Writing Your Script – Episode 2

In this episode: How is writing for comics different than other mediums? What does a script look like? And how do you structure and plan your story?

In the above second episode of Comics For Beginners, writer/artist Palle Schmidt goes over the basics of storytelling and how to write a script for your comic. Covering topics like three act structure, script format and the advantages of asking for input from a group of readers and questions you need to ask yourself, like “what’s at stake for your main character?”

Better get out your notebook and keep your finger on the pause button, this video covers a lot of important ground!

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Open Me

EPISODE 2: WRITING YOUR SCRIPT

Welcome back to lesson 2 of this video series about making comics. This session is probably the one most people are going to skip, because they want to get right on with drawing. But YOU made it, so I tip my hat to you.

A good comic or graphic novel is just like a movie; Without a good story at the heart of it, it doesn’t matter how many explosions or babes or cool CGI monsters you have in it. You need characters you can relate to, problems that seem important.

Now let’s just go over the list from the previous episode, about what you need for working on your script:

1: A genre
2: A main character
3: A setting
4: A beginning
5: A middle
6: An end!

If you don’t have a clue how to fill this out, maybe you should pause this video and get it done! It’s gonna save you a lot of grief down the line, believe me!

So, Let’s assume you have a loose idea of your story, and your main character, what does he want? You need to figure out what’s at stake for him or her. What will happens, if he fails? Let’s say he’s applying for a job. What happens if he doesn’t get it? He get’s another job. OK, pretty boring story. But what if he’s about to loose his house and his son, and his mom needs an operation, and if he doesn’t get a job so he can pay for it… She dies! A little more interesting, right? This is what most screenwriters refer to as ”upping the stakes”, making it IMPORTANT for your main character to succeed. If it’s not IMPORTANT for him or her, why should we care about it?

Sometimes going at your story from a different angle can be necessary. I sometimes do a test page, just to get the idea of what the final book will look like. I also skip around quite a bit when I write the script. I might get an idea for a scene near the end, while I’m working on the opening scene. I let myself jump out of it, knowing I can always jump back in.

As long as you finish the script at SOME point, you have my permission to skip around. But don’t start drawing actual pages with actual dialogue, before the story is done! Drawing comics is hard work. The last thing you want, is to have to do the same thing twice! And that’s what will happen, if your story is not all layed out beforehand, you’ll probably have to go back and do corrections and redraw a lot of stuff. And 9 times out of 10, that makes you dump the project all together. So before you enter the glorious realm of drawing pages, take a good look at the entry sign here:

SIGNPOST: IS YOUR STORY DONE YET?

If not, well, now’s a good a time as any!

If this is your first attempt at making comics, try to keep your story short and simple. So, what does your hero want, why can’t he get it, and what’s he gonna do to get it anyway. That’s all it is. You can make up all sorts of fancy storytelling devices around it, flashbacks, multiple characters. But for each character, the rule is the same. They have to have something they want.

What should a script look like? Well, some artists write the script as scribbles, some have dialogue, some are just impossible for others to understand. While this may work for you, it has it’s advantages to write an actual script. The main advantage is, you can have others read it! The point is of course, NOT to get everybody’s random opinion. You’ll get lousy feedback if you ask your mom or your best friend. They’ll tell you it’s GREAT – when it isn’t. Or they’ll pick it apart, tell you a bunch of things that are wrong with. And they might be right! But I would recommend asking someone a little more removed from your daily social circles. Someone who you can trust to give their honest opinion. And if they hate it, at least you won’t take it so personal, like if it was your girlfriend or a close friend who just hammered away on your story.

When you let someone else read your script, make sure they understand the ground rules: The have to know what KIND of story it is. You can’t critize a drama for not being funny. And if it’s a comedy, their main concern should be; how can it be EVEN FUNNIER? Your reader should know the premise, and improve what’s already there, not go in thinking they should change everything. It’s YOUR story! You decide what goes on in it. But having a couple of readers is a GREAT way of making sure everything works to your advantage.

