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!
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.