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Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Writing for Comic Books, Part 5: Writing the Full Script

by Henry Vogel

Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four

Welcome to part five of writing for comic books.

As promised, today we'll look at writing a full script for a comic book. Full scripts are more common now than when I was writing comic books. Panel descriptions from big name writers may end up reading like movie set descriptions with all but the most minor details spelled out. Comic book publishers tend to prefer full scripts because a writer's submission can be edited all at once.

As full scripts are much longer than complete plots, I'm only going going to expand sections of the story into a full script. There is only one rule of thumb for writing a full script. Each caption, word balloon and thought balloon is uniquely numbered, with the numbering starting at one for each page. I'm not really sure why this is done, though I can think of one possible answer. Numbering does help differentiate between panel descriptions and dialogue, narrowing the letterer's focus to only the text that applies to them.

I'll be approaching the full script the same way I did the complete plot. I'll post the single line description of the page from the outline, expand it into a full script for the page then add any comments I have afterwards in italics. Most of my comments on the story appeared in part four so I doubt I'll have many comments to add.

Southern Knights 1 – City Search script

1. The Knights are fighting two battlemechs at I-85 and I-295.

Splash page
The scene is the interchange between I-85 and I-285 as you enter Atlanta heading south on I-85. Check here for an aerial photo of the interchange:
The fight is happening beyond the bottom left corner of the photo. Traffic is backed up in all lanes and all across the distant overpasses. Two battlemechs (check out an example of one here: http://media.moddb.com/cache/images/mods/1/9/8528/thumb_620x2000/67761.jpg) are battling the Southern Knights about a quarter of a mile from the overpasses. Empty cars are tumbled around the fight, leaving a sort of ring in which the Knights and the two mechs are fighting. Mech 1, the closer of the two, is firing machine guns at civilians who are fleeing the area. Dragon is throwing himself between the machine gun fire and the civilians. Kristin is helping protect civilians by stacking smashed cars between them and the mechs. Electrode is flying around Mech 2 and firing electrical bolts at it. The bolts are being reflected by Mech 2's armor. On the ground, Connie has crept close to the feet of Mech 2. Away from both mechs, waves of mystical energy are gathering around Aramis.

Caption 1: On the best of days, rush hour in Atlanta is hazardous. Today's events have left Atlanta's commuters wishing for some old fashioned road rage!

Title 2: City Search

Sound FX (Mech 2) 3: Rat tat tat tat tat tat tat

Dragon 4: Flee mortals! Flee while the metal monstrosity is concentrating on me!

Credits (vertical, leaving commas out) 5: Writer - Henry Vogel, Artist - Who Knows, Letterer - M. S. Powerpoint

First, I should have included links to the photos in the plot in part four. It only crossed my mind to do that today. Second, I suspect I would end up with more dialogue after seeing the artwork from the plot. That's primarily because it's how I'm used to writing comic books. Without knowing what the art will look like, my dialogue will probably be sparser than normal. Also, this is fight dialogue rather than normal dialogue. Check the comments below page 2 for more on the difference between the types of dialogue.

2. Some Knights fight, some work to get bystanders to safety.

Page 2
Panel 1
Aramis fires a bolt of mystical energy at Mech 1. The bold flashes in front of the mech's cockpit, temperarily blinding the mech pilot. Meanwhile, Kristin has found a somewhat crumpled minivan with a family of four still in inside it.

Aramis 1: You cannot hit what you cannot see!

Driver of minivan 2: Help us! We're trapped!

Kristin 3: I'll have you out in a jiffy. I'm afraid you're going to need a new minivan, though.

Driver 4: Just get us out!

Panel 2
Kristin has peeled the roof of the minivan off like the top of a sardine can. The family of four -- father, mother, son about 10, daughter about 8 -- are climbing out through the now open roof. Off to Kristin's side, Dragon breaths flame at Mech 1, keeping the mech's attention on him. Add an inset panel showing a temperature gauge from the mech's cockpit. Dragon's flames have caused the mech to heat up alarmingly.

