I’ve written a number of comics over the years, and it always stuns me what a different discipline it is from any other kind of writing. In a film, play, novel, game, or whatever, you have a bit of wiggle room as to the time you can take up or the number of pages. Comics, though, have a far more restrictive form.
Most comics feature 22 pages of story, and the pages are laid out in two-page spreads with any number of panels on them. Most comics have a splash (full-page illustration) or two in them, or even a massive double-page spread, but the average page contains anywhere from four to eight panels.
As a writer, you designate the number of panels on the page and what happens in each of them. You’re restricted to asking your artist to show static images, and they all have to make some kind of sense when strung together. This forces a certain kind of pacing on the story, especially when you consider where to place your cliffhangers, staggering revelations, and plot twists.
These favored tools of any adventurous writer work best at the start or end of a page, not in the middle, and they’re best if they come at the start or end of a spread. This makes the pacing even more rigid.
Compared to a novel, it’s like going from free verse to iambic pentameter. Robert Frost compared free verse to “playing tennis with the net down.” If so, the comic-book form raises a good, solid net over which to try your game.
Fortunately, there are tools to help you get your game on. While writing the first issues of Blood Bowl: Killer Contract for Boom! Studios, I gave a new writing program a shot at the recommendation of John Rogers.
The program (Scrivener) was originally designed to help with writing screenplays or novels, but the latest version comes with a comic-book script template by Antony Johnston that’s nearly perfect. It let me rearrange panels and pages as much as I liked and automatically renumbered them. When working with an editor, an artist, and a licensor, this alone saved me a lot of headaches.
If you’re interested in writing comics—or just writing in general—be sure to check it out.