Blog/ Comics/ Writing

Hey, so how’s that graphic novel coming?

So I am currently revising the script for Bad Houses, my forthcoming graphic novel for DC Vertigo that will (yay!) have art by the amazing Carla Speed McNeil.

Ways in which it is like revising a prose novel:

— I spend a lot of time staring into the middle distance, trying to figure out if that character would actually do X, say Y, or react in Z fashion.

— I scrutinize my edit notes.

— Every so often when I am doing something that I think is entirely unrelated to revision, such as watching a movie or attempting to fall asleep, an idea will bubble up to the surface that I am immediately compelled to scribble down because it fixes a problem or provides an insight into an aspect of a character’s arc that was previously opaque.

— I print pages and cross things out, then scrawl the new text in the margins and on the back of the paper. There is something about the physicality of actual handwriting that seems to work better than endlessly deleting and retyping on the computer. I don’t know why.

— I waste time on the Internet, feel guilty, and eventually turn on MacFreedom so I can get some damn work done.

Ways in which it is different:

— I need to make more choices per scene. The process is not simply about determining what happens to which characters, and how to transition between different parts of the story. It’s about how the reader will see it all play out on the page. Close on the characters, for nuances of expressions and body language? Tiny silhouettes against a complex and crowded background? Characters entirely absent, replaced by images that function as counterpoint to narrative text? The details of these choices will, of course, be worked out by Ms. McNeil, but I am trying to teach myself to err on the side of providing maximum information in my panel descriptions about the mood I want to evoke.

— I draw (a few, incredibly poorly rendered) thumbnails, to help make sure I’m asking for something that makes sense visually. (I also bite my thumbnails, and the ones on my other fingers too. But that is a way in which revising a script is the same as revising prose.)

So how do you write a graphic novel script? I don’t know yet, I’m not done. I believe strongly in the axiom that you never learn how to write; you only learn to write the book you’re writing, by writing it.

That said, I can recommend a few informative sources:

Complete Idiot’s Guide to Creating a Graphic Novel by Nat Gertler and Steve Lieber.

Making Comics by Scott McCloud.

Drawing Words And Writing Pictures by Matt Madden and Jessica Abel.

Panel One and Panel Two, both edited by Nat Gertler. These are collections of comics scripts, including (full disclosure) one of mine in the second volume, along with commentary from the artists.

What else do you want to know, folks?

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  • Kip Manley
    July 13, 2010 at 7:56 pm

    How many words per speech balloon? How many balloons per panel? Thought bubbles or caption boxes? Sound effects or stylishly prosaic silence?

  • Sara
    July 13, 2010 at 8:48 pm

    That too.

    I like silence — I like the way it can extend a moment or emphasize an emotion. And of course, silent sequences force the reader to concentrate more on the art, which is something that is nice to encourage.

    But I also have a whole lot of pages with a whole lot of text.

    Which I ought to, um, look at for a while now probably…