Kristin 5: Go, go, go! Run while Dragon has that...thing... distracted.

Boy 6: It's a battlemech, ma'am.

Mother 7: Randy, don't talk, run!

Boy 8: But I want her autograph!

Kristin 9: After the fight, Randy. Now, listen to your mother and run!

Panel 3
As the family of four dodges between cars, running away from the fight, Kristin flings the ripped off roof of the minivan at Mech 1, sort of like a big, heavy frisbee with sharp metal edges. The minivan roof knocks Mech 1 off balance.

Kristin 10: Chew on that, you bastard!

Father 11: This way, kids! Hurry!

Sound FX from roof hitting the mech 12: KRANG!

Want to know a big secret about writing comic books versus drawing them? Artists generally love fight scenes because of the big, sweeping action. It's also usually easier for an artist to sell a page of original art if it has a fight scene. Writers, on the other hand, generally hate writing dialogue for fight scenes because it's so unrealistic. Let's be frank, other than necessary communication for teamwork, who talks a lot during a fight? Only superheroes and supervillains. Spider-Man doesn't need to communicate with anyone else, so why doesn't he just shut up and fight? Because that would be boring. It's much more entertaining to have a wise cracking hero and a stuffed shirt villain, neither of whom can keep their mouths shut during a fight. But it can be downright painful to write that kind of dialogue!

We're going to skip to the end of the fight, now. Summing up the fight, the Knights win but Kristin uses one of the cars to intercept some missiles.

9. A bystander whose car was trashed in the fight blames Kristin for the loss.

Page 9
Panel 1
As TV news crews descend on the scene, a thin man with thining hair and a scraggly beard confronts Kristin. The man is obviously angry. Kristin, on the other hand, appears to be in a good mood, having won the fight without any civilian casualties. A TV camera is trained on Kristin from about 15 feet away. A smartly dressed female reporter is watching everything. This is Tina Preston.

Man 1: Hey, you! Do you know what you did?

Kristin 2: What? Is someone hurt or trapped? Lead me to-

Man 3: No, you idiot! You destroyed my car!

Kristin 4: I don't know what-

Man 5: Don't act all innocent, blondie! You purposefully threw my car in front of those missiles! It got blasted into a million pieces!

Panel 2
Kristin is now just as angry as man confronting her. Both of them are getting up into each other's faces. The man is pointing off panel (at another car). In the background, Dragon transforms into Mark Dagon and the TV camera continues taping Kristin's confrontation.

Kristin 6: And I saved your ass by doing that!

Man 7: By destroying my car! Why couldn't you throw that stupid minivan? It was already junk.

Kristin 8: It wasn't handy when I needed to throw a car! Would you be happier if I'd picked through the cars carefully?

Kristin 9: This one? No, it can be fixed. This car? No, it looks too new. How about this one? No-

Kristin 10: Boom! The missiles hit and you end up dead!

Panel 3
Mark Dagon pushes in between the man and Kristin. He is facing Kristin. In the background, the TV camera is still rolling and Electrode is landing nearby.

Man 11: You'd be toast, too, little lady. You destroyed my car just to save yourself!

Kristin 12: I'm invulnerable, you moron! The missiles could have hit me right in the chest and all I'd have to do was change clothes!

Mark 13: That's enough, both of you! Kristin, walk away from this guy. Let David and me handle him.

Kristin 14: Are you crazy, Mark? Let me knock some sense into-

Mark 15: Walk. Away. Now!

Man 16: You superheroes are a menace to society!

Panel 4
Still furious, Kristin has turned and is walking away. Mark has turned to the irate man and is trying to calm him down. He's been joined by David/Electrode, who has shut down his powers. David is making placating gestures to the man. In the background, the TV news camera is following Kristin.

David 17: Please calm down, sir. I'm sure we can solve the problem if we-

Man 17: Can you put my car back together again?

Mark 18: Kristin used his car to intercept those missiles. It's sort of scattered all over the area.

Man 20: Exactly! That car was less than a year old!

David 21: I believe I see the problem. Rest assured, sir, that the Southern Knights are required by law to carry very heavy duty insurance for just such situations.

