Scripting and writing

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Ashwara
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Scripting and writing

Post by Ashwara » Sun Jul 06, 2008 5:51 pm

So I was just wondering, what's everyones method for scripting and writing for comics?

For a long time, I just thought of the general outline before hand and then did the specific details of the dialog and such when I did my thumbnails.

However, looking back at my chapters I realized that the dialog and narrative structure could have been a lor better, so I decided to start writing my script and story out before hand. This way I could more easily edit the story before it was too late, make sure everything felt natural and I conveyed the meaning I desired clearly.

It seems to be working well so far although it's hard to say, since I haven't gotten too far into the artwork of the chapter I've done this for yet.

What works best for you guys?

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Post by Og » Sun Jul 06, 2008 6:51 pm

I tend to think in dialog, so that's one of the first things I get down. I reserve my thumbnail stage for getting the layout down.

I'm not sure there is a right or wrong way, only a way that works best for you. Since you felt your dialog could have been stronger after the fact, maybe working that into your script stage would be helpful to you?
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Post by briantaylor » Mon Jul 07, 2008 7:33 am

I'm pretty much the same way I think.

I usually come up with the story structure, themes and think up the dialog and I put all of this in the script. The specific camera angles and pacing usually get worked out in the thumbnails; though I'll usually have a rough idea of what I want beforehand.

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Post by Joey » Mon Jul 07, 2008 8:31 am

Oh! I love these topics! I find that writing is one of the most interesting ways in which cartoonists vary their methods. I don't recall if this has been touched in other topics on this forum or not, but here's my routine:

I write with a series of outlines getting more and more specific until I get to the thumbnails. I don't like to write out specific dialogue until the thumbnail stage because I like to be "in the moment." In fact, a lot of my dialogue is then rewritten and fine-tuned on the final page.

With short stories, I'm a little looser, usually only writing one or two outlines. Then I break the outline into what I think will happen on each page, and come out with a rough estimate of what the page count will be. Again, I like to keep things loose, and not get too tied down, so that when I'm really in it with the thumbs I can squash or stretch sequences. But (with short stories) I've gotten to a point where if I estimate something will be a 12 page story, 12 pages is what I get.

Longer works, on the other hand, go through a much more thorough outlining stage. It's something like this:

- First a real short outline with the most basic plot points. This leads to this leads to this leads to the end. I leave out a lot of details, and often I know that my character(s) have to get from one point to the next, and I'm not even sure how that will happen. But this gives me an idea of what I have to accomplish, and often having those landmarks all in a row makes it become much more obvious how to connect them.

- Then I do another outline or 2 where I do just that. I try to fill in those blanks, so that I know how exactly point "a" connects to point "d," etc. Still no dialogue here usually, and still not too many specifics, but I'm filling out the outline with more depth and more subpoints to hit, with smaller gaps in between. Here I might run into some potential jokes and gags that will actually move the story along.

- Next I write a prose version of the previous outline, getting a little more specific. What I write is still pretty brief, and wouldn't be a compelling novel or even short story by far, but writing it out this way forces me to fill in blanks that I never noticed before, and now I can start feeling the characters a bit better. Still, not much dialogue, but we're getting there...

- Now I'm almost to the thumbnailing stage! But first, I break down the prose version of my story into a fake page-by-page outline. I literally write:

PAGE 1

Establish House. Main Character is looking out window. Sighs.

PAGE 2

Inside house, MC hears tea kettle go off, goes into kitchen. Is surprised by what he finds!

You know...or whatever. This is getting kind of like writing "The Marvel Way" only just for myself. I slip in a little dialogue here and there, and some more specific stuff, but I keep to the prose outline which is pretty tight at this point. However, I don't want to just be going through the motions when I get to the thumbnails, so I still leave stuff relatively vague.

- FINALLY: The thumbnails! I print out a copy of my page-by-page breakdown, and always have it in hand when thumbnailing, but I don't stick religiously to what I have as far as pages go. That's why I called it a "fake page-by-page outline" above :D For instance, The Ride Home was an 80 page-by-page outline, and it ballooned up to 150 by the time I was done with the thumbnails. Here I am pretty specific. I write exactly what dialogue I want, and try to convey what kind of shots I want. I don't go in and draw every guy in a crowd or anything, but my thumbs are pretty darn legible, I think. I go through a pass or two, adding and subtracting pages and stuff like that, and always show some friends to get their input.

I'm still open to changing this when I get to the final pages. I think an element of improv is important for keeping a comic lively, but the final thumbnails are pretty close to what you see in the end.
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Post by Ashwara » Mon Jul 07, 2008 11:48 am

Ah, thanks for that thorough outline, Joey! Ha ha.

You make good points about wanting to improvise some bits, so I think I'll take that into account too. It seems like a pretty good method; I always end up changing stuff too but hoped to direct it a little more by writing a script. Previously i just kept it all in my head until I thumbnailed! Ha ha.

As for my thumbnails, they're incredibly vague which I think I should probably work on, but maybe not?

