Why You Should Try Writing Graphic Novels
An awesome blog by Pikachunicorn
Why Should You Try Graphic Novel Writing? It's a good question. And once I asked myself about a year ago. I'm an aspiring comic artist, meaning I assumed 'hey, I don't need to write a plot or a script or anything like that - the writer will do it'. But that's not the reality, unfortunately. Because finding a writer willing to work on Graphic Novels/Comic Books is far more difficult than it seems! So, I threw myself into it. I thought it couldn't be that weird - I'd written original fiction before. But wow, is it different!
But I'm getting ahead of myself. Slow down! Because before I talk to you about HOW to write graphic novels, I should probably talk about WHY you should do it in the first place, right?
Reason No. 1 - Some of the best stories ever where created by comic writers! I'm sure you're all aware of the popular superhero movies that we're seeing a boom of recently were developed from comic plots (X-Men: Days of Future Past originally a Chris Claremont storyline in the 80's. Avengers: Age of Ultron originally a 2013 series by Brian Michael Bendis). But as well as this, there are some lesser known comics that have, or will be, developed into big time shows or movies. The Walking Dead being a notable example. This ongoing comic series was written by Robert Kirkman and started in 2003. The series was published by arguably the biggest independent comic publisher - Image. Many of Image's series have been snapped up for TV shows and are well on their way to becoming equally as successful as their zombie-themed sibling series.
Reason No. 2 - It looks awesome on your CV! If you have a successful graphic novel out, potential employers surrounding regular novel writing may find this an intriguing quality that sets you apart from your competitors.
Reason No. 3 - You get to see your characters, locations, situations, etc. There is no better feeling in writing than seeing a visual representation of your stories - at least that's how I feel. I spent hours on end developing a character for my webcomic, and finally getting to write him into situations felt good. But seeing him there in all his glory after illustrating the first page really was spectacular! It's like people doing fanart of your characters all of the time!
Reason No. 4 - It can help with character development. When you're writing for a book, you only need to plan a character to your ability to describe them to the reader. You are also allowed to miss a few details and let the reader fill them in for themselves. Not with graphic novel writing! Here, you need EVERYTHING covered, because some poor artist is going to have to draw your character from the way you explain them. How big is their nose? How round are their eyes? Do they have wrinkles beside their eyes when they smile? And then there's their actions too! What sort of attitude do they have? Because this will need to be communicated in the way they stand, sit, walk, act... It's obviously easier if you're illustrating the book too, but it's still tough. Don't underestimate it! (Although it is really, REALLY fun!)
Reason No. 5 - It's really, seriously totally COOL! C'mon, how many of your friends could say they've written a comic book? I'm guessing not many! It's totally unique! And super fun!
Have I convinced you yet? No? Oh. Well, then, I'll get onto my top tips on HOW to write a comic. This is in no way the correct, professional way to go about creating a comic series/graphic novel. I've simplified it and added and removed bits based on my own experiences. Bear with me...
Step 1: Once Upon a Time - Just like a regular novel, you're going to want a basic, initial plot idea to begin with. I, personally, started with a character. I created a character, and then asked myself why he is the way he is, what this could mean, how this affects him and the others around him. Just build it up slowly - piece by piece. Some things will come rushing to you, others will take time. Don't forget to write any ideas you may have down (it might be useful to grab a sketchbook for this purpose)!
Step 2: Avengers, Assemble! - Yes, now would be a cool time to get a creative team together. I recommend this now, because it helps when bouncing developed ideas around. Don't know if your character's clothes would work for them? Ask the artist. Don't know if you've written it too dialogue heavy? Ask the letterer. A creative team can be anything from one person to a huge cast of people contributing to the comic. You may need someone as your - writer (obviously), penciller (sketches out art), inker (lines art definitively), colour artists (colour art), letterer (designs all the wording in the book - speech bubbles, narration, titling, etc.), and maybe even an editor to make sure everything's going smoothly. Doing all the work yourself may sound easy, but don't underestimate all the jobs that need to be done!
