Creating a Graphic Novel: Writing the Script

My job in this whole graphic novel thing (besides providing description of the major characters and, well, writing the story to begin with) is to write the script for the graphic novel–and I don't have much time. Once my artist, Adam Black, gets done with the concept art (that's another blog), he's going to want to get started on the graphic novel.

As I stated in my blog on choosing an artist, I've never written a graphic novel script, but I have written a screenplay, and that's pretty close. I grabbed The Complete Idiot's Guide to Creating a Graphic Novel, read a few of the "greats," and got started.

First, I needed to divide A Prophecy Forgotten into panels. As I explained in an earlier blog, panels are the little boxes on the comic book pages with the pictures. Most comic books have about 6-7 panels on a page. Now, here's the tricky part. Graphic novels are published in color. Color is expensive. The more pages in a graphic novel, the more expensive it gets. Put too many pages in your graphic novel, and buyers will ignore it because of the cost. Therefore, panel count is important. (This is why we've divided A Prophecy Forgotten into two books. It keeps the cost for each book low, and allows me to preserve more of the content.)

Converting a novel into a graphic novel on some levels is easy.

  • The story is already created.
  • The characters are already developed.
  • So are all those little visual details that I spent hours honing when I was writing the novel.
  • Etc.

However, there are still some problems I've had to deal with.

  • Prose. All those little paragraphs that explain how mornachts explode when they die? Paragraphs like that don't work in a graphic novel. Somehow, I have to show all of my mythology instead of tell it. (I dumbed down Josephi and made him ask a lot of questions so I could get the mythology out in the open through dialogue.)
  • Scenes that are just "talking heads." Conversations where nothing is going on in books don't work well in graphic novels. Therefore, I had to shorten a lot of conversations or eliminate them.
  • Dialogue. It all has to be shortened. The dialogue bubbles are only so big, and I've still got to leave room for the picture. (I've been told that artists don't like dialogue infringing on their territory. Mr. Black suggests 40 words per panel as an average.)
  • Cutting out portions of the novel. This is always the hardest part, but it's got to be done. Unfortunately, it's not enough just to shorten the dialogue. I had to cut out a few subplots, including the possibility of Tommy hardening.

When I first started writing the script, I felt like I was cutting a lot of the things that I felt like made A Prophecy Forgotten good. That, and because I'm not a comic book reader, I don't really know what makes comic book readers go "ooh!" (I can push the buttons of a fantasy reader. I have no idea what buttons to push for a graphic novel reader.) I got incredibly nervous about my panels, and that's when decided to follow my mantra: When you don't know what you're doing, find someone who does. I turned to…

…My TOP SECRET Military Expert (the TSME), who happens to be a comic book fan and collector. (No, I will not divulge his name. He is too imperative to Out of the Shadows and Book III. And no, I will not share. Go find your own TSME!) He looked through my skeleton of a script and gave me some invaluable advice on things such a dialogue, flow, panel condensing, and even a few military terms here and there. (I think the most exciting part about it was that he didn't make that many corrections. He made a few, but not the amount I was expecting.)

Once I inputed the TSME's feedback, I then had to take all my panels and divide them into boards or pages. That is the hardest part. Each page is kind of it's own little entity, so a writer needs to keep the ideas from overlapping.

Now, I'm working on writing description for each panel so Mr. Black knows exactly what I want him to draw. For instance, in the first panel of the graphic novel, one of my villains is trying to get Gabriella to join his group of evil dudes. (Like the anti-spoiler description?) My description for Mr. Black:

INTERIOR, NIGHT. GABRIELLA, holding her helmet, is backed against the wall. Looking over the back of [A VILLAIN] wearing an LAF uniform holding a sword. Don’t show his face. It’s darkened, so I’m thinking a lot of blue, here. Let’s put a window here somewhere so the audience will know what she is flying out of. Show the beginnings of stars through the window, and maybe make the sun almost set. (Like the orange-purple thing instead of lots of orange.)

Like a screenplay, I am capitalizing each character the first time he or she appears. Because only Mr. Black is going to be reading it, I can carry on like a conversation. Since this is the first panel, the audience needs to know where it is and what's going on. I'm going to use two tools for that: Captions and dialogue. Captions are usually in a rectangle box in comics. Then there's dialogue, which is represented by the character's name and is in the dialogue bubbles all of us are familiar with. So here we go:

CAPTION: Heaven’s Realm, The City of Ezzer, Elysia.

CAPTION:Graduation is complete. Elysia’s newest female guard retrieves helmet from the shower house, but finds something more sinister lurking inside.

[A VILLAIN]:I’ll make this simple for a new runt like you, Gabriella. You will join us, or you will die.

You'll notice that I've changed the beginning a bit from the novel version of A Prophecy Forgotten, which begins in a hospital room. They say you should begin graphic novels with a bang!

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About M. B. Weston

M. B. Weston is an award-winning fantasy, pulp, young adult, steampunk, and paranormal author. Her attention to procedure and detail gives her works an authentic gritty, military feel that takes an adventure tale to the level of a true page-turner. Weston’s writing attracts both fantasy and non-fantasy readers, and her audience ranges from upper-elementary students to adults. A gifted orator, Weston has been invited as a guest speaker to numerous writing and science fiction/fantasy panels at conventions across the US, including DragonCon, BabelCon, NecronomiCon, and Alabama Phoenix Festival. She has served on panels with such authors as Sherrilyn Kenyon, J. F. Lewis, Todd McCaffrey, and Jonathan Maberry. Weston has spoken to thousands of students and adults about the craft of writing and has been invited as the keynote speaker at youth camps and at several schools throughout the US.
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