Tagged: National Graphic Novel Writing Month

National Graphic Novel Writing Month 2018

National Graphic Novel Writing Month Day 4: Don’t be a Player

National Graphic Novel Writing Month 2018

Day 4 of #NaGraNoWriMo! Last time, I told you that a full script for comics can look very deceptively like somethings it should never be… and those are plays: both traditional stage plays and screenplays.

Why? Because they simply don’t describe the same things.

The single most important difference between a play script and a comic book script is that a comic story is made up of single frozen moments that express something, most often either an action or an emotion.

Plays don’t do that. Plays describe ongoing action and motion, and comics are not built to do that, as they’re made out of single images. You’re not writing in documentary, you’re writing in newspaper photographs.

Take one of the most famous photographs of all time:

You can’t tell if someone just put on his hat. You can’t even tell if someone is blinking. What you can tell is that each person is doing a specific action, some of which are in reaction to other actions.

That’s the best you can hope for– that each person in the shot gets an action, and that the image expresses something.

David Mack, author of the WWII dark fantasy thriller The Midnight Front, wrote about this for us previously:

When describing a scene in a film/TV script, one can describe continuous actions with great economy. For instance, a line of action in a screenplay might read, “Porter gets up from the table, picks up the phone, and uses it to smash in Resnick’s skull.” The reason this direction works in a screenplay is that it’s a blueprint for a motion picture—emphasis on motion. That one sentence might end up being depicted with a half-dozen different shots edited together in a film, but in the script, one needs to describe only the continuous series of actions.

Comic-book scripts are not blueprints of moving action but instructions from which an artist will render sequences of static images that imply movement by breaking down an action into decisive images across any number of panels.

What that means for the story you’re telling is the one thing you may have hoped you’d never have to deal with as a writer… math.


National Graphic Novel Writing Month 2018

National Graphic Novel Writing Month Day 3: Plot First vs. Full Script

National Graphic Novel Writing Month 2018

Day 3 of #NaGraNoWriMo. Now that you’ve decided the format your graphic novel is going to take, you have to decide how you’re going to write it. For that, we have to discuss the two major schools of comics writing: Plot First vs. Full Script.

Plot First is occasionally known as “Marvel method” because Stan Lee used it a lot when he was creating the Marvel Universe and writing eight books a month in the 60s— he would pitch a plot to artists like Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, Don Heck, etc., discuss it with them and maybe type up a quick page or two for notes. Then the artist would pencil the story, after which Stan would script the captions and dialogue to fit the art. The advantage for the writer is knowing what the art looks like, and how much room there is for text, when scripting. The disadvantage(?) is that the writer loses control over pacing and composition of the art, and may get surprised when the art comes back and there’s this silvery surfer in the middle of the story, or some other addition or omission. We don’t recommend this method at all unless you have an existing relationship with the artist and editor and trust them.

It can also lead to a sort of laziness on behalf of the writer: Frank Miller’s recent one line in a plot that John Romita Jr. turned into TEN PAGES of artwork.

Full Script: writing a complete script with panel descriptions, based on which the artist then draws the story. Advantages: the writer has more control over layout and pacing, although an artist will still find ways to misinterpret your script. Disadvantages: it takes longer to write (and may not save the artist any time), and you may need to tweak your dialogue and captions to fit the art anyway.

Because we don’t want to slough too much of the writing onto the artist for our purposes, we’re going to discuss Full Script. There’s one other method, but we’re going to save that for a bit later in our discussion, because we’re going to use elements of it in writing our script.

So what does a full script for comics look like? Well, it can look very deceptively like something it should never be… which we’ll discuss tomorrow.

National Graphic Novel Writing Month 2018

What you MUST know before starting to write your graphic novel #nagranowrimo

National Graphic Novel Writing Month 2018

It’s Day 2 of National Graphic Novel Writing Month– and we haven’t even started writing yet!


“Good?” I hear you cry. “How can that be good? I see all those novel writers who have started posting their word counts! Some of them are thousands of words ahead of us!”

