National Graphic Novel Writing Month, Day #4: Script formats
Day 4. Hopefully by now, you’ve gotten an idea that you might want to turn into a story. However, you may not know how to put it down on paper. What is the format for a graphic novel script?
The short answer is: it varies. There are different variations, based on how different people work and how they expect to collaborate. Remember that a graphic novel usually has other people working with you, and you have to communicate with them before you communicate with the rest of the world. This is why some comics scripts seem conversational in tone, because they’re sending notes to a single artist, maybe remembering that they’re also including the editor, and sometimes the inker, colorist, and letterer in the conversation as well.
There is no one “proper” way to write a script. There are some common formats, however.
Full Script: Pretty much what it sounds like. The script is a modified version of a screenplay, with what should happen in each panel spelled out, including who says exactly what.
Advantages: the writer gets more of what he wants in terms of story pacing, details, killer lines, etc. The editor can look at the script as a complete blueprint and make his comments there, which can be crucial if there are layers of approvals to go through.
Disadvantages: the artist can sometimes be constrained in what he’s doing, and sometimes the writer has not thought the visuals through, so a large chunk of dialogue can overwhelm a panel, and other problems of pacing can appear. And occasionally, the writer will get a bit detailed in his scripting– see any Alan Moore script, for example.
Plot First: This is occasionally referred to as “Marvel Style” because Stan Lee in the early days of Marvel did a lot of his stories this way: the writer would pitch a plot to the artist, hitting the major beats of the story and varying levels of detail, and then the artist would pencil the story. Once the penciled pages were back, the writer would then write dialogue based on what was in the art.
Advantages: It was often faster for one person to crank out a lot of plots and let the artist put in the details. It also freed up the artist to tell the story as he felt best, which often led to more dynamic action sequences and a more fluid style. It also meant the dialogue was fresher, because it was written a month or two closer to publication than full script.
Disadvantages: if the art is incomprehensible, a lot of covering dialogue and captions will have to be jammed in to make it clear. Also, for the purposes of NaGraNoWriMo, it relies on having an artist to draw it so you can come back and dialogue it, so it’s not good for the deadline. But this may work well for you.
Thumbnails: This is a rarer version, but some people swear by it. The writer not only writes the story, but also draws out thumbnails of the entire thing, to show how the people move, how the action happens, and how the shots and pages are composed. The artist then can follow both the script and the thumbnails. Depending on the circumstance, sometimes one person will do a plot and thumbnails, an artist will draw the story, then someone else will come in and dialogue based on the art and faces. (Often used by Keith Giffen, Kevin Maguire and J. Marc Dematties, for example.)
Advantages: The writer is very clear in what he wants. He also can see how his story plays out, whether the dialogue dominates the page, and sometimes resolve other problems.
Disadvantages: Time. Now you have to draw out the story. And you’re also assuming the writer has visual storytelling skills. (Giffen is incredibly fast, he thumbnailed all of 52— a comic a week for a year– and cranked out full pencils for the last 40 pages of Invasion! #2 in something like two weeks, on top of the schedule he already had at the time.) In some cases, it can also reduce the contribution of the artist (although in 52, this was intentional to keep storytelling continuity between the different artists).