Several years ago, a friend and I were trying to put together a script for a webcomic. We had the assistance of an artist who had experience in that he’d written his own comics, in addition to drawing them. His help was essential, as neither of us had the artistic skills for the endeavor.
Obviously, the project ended up falling through, but I did learn something from the experience: going from long, novel-length format to anything shorter is not as easy as it seems.
I’ve always struggled with short forms, being used to writing longer pieces. I’m currently working on a short story, for instance, and I could probably easily write 50 000 words about this character, his life, his ideals, and what brought him to where he currently is in life. However, I have less than 6 000 words to do so. The result involves a lot of description cutting, less exposition, and my main focus being on the character’s thoughts and feelings.
It’s all very condensed, and sometimes I worry that my short stories are lacking, somehow.
Writing scripts for comics are different from even that.
When my friend and I first started up our webcomic attempt, I was under the impression that script writing was going to be easy. After all, it was mostly dialogue, and I love writing dialogue. This is where our at-the-time artist was very strict with us. We couldn’t just spin dialogue on a whim. The dialogue had to be even more carefully constructed than we could imagine. It was going to be a heavy source of characterization, as there would be no point-of-view prose. It was going to be our primary source of exposition, but we had to make sure it conveyed everything without going into “wall of text” territory. Lines would have to be more carefully constructed than ever to blend with the imagery in ways that would convey what we normally would through prose alone.
I’m thinking of trying to write a comic script again, and the internet has certainly been helpful in providing templates and examples done by people in the actual business. Even if you are just a writer, you have to have some artistic notion of what you want to see on the page. You have to imagine what each page looks like, than what each panel looks like. Descriptions of panels must be short and concise. You must know where all our characters are positioned. You need to be able to help the artist convey scenes with no dialogue, and give them the same atmosphere as pages of description would.
Obviously, I’m saying that you will be working obnoxiously close with your artist. You want to make sure the artist is someone you can mesh with, and don’t discount any suggestions they might have on storyboarding or character design. Communication between the two of you is key.
(This part is only a little bit easier if you are both artist and writer. But that combination comes with all sorts of time consuming hardships than just writing alone.)
If you’ve planned everything accordingly, you will have had a good portion of a script, or at least a full plot outline when you meet with your artist. You two will have sat down and discussed every character, every location, every item, and your artist will create a bucket of concept art for approval. Then, once the comic is underway, you won’t need to worry about the artist misinterpreting a location or a character’s appearance.
It’s all about teamwork.
Whether this comic—currently near-plotless, with a lot of characters running around—actually gets anywhere in the future, I cannot say. But I think it might be a good experiment for me. We all need to try something new in our writing. Something to take us out of our comfort zones and allow us to grow.
And who knows what could happen from there?