Skip to content

Category: Technique

Effective Loose Scripting

When folks hire me to write a script, I don’t like to take shortcuts.

Genuine story is freakin’ complex. I get a solid page rate, and you can bet I’m going to leverage my experience and expertise at every single opportunity, and bring my client maximum value for the money they spend with me.

For this reason, I’m not partial to loose scripting.

Ok fine, simple can be hard. In fact, at the highest level, I’ll admit, you could have some genius level loose script that expresses story brilliantly. Leonardo da Vinci probably could have pulled it off, if he was into comics.

But let’s call a spade a spade, fact of the matter is, most writers go loose when the material covers content of lower narrative drive… another way of saying; material that’s less important (or less interesting to them), so it doesn’t matter how their artist conveys it.

This alone should be a red flag to the conscious writer.

Material that isn’t too important, should almost ALWAYS be cut, leaving more room for the material that is important.

No matter how you justify it, loose scripting passes a lot of the narrative work to the artist. Writing for the last 20+ years I reckon I’ve developed a pretty good eye for story. I personally, tend to run a tight ship and like to keep closer tabs on my narratives.

Don’t get me wrong, comics are absolutely a collaborative medium

but the writer’s initial take on a script, is the stage 1 rocket fuel. The more you put in, the greater the chance to break orbit when you launch.

All that said, you may find yourself wanting or needing to write loose on a particular script.

Ultimately, writing loose means you outline instead of script. Listing core beats, instead of unpacking them with detail.

The easy and quintessential example, is the fight scene.

Pages 14-20

Thing One and Thing Two fight. Thing Two wins.

That’s about as “Marvel Method” as it gets.

Since I’ve already discussed fight scenes extensively here on Story to Script, let’s breakdown a different example.

You need to login to view the rest of the content. Please . Not a Member? Join Us

Narrative through Panel Descriptions

[ Main site recommended reading: Visualizing Panels, Panel Descriptions, Visual Writing… there’s another one, but for the life of me I can’t remember which one it is, I’ll come back and update here when I remember.]

Panel 3:

Frank Castle shoots the Kingpin.

I see this kind of panel description all the time in comic scripts. I see folks, even established writer folks, defending it as legitimate loose scripting. I generally call it insufficient, lazy writing, but above all, I call it missed opportunity.

Remembering back to the Working Writer’s Guide to Comics; the four essential elements of every comic panel are:

  • Emotion
  • Comictography
  • Mise-en-Scene
  • Movement

All four of these are absent in the above panel description.

But even forgetting the four cornerstones of comic panels, we can simply ask “what is this panel telling us in the story, other than the action at hand (which we could only hope, has significant implications)?

Answer: literally, nothing.

Every panel in a comic is a chance to control and express the narrative of the story. While it is possible to do this with broad, loose strokes, the devil truly is in the details.

Hey, whaddya know, dialogue/narration can make a huge difference in expressing narrative throughout a comic… but for this article, let’s ditch dialogue and focus just on the panel descriptions.

Also keep in mind, much of the time you will express deep narrative movements through a sequences of panels. Sort of reverse engineering things backwards from the kind of panel descriptions above is a bit tricky… eh, screw it, let’s revisit this panel description anyway and see if we can’t improve it, actually expressing the narrative through added details;

You need to login to view the rest of the content. Please . Not a Member? Join Us

Getting Drama on Point

Strong dramatic moments are key building blocks in story.

Even in an action oriented spectacle, moments of high drama engage the reader and develop the empathetic bond to the characters. In a drama genre story, the drama itself drives the narrative. No matter how you crack it, it’s dang important to understand how to effectively convey drama in the scene.

While establishing and expressing drama relies on bringing together many (if not all) of the writing fundamentals, here are two not-so-obvious considerations that will inject your dramatic moments with “high-octane, crazy blood.” <For you non-Mad Max fans, that’s a good thing!>

First and primarily, time.

Second, consequences of actions/decisions.

Technically, drama is a loaded word in the creative writing world.

It can mean different things, at different moments, to different people. After all, “dramatic” is an adjective, meaning sudden, striking, exciting, impressive, etc. And such descriptors apply to so much of writing an engaging script.

Before we go on to define drama, let’s take a look at a close, important cousin, that sometimes masquerades as drama, I speak of course, of tension.

In the writer’s guide I define tension as “heightened emotional state derived from an immediate danger or threat.” The reason why tension often gets labeled drama is revealed in the first part of the sentence–heightened emotional state.

Heightened emotional state is the core of good drama.

