3 Handy Steps to Writing a Comic Book Script

In a few months my short story Headless White Horse which was published in my short story anthology will be published as a comic book short in Okie Comics, a local comic book magazine.  

I couldn't just send in my short story to Okie Comics's editor Jeff Provine because I had to convert my short story to what is called a comic book script.  Think of it like a screenplay for a film or television show.  The artist has to read the comic book script in order to understand how the comic book will be arranged on the page, what to draw in the panels, and what dialogue will be expressed.

I decided to offer a quick step-by-step guide to converting a short story or any prose story to a comic book script.  

1.  Get yourself a good comic book script writing program - I use Scrivener which has a template ready to go with formatting guides that are easy to use.  However, Comics Beat lists links to several different templates for many types of word processors.  Below is a screen shot of page one of my comic book script using Scrivener.

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As you can see, Scrivener lists each page of the script in what is called the "Binder" so that each page stands alone and is more easily manageable.  I like using Scrivener just for its versatility, and at $49 it's a bargain.

2.  Decide How to Plot Out the Pages - A comic book page is made up of panels, each with an individual image and possible dialogue.  The comic book script has to be laid out this way.  My original short story was about three pages in length and so in order to get the scope of what happens in the plot and the nuances of the mood I first created a script that was 7 pages long, but the editor only wanted 3 pages.  I had to do some careful editing so as not to destroy the story.  I had to picture in my head how the pages of the comic book would look and then plot out the pages one at a time.  If you don't read comics, you should probably familiarize yourself with the genre first.  For example, remember that the last panel on the page should make the reader turn the page and that more dramatic panels should be larger in size than the other panels.  The ideal amount of panels per page is 3-6.  

3.  Format Properly - If there is one thing a comic book editor hates it is improper formatting.  Many of the templates (especially Scrivener) will take a lot of the guesswork out of the formatting, but you might want to attempt it on a word processor without a template.

If you do, then what follows is law:

There is an industry standard just like writing a screenplay or a teleplay.  First the page number should be listed at the top.  Each panel should be labeled "Panel 1" (underlined) and so on with the sequence beginning again at "1" for each page.  Each panel should contain a detailed description of what the image should look like.  Speaking character's names are recorded centered on the page in all caps listed under the panel description in which they occur.  Character dialogue should occur on the next line after the character's name who is speaking and should be indented.

For a complete list of formatting rules, click here.

Final Thoughts

Publishing one of your short stories through a local comic book publisher is a great way to get your name out there in front of readers.  Comic books are fun to read, and if you can engage a reader in a comic book that reader might read your bio in the back and follow that to your website and then buy your other books.  Be versatile.  Next week I'll post an article about writing a teleplay for Amazon.

Until then, keep writing.

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