Outlining and Note-taking
It may seem a bit obvious, but outlining is possibly the most important element to telling a story. Without an effective, and clear, outline, the final result of a story tends to be a twisted amalgam of the writer’s inner thoughts; which, while they might make sense to the writer, may be difficult to follow for the reader. An effective outline can keep you on task, and help while scheduling the various plot points of your story.
Realize that every story has a beginning, a middle, and an ending. How you get there is completely up to you, but the elements must remain. I encourage everyone to look up the hero’s journey, which can be done on Google, or any other search engine. The layout that you will see is the most traditional style of story-telling. Using this as a format to guide the main elements of your outline will help your story take a larger shape, as well as, give you places where you can add more back story and heft to the script. Now, the hero’s journey should only be used as a guide, because each of its elements can be manipulated if you should so desire.
Note-taking involves a lot of the brainstorming process. Whenever a new concept hits me, I like to sit down with a document and just write whatever pops into my head. Not all of these thoughts will end up in the final draft, or even the rough draft, but they are there nevertheless. Perhaps you may even be able to pull some of them out to use in other stories later on.
Note-taking also includes a bit of studying other people’s work. If there are writers and creators you particularly lean-to, and ones who influence your style and work, take notes as you read through their work. Think about these things; what things draw me into this story-telling? What would I change if I were writing this? Can I see the bigger picture behind what is presented here?
I can nearly promise you that if you take these two things, outlining and note-taking, and implement them each into your workflow; you will see how they can take you from a concept to a full story.
Precision of Language
Some of you may have read a book called The Giver while growing up in school. One of the rules that governed the utopia was known as the precision of language. Within the confines of the story, it meant being specific with which words you chose to use. For example, one would never say I love you because it is an emotional response to a term that is not understood; instead one would say I smile when you are around.
So, how would this reflect in comic book scripting? Put plainly, tell the illustrator exactly what it is that you want to see in the panel. In an intense scene, it would be less than effective to write “She looks off into the distance.” Be a bit more precise, try something like; “Her eyes look upward and far away, an expression of confusion on her face.” Then, further explain where she is, what she is doing, whatever else the illustrator may need to know. Especially if this is the beginning of a new scene, you have to answer the questions of; who, what, when, why, and how?
It may sound elementary to bring some of this up, but it is something that can take any script from dull to exciting, without putting too much pressure on the artist. An artists’ job is to bring your words to life; and when you are only giving them a baseline script to work with, you are forcing them to have to fill in the gaps. Some writers expect that of an artist, but if it is truly the case, then consider giving the artist co-creator credits on your work. The ultimate goal is to tell a coherent and engaging story that compels the reader to discover more works by the creative team.
Do not be afraid to provide a formulated, and well planned out, description of your panels. It often plays into how one should approach laying out a story and its outline. The more descriptive you write your outline, the more descriptive you can make your panels. Be sure to say what you mean in a clear, concise manner; not in a way to demean the ability of the artist, but in a way that enhances their understanding of your vision.
Aaron Dowen is a comic book writer, ICD News Editor, and owner of Catalyst Comics Studio LLC