National Graphic Novel Writing Month Day 29: It’s NOT A Novel, by Keith R.A. DeCandido
My biggest problem with the term “graphic novel” is that it’s wrong.
Graphic, yes. Novel, not so much.
A novel is generally defined as a work of prose that is 50,000 words or more, and most novels are much more than that.
Yet the average item that is referred to as a “graphic novel” rarely has
a novel’s worth of story. Back in the 1990s, when I reviewed these
things for Publishers Weekly and Library Journal, we tried referring to them with the more accurate term “trade comics.” But it didn’t take for very long, and that fight has long since been given up.
Which is a pity, because the term is really misleading. And that affects the writing, because when you’re writing a so-called “graphic novel”—or just writing an issue of a monthly comic book—your ability to tell the story is somewhat more proscribed than it is in prose.
Indeed, while there are significant and important differences between screenwriting and comic book writing—as expertly outlined by my buddy David Alan Mack earlier this month—one thing they share is that there are limits.
Graphic novels and movies have more flexibility, but ultimately there’s only so far you can go. Each has a range of pages or minutes that it can legitimately run, with very rare exceptions.
With, say, a TV episode or a monthly comic book, that’s a much harder limit. A “one-hour” episode must be 42 minutes, no more, no less. A monthly comic book must be 22 pages, no more, no less. (And yes, I know some shows have more minutes, and some comics have fewer pages, but work with me here.)
That’s probably what you most need to take into account when you’re writing any kind of comic book. You only have a set number of pages (or a range, anyhow), and that means you need to boil your story down to what will fit in that range.
The lack of flexibility is perhaps the hardest adjustment to make when you go from writing a prose novel to a graphic novel. If you need a new subplot in a novel, you can just add the 10,000 words or whatever—with a graphic novel, that option isn’t there.
Keith R.A. DeCandido has written more than 40 novels, including more than a dozen Star Trek novels, as well as half the Supernatural novels that have been published, and tons more. He is currently the scripter of the monthly Farscape comic and wrote the first arc of the Cars: Adventures of Tow Mater comic and the recent Star Trek: Captain’s Log: Jellico one-shot. Look for his Dungeons & Dragons novel in 2011. You can read his inane ramblings at kradical.livejournal.com or cyberstalk him on either Facebook or Twitter under the handle KRADeC.
Remember: you can follow all the NaGraNoWriMo posts here!