Think about it when was the last time you read or saw a really good dramatic scene where the characters involved were indifferent? I’m gonna guess, no time recently. 

So for this article and for your future writing, consider the following definition of drama;

You need to login to view the rest of the content. Please . Not a Member? Join Us

Scripting Unforgettable Panels

Take a moment and think back to your first love. Try to recall what you loved about her or him. No really, close your eyes and try to pull up the memories.

Whether your first love was a brief encounter or a long, enduring relationship, you won’t be able to recall every single moment and every single thing about that person you so adored… especially, if your experience was many years ago.

Story is no different.

After a person reads a story (even immediately after), people don’t remember the entire story.

They remember the feeling of the emotional journey and key moments.

When you write.

Write so people fall in love with your work.

If you develop your story proper, it will be deep and complex, engaging the reader’s emotions on multiple levels and fronts. However, like cleaning up, putting on your best duds, and best cologne, you can make the emotional impact of your story nigh irresistible by focusing on two areas; the emotional center, literally, the heart of the story and the heartbeat of the entire narrative.

You need to login to view the rest of the content. Please . Not a Member? Join Us

Stories without Character Arcs

Genuine story delivers a thesis about how we writers see the world. Our underlying message is our Master Theme. At its most fundamental level, genuine story is new understanding revealed through change.

The most effective vehicle of this new understanding is the character arc.

A flawed character’s struggle to reach his true potential, framed in the context of a Master Theme—our thesis of the world—reveals that thesis to be true or false.

Change being the key basis by which we judge the results of the struggle.

In most cases, if the character changes for the better–reaches his true potential–the Master Theme rings true. If not, if the character is set in his ways, unable to change, the character has failed. <Though the validity of the argument of the Master Theme can be expressed either way, depending on the author’s approach.>

The character arc is the most effective means to engage a reader because people relate to people more than we relate to anything else.

The empathetic bond to a well written character, allows us to tap into the entire human experience, comprehending and relating to fiction on multiple levels. Every piece of the experience supports and emphasizes the underlying Master Theme–the sum of the parts equal more than the whole.

Whenever you start discussing genuine story and the necessity of complete, well-executed character arcs, there is always a voice to the contrary side; “character arcs are not required” they claim, quickly reciting famous/successful character that don’t appear to arc: James Bond, Captain Kirk, Indiana Jones, John McClane, well pretty much most action heroes… and as it turns out, most serial superheroes (more on this in a second).

You need to login to view the rest of the content. Please . Not a Member? Join Us

Scripting an Outside Outline

At the end of the Working Writer’s Guide to Comics and Graphic Novels I go through the main method I use to write a script directly from a comprehensive outline…

It’s fairly straight forward and the most efficient method I know–at least when it comes to working on your own projects. That is to say when you’ve developed the outline yourself, have a good grasp of where the story is at any given moment and have some degree of flexibility with the page count (or at least, ample time for editorial passes to make the content fit).

As a freelance comic writer, there may come a time when you are required to work directly from a client’s outline.

In these instances you’re likely to find yourself under more stringent restrictions with specific direction such as; “Take exactly what I’ve written in my outline and turn it into a XX page graphic novel…”

Tackling a project like this with the process I outline in the guide will certainly still work, but it may not be the most efficient method. I present the following method as a strong alternative method.

I’m going to showcase material from a Manga outline I wrote for a client a while back, working title “Wolf.” Like the process explained in the Writer’s guide, I’m only going to focus in on a small section of the outline… It’s not important that you don’t have context for the story–just pay attention to the process.

You need to login to view the rest of the content. Please . Not a Member? Join Us

Symbolism

Symbolism is an advanced level of subtext that can be applied to virtually any aspect of story telling. Adding it to a script pushes your brawler of a script to the next higher weight class.

The technical definition of symbolism is as follows:

Symbolism (sym•bol•ism) noun: Putting ten pounds of meaning in a one pound bag.

In Storycraft I mention the core types of symbolism;

  • visual symbolism
  • symbolic names
  • symbolic actions
  • symbolic situations.

When you sit down to add symbolism to your story, the first thing you need to clarify is; what do you want to symbolize? Sounds like a question from Captain Obvious, but really, if you don’t know what you want to express, how can you find a symbol for it?

And more to the point, when writing a story, there will be a multitude of elements you “could” symbolize… In order to see the forest for the trees, you need to stop and recognize the key elements worthy of deeper subtext/emphasis and…

How are these expressions working to serve the narrative?