Panel 5
Tina , the smartly dressed reporter from panel 1, is directing the camera man by pointing at Kristin. Kristin, still looking angry, is stalking out into the area in which the fight originally took place.

Tina 22: Tell me you're getting this!

Cameraman 23: I'm getting it!

Kristin 24: Menace to society? Idiot!

10. Kristin stalks away muttering about what Atlanta would do if the Knights left.

Page 10
Panel 1
An angry Kristin has picked up a car door that was laying on the ground and is easly tearing it in half. The TV camera is still recording her every move.

Kristin 1: Where does he think he'd be if it wasn't for us? Dead and spattered all over I-85, that's where!

Kristin 2: This city ought to thank God every day that they've got the Knights here to protect them!

Panel 2
Kristin casually tosses the pieces of door forty or fifty feet away (but still within the fight zone -- no one is nearby). As usual, the TV camera is still trained on her.

Kristin 3: What would they have done if we weren't around? Died. All of them!

Kristin 4: What would they do if we put our lives first, huh? That's what I want to know!

Kristin 5: What would they do if we just got up and left Atlanta?

Panel 3
Kristin continues her tirade. Connie is approaching. The TV camera is still rolling.

Kristin 6: You know, it would serve them right if we left! I'll be a lot of cities would give a lot to get the Southern Knights!

Connie 7: Kristin? What's going on?

Panel 4
Pretty much the same as panel 3 except Connie closer.

Kristin 8: Atlanta gets us for free and this is the thanks we get? Why do we even bother to stay here?

Connie 9: Kristin, calm down! You're almost shouting.

Kristin 10: Huh? Was I saying all that out loud?

Connie 11: Oh yeah, you were plenty loud. What's got you so upset?

Panel 5
Close up of the reporter and the cameraman. The cameraman In the distance, Connie is giving Kristin a hug.

Tina 12: Tell me her rant came in loud and clear!

Cameraman 13: Got a directional mic on the camera, Tina. It'll be clear.

Tina 14: Great! Let's film a quick wrap up then head back to the studio.

Panel 6
Tina, looking cooly professional, is looking right into the camera.

Cameraman 15: I'm set. Start when you're ready.

Tina 16: Disaster was narrowly avoided this afternoon as a pair of rampaging war machines were subdued by the Southern Knights. But that is not the real story here. The real story, as you will see, came after the battle. The real story is what the Southern Knights, Atlanta's heroes, truly think of the city that adores them.

See the difference between the dialogue on pages 9 and 10 compared to the dialogue on pages 1 and 2? The "fight dialogue" mainly serves to fill some space and slow down the reader's pace. Without fight dialogue, the reader would fly through the pages of fighting, finish the comic book in about 10 minutes and probably feel as if they didn't get good value for their money. Meanwhile, the dialogue on pages 9 and 10 is character driven and much more interesting to write (and read, I hope).

While I've only expanded four pages to a full script, you can see just how much longer a full script is than a plot. Further, I'm pretty sure my full script is far less detailed than ones you'd get from writers such as Neil Gaiman or Alan Moore.

The dialogue I've written is just a first draft. If I had been writing an entire full script for an issue of the comic book, I would treat it no differently than any other story. I'd complete the script, give it a quick read for typos then set it aside for at least one night. With a little distance from the actual writing, I'd come back to the script and try to read it from a reader's perspective. I'd look for all the normal things writers look for; characters speaking out of character, descriptions that don't convey what I have in mind, awkward grammer and misspellings/typos in the part of the script the letterer will be putting on the page.

It's important to remember that letterers are paid to transfer to the comic book page the exact words the writer has written. They may think the script is wrong but it's up to writers and editors to get the script right. Changing the script at that point is a Very Bad Thing from the letterer's point of view. So make sure your script says exactly what you want it to say and in the way you want it said.

Next time out, I'll discuss breaking into the comic book field and also explain why self published comic books are far more likely to sell than self published books.

Have you got any questions concerning the series so far or any questions you'd like me to answer next week?
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