A comic writer writes behind the scenes. Most people never actually see the words we write. They experience them as a picture, a word balloon, or the movement between panels.
When you sit down to write your first comic book, it’s hard to know exactly where to start, simply becuase you might not know what a comic script even looks like. Do a quick Google search of “how to write a comic” or “what does a comic script look like” and you get a melange of discordant results.
Here’s the short answer: There is no one industry standard format for a comic book script.
Here’s some info that’s more helpful:
- Download one of my short comic scripts for a solid example of a comic book script format. I took a comic book writing class at Columbia College in Chicago. Mort Castle, the class’ professor and experienced horror comic writer, offered up a flexible simple script format created by David Campiti. It’s simple and easily customizable to fit a certain publisher’s needs.
- Dark Horse Comics actually accepts unsolicited scripts, and they detail their required script format here.
- Panel One: Comic Book Scripts By Top Writers presents a collection of comic book scripts by famous writers like Neil Gaimen and Mary Wofman.
Formatting can be the bane of a comic writer’s existance. I’m not convinced it has to be. Here’s why:
- Use a writing software that does the formatting for you. Scrivner is pretty sweet and is compatible with both Macs and PCs. You can download a 30 day trial, but, trust me, it’s worth the $45 price tag. FYI–it’s awesome for novel writing in general, as it allows you to collect your character summaries, photographs, research, and multiple drafts in one “source of truth” for your work.
- Use Word formatting rules for a free alternative to writing software.
- Just fortmat at you go. That’s what I did when writing my graphic novel. I’d adjust the formatting at the end of every chapter. It was a nice break from the brain-wrenching work of writing.
Terminology & Other Useful Things
Gutter-Space between comic book panels; a way cooler way of saying “space between comic book panels.”
Caption-A small box that encloses text.
Word Balloon-Don’t ever say word bubble. Ever.
Birds Eye View-The scene as seen from above it.
Close-up-A view of an object at close range.
Gods Eye View-The scene from far, far above as if from heaven.
Inset-A small panel enclosed in a big panel.
Manga Motion Lines-Lines that denote movement. This is a common technique used in Japanese comics, or manga.
Panel-A box that contains a given scene.
Splash Page-A full-page panel.
Wide View-A view that captures a long expanse of a scene.
Wikipedia has a more comprehensive list here.
Finally, Some Words of Wisdom
Don’t use Comic Sans font in your script. Just don’t do it. Be cool and use the old school Courier. It’s actually preferred because each letter takes up the same amount of space, making it easier for the artist to gauge space needed for a caption or word balloon.
Don’t over-describe. Probably your artist knows what a violin looks like, or a steak, or a ladder. The goal of the comic writer is to be descriptive enough her vision shines through but pithy enough to not constrict the artist’s style. When in doubt, add a picture reference.
Don’t get hung up on the formatting. If your script is readable, clear, and simple, you’ve probably got something good going. Let formatting be secondary to the actual content.
And with that, I release you to find the script format that works best for you!