on Writing:

Leave time for revision- from yourself and from others.  This makes for a stronger story

Don't tight script (dialogue, panel descriptions) unless you know where the chapter is going, you'll script yourself into a hole.

Don't write checks your artist can't cash:
  • Too much dialogue per page, no room for characters/setting
  • Too many panels per page, for every single page
  • Too many characters per page, every page
  • Multiple actions in a single panel by a single character (this is just impossible)

Outside Resources:

Scripting Resources:
Sample Comic Book Scripts (superhero biased)
Friends with Boys Comic Process (YA graphic novel by Faith Erin Hicks)
The Comics Experience: Comic Script Archive
The Beat- Making Comics- Script Format

Scripting Programs

Microsoft Word
Final Draft- Screenplay and Script writing software

Oscar Wilde Comics- Word Template
How to Format a Comic Script- links to multiple templates

This series is sponsored by:

The images used in this installment of Intro to Comic Craft are all from Chapter 7 of 7" Kara, the second chapter in Volume 2.  To purchase your own copy of Volume 1, and help support my endeavors, please visit my shop for physical copies, or my Gumroad for PDF copies of Volume 1 or Chapter 5 (the first available chapter in Volume 2)


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