Big deal. Writing a novel is easier. We have to know things first. Novel writers can just put one word after the other after the other, and keep going until they run out of steam or story. If it runs short, it’s a novella; if it runs long, it’s a trilogy. What if they had to write to an exact length?

I’m not just talking about the length of the novel. I mean writing to the exact length of each page– each page has a maximum 210 words, no more. And every scene has to end at the end of a page. And each chapter has to be exactly 22 pages long. And…

You get the idea. Even when a prose book is heavily reformatted, as with this new tiny book format, the text itself barely changes. With comics, that’s not going to be the case.

That’s why the most important thing to know before you start writing your graphic novel is the format– how your book will end up being initially published. Comics are a very regimented format— so much so that large comic book companies will produce art boards of a specific size for artists to use— and knowing those formats will inform how you create your work.

Take a look at these books.

Notice that every single one of these are a different page size than a “regular” comic book, and as a result, each one of them will have different storytelling challenges. Only so many words will fit on a page, only so many panels, only so much action and detail, and you’ll have to plan accordingly.

Length of the book matters too– is it 22 pages? 48? 120? 300? Are you reading it all at once, or is it spread out over months? Reintroducing your characters and setting in a monthly comic is one thing– it’s been a while between issues for your regular readers, and there’s a chance that this comic is the first issue a new reader may pick up, so it makes sense to introduce them. But if you read them in a collected omnibus format, being reminded every 22 pages or so that his claws cut through steel plate as easily as rice paper gets tired quick.

Similarly, if most people are going to be reading it in a collected format, you’ll have to accept that those 4-page digressions you put in the back of the monthly edition are going to be skipped over by a lot of people when they read it now.

Bear in mind that there are also technical and practical limitations to what you can actually print. If you decide that your graphic novel is going to be, say, 8″ by 9″, you’re going to be hard pressed to find a printer that can produce your books in that size and it’s likely to cost more. And while we’re talking about price, remember that every page you add is going to cost more to print, and unlike prose books you can’t use a smaller typeface to make it fit in fewer pages. In addition, your printer may be able to offer you a discount if your page count is a multiple of 16 or 32…

So that’s your first challenge: what do you think your graphic novel is going to look like? What’s your format?

National Graphic Novel Writing Month 2018

National Graphic Novel Writing Month 2018! #nagranowrimo

National Graphic Novel Writing Month 2018

Yes, we got enough demand from you that we’re doing it again! For the month of November, we’re going to help you learn how to write a graphic novel! Stick with us for 30 days, and we’ll go over just about everything you need to know about writing for the specific requirements of comics!

It is our hope that by the time we’re done, you’re going to be well on your way to being able to show us your work, and be able to guide you to the next steps of creation. We also hope you’ll share these lessons with other folks far and wide.

First: let’s pull out some of the textbooks you’re going to want to read. Your first homework assignment is to get some of these from the library or the store.

We’ll recommend others as we go.

Second, let me tell you what this is NOT going to be.

This is not going to help you create your idea for a graphic novel. We’re starting with the assumption that you already have an idea for a graphic novel, and need help trying to write it.

This is not going to require you to be an artist. While there is a place for the person who can both write and draw, this is intended for the person who is going to be working with a collaborator or two. As such, you’re going to learn the best ways to write in order to make it easy for a collaborator– even it you don’t even know who’s going to draw it.

This is not even going to require you to have any drawing skills. If you can make stick figures, you’re qualified. Yes, you will have to draw stick figures.

This is not going to be genre-specific. Comics contain multitudes– superheroes, mysteries, science fiction, fantasy, humor, porn, educational materials, biography and autobiography, on and on and on. We’re not teaching you how to write Batman, we’re teaching you how to write comics.

And finally: This is not going to be a rah-rah confidence builder. There are plenty of places where you can get the types of affirmations to help during long nights staring at your wall, and you should make use of them if they help you– but this is for the nuts and bolts of writing for comics, and the only way to really learn that is to sit down and write them. These lessons are not to help you power through the creation of a comic, giving you “waytogos!” as you hit particular word counts during the month. In fact, there will be no word count goal in your creation process.

