You’re staring at a new 20 page comprehensive outline and wondering, “How many pages do I have here?”
or you’ve just been tasked to create an outline for a new 122 page graphic novel and are similarly wondering, “How do I know how long to create my outline so it delivers 122 pages of script and not 200, or 40?”
The secret to a good—genuine—story, is that you can expand it or contract it, to fit whatever the medium demands.
While there’s no exact formula, and you’ll always have some editing on your hands (remember Writing is Rewriting), there’s a couple things to keep in mind to help you out.
As I’ve noted before, I take a portion of outline to complete art, in the Writer’s Guide. I’m not gonna go over the whole process here, but hit on a couple of key points to help you gauge your page count.
1) Keep track of your scenes.
I’m real big on scenes. Something I haven’t seen a lot of popular comic writers pay attention to. If you haven’t read my article on Scene Sizes, go read that. Over there I break down scenes into 5 categories. A standard scene being 3-5 pages in length.
If you’ve got an outline that’s 11 standard size scenes, voila, you’ve got 33-55 pages of material.
That was easy.
Of course your scene sizes are going to vary, just like the article explains… So for a more accurate assessment, you need to gauge the scenes more precisely, which leads us to number 2…
2) Separate your beats.
Taking each scene and getting a beat count gives you further insight into how “meaty” (technical writing term) each scene really is.
Here’s an excerpt from an outline on my desktop (to a defunct project). Let’s pretend for article’s sake this is one scene, #22:
Hours into their search, the group finds the largest wolf specimen to date. A truly terrifying she-wolf, standing as tall as a man at the shoulder, covered in radiation blisters and oozing toxic sludge.
So the beats of this paragraph are as follows.
- Group is searching.
- Group finds the wolf.
- Showcase the wolf’s unique nature.
This scene delivers 3 distinct beats.
Generally speaking, you will get 3-5 beats per page… (on a 3-5 panel page).
So we’ve now established scene #22 is 1 page in length. Boom.
Of course… it’s not quite that simple…
Truthfully, beats and scenes can be a bit misleading. Sometimes a seemingly simple beat is actually quite complex. For example. “Group searching.” While you could capture that in one panel, you’d probably want to establish some span of time there, make it a few panels, inject some character drama and character highlights into it. “Group searching” could easily be a page by itself.
Then of course there’s combining beats into a single panel (covered and shown in the book).
Accurately assessing beats and scenes may sound a little complex and tricky, but with experience your brain gets surprisingly good at estimating. For example, I knew just by reading scene #22 without breaking it into separate beats, it would come in as a standard scene… Most likely 3 pages… but more than that, I can tell it’s got the flexibility to be pushed to a 2 page short if needed or expanded to 4 using a nice full page art on the wolf reveal.
Again, this is simply experience talking. (And of course individual artistic interpretation. While I might say it’s a 3 page standard, you might say it’s definitely a 1 page short. There’s no wrong interpretation as you write your version and I write mine… the point is, by taking the time to assess, we each have a good gauge where we stand.)
It’s pretty rare after running through an outline and assigning a page count that I go back and say “Crap, that’s wayyyy longer than I expected…”
BONUS: If you take a look at the top page art on the writing craft page, on the right you’ll see a scene break down for a graphic novel I wrote called Ghost Car. You’ll see the notation “Goal (followed by a number) and the word Running—which is also followed by a number that can’t be seen.
Goal is the page count I need to hit based on the projects specs and running is where the current page count is. Sometimes, you get lucky and you’re pretty close to the mark just as things fall, but if you’re like me and like to write deep, engaging stories, you’ll often run long… Enter the Elven Red Pen of Editing +3/+3.▪
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.