By Evan Waterman
To see more tutorials about making comics, check out Cloudscape’s Comics 101 page.
There are many different ways to format a comic script. They can be very tightly worded, describing the details of every panel, or they can be loose, only giving a vague overview of each page (aka the Marvel Method).
The approach you take largely depends on whether or not your writing a script for a publisher, as well as if you’re scripting for another artist or yourself.
Scripting for a publisher
Different publishers expect different script formats, so make sure to look into each publisher’s requirements before you submit to them. For example, Dark Horse has their script format publicly available.
Also important to note, many publishers require story pitches to have a written script, regardless of whether or not you’re also going to be drawing the comic yourself. If you plan on submitting your story to a publisher, make sure you read up on their submission guidelines.
Scripting for yourself
If you’re self publishing and drawing your own story, you’ve got some more flexibility in your options. If given the choice, some artists forgo writing a script since they already have a good idea of what they want in their panels.
That said, I think it’s beneficial to write a script for your stories. It’s a helpful way to keep track of your ideas and make sure you’re properly fulfilling all your story arcs.
Techniques and sample scripts
How do you indicate emphasized text? How do you explain you want a thought balloon vs a caption? What do you do when there’s a panel with no dialogue? How do you indicate someone talking from off panel, or from a TV screen?
If you want to see how I format my scripts, check out my template, which contains examples of how to properly indicate all the above scenarios.
If you’re looking for references, Comics Experience and Scripts and Scribes have fantastic lists of scripts from creators such as Alan Moore, Brian K. Vaughan, Grant Morrison and many, many more.
Scripting for an artist
When writing panel descriptions for an artist, it’s important to remember that you’re not writing for your audience. Leave the fancy prose writing to novelists. As a comic writer, your goal should be to write in a straightforward manner, painting a clear image of what you want drawn in that panel.
This can be summarized in two points:
Writing “Jane gazes up at the large, cold rock in the sky floating above her” is unclear as to what you want drawn. “Jane looks up at the moon” is much more clear. The artist should have no problem understanding what’s to be drawn.
This isn’t to say you can’t be colourful with your descriptions, or include details like the way a character does something, or what feelings you want to evoke from a panel. Just make sure that whatever you do end up describing in your panels is unambiguous for the artist.
Lets say you have a panel containing two people arguing, and one smashes a glass plate to the floor. If your panel description goes on about all the furniture of the room, and the clock on the wall etc… you’re putting a lot of things for the artist to show off in a single panel.
Adding more requirements to a panel restricts what your artist can do with that panel, and often results in a sacrifice in clarity or style. Does it really matter where the couch is in the shot? By including unnecessary details, you risk losing focus on the thing that really mattered: the person smashing the plate.
When I script now, I think about the things that are most important to the scene. What stuff needs to be there to convey the story? I put that in the description first. After that, I sometimes (but not always) describe other details like camera angle or other things that should be in frame, but only the things that matter (such as things that would reinforce the setting or the theme or just look cool). I usually let the artist fill in the rest.
That said, make sure to always explicitly describe any part of a scene or character that will be important for continuity later on. If on page 5 you describe a character turning to look out the window but didn’t describe the window on page 1 of the scene, your artist might have already drawn the room without windows… no good.
Trust your artists
It’s important to remember that artists are creators too. While you may have a specific idea for a panel, often your artist will know what will work best for the panel or the page as a whole. Leaving them some room to express their artistic abilities will often result in more natural feeling panels.
Ultimately it’s up to you to decide how in depth you want to go with your panel descriptions. Every artist has their own preferences so I encourage you to talk with yours and figure out together what works best for you. Don’t be afraid to communicate!
As always, feel free to leave any questions you have in the comment section below.
For more info on the topic, you can check out my free comic making guide containing 175+ pages of tips on the entire comic making process.