Why? Because it’s impossible to quantify how many words are needed to make a graphic novel. It could take 5000 words– or 500,000.

And on that terrifying note… see you tomorrow.


National Graphic Novel Writing Month: Pick Your Shots!


Your graphic novel writing exercise for the day:

Take a tracking shot from a movie or TV show– one long, unbroken take that runs for a minute or more. If nothing immediately comes to mind, we’re going to take the opening from the last James Bond film, Spectre:

Your mission, 007: select the single shots from this sequence that tells the story.  All the important visual pieces that tell the story. You don’t have to draw them, you can just freeze frame from the clip. Keep the continuity from panel to panel, shot to shot. This clip is great because there’s a minimum of dialogue, so you can’t easily link panels by covering the action with words.

Beginner level: This shot’s a little over 4 minutes, so we’ll make it easy and give you five pages to do the sequence. Pick your shots. Then hand it to someone else and ask them if it makes sense.

Intermediate level: Describe the shots for your artist— what are the important things that are happening in each panel that the artist has to include, including continuity between panels? (Obviously, assume your artist has never seen this clip before.)

Advanced level: Cut two pages from your beginner level sequence.

Ready? Go.

Tweeks Supernatural Interview Pt 1

Supernatural will begin it’s 13th Season on October 12 on The CW. That is only three weeks away! So to catch you up to speed, here is our interview with Jensen Ackles (Dean), Jared Padalecki (Sam), and Misha Collins (Castiel)!

The possible spin off that was announced at SDCC, Wayward Sisters, is mentioned briefly. We’ll bring you more info on that when we have it, but so far we know it will be an episode during this season of Supernatural that will serve as the pilot. It will star Kim Rhodes as Sheriff Jody Mills, Briana Buckmaster as Sheriff Donna Hanscum, Kathryn Newton as Claire Novak, Clark Back as Patience Turner, and Katherine Ramdeen as Alex Jones.

Glenn Hauman: Do You Really Need To Say It?

Scènes à faire. Ever heard of it?

It’s an interesting concept that writers and artists encounter when they work, although they may not know what it’s called. It’s French for “scene to be made” or “scene that must be done”. In practical terms, it refers to a scene in a creative work that’s pretty much obligatory for the genre.

If you’re doing a story about a doctor, you will sooner or later have a dramatic shot of a patient on a cart pushed through swinging hospital doors. If you’re doing a story about a lawyer, sooner or later there will be an impassioned speech in front of a judge. If you’re doing a story about a little old lady in Maine who writes mysteries, sooner or later there will be a dead body. If there’s an evacuation, there will be a shot of a toy sadly left behind; if there’s a fruit cart during a car chase in an ethnic neighborhood, the fruit will become ingredients for a smoothie; if there’s a gun on the mantelpiece, it will be fired— on and on and on. ComicMix’s house metaphysician, Del Close, used to have a saying: “Never share a foxhole with a character who carries a photo of his sweetheart.”

And if there’s a superhero story…?

Sadly, you can probably come up with a lot of things in here that just seemed preordained to show up.

First off, it’s a one in a billion thing. A lightning bolt will hit a rack of chemicals that you’re near, a radioactive spider will bite you and not kill you, an alien will come down and give you a thingamabob of immense power, you’re the one in a generation prophecy made flesh, or a completely random mutation, or your billionaire parents were shot dead in an alley— you can list these as easily as I can.

At the same time or shortly thereafter, you get THE MOTIVATION. That’s the reason why they get dressed up and do what they do, and that is important, because that often reveals character. (It better reveal character, the person has suddenly decided to start wearing funny clothing outside and potentially be shot— “it seemed like a good idea at the time” just won’t do.)

Now: can you tell a superhero story without telling the origin?

Well, yes. Spider-Man: Homecoming avoided telling (or retelling) the more famous moments of Peter Parker’s backstory (although we do see how he gets various iterations of his suit) and instead focused on what he does now as a person. There was an early draft for a Green Arrow/Suicide Squad-ish movie called SuperMax where Oliver Queen was just tossed in prison with a bunch of supervillians and had to get out. No origin, no recap, just hit the ground running. The first X-Men movie doesn’t go into the backstory of all these mutants, just throws in the plot, the sides, the stakes, and go.