Get someone who is used to reading stories. It should be someone who sort of shares your taste in stories, and someone smart enough to not only tell you if something doesn’t work, but also WHY it doesn’t work. You can set up some ground rules first, like what parts of the story you want them to look at. Is it the plot? Character motivations? Dialogue? Or even grammar? There’s nothing more frustrating, than getting feedback on your grammar, when what you wanted was to know if the plot was believable. So make sure you tell your readers what to look for. Let them ask QUESTIONS rather than telling you it sucks – ”I’m not sure why your hero reacts like this on page 5?”. You probably already KNOW the answer, it might not be clear in the script. Or maybe this person just doesn’t get it. If you get the same feedback from several readers, that’s when you have to look more closely, maybe there IS a problem here.

But as with everything in this world, you have to rely on your OWN judgement.

If you don’t have anyone you can ask, ask yourself. Is this good? Exciting enough? Funny enough? How can you be objective about it, when you just wrote it? Well, you can’t. That’s why when you finish your story, the best thing you can do is put it away. Put it in a drawer, forget about it. Your brain is really good at forgetting things, you know! Put your script away, for at least a couple of weeks, try not to think about it. If you can start working on another story, that’s great. Keep yourself busy. Then after some time, open up that drawer, and you WILL look at your script with fresh eyes. And you WILL be able to tell what’s good and what’s not, believe me.

Now, editing your script is a lot easier if it’s done in a computer. You can keep your original file, and just save your new script as MY SCRIPT 2. DRAFT. But while it’s all good to write on a computer, printing out your document is highly recommended. You can spot mistakes a lot easier and make little notes on your script, before going back to the computer.

Now, all this might seem like a lot of work, if you’re just making a three page comic for the school paper. My stories are usually longer, that’s why the whole scriptwriting thing is important to me. But I also just enjoy getting it right, and not have to redraw entire pages. Writing is faster than drawing, so put in the work now, and it will save you the work later. Smart, huh?

So, don’t just start building a house; Plan it, make the foundation and THEN start building. Your chances of succeeding will improve vastly. In the next video we talk about sketching and lay-outs.

38 Responses to “Writing Your Script – Episode 2”

  1. David Buus May 27, 2013 at 12:35 pm #

    What program do you use to write your scripts? I recently stumpled upon celtx – a free program, seems to be easy-to-use… Do you know it?

    • Palle Schmidt May 29, 2013 at 7:19 am #

      I don’t know celtx, no. I use Final Draft, but I recommend you use whatever text editor you’re comfortable with! The screenwriting programs have autofinish and formatting, which helps speed up the process of writing. I know you can get the ScriptWrite app for free, I’m sure there are lots of options.

      Thanks for your comment!

      • David Buus June 11, 2013 at 7:39 pm #

        Just checked up on the ScriptWrite app, cause it sounded awesome to be able get some writing done on the go.. It was now 25 kr – which isn’t a fortune, but have you got any personal experience with it?

        • Palle Schmidt June 14, 2013 at 9:36 am #

          I can’t say that I have, really.. But I have a Word of warning against the note tool on iPad/iPhone – It deleted several notes of mine for no obvious reason! I’ve deleted my iCloud account as I suspected that might have something to do with it. But be careful what you put in the note tool, send a copy to yourself or put it in Dropbox.

          I have Final Draft for iPad, which works perfectly AND has an option to save to Dropbox, so I can open it anywhere. It’s a bit more expensive, but since I have the program anyway and I’m used to it, I went ahead and bought it. And hey, it’s tax detuctable 🙂

          Best of look with whatever program you end up using. Remember, it’s not the tool, but the story that matters!

    • rommel Fernandez July 23, 2014 at 4:29 am #

      If you are using celtx for writing comic scripts I recommend you purchase that $14.99 addon, I think it’s called celtx plus. It has a better comic template built into it. I think it’s only for the desktop version.

    • Geneviève Gendron July 21, 2015 at 10:27 pm #

      Hello!

      I’m sneaking in this conversation to say that if you have Word (Office), you can create a template to do script work on it. Since I have Word already, it’s cheaper in cash to put a bit of effort in time 😉

      I found instruction while searching on the web: http://www.awn.com/blog/how-turn-microsoft-word-terrific-screenwriting-program
      Hope it helps!

