What I Learned From Comics

April was not National Poetry Month for me. Instead, I took part in an international event known as Script Frenzy. People from all over the world got together for the personal challenge of writing a 100 page script in 30 days.

This is the sister event to National Novel Writing Month, which is a 50 thousands words a month challenge in November. Both only sound like scary, impossible goals, but anyone who’s joined can tell you there’s a lot of fun to be had even if you don’t reach the finish line. The idea behind both events is a giant push for you to produce something, whether you think it’s awful or not, because you can’t go back and edit a rough draft if you don’t write anything in the first place.

Back to Script Frenzy. Screenplays are the most popular choice among writers, but any kind of script (shorts, stage plays, audio dramas, even ballet and video game scripts) is welcome. I decided to go with a graphic novel this time after all of my planning the month before, and I won with 119 pages and a finished rough draft of Part I. There’s still plenty left to go, including two new characters and stories for them, but I’m happy with what I have now.

Before this April, I never touched any script format. I had no idea what I was getting into, and the idea made me more than a little nervous. It was later clear that there was little to worry about, once everything got started.

Different ideas lend themselves well to different mediums. My project, Lily’s Odyssey, would not have worked out if I wrote it in novel form. The reason for this is simple: With everything that I wanted to include in Lily’s story, that Freytag Pyramid so familiar in English class became more like a Freytag Roller Coaster, and finally a Freytag Rocking Chair that would ultimately put me to sleep waiting for the end. A Lily’s Odyssey movie would have the same effect, with the added problem of being 10 hours long. It would work much better as a periodical publication. Novels also tend to have one major plot with one or more subplots, but graphic novels tend to get dragged out a bit more if they’re written as a series.

Visuals are just as, if not more important than the story. I don’t plan on drawing out this graphic novel myself, especially with the script being far from finished. That doesn’t mean that the scriptwriter is off the hook. A GN script is full of art direction, often specifically written out panel by panel. (There’s no standard format for this medium, so the level of artistic freedom would vary depending on who’s writing and drawing.) While writing, I had to pay close attention to perspective, who was standing where at what time, and light sources. This isn’t always important with prose.

Go easy with the dialog. This goes with lots of things that get crammed into the draft of a novel. Dialog can afford to get stretched out within reason, and the internal workings of the mind can be explicitly stated if relevant. In a script, however, lots of that gets trimmed away. “She looked away, unable to bear the shame of what she had done,” in a novel simply becomes “She looks away.” Her actions and motives would be revealed through showing, not telling, later on in the script.

The reason for cutting out dialog is a practical one. See those big white speech balloons in comics? They take up a lot of space, don’t they? Put in a long, drawn-out conversation in one panel takes up room that can be put to better use drawing out the rest of the scene. For this reason, conversations need to be shortened and spread across a few panels – with some action going on in the background.

Novels and scripts are definitely different animals, but I had a lot of fun learning that. Now I’m going to make it my goal to write at least one thing in every medium. Stage play? Audio drama? Why not?

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