What are the benefits to clear vs. vague thumbnails? Of course when it's clearer you know what's happening and less will change, but it also takes more time. I imagine it's worth it in the long run, though.

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Post by thirdeyeh » Mon Jul 07, 2008 1:36 pm

I have taken so many approaches its not even funny. I think with FDTN I've used about five different methods in the first chapter alone. I mainly find though that writing the whole script out first in screenplay format works the best for me. What it does for me is gets the artist in me out of the way so that the writer can focus in on the story and the content.

However when it comes to the action sequences I kind of just write where the whole scene should end and begin thumbnailing the scene from there to keep the action feeling lively.

But I wish I could find a preferred method. I guess its just whatever gets me working at this stage. If I can't bring myself to script, I'll thumbnail. If I can't get myself to thumbnail, I'll script. I dunno. I need to be more disciplined in this regard.
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Post by jshamblin » Mon Jul 07, 2008 4:18 pm

I'm still learning, but I found my stories have improved after I began using basic plot and structure elements. I don't make any distinction between a short story or comic until after the story is written. I then take the story, break it down into panels and work on the layout and timing. Any good story can be broken down into 3 Acts. Read your favorite book, comic or watch your favorite film, and you'll see they can be broken down as followed:

Act I: The Beginning (roughly 1/4-1/5 of the story)

- Present the story world of the protagonist(s).
- Introduce the protagonist(s).
- Establish the tone of the story.
- Introduce the opposition to the story's lead character(s).
- Compel the reader to move on to Act II.


Act II: The Middle and heart of the story

- Deepen character relationships.
- Keep the reader caring about what happens next.
- Set up the final confrontation to be wrapped up at the end.
- (possibly weave some subplots into the story)

Act III: The End or resolution (the last quarter of the story)

- Tie up all loose ends. The reader wants closure.
- Give the reader a sense of resonance. A story sticks with the reader longer if it has meaning.

That's my approach to it anyway. I know there are a few other ways, but I hope you find it helpful.

Joey wrote: PAGE 1

Establish House. Main Character is looking out window. Sighs.
Is that some sort of cliché in storytelling that I'm unaware of? I'm curious, because The Dreamer's Cap starts that way.

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Post by Joey » Mon Jul 07, 2008 8:54 pm

Ashwara wrote:Ah, thanks for that thorough outline, Joey! Ha ha.

You make good points about wanting to improvise some bits, so I think I'll take that into account too. It seems like a pretty good method; I always end up changing stuff too but hoped to direct it a little more by writing a script. Previously i just kept it all in my head until I thumbnailed! Ha ha.

As for my thumbnails, they're incredibly vague which I think I should probably work on, but maybe not?

What are the benefits to clear vs. vague thumbnails? Of course when it's clearer you know what's happening and less will change, but it also takes more time. I imagine it's worth it in the long run, though.
No problem! Like I said, I find this topic very interesting, so I'm able to go on and on about it.....

Thumbnails don't necessarily have to be tight or loose, it's just whatever works best for you. I'm not even 100% consistent. With bigger stories, there's so much more stuff to cover and keep straight that I like tighter thumbnails, so I can make sure everything reads well before I get started. With short stories I am a lot looser. I've even done comics where I drew some rough panels in my sketchbook and just wrote in quick notes about what I wanted to have in each panel, and then figured out what it looked like on the final page! Of course that was only like a 1 or 2 page strip, if I remember correctly......

Anyway, I'm a huge supporter of leaving a fair amount of wiggle room between thumbnails and the final product. Comics take a long time, and you have to keep yourself interested in what you're doing each step of the way. For me, if I'm just repeating motions that I've previously done, just in a more tight and finished fashion, it isn't enough to keep my interest, and things get rushed and/or stagnant.
Last edited by Joey on Mon Jul 07, 2008 9:02 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Post by Joey » Mon Jul 07, 2008 8:59 pm

jshamblin wrote:I'm still learning, but I found my stories have improved after I began using basic plot and structure elements. I don't make any distinction between a short story or comic until after the story is written. I then take the story, break it down into panels and work on the layout and timing. Any good story can be broken down into 3 Acts. Read your favorite book, comic or watch your favorite film, and you'll see they can be broken down as followed:

Act I: The Beginning (roughly 1/4-1/5 of the story)

- Present the story world of the protagonist(s).
- Introduce the protagonist(s).
- Establish the tone of the story.
- Introduce the opposition to the story's lead character(s).
- Compel the reader to move on to Act II.


Act II: The Middle and heart of the story

- Deepen character relationships.
- Keep the reader caring about what happens next.
- Set up the final confrontation to be wrapped up at the end.
- (possibly weave some subplots into the story)

Act III: The End or resolution (the last quarter of the story)

- Tie up all loose ends. The reader wants closure.
- Give the reader a sense of resonance. A story sticks with the reader longer if it has meaning.