    • Louis S Carrozzi November 13, 2015 at 2:34 am #

      I’ve written 6 feature length scripts and actually my favorite program is both simple, AND it’s FREE!

      Libre Office has an excellent Word-like app in the suite and it runs on Windows, Linux, and Mac. I use it on all 3 systems.

      Here’s the link:

      http://www.libreoffice.org/

      Couple of notes: Word likes to screw up my formatting for scripts and I just found the auto correcting annoying. It indents where I don’t want, doesn’t indent when I do want it, and auto corrects capitals in dialogue. I know you can change all these settings to work better, but word still annoys the crap out of me, so I stick with Libre Office Writer, or even Word Pad on Windows or Text Edit on Mac work well. Scripts are VERY basic in nature, and the video above hits the major points.

      Now, having said all that, if you are writing for a MOVIE, then Final Draft Pro has some features you WILL want and which movie makers find useful. One of the things Final Draft can do is organize your scenes for shooting efficiently. Movies are usually NOT shot in the order that things appear on screen. Usually movies are shot by location. So, if there is a house in a story, all the scenes that take place in that house will be shot in that house. This is to minimize cost and shoot things efficiently. Final draft allows you to write a script in chronological order, but then arrange things differently, automatically, based on your needs. For example, if you want to know EXACTLY how many lines a character has in the script (which may be useful in determining PAY for that actor) Final Draft can mine that type of information from your script.

      So that’s my 2 cents. If you are only writing for yourself, any old text editing program will work. If you are shooting for film, video, TV etc. it MAY be worthwhile investing in Final Draft.

      Hope that helps!

      • Palle Schmidt November 23, 2015 at 3:53 pm #

        Thanks for your input, Louis! Very informational.

  2. Janey August 22, 2013 at 5:02 pm #

    This was really helpful!

    Btw, what makes a great “first issue” of a comics series? And is there a difference between scriptwriting for a comics series and writing for a graphic novel? I have my genre, setting, main characters and plot, but I’m really confused on where to “stop” for the story for the first issue and where to pick it up next to start of the second issue, and so on.

    Thanks for making these videos!

    • Palle Schmidt August 22, 2013 at 6:06 pm #

      Thanks for your question, you point out an interesting aspect of comics that I haven’t adressed in these videos.I guess where issue 1 should stop depends on how many issues you plan on having! Both comics and TV series tend to see an overall “arc” for a story, which is then broken down into parts – sequences, episodes or issues.

      I haven’t written with issues in mind, but my guess would be to end the first issue of your story with at least a hint of the trouble/conflict/theme the story will revolve around. You also need to establish the World and your hero. Ideally, you want to end each issue with a cliffhanger, a turning point, an unanswered question or a plan we’re left wondering about.

      My advice would be to write a synopsis or chapter plan, and decide how many issues the arc should be and it break it down to 22 page chunks.

      Thanks for your question, you point out an interesting aspect of comics that I haven’t really adressed in these videos… issues with issues, ha ha!

  3. trash.masluch@gmail.com September 5, 2013 at 12:39 pm #

    have a question. In my story I can’t clearly define the point of no return. Of course I know that it’s my story and i can skip it and all. But maybe it’s an error. My hero is a some kind of a looser, a guy who doesn’t belive that his fate can be changed. He has to go for a journey becouse his father told him to do so. the father is dying and needs him to complete something. But there’s nothing like a point that he can’t return. He sticks to the mission but he can go back at any moment, but of course he doesn’t (he doesn’t know why but he’s not quitting).
    Is this point of no return is really a very important thing, making the stakes go higher or maybe it’s just optional?

    • Palle Schmidt September 5, 2013 at 6:23 pm #

      Well, there is a saying you need to “burn the bridges behind your protagonist”. Not being able to just quit and go home at any point in the story IS important, because it makes us care about the project more. But it could be a psychological thing, a commitment, your hero FEELS he can’t go back. Maybe he makes a promise to his father – or himself – or he winds up causing trouble that makes things even worse for himself. Which again means he has to finish the mission to right the wrongs.