Some stories are even doing this now with fight scenes, because fight scenes rarely reveal character. The most extreme example that comes to mind was what Peter David did in Captain Marvel between issues #5 and #6, he had an entire cosmic crossover battle and destroyed the universe— and did it all off-panel.

The point? The point is: get to the point. We’ve seen the classic bits already, and many of us can pretty much take them as given. The point is not the origin itself— but how and why this changes the character.

We’ve seen the universe end before. Show me why your character wants to end it.

(Hat tip to Jim Valentino for Normalman #1.)


Math. Ugh. Hate it. Too real world for me. Unyielding, unforgiving, no sense of humor, and numbers don’t talk to me the way words do. My brain isn’t wired for it. However, numbers are a part of comics and comic book writing.

Certainly there are the important numbers regarding sales, but they also figure into telling a story. Let’s go through some of them. First number: the number of pages. Right now, your monthly comic book is 22 pages long. Let’s say you’ve been asked to do a fill-in story or a complete in one story for a given book. There are certain space limitations you need to take into account.

How many panels are in a page? Well, your first page is usually the splash page which means one big panel. This page also usually has the title of the story and the credits box for the creators. Here’s some rules of thumb for the other pages: when there’s a lot of action, you use fewer panels per page. If it’s a talk scene, you can have more. I generally figure that it will average out to five panels a page. The splash page is one panel so you have 21 pages times five panels. We do the match and the whole thing totals 106 panels in which to tell your story.

There are also limits to how much you can put in a panel. This includes speech balloons, thought balloons, captions, and sound effects, if you have them. You don’t want to crowd the art. I generally figure the limit of all of the above is three per panel.

Nor can you do that every single panel. If you do that, you have a wall of words and the reader usually will just ignore it and go on to the next page that hopefully has less verbiage. The exception to this rule is Brian Michael Bendis and, trust me, unless you are in fact Brian Michael Bendis, you’re not Brian Michael Bendis.

There are also limits to how much you can put into each word balloon, thought balloon, or caption. Again, I use a rule of thumb and it’s based on my font type and size. I tend to use Geneva 14 point (my eyes aren’t great and that’s what I can most easily see). So I figure the maximum is three typed lines per balloon or caption. Again, you can’t do that with every panel or you’ll wind up with the Wall of Words that gets ignored. Again, the Bendis Exception applies.

So, being generous, let’s say you average about 1.5 balloons/captions per panel. Do the math. If you have 106 panels per issue, that comes out to 159 balloons/captions with which to tell your story. That’s it. 21 pages, 106 panels, 159 balloons/captions in all. That’s plot, plot twists, characterization, theme, and snappy banter. Ladies and germs, that’s not a lot of space.

There’s a bit more math with telling a story as well. Each panel should have one clear definable action per panel. Batman leaps but he does not leap, land, spin, and hit the Joker in one panel. Asking your artist to draw that is grounds for justifiable homicide. I’m kidding. Your artist won’t kill you; he/she will simply ignore your instructions and find a way to make it work. But they will hate you… with justification.

You can have a secondary character do something in the panel as well but you can’t do that a lot unless your artist is George Pérez who will add more action if you haven’t. The Pérez Exception is the artist corollary to the Bendis Exception.

And you have to do all this without making it seem crowded or rushed.

That’s the mathematical reality to writing a single issue comic book, kids. If you’re doing an arc, then you multiply by the number of issues. The number of issues you’re allowed will depend on the price point (again, a number) the company figures the public will pay. It’s usually four or five issues. So, for an arc, you can multiply the above totals by those numbers. Still not a lot of space. Finally, there are deadlines, which are another set of numbers, namely the date by which it’s all due. Violate that at your peril.

And that, as our friends in the newspaper trade were wont to say, is -30-.

