Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Where Chaos Reigns Supreme! (Inside This Writer’s Notebook)

I originally posted this post on my process of writing a comic book script on that other blog o' mine, but I thought it a good idea to re-post it here. (I am not being lazy! Shh!) There are lots of ways to write a comic book script and a lot of different types of writer-artist relationships. Sketching out page layouts are a part of my writing process, but I think of it as presenting the vision floating around in my head with the artist I'm working. It's not set in stone. Once the artist has my sketches, he'll use his own artistic acumen to improve the visual storytelling. Go, collaboration!

When starting something, I usually at some point come up with a very rough, bullet-point outline.

You have to write ideas down on whatever is available. Even if it means scribbling on the back of receipt paper because you were at the registers at work when genius struck.

I may flesh out the outline or go right into sketching out scenes. Often times I go back a forth between the two because as I begin to write scenes I get a better idea of where things are headed, or should head. And of course, as I begin to get some scenes down I also begin sketching out thumbnails so tiny and indecipherable that sometimes I barely know what they represent.

As I mentioned in my post about thumbnails, I’ve been writing dialogue and doing the thumbnails at the same time. This worked for several scenes as I wrote chapters two and three, but somewhere along the line my notes got a little crazy, and it’s hard to sketch out thumbnails for a scene when you can’t track the dialogue because it jumps around three different pages in ten different ways.

It was time to sit down at my computer and so I could turn the chaos of my notes into an orderly and easily read pseudo-script. (It’s not really a script at this point. I don’t even have all the page and panel breaks written in, let alone scene description). I’ve learned from experience that I should put a slash through the sections of my notes I’ve already typed up. I can’t tell you how much confusion that simple practice has saved me from.

I printed out the pages with a wide left margin so I'd have plenty of space for working out thumbnails and then turned the nice, neat, orderly typed-up pseudo-script into this.

Good times.

Translating text into visual beats is one of my favorite things about storytelling through comics, but like any aspect of any creative process, it can be frustration at times. When I got stuck, I found myself sketching different panel layouts. I basically knew what I wanted to happen in this particular sequence, but the ideas were slow to fully form. (This by no means was the toughest spot I found myself in when it came to writing this story.)

Sketching out the different ways the panels could interact with the story kept my brain churning until I finally figured out what I wanted to do.

Another useful trick was to work backwards from a place in the dialogue a few beats ahead of the section that was causing my indecision. This worked for me because I knew what I wanted the bottom of this particular page to look like. Once I sketched the arrangement of those panels, figuring out what to do with all the stuff written before that point pretty much fell into place.

Eventually, I have to incorporate all the chaos I’ve written on the typed page into the script I started on my computer...if I can make any sense of it.

Continuing in this vain, the first draft of chapter two really came together.

So...what does your process look like?

(A brief note on the names: these are characters who - for the most part - only appear in this chapter. Since they're minor characters, I didn't bother to give them real names, but I had to call them something. So, no - in case you looked closely at the scripts or notes and are now wondering - there aren't really characters named Gidget or Moondoggy in this story.


  1. Wow...I could never read your handwriting.

  2. Yeah...sometimes I have that problem too...