Step 3: Live By the Bible, Die By the Bible - Write a plot bible, as some writers like to call it. This is basically a long document of everything significant that happens in your story. Like an extremely condensed book. It's a good idea to give this to your artist for feedback. And DON'T WORRY if you haven't got the whole storyline worked out right now. If it's going to be an ongoing or long-running series, the chances are you're not going to know past the first arch (arch is another word for storyline, plot point, etc. usually lasting between three and fifteen issues). Just write what you have, and add as you go. My own reaches the end, but has a lot of gaps!
Step 4: "And on the Sixth Day" - Oh, yes. It's the fun part! It's time to design your characters! Sit down with your artist and tell them how you envisage them. A good artist will prompt you to build on your design to give them more to work with. It's crucial to do this with your artist, because otherwise you'll give them the script for the first page and they'll come back with a character that looks nothing at all like who you imagined! Nightmare!
Step 5: "Divide and Conquer" - First of all, is you comic ongoing? Does it have a clear finale? Is there more than one issue/arch/series? You need to decide that now. For example, I know my webcomic will consist of at least twenty issues (I hope). And so, my clear plot that I have in my bible needs to be split to fit those. I worked initially with what will happen in each arch. Then, narrow it down. Each issue. Each page. And finally - each panel. What is happening on each of those things? This is the hardest step. But once you've got a clear idea of each panel, step six will be easy as pie...
Step 6: "Talk Nerdy to Me" - Yay! It's scripting time! Just like when writing a screenplay, the script details everything that happens in that scene (or - in this case - panel), particularly the dialogue. I once read that a good comic will have an average of twenty-seven words per panel. Scripting is so much fun because it means you're so almost there!
Step 7: "The Beginning of the End" - FINALLY! You can create your comic. Here, you'll have to be prepared to make a few changes based on how what you've scripted looks on page - it may turn out a lot different than expected! But other than that, your writing job is done! Yay!
Okay, so finally, some top tips:
- Know Your Audience. You don't wanna be writing a kid's comic that includes graphic violence. Maybe write for your age range? That way you have yourself and your friends for audience research.
- Know Your Platform. How are you gonna get your comic out there? Movellas is actually a great platform in this way! But if you wanna branch out, I recommend ComicFury.
- Know Your Industry. The comic industry focuses more on certain genres (sci-fi, fantasy) than other writing industries. Keep this in mind. Read comics with a similar theme to yours. You can never do enough research. Plus, reading comics is fun!
Pikachunicorn's Top 3 Comic Writers:
3) Marjorie Liu. Liu is a brilliant example of a female role model if you’re a girl breaking into the male-dominated comic industry! Her work has been used in Marvel to compliment some of their most powerful female characters. Pika recommends: X-23 (Marvel), Monstress (this is an independent Image-published comic that is rated M for violence, so if you’re under 16, please avoid this one).
2) Kieron Gillen. Gillen is my favourite modern writer. He really works with the times. He's an expert at writing to his target audience. His work on Marvel's 'Young Avengers v2' (which I highly recommend for Avengers movie fans (it includes a Kid Loki, Hawkeye's female 'apprentice', and Scarlet Witch/Wanda Maximoff's kids - Wiccan and Speed)) is brilliantly iconic, and targets our ‘Tumblr generation’ better than any comic I've ever read. Pika Recommends: Generation Hope (Marvel), Young Avengers v2 (Marvel), The Wicked + The Divine (Image, again, this is rated M, so I wouldn't recommend for under 16s).
1) Kyle and Yost. Oh gosh, you have no idea how much I love this team. Craig Kyle and Chris Yost are the writers of my favourite ever series. And why? Mood. This creative pair once took a set of characters from a previous miniseries, and developed them into long term fan-favourites by through them into the most controversial and emotive situations young Marvel characters have ever been subjected to! Pika Recommends: New X-Men: Academy X (Marvel), X-Force v3 (Marvel, rated T+ for violence, so be careful here), Red Robin (DC, Yost only on this one, but well worth a read if you’re into anything Batman related).
Thank you to Pikachunicorn for writing this blog and creating the banner!