Writing A Graphic Novel: Can Screenwriting Help a Comic Book Writer?

Jessica Brody explained why a novelist should follow screenwriters. Instead of sending you to her book, which is awesome by the way, I will explain to you the why. Even as a comic book, manga, or graphic novel writer you need structure. You need structure because you are competing with novelist and screenwriters.  Sounds bleak, but don’t worry true believers. Now is a great time to be a comic book writer. Why? Read on my friend

Avengers: End Game grossed 2.79 billion as of this writing. The highest-grossing film of all time. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have had five live-action movies. Men in Black now has four live action movies.  X-men, for better or worse, has had many adaptations for the live screen. All based on American comic books. What about manga? Most manga are adapted into anime series. If you check out Netflix you will find live-action movies of Fullmetal Alchemist, Bleach, and Death Note. Television? The Walking Dead. Novels? There are way too many X-men adapted novels and DC comics have young adult novels based on Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman.  In other words, maybe your comic, manga, or graphic novel might not sell, you could have the next blockbuster television, film, or animated series.

Graphic novel writers use a script format. All though there is no industry standard, if you don’t have a properly formatted script, no one will read it. The same happens in Hollywood. A script is still the most accepted form of writing a comic. Most comic book writing books will teach you two methods. The plot-base method, used by Stan Lee when he started out, allows the writer to basically write brief descriptions and focus more on dialogue. This allows the artist to have more freedom over how the story looks art-wise. Stan Lee was able to writer multiple books because he trusted Jack Kirby and other artists. Then you have full script. This is when a writer is more detailed with descriptions, dialogue, and directs the artist how everything should look. Some would say this means they don’t trust the artist, but it doesn’t. Of course, you don’t have to choose between the two. There are many ways to writer comic script. I suggest learning the Dark Horse formatting

One advantage a comic book writer has over screenwriters is if they can afford to have an artist, a comic book yields a quicker visual production than any movie script in its written form.  People love art and you can draw more people to your site or script because it’s already in a visual medium.

There are more avenues for comic writers to get their work seen. As I stated before with a good artist, you can self-publish. Although the art will attract readers and potential customers, it you don’t have a solid story, the book will not last. That is where Save the Cat comes in. Learning about the beats, genre elements, and how to pace your story will become like second nature.

To accomplish this, takes planning. You have to analyze works in your genre. This means not reading for the enjoyment but reading to understand where each beat is. Writing is a journey. Your own hero’s journey.

Writing, especially screenwriting, is a great way to learn and write your own script. Remember, you are writing not just a story, but your script help directs the artist on what to draw. You are the mastermind. You are the director (unless you are more of a plot-based writer like Stan Lee when he started out.  That is the great thing. You can be as brief or detailed with your script. However, your story, your structure has to be solid. The script must be easy for your artist to comprehend and that includes your inker, colorist, and letterer. It’s not an easy job, but you can do it.

Writing a Graphic Novel: Introduction

In 2005 Blake Snyder wrote a book called Save the Cat. The book went on to become one of the best-selling books on screenwriting. No, he didn’t teach what to write. No, there weren’t any details on creating dynamic characters. He did, however, teach structure. A proven system that quickly was adapted by other screenwriters.

Me? In 2005 I was still trying to decide how I was going to build the next Marvel Comics. I had an idea, a general direction for the first comic series. I even had a vague idea of the characters. I wanted to mix Greek mythology with Christian ideologies. I was inspired by X-men, CSI, and Men in Black. However, I realized that I was trying to do in a few years, what took Marvel decades to build.

2008 I deployed to Iraq and a certain celebrity lost her family to a murderer. A light bulb finally hit. I had an idea for a story. Who killed a local celebrity’s family. I had finished Writing for Comics by Peter David. With my inspiration (X-men, CSI, and Men in Black) I started writing my first comic book script. A five-issue mystery revolving around a local celebrity and her family being murdered. I can’t remember how long it took me to write, but eventually I had all five issues done. I tried to structure the script using the Dark Horse format.

I can tell you now, I had no idea what I was doing. I had the elements we are all taught in our middle school and high school English classes. I had exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and the resolution. I had characters that were inspired by another show. However, I didn’t know my ending well. I also didn’t really know how I was going to get to the other four plot elements. I wrote a graphic novel, it was interesting to those who gave it a shot, but other comic book readers didn’t want to read it. The formatting was horrible and at the end of the day, I had no story.

Years later I tried to adapt my graphic novel into a novel. Again, I read many books on writing novels. Again, I produced two novels based on my graphic novel. I had a little more help in plot structure, but I still didn’t’ get it. That was around 2011. Four years later, I was watching a YouTuber who broke down films. In one of his videos on three-act structure, he suggested reading Save the Cat. At first, I ignored the idea. After all, he was analyzing movies and talking to screenwriters. I then decided on a whim to buy the book anyway.

I’m glad I did. You see that moment, when I decided to buy the book. The point of no return, was my catalyst. A plot element we will discuss later, but it’s a crucial point in the first act. Everything I have told you up to this point is my setup. Another beat we will discuss, that takes place before the catalyst. My opening image? Me telling you about my idea. The Theme Stated beat? Well, that’s easy. The theme of my journey is resilience. Never giving up.

Save the Cat was a great red and I took to Blake Snyder’s method. I applied it to my novels. A few years later, Jesssica Brody published her book Save the Cat Writes a Novel.  A great read that helps me write two additional novels. So, why am I still unpublished as of the writing? Simple. I half-assed the training. I skipped over doing the exercises in both books. In other words, I was doing things the wrong way. This is my midpoint beat. From my catalyst and now my midpoint, I was doing things wrong.

So how does my story on becoming a writer end? The Bad Guys Close In beat is where I’m at in life now. My story isn’t over. With rejection letters for the novels, time being sacrificed for relationships and my careers. I made an important decision to attend Full Sail University. This is my Break into Three beat. I now have a Master of Fine Arts and discovered my love for screenwriting, and more importantly how it translates into comic book writing.

The resolution beat? Well, I’m sharing my knowledge. I’m writing my own webcomic and I’m turning my Angel Protocol series into an Illustrated edition, similar to a Japanese Light Novel. I’m refocusing on using Save the Cat to help me rewrite my novel back into comic book form.  This is my hero’s journey and if you want to write a comic, manga, or webcomic. You need a story. You need structure. You need to Save the Cat.

I will be using Save the Cat as I prepare to launch Favor of Athena. Along the way I will analyze other comics, manga, and adaptations to see how Blake’s methodology can be adapted into comic books. After all sequential art is a visual story, no different from movies.

So, if you are ready to join me, allow me to be your sidekick as you start your hero’s journey. Let me help you write your comic. Let me help you save the cat.