If you’re writing a graphic novel, the first thing you ought to do is write a script. That’s what I was told, anyway. I was eager to start drawing and had a ton of ideas–very clear images, strong opinions about pacing, and who would say what when, and what sorts of shots I wanted in my book. So I wrote down all these ideas, in a script. It was a bit like a TV or movie script, in that I had certain shots in mind, so I sometimes used phrases like “looking down at Sean, standing next to bed,” or “from far away, like the reader is at the edge of the parking lot.”
Here’s a page from the beginning of part 2 of THE LOOP.
How detailed should the script be? I did all the art for my book, so my notes included a lot of details, explaining exactly what I wanted and how it should look, mostly because I wanted to capture all my ideas and I can’t remember anything for more than about five minutes. (I’m a stay-at-home-dad, and I’m basically the guy from “Memento” at this point.) The writer Alan Moore–who wrote Watchmen and V For Vendetta, and is universally acknowledged as a comics-writing god–is known for filling multiple pages with precise notes, so any artist working with him will know exactly what he wants. Other writers are more hands-off. Check out the book Panel One: Comic Book Scripts by Top Writers. It has examples of scripts from some of the best comics writers out there — people like Neil Gaiman and Greg Rucka.
Anyway, I was way off with my script. In the example above, I’d intended to get six panels, going from Sean’s letters from Russ, to the mystery “I feel terrible” quote, to Sean brushing his teeth and thinking about that quote. I wanted the letter to be big on the page, so that the reader would have Sean’s point of view and get the feeling of reading the actual letter. Turns out that with the big letter, it was way too much info to jam into a single page, so these panels ended up being two pages. That was one big thing I learned through this process: don’t be afraid to slow down and let the story unfold over more pages.
Here’s page one of two, with the thumbnail sketch on the left, and the inked page on the right.
As you can see, I was forced to make some decisions about the details in my script. In that first panel, did I really need to show Sean’s bleary eyes, or was it more important to show the boxes all around him? I chose to back up and show the boxes, so you can’t even see Sean’s face.
Here’s the final product.