Once you have your idea and your outline, it’s time to get to the real meat and potatoes of the process: the script.
Believe it or not, there are a couple of ways to go about your script. Every writer will tell you that there is no definitive comic book script format beyond stating the page number and panel. However, even that isn’t set in stone.
The typical method – and the one I use to write my scripts – is the “full script.” My full scripts tend to be very detailed and full breakdowns of each panel, which can be a bit painstaking. The full script includes all of the dialogue, action and key moments involved in the story. This can also include specific expressions, emotions, movements, etc.
The other method used is what’s traditionally known as “The Marvel Method.” Not a lot of writers use it anymore, but it’s the method that Stan Lee developed in the 1960s and in turn is what produced his insane output. Essentially – and this is dumbing it down – Lee would write a plot and then send it off to the artists to workout the details. Lee would then have the artwork returned with notes and then add in the dialogue and alter the plot to match the art. This method was highly effective for Lee and his collaborators, and is what gave us many of the stories and characters we love today.
I don’t use the Marvel method because I’m a bit of a control freak – and while I do want artists to have a lot of leeway when we work together – I do try to make it as specific as possible to avoid complications. I blame the film student in me, but more so I blame the screenwriter in me.
My primary training as a writer is in screenwriting. I hold a Bachelor’s degree in Film with a Screenwriting concentration. Writing comics isn’t all that different from writing a screenplay, to be honest. However, unlike screenwriting there is no program that allows you to craft a properly formatted comic script. Thankfully, you can manipulate the preferred screenwriting software, Final Draft, to write your comic script. I’ve used Final Draft for comic scripts, I know writers like Brian Michael Bendis use it, and if it is something you can afford I recommend it. There are templates available now that put the script into a graphic novel or comic format and that is super-helpful as characters and scene direction is automatically implemented.
If you don’t have or want to purchase Final Draft, you can write your script with Microsoft Word or any other comparable word processor. The important thing is getting your story on the page. Recently, I’ve begun to use Word a bit more frequently for comic scripts because it’s a little more flexible and I find it easier to use on a mobile or tablet device. I also wanted to create a separation between my comic scripts and screenplays, and creating a “software” barrier helps keep me focused on one project.
The format I use in Word is pretty simple, Headers are broken down as:
PANEL 1: Action.
For dialogue, sound effects and captions, I typically go with this:
PANEL 1: Action.
Couple general rules that are helpful: always CAP character names, caption boxes and sound effect directions to make sure they stand out from the general action or dialogue. This will help your artist and your letterer when reading your script.
Some other rules of thumb when it comes to formatting your script: one action per panel, if you need to convey specific emotions, be specific in terms of what they are or how your character should react. And while there is no set rule for the amount of panels on a page… don’t go crazy. I usually find myself moving on to the next page after 5 or 6 panels, whatever conveys my scene. One thing to remember is writing and comics are art. You’re crafting your art and if the rules don’t adhere to your creation, to hell with them.
Most importantly, just write the script!