Good writing is efficient writing.
In comic book scripting this isn’t simply a goal, it’s a necessity.
A good comic script isn’t a monstrous, lumbering Newfoundland—it’s a German Short-haired Pointer—sleek, muscular, and fast. It’s a working dog, doing its job at every turn. Even when you’re not paying attention, it’s doing what it needs to be doing.
Developing an efficiency on par with a GSP, begins at the scene selection level and carries into how each scene is written. Of course in turn, each scene is constructed of pages and panels. All can be assessed by what I refer to as “weight”.
Like the fast efficient hunting dog, you want a balance in your weight. Too heavy and things breakdown, too light and there isn’t enough substance to hold the story together.
Recognizing and assessing the weight within a script may sound complicated. Don’t stress, it’s not.
All you really need to do is stop, look at the portion of script under a wider lens and ask yourself what that portion of script conveys.
If the message can be conveyed in less real estate, or doesn’t need to be conveyed at all, edit down or eliminate.
While there may be more panels with weight issues (compared to the number of pages or scenes) in any given script, fixing scenes and pages generally frees up more real estate—giving you more ability to write. For this reason, I’m focusing on the page level (thus the title of the article).
But don’t ignore panels. Cutting a single panel can dramatically change a page and cutting a few panels here and there adds up quickly.
Here are three main tips to deal with the weight of your page:
If a page is conveying something redundant—something already expressed on another page—get rid of it.
You have to pay attention on this one, because it’s usually hidden in plain sight. You’ll often write a different situation on the surface, that’s really conveying the same message in subtext.
Say you’re writing an issue of x-men and you have a scene aboard the Blackbird, where Beast is working on a computer, spitting out some pseudoscience to forward the plot. You want to show some conflict between Beast’s intellectual planning and Wolverine’s simpler, animalistic strategy for dealing with a problem. The two get into an argument that almost brings them to blows.
Later on you have the group training in the Danger Room. Beast proceeds to spout off some physics, offering the best way to defeat the challenge of the room. Ignoring beast, Wolverine rushes forward to defeat the challenge with his more direct animalistic— kill it dead—approach… which brings Beast and Wolvie to near blows.
In this instance, you’ve written two different scenes that basically express the same underlying theme or action; two different approaches to solving the same problem, which puts both characters at odds.
Of course, there may be instances where you actually want to hammer home the same concept or idea and purposefully be redundant. The key is to be redundant ONLY when you want to be and catch all the other times you do it by mistake. And believe me, this type of mistake will pop up.
If a page is conveying something irrelevant—something not really necessary to the story—get rid of it.
A perfect example of this comes from a recent script I reviewed. The writer had an entire page dedicated to a main character’s entrance. The character opened the door, walked through the door, walked through a dark hall, then stepped through an open archway, into the main room delivering his “Hello, never fear I’m here…” dialogue.
This could have easily been reduced in panels or even down to one panel, with the character standing in the open archway to the room, giving his “Hello, never fear…” dialogue.
But even more importantly than how the writer said it, is what the writer actually said. The script used an entire page of comic real estate to say “Main character arrives.” That’s it.
This page could have been deleted in its entirety without altering the story in any way, shape, or form.
Instead of showcasing the irrelevant, jump right into the meat and potatoes. Opening that same scene with the character already engaged in dialogue with the people in the room—slamming his fist on the table and barking his “Hello, never fear I’m here…” dialogue would be far more effective. (thought there’s probably an even more dramatic, more powerful way to showcase the message of that kind of scene).
I talk about “Entering Late, Leaving Early” in the Working Writer’s Guide to Comics and Graphic Novels (and probably elsewhere here on the site). Remembering this adage will help reduce irrelevant setups like this.
Whenever you have something you’re not sure of, or just in an effort to streamline your script—drop it. Read through the script without the panel, page or scene in question. If the story still comes across in its entirety, then that portion of script doesn’t need to be there. So lose it and concentrate on polishing another part of the script.
If a page isn’t really saying anything—if the message is too abstract or non-existent—get rid of it.
The mark of the meandering writer.
There’s plenty of text on the page, but nothing’s actually being said. The writer is stuck in a subtext all his own. Sometimes this can be difficult to recognize when you’re actually writing, especially when you’re really close to the material—but in review it’s pretty easy to catch if you’re looking on with objective eyes.
Panel 1: Jane and Jennifer walk side by side in the park.
Panel 2: Clouds converge on a bright sun overhead.
Panel 3: A robin sits on a tree branch chirping.
Panel 4: Jane puts on a hat.
Panel 5: Two kids stand in front of an ice cream push cart. One is holding a red balloon. They’re waiting for the short, fat guy running the cart to hand them their ice cream cones.
Ok, Ok, technically every visual says “something”… and granted this super thinly written page gets some points for visual writing… but what the heck is it REALLY saying?
(And just imagine for a second, my quick little example page as a full, over-written 250 word page of script. Still saying nothing! These kind of pages cross my desk all the time.)
Only the most fundamental, most basic things (time of day, location, characters involved etc.)—all of which could be captured much more efficiently, probably in a single panel.
YES, realistically, the page probably carries more weight in context of its surrounding pages (in our fictional book). BUT WHY would you rely on other pages to get the work done? You start your script with a blank canvas, use it.
A page of this nature is simply a waste of space. For God’s sake man, you professional life is riding on 22 pages—make each and everyone count!
Seriously though, wasted space is the scourge of the comic script writer. Whatever point your trying to make doesn’t come off well when you’re wasting space, BUT EVEN WORSE, you’re losing real estate to say something that really matters.
Keep these three tips in mind when you go back to review your script and you’ll have the weight of your pages balanced out in no time. ▪
About the Author —
Nick Macari is a full-time freelance story consultant, developmental editor and writer, working primarily in the independent gaming and comic markets. His first published comic appeared on shelves via Diamond in the late 90’s. Today you can find his comic work on comixology, amazon and in select stores around the U.S. Visit NickMacari.com for social media contacts and news on his latest releases.
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