Hello, my name is David Doub. I’m an unabashed geek. I have liked comics and vampires for as long as I can remember, which is why I’m self-publishing a graphic novel about vampires.
Actually, the real reason I published this book is because I wanted some control over my life, or at least a better illusion of control.
I’ve worked in the tech industry for 10 years, and I have grown tired of working for other people and not feeling fulfilled in my job. I was also starved creatively. After my wife passed away, I realized that life is short and there’s really nothing holding me back from publishing a graphic novel except myself. So this article is just a piece of my experience of making Dusk.
I hope that aspiring creators can learn from my experiences and find their way into the comics industry. My intent with this column is for other aspiring writers to be able to pick and choose elements that I employ for use in their own writing. Additionally, I thought I might use this column as a way to get my writing style critiqued by other writers so that I can improve my own scripts.
At a recent convention, I had a conversation with a comic book artist. We discussed how drawing and writing are solitary endeavors and how it’s sometimes difficult to improve without some sort of feedback, good or bad. Thus, any feedback you can give me would be appreciated.
Anyway, back to the matter at hand. Not all script formats are for all writers or for all artists–which is why you see so many different types of scripts from writers. Some enjoy using screenplay styles while others are written as very open page descriptions.
My method is to first outline a script informally. I usually just come up with a basic plot and then work it out in my head. Once I have the basic plot points, I’ll start to write out the script—but I’m not locked firmly into a specific idea. I may make a more detailed outline for the next few pages in my head, but I still don’t have the exact panels firmly thought out so I leave some room for creative inspiration.
My next step is to write a complete script. I have character descriptions of the major characters at the beginning of each script. I describe their physical appearance and their personalities so that the artist will have a frame of reference.
Then I move on to the actual descriptions of the overall setting for each page. I break it down panel by panel with the dialogue, sound effects, and captions separated out in each panel.
One important aspect is that I never assume the artist will understand what I’m talking about–which is why I always describe everything I “see” in a panel. A writer can clearly see a scene or panel in his head, but he can sometimes forget to relay that visual to the artist (unless you have a telepathic artist 😛 ).
Now I don’t expect artists to slavishly follow my scripts, but I want to make sure they have enough information to understand what I’m trying to convey. Typically, artists are going to be more visually oriented, so if they have an idea for a different page layout or panel composition, then it usually works out better than what I originally had in mind. I like to think that improvement comes from giving an artist plenty of descriptions to fully visualize the scenes the way I visualized them.
Another good benefit of detailed panel descriptions is that they help me keep track of story logic.
For example, in the first chapter of Dusk there is a scene where a gun is lying on the floor. This scene is meant to foreshadow a later page and also explain how a character acquires the gun on another page. I like for there to be a sort of visual logic of how items show up on a page. If a character picks up an item, I like to have that item shown in a previous panel to set precedence that it was indeed there for the character to pick up.. If I have a character in his underwear and he pulls out a giant sword, it hurts the suspension of disbelief if you don’t at least have a passing explanation of where that sword came from.
Another reason I write out the script panel by panel is to help the flow and rhythm of the story. Every panel should carry the reader’s eye and interest to the next panel. Successful storytelling should work as a snowball effect that carries readers naturally to the end of the story.
For example, I try to raise tension right up to the last panel of the page so that it carries the reader to the next page. Tension doesn’t just have to flow from action; dramatic tension works just as well–and tension isn’t the only good “carrier.” There are plenty of other techniques–such as using questions, mystery, or even humor. For instance, the structure of a story may be based on the concept of buildup, climax, and resolution–and and each comic page can mirror that same three-part structure, so it’s like each page is a story in of itself..
Below is a page of script from chapter 2 of Dusk.
Scene – Latin Night Club “Club Diablo”. Bright flashing lights as throngs of people sensually dance the Salsa. The majority of dancers are Latin but there is fair showing of various ethnic backgrounds. All dancers are paired up, there is no one just dancing, everyone is dancing with someone. The dancing is very involved and most dancers are working up a good sweat. The color scheme or tone is Red. The club is very elaborate with plenty of space for lounging and dancing (people have to take a breather somewhere). Eve is wearing a spaghetti strap red dress (with a matching purse and the purse has a strap to be slung over a shoulder.) and is dancing with a young and attractive Latino named Eric (dressed in a nice shirt and slacks). Eve’s hair is slicked back in a tight pony tail. Eve and Eric are very involved in their dancing and are enjoying themselves very much. Any shot of Eve dancing, she will have her eyes closed.
Background (The various panels will be overlaid the background): Wide shot of all the dancers very involved in their dancing. A little more emphasis and detail on Eve and Eric dancing.
Close up of Eve’s thigh up against Eric’s hip and Eric’s hand is on her thigh
Caption: Another late night at Club Diablo. The Latin beat is going strong as everyone sweats and sways with the music.
Eric dips Eve back very low. Eve is laughing with sheer glee
Caption: With the amount of skill everyone is dancing one could easily make the assumption that it was all choreographed, but…
After Eric pulls Eve back up their left arms are around each other’s waist and their right arms are extended out, grasping each other’s right hand.
Caption: …with the amount of raw sensuality involved…
Close up of Eve and Eric as they are face to face, their lips all most touching. Eric has a very smoldering hungry look in his eyes. Eve has a very smoldering hungry look on her face, but her eyes are still closed.
Caption: …it’s very obvious that this dance is very much…
Close up of Eve and Eric, similar to Panel 4, but now they are having a very passionate kiss.
Caption: …for real.
For more about “Dusk” click here