You need to login to view the rest of the content. Please . Not a Member? Join Us

12 Tips for Spectacle Scripts

Computer says Spectacle is “a visually striking performance or display”.

In comic writing (story) terms, it is a narrative that while may contain all the elements of genuine story, does not fully develop them, relying on superficial/surface elements (action, visual eye-candy, gratuitous genre convention, obligatory scenes and tropes) to engage the audience.

Often spectacle fiction is particularly weak in thematic expression (Master Theme), character development and plot. And often serves as the vehicle to showcase unchanging (non-arcing) protagonists, like James Bond, Indiana Jones, Mad Max and the like…

I’m not really a fan of pure spectacle fiction, as I feel theres always room to add substance to a story.

That said, I am a big fan of genre fiction, Sci-fi/Fantasy/Horror being three of the primary genres I work in. Because many elements and practices of writing good spectacle overlap into genuine story, understanding some of the mechanics of spectacle will serve to improve your writing whether or not you embark on a spectacle heavy script.

Ok, grab your mocha and let’s get into it…

The spectacle hurdle.

Without the real substance of genuine story, all the superficial elements are pushed front and center. Instead of taking the time to assemble a fine wardrobe, offer an intellectual greeting and discuss what makes you tick, you’re stripping off your story’s clothes in the middle of gym class and screaming as loud as you can “Yo, check me out!” (gratutious 80’s movie reference)

Only above average content survives this level of scrutiny.

Plainly put, if your material isn’t above average, you’re sunk.

So if you’re about to set sail into spectacle comic writing waters, you better put down the rum, and look to the horizon with every ounce of objectivity and honesty.

The waters of genuine story telling are forgiving, the seas of spectacle take no prisoners.

You need to login to view the rest of the content. Please . Not a Member? Join Us

6 Things Done Best In Comics

Comics are an incredible medium, art from the in-between space. Visual like movies, yet driven by words. Pictures powered by prose.

Having read comics for over 35 years, I’ve seen the trends come and go. Lots of folks say the medium has grown up. That today’s audiences are more sophisticated, their tastes more eclectic.

I’d agree that there’s definitely more people creating comics today, than the days when Stan Lee and Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson first started.

But I often wonder if many modern creators jump into the medium with a full appreciation of what it represents and where it came from. Or if they just look to comics as a quick fix—a production of their IP quicker than a novel and far cheaper than motion pictures.

Whatever the current cultural status of the medium and whatever the future holds, you’ve landed on this article of mine today… and today we’re gonna stop and take some time to discuss what makes a comic unique. We’re gonna reflect and analyze the medium itself, and see if we can’t grasp the concepts that thrust a comic toward its true and full potential.

Originally, I wanted to title this article something like “What you can do in comics, but not in the movies”. But in the last bunch of years, computer graphics have really come along. I’d argue that there is little (if anything) you can’t do in movies these days.

Subsequently, I gravitated toward the title, “What you can do in comics a hell of a lot cheaper than you can in the movies”. This works for a lot of what we’re gonna talk about, but to simplify it, I threw away any kind of stringent comparative format, we’re just gonna focus on the core strengths of the comic medium, bouncing around with comparisons to its sister mediums (movies and novel fiction) as it fits the discussion.

As a comic is a collaborative effort between 6 distinct roles: Writer, Editor, Penciler, Inker, Colorist and Letterer, the lines of a comic’s core strength do tend to blur among them. For the purposes of this article (as always on this site and in my books) we will be focusing from the writer’s perspective.

Lastly, before we get into it, this is gonna be one of those long articles, appx. 4000 words, (I actually think I’m gonna start referring to them as “epic” in my newsletter so people know they need to grab a full cup of coffee before reading). Today, I’m gonna get down the main ones that jump out in my brain.

All the ones I forget… I’ll come back and add them in at a later time (I’ve already got a follow up list).

You need to login to view the rest of the content. Please . Not a Member? Join Us

Conversation Vs. Dialogue

In Writing Natural Dialogue, I discuss a number of focal points to do just that. In this article we’re gonna discuss an important common problem and dive into a more advanced approach of structuring dialogue.

Understanding the difference between conversation and dialogue is key to good writing (especially in comics).

I see a lot of scripts these days where writers try to be uber-stylish and inject their scripts with natural sounding conversation. I call this the Tarantino effect. And it doesn’t work in comics.

You need to login to view the rest of the content. Please . Not a Member? Join Us
All content © 2017-2020 Nick Macari and may not be reproduced without written permission. Author Theme by Compete Themes