      In your case, the point of no return could just be the part of the journey where the way back is longer than the way to the end destination!

      • trash.masluch@gmail.com September 6, 2013 at 8:33 am #

        thanks a lot! I’ll have to take a deeper look into the psychological side, the motivation and what my characters really think. The character needs to have his own logic of doing things… so obvious but it didn’t get to me for real. thanks once again.

        p.s
        and you finally got me to start writing my script ! I love this site 🙂 hehe cheers

  4. Sean November 25, 2013 at 3:21 am #

    Are there any ‘rules’ about how much text you can have on one page of a graphic novel or can I do whatever I want? If I wan’t a wall of text is that okay, or does it become a sort of hybrid between a standard novel and a graphic novel? Any advice for how much text and in what situations it varies? Thank you very much for your help.

    • Palle Schmidt November 25, 2013 at 8:03 am #

      Hi Sean, good question! The label “graphic novel” is put a lot of things these days. What I would suggest is check your local bookstore and see if you can find something similar to what you want to do and see how it’s packaged.

      If there is a rule, I sure haven’t heard about it, but readers might get turned off by a “wall of text”, if they were looking for a quick read in the form of a comic or graphic novel. Worst case scenario: they skip that section or even worse, don’t pick up the book because it’s too dense.

      Ultimately you should do what you want and see if there’s a market for it. If there’s already a similar thing on the shelves, it might be an easier sell.

      Hope that’s helpful, thanks for your comment!

  5. anietie February 24, 2014 at 11:28 am #

    can your newletter and tutorials be sent to me in africa..please i want to know if.

    • Palle Schmidt February 24, 2014 at 11:32 am #

      Absolutely, Anietie! It’s all delivered digitally and via email, so you as long as you have a computer or even a smartphone, you can access anywhere, anytime.
      Best,
      Palle

  6. Jasmine August 15, 2014 at 3:17 pm #

    Hi Palle
    I’ve just found this website today and I’m already loving it! I’m trying to write my own comic series and I need help on some things, can I ask you a few questions?
    (If ‘Yes’ then please read on 🙂 )
    Would it be okay to hide (from the reader) some secrets that your (main) character hides? If so how would I do this?
    And how do you know how to spell noises (like a ‘bang’)?

    – Jasmine Evans 🙂

    • Palle Schmidt August 16, 2014 at 6:11 pm #

      Hi Jasmine,

      It’s absolutely OK to hide things from the reader. That’s almost ALL you do! How information/secrets are revealed is a central part of storytelling. The more you can keep things hidden, the better.

      Your second question is best answered with: Look at other comics and see what the norm is, or if there’s a particular way to write a “bang” that you like.

      Best,
      Palle

  7. Idan August 19, 2014 at 2:59 am #

    Hello Palle ,
    i have been creating stories since i was a little kid and my biggest dream is to become a scriptwriter and director of films. however, it will take a long time till i get to that point in life so i thought about doing a comic book . of course writing a comic book is not that easy but it definitely sounds to me like a great start.
    I have watched your video about how to write a script , but u referred to short and basic stories. i am preparing to write three novels , but still i feel like i dont really know the common and the acceptable structure of writing a script. in addition, should i already find a suitable illustrator before the writing is done or should i find one after writing everything?
    thank u
    i am looking forward to your reply .

    Idan. C

  8. Palle Schmidt August 28, 2014 at 1:12 pm #

    Hi Idan,

    Story structure is more or less the same no matter what length the text is. When I say do a short story, it’s because you learn som much more from a finished story than an half-finished one. And your chance of finishing increases the shorter the story!

    My scripts for comics look basically the same as a movie script. There’s really no fixed format for it, except that US comics tend to stick to the 22 page (finished art) format for monthly comics.