That's my approach to it anyway. I know there are a few other ways, but I hope you find it helpful.
Cool! Nice breakdown of the 3 act structure!
jshamblin wrote:
Joey wrote: PAGE 1

Establish House. Main Character is looking out window. Sighs.
Is that some sort of cliché in storytelling that I'm unaware of? I'm curious, because The Dreamer's Cap starts that way.

j.
Ha ha ha, maybe so. I dunno, I was just thinking fast and that's the first thing that came to mind. I'm sure you're fine 8)
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Post by jdalton » Tue Jul 08, 2008 12:42 pm

My method is constantly evolving, but here's my current method:

First I go through several rounds of successively more detailed outlines of the plot. A short story might only need one round, a graphic novel definitely more than one. Hopefully by the end of the process I know what's happening, in what order, and why. I might even know a few snippets of key dialogue. The entire story has to be written this way so I don't get stuck halfway through with plot elements I should have introduced earlier.

Next come the thumbnails. These should also be for the entire story. My "thumbnails" are basically just a string of little boxes with a vague drawing of what's happening (stick figures etc.) and the text underneath. This is the first chance I have to write the "script" blow-by-blow, and I want it to emerge simultaneously with the pictures. At this stage nothing is finalized and in places the text might be very rough. Some characters might not even have names yet and just have place-holder names instead.

Then I chop up those thumbnails into pages as best I can, and start doing rough pages. These are the actual size and shape that the pages will be when they're printed. I work out the layout of panels, the layout within the panels, and at this stage I finalize the text. Rarely do the number of rough pages match my estimate when I divided up the thumbnails. I usually end up adding pages all over the place. From this stage I go straight to drawing. For my next book I will probably only do the roughs for one chapter at a time. Years from now when I'm actually drawing the last chapter I want the roughs for that chapter to have access to the level of comic-making skill I'll have then, not be stuck with the roughs I'm capable of making now.
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Post by b.patrick » Tue Jul 08, 2008 8:32 pm

I have always wondered about the processes of others. Cool.
For me I "think" in comics and so to translate them into a script and then back to comics seems unnecessary and even detrimental. I start with an idea or a piece of dialogue or theme and then think it into a story over weeks or months and then when I think I've got the story I thumbnail - layout, pacing and dialogue simultaneously baecause they're all so interconnected. If I like the thumbnails I go to final art changing as needed. If I don't like them - I set them aside and come back to them and re-do them when necessary over and over till I like them - then go to final art. I've thought about scripting more -- but I "see" the comic when I'm thinking it up and need all the elements -- at least roughly. Maybe I'm way wrong though - do you think?

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Post by Kazu » Fri Jul 11, 2008 2:12 am

Cool topic. I'll try to post something soon. Just busy trying to hit a tight Amulet deadline before the Comic-Con. I've been wanting to share my new process, though...
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Post by Tony » Fri Jul 11, 2008 12:00 pm

I'd recommend picking up Stephen King's On Writing. Makes interesting reading out of a dry topic. It's targeted at writing fiction novels, but the principles apply across the board.

No magic bullets, though - the book can be distilled down to a "you just have to DO it" message. In a more eloquent manner, of course.

Personally, I start with one or more sheets of point-form notes. Some dialogue, most of the action notes, and whatever else I think of. A lot of it comes in pieces. Sometimes a line of dialogue, sometimes an action, sometimes a specific camera angle, sometimes an emotional beat. It all gets jammed in there. After that, it's thumbnail passes using uniformly-sized panels, not paying attention to page layout or page breaks. I'll do that until it works, and then it's drawing time!

Unfortunately, I don't think this will work for a longer project, so I'm going to try something more structured next time.

Watch out for formulas and frameworks. If you're having to twist your scenarios so that they fit into the framework, the story will feel unnatural. If you focus on the characters, though, and every now and then look up to touch base with the framework, you'll find that either you're already in good shape, or you'll find ways for your characters to influence themselves towards a satisfying story arc.

EDIT: oh, Stephen King also takes the position that some people will never be good writers, and that you either have an ear for dialogue or you don't. If you firmly believe that anyone can do anything no matter what, On Writing might be frustrating.

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Post by Tony » Fri Jul 11, 2008 12:05 pm

b.patrick wrote:For me I "think" in comics and so to translate them into a script and then back to comics seems unnecessary and even detrimental.
...Unless you'd like to be able to share the story with someone else without having to finish it first.

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Post by jdalton » Fri Jul 11, 2008 12:46 pm

Tony wrote:
b.patrick wrote:For me I "think" in comics and so to translate them into a script and then back to comics seems unnecessary and even detrimental.
...Unless you'd like to be able to share the story with someone else without having to finish it first.
I have been known to write a script in thumbnails and then add an extra step before doing the rough pages- rewriting the whole thing as a "screenplay" for the benefit of someone else. It's not actually very useful to me, but I can't seriously expect anyone to be able to make sense of my chicken-scratchy thumbnails. If I ever got into a situation where someone then expected me to stick word-for-word to the screenplay-script I'd given them, though, I'd pretty much be screwed I think.
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