MONDAY: Mindy Newell

Happy 24 Hour Comics Day!

Happy 24 Hour Comics Day!

24 Hour Comics Day is here! Check with your local store for events, or stay at home and try it yourself! The rules are simple, as defined by Scott McCloud:

Create a complete 24 page comic book in 24 continuous hours.

That means everything: Story, finished art, lettering, color (if applicable), paste-up, everything. Once pen hits paper, the clock starts ticking. 24 hours later, the pen lifts off the paper, never to descend again. Even proofreading has to occur in the 24 hour period. (Computer-generated comics are fine of course, same principles apply).

No sketches, designs, plot summaries or any other kind of direct preparation can precede the 24 hour period. Indirect preparation such as assembling tools, reference materials, food, music etc. is fine.

Your pages can be any size, any material. Carve them in stone, print them with rubber stamps, draw them on your kitchen walls with a magic marker. Whatever you makes you happy.

The 24 hours are continuous. You can take a nap, but the clock keeps ticking. If you get to 24 hours and you’re not done, either end it there (“the Gaiman Variation”) or keep going until you’re done (“the Eastman Variation”). I consider both of these “Noble Failure” Variants and true 24 hour comics in spirit; but you must sincerely intend to do the 24 pages in 24 hours at the outset.

THE ONLINE VARIATION: The above applies to printed comics or online comics with “pages” but if you’d like to try a 24-hour Online Comic that doesn’t break down into pages (like the expanded canvas approach I use in most of my own webcomics) then try this: At least 100 panels AND it has to be done, formatted and ONLINE within the 24-hour period!

If you’re ready to go for it, good luck! And if you want a topic to start fresh, you can always try the Evil Overlord Plot Generator!

JOHN OSTRANDER: Pro Advice – Hit By a Bus

From time to time I’m going to use this space to talk about professional concerns gleaned from my experiences of the past twenty-five plus years in the industry and pass on words of advice that I got in that time.

For example – if you go to a Convention and you’re a pro, you’re probably going to be asked to autograph copies of your work. Here’s something I didn’t know when I began and was taught by another pro: keep your autograph separate and different from your legal signature (the thing you sign checks and binding contracts with). Walt Simonson, for example, has a great autograph – looks like a dinosaur. I doubt he signs his checks that way. It makes sense. If your autograph is the same as your legal signature, it makes it easier for someone to forge that signature and that’s not good.

Here’s another bit of advice. I was once negotiating a contract at one of the major companies and I had a question about something in the contract that no one could answer. I was told, “Oh, John. Just go ahead and sign it. We’re all family here.”

My answer was – no, we’re not. I know who and what my family is and the company isn’t it. I applied my “Hit By A Bus” theory which goes as follows: if everyone I knew (and liked) at a given company all went out to lunch together and they were all hit by a bus and killed, all I would have would be the contract as written.

I have lots of friends at lots of different companies in lots of different positions ranging from editorial to management to production to the business end. They’re all personnel and can be promoted, demoted, fired, leave, and so on. The company itself can merge with another, change divisions, be sold, be bought, and more than one has gone out of business out from under me. Businesses will make business decisions that are usually based on financial reasons. The famous line from the Godfather, “it’s not personal; it’s just business” remains true.

I don’t fault businesses for that. It’s what they are. I may have friends at a certain business and, yes, I often depend on them to be friends. I never expect a corporation to be my friend. I don’t care what a commercial that’s trying to sell you something tells you to the contrary. A business is not your friend and certainly isn’t your family. They are a corporate entity and they will act like one. Don’t expect anything different.

Short form: read the contract, any contract, and know what you’re getting into. If you need a lawyer to explain it to you, get one. Don’t take the word of anyone working for the company as to what it means; make sure it’s someone who is not part of the corporation. That’s true outside of comics as well as in. If it isn’t in the contract, it doesn’t exist legally. There is no “understanding,” there’s only what’s on paper. Know that before you put your legal signature – not your autograph – on the dotted line. You and your family will be happier as a result.

And watch out for killer buses.

MONDAY: Mindy Newell