    You ask if you should write before finding an illustrator. YES. I definetely would not consider working with any writrer who hasn’t written anything yet. The more writing you can do, the more you can show. The more you can show, the better chance of getting an illustrator on board. There ARE people who sell work as pitches, but they have lots and lots of published work and/or finished scripts to show for. Selling an idea or a synopsis, especially to big players like DC or Marvel, is near impossible.

    Do the work, show you can write, learn, do more work, hook up with an illustrator. Then eventually… who knows. But do the work. As much as possible.

    Hope this is helpful!

  9. Ritika October 12, 2014 at 8:48 am #

    Thank you for these videos!! They are soo helpful!

    Do these steps/instructions apply for illustrations as well?

    • Palle Schmidt October 15, 2014 at 1:24 pm #

      Hey Ritika, I suppose most of the tips do apply. But I focus a lot on storytelling in comics, the flow of the narrative. A single illustration relies on other things, although the drawing process is similar.

  10. Kenjie Arevalo May 26, 2015 at 5:07 pm #

    Even if its a Lot of Work Still i have a Lot of Patience to do it so it’s nothing 😀 😀 Thanks for the advice Sir. Palle
    are you a German?? I’ve been already 2 Months Here but i still doesn’t know you’re language even if i read Books or to Write something but i know someday that i can make a Comics tagalog and Deutsch…But Still Danke Sir God Bless

    • Palle Schmidt May 31, 2015 at 9:07 am #

      While Schmidt is indeed a German name, my nationality is Danish. Not that many people speak Danish, which is why I do this site in English 🙂

      Thanks, Kenjie!

  11. Aarun Nagar January 30, 2016 at 8:20 am #

    Awesome !!!

    Writing Your Script , thanks for share.

  12. Ege June 22, 2016 at 3:53 pm #

    Dude, thanks… And how can we find written scripts to inspire us?

  13. Sanajan November 3, 2016 at 8:14 am #

    Hi Palle,
    Thank you for this introduction. I am trying to do a graphic novel format text book for Sociology. For this purpose I have converted the text book material into a script to be drawn out, which is picture formation of it essentially. How can I add more flavour or charm to this? Could you guide.

    • Palle Schmidt November 4, 2016 at 6:29 pm #

      Hi Sanajan,

      Without knowing more about the topic, the target audience or the context, I can’t really offer much guidance. But it sounds like a great idea to make the learning go down easier to create it as a comic.

  14. Callie December 2, 2016 at 4:05 am #

    Hey Mr. Schmidt!
    You said that ep.2 is the most likely one that people would skip, but I found it the most helpful.
    I have always loved to draw, mostly just little pencil sketches but lately I have gotten a lot better and have been trying to find a way to turn them in to a story.
    Your video has given me great pointers! I decided to try graphic novels because I have tried to write books before but the endless writing never really captivated me. Thanks again! -C

  15. Yasaswini February 28, 2017 at 3:07 pm #

    Hi palle,
    I’m totally a beginner. I have my script ready, it’s for my boy friend ..Based on his fantasies and dreams , I want to make him as my main character . A guy gets into medical college, turns into a spy, how he manages both lives as a doctor and a spy as well. I can draw but I don’t know where exactly to begin , how to make it more interesting . It’s going to be his graduation gift , please help me with this

    • Palle Schmidt March 3, 2017 at 9:46 am #

      Hi Yasawini,
      Sounds like your boyfriend is a lucky guy. And if you already wrote the script you are way ahead of most beginners..! If you join the newsletter, you get a 7-day email crash course that ought to set you on your way. If you want to dig deeper, I recommend this video series.

  16. Caleb April 13, 2017 at 3:04 pm #

    Hi Palle, I am 13 years old, I was wondering if that’s too young to publish comics. Is it?

    • Palle Schmidt April 17, 2017 at 2:54 pm #

      Certainly depends on how good you are 🙂 I don’t think age is relevant, no. That’s one of the great things about comics, anyone can do it. But if you plan on spending a lot of money on printing and stuff, maybe ask your parents first.

  17. Ian Su July 8, 2017 at 7:53 pm #

    When I throw my script into a drawer, do you think if I worked on something else, like designing characters, would that affect my thing of forgetting the story?

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