For newcomers, writing a comic book script can seem daunting. You must not only learn the language of sequential art and comic book storytelling, but you must also write a script that conveys your story and ideas clearly to the artist.
My friends who ask me about comics writing tend to return to the same question.
How can you format a comic-book script?
Don’t panic! There are no rules.
This is one of the best things about comics. Any format can be used as long as it works for both you and the artist.
I like to learn from others. Reading scripts is one of the best ways you can learn. Try to read as many scripts as possible. Comic Book Script Archive offers a great way to find scripts written by professionals. Amazon also has book collections that contain published scripts. Some deluxe hardcovers of comics include script pages and process material.
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What can you do when you’ve read many scripts?
This is when you can choose a style that you love and then stick with it. Here are some images and information about five different formats that I think are excellent for beginners. You can begin writing immediately because most of these formats don’t require expensive software.
Let’s first break down comic book scripts in two main categories: Full Script and Plot Script.
Full Script vs Plot
Full script This is the method in which every panel, line, dialogue and page is clearly described to the artist and reader. The script doesn’t need to be as formal or as detailed as a screenplay, since the primary audience is the artist. The full script should look more like a screenplay or stage play.
Plot scriptis a description or outline of the story. The plot is then broken down into panels and pages by the artist. Sometimes dialogue is added at the beginning, other times it’s added later. This method was popularized by Stan Lee of Marvel and other creators such as Harvey Kurtzman, E.C. William Gaines. This can be modified in many ways, but it is a summary of the entire story, without any page or panel breakdowns. Some scripts have those, however.
These are two types of comic book manuscripts. Here are some examples to help you create your first comic book book script.
These are not industry-standard labels or names. They are just templates that can be used by beginners.
1) Dark Horse Format
This is the format I started with, and it’s the easiest. It doesn’t require any special formatting or keystrokes. It is clear and concise and does not require any other than a word processor.
A link to the Dark Horse Format Guide can be found here in the Dark Horse Submissions section.
2) Screenplay Format
This option is popular for writers who want a script closer to a screenplay. These elements are identical to any comic book script but they are arranged in a manner that is closer to the screenplay format rules.
This format gives you an idea of how your word balloons will look. Keep dialogue under 25 words per balloon.
3) Comics Experience Format
Paul Allor created this for Comics Experience. It is an adaptation of the style of Andy Schmidt, former editor at IDW and Marvel. For those who are interested in learning more about comic book writing, art, lettering, coloring and production, the workshop and classes will be invaluable.
This template is similar to the Dark Horse format. It’s simple to create and very clear. This template can be used with a word processor, and you will only need to know a few formatting tricks.
4) Marvel Method
This style is the easiest to format. Start typing! You can just start typing!
Here is an example of a plot screen with additional dialogue from Alan Davis’s website.
Keep in mind that the artist will do most of the storytelling. Before you send them your script, make sure you are 100% committed to this method.
Format by Fred Van Lente
This is the current format I use. This is a modern and clean take on comic book scripts, incorporating a few styles I have shown. You can also use the formatted version I created in Microsoft Word to automatically generate numbered dialogue.
Blambot’s Nate Piekos wrote a fantastic article on the elements of this comic book script. It works for all scripts.
Comic Book Script Archive
This was something I already mentioned, but the Comic Book Script Archive (Comics Experience) and Comics Experience are excellent tools for those who wish to read scripts and discuss writing. Look at scripts from your favorite writers to see how they structure their pages and scenes.
There is no one right way to format a comic-book script. These five techniques are not meant to be a guide for writers who have difficulty presenting their scripts on the page.