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Author Topic: Script writing crash course  (Read 5389 times)

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Offline KidGalactus

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Script writing crash course
« on: February 26, 2010, 10:11:10 PM »

Alright, kids.

We're going to talk about comic script writing.

The first thing to keep in mind is that... and Dwayne McDuffie said it a lot better than me:

Note that there is no industry standard format for plots or scripts. This is just the way I do it.

In general comic scripting is somewhere between screen writing, prose and movie direction You're going to need to dictate action, delineate dialog and set the pace of the story. You can be as wordy, or as spartan as you like with your descriptions, somebody like Alan Moore is essentially writing a novel broken up into panels when he generates a script

http://fourcolorheroes.home.insightbb.com/killingjokescript.html

See? Guy's pretty verbose.



 There are a few key rules that you have to wrap your head around and after that, you're pretty much golden.

In my opinion the most important rule is

-CAMERA CAMERA CAMERA- You're going to need to treat your camera... and by extension your readers as an ever-present, lethargic all-seeing character. When you set your scene, where exactly are we seeing it from? Is there any reason for that? There doesn't have to be, but it's worth some thought.

-SOMEBODY IS GOING TO DRAW THIS- So please try and keep their sanity in mind. Try and keep impossible shots or absurd things like multiple actions for a single person in one panel to a minimum, please.

-/-  The '/' is typically used to denot the separation of word balloons in a single panel. This can be useful if you like to break up dialog for effect.

-Let us know where we are- Generally in comics and in films, the first time we see a location, there's a establishing shot letting us know that there's been a scene change, and more importantly where the scene's changed to... this isn't always the case, but most times it is. In your script, whenever you switch a scene, you should make it known.

-Words aren't good or bad... they're powerful. Use them wisely and sparingly- You know how sometimes you'll be reading a comic and you're kind of getting into it and then BAM! You run into like three pages that are just like walls of text and talking heads? It ruins your whole day right? Well maybe not, but another rule of thumb: Try to keep track of how many words you're using per panel. I generally feel that thirty is pushing it and any more kind of becomes unweildy to fit into a panel on a two-tiered six panel page where there's any sort of action. Your mileage may vary, but I severely doubt it.

-What's that look like?- The first time something important shows up, whether it's a person or a magical talking wristwatch, describe it.


Ok, so here are some terms that you should probably know and use.

Worm's Eye View(WEV)- The camera's on the ground and looking up at the subject. Good for making something look big or powerful

Bird's Eye View- The camera's up above and looking down on the subject. Good for making something seem introspective, or give a feeling of unease/being watched

Close up (CU)- The camera's focused in tight on something. Usually something important.

Medium shot- a kind of standard shot where you can see most if not all of the subject. Generally played very straight

Wide shot- The camera's pulled pretty far out from the subject. We can see all of the subject and of fair bit of their surroundings.

Establishing shot(EST.)- a shot establishing location.

-FORMAT-

Ok, so the meat and potatoes of things. HOW DO I WRITE FOR SCRIPT?! Ain't no thang, baby. I'll show you how yours truly formats a script. The meat of the thing goes Page->panels->descriptions/action->dialog


Pg 1 Setting: Hell's Belles: a fine eatery

P1-Establishing shot- We open on a rather bland rectangular building. The exterior's painted a gaudy, stinging purple and the windows are all painted black. A tacky neon sign reads 'Hell's Belles'. There's a lone car in the nearly empty parking lot, A modest green affair. A man walks toward the front door. This is Leon Apostoasy, the greatest salesman in the universe.

P2- The camera closes in and we can see that he's a grizzled blond fellow. He's wearing a tacky plaid shirt  and tan pants.

P3- The interior of Hell's Belles, the camera is facing the door's Leon opens it and sticks his head in.

   Leon: Anybody home?/ I got lots of great crap to sell you.../ I mean unless you're vampires./ Leon HATES vampires

P4- The camera swings around to Leon's point of view and now we can see that Hell's Belles is a sort of Golden Corral style steakhouse. There's a hostess,  standing right in front of us. She's smiling her ass off. Her name tag reads Rae

   Rae: We're not vampires silly, but we don't allow solicitors here/ so I'm going to have to ask you to leave

P5- Leon is now standing just inside the door. He's got an incredulous look on his face.

   Leon: Have to go?! Little girl, do you know who I am? I'm LEON APOSTASY! I killed that hydra in detroit!


P6- Medium shot, as Leon aggresively positions his pointer finger right at the end of Rae's nose. He's angry and sneering.

   Leon: After I sold it some VERY nice bedroom shoes!

        Rae: Get your finger out of my face, sir.




So there you go. If you think I left something out, or you have any questions just post them below and when I awake from the coma I'm about to swim into, I'll answer them!

COMA: ACTIVATE

Offline Alectric

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Re: Script writing crash course
« Reply #1 on: February 26, 2010, 11:00:51 PM »
I recall that Bobby Crosby sketches out a primitive thumbnail for the page as a guide for the artist to go along with his descriptions of each panel, which I think is a great way to clearly get across what you want from the artist.

Offline Funderbunk

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Re: Script writing crash course
« Reply #2 on: February 27, 2010, 07:45:13 AM »
One of the things I learned was not to put too many camera angles and stuff in your script unless they are vital to the scene. That's for the director to figure out.

This was working on film though, but it still holds up pretty well. It works fine if you're the artist yourself, but try not be restraining on what kind of shots you want. If you want something to look intimidating, don't order them to take a worm's eye view, just tell them to make it look intimidating.
I'm so optimistic, my blood type is 'B Positive'!

Offline KidGalactus

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Re: Script writing crash course
« Reply #3 on: February 27, 2010, 12:03:32 PM »
Quote
I recall that Bobby Crosby sketches out a primitive thumbnail for the page as a guide for the artist to go along with his descriptions of each panel, which I think is a great way to clearly get across what you want from the artist.

Oh yeah, this is a very valid approach. If I'm pressed for time or drawing something myself, I often won't work from a full script. I'll just thumbnail all the action and out next to each panel I'll write the dialog.


Quote
One of the things I learned was not to put too many camera angles and stuff in your script unless they are vital to the scene. That's for the director to figure out.

Actually in this situation you are the director. I understand that film directors get this reputation for having fragile egos and don't like being directed by the word jockey. Luckily, you don't have to deal with that guy. And it's probably better for you as a writer to put down what you've in mind for your story as clearly as possible and yes, that does include camera angles as different perspectives give different moods and appearances to scenes. Every camera angle is vital to a scene.

Offline operationremie

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Re: Script writing crash course
« Reply #4 on: April 13, 2010, 10:55:48 PM »
thanks for writing this out. i've been trying to figure out how to write the script for my comic for a while. my last one was done by a friend of mine and he just wrote dialogue, i had to put everything else in and that was kind of a hassle. i'm hoping that i will be able to make my next comic scripts easier than before. of course, i'm sure that i'll be winging most of them as i go.

Offline Gar

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Re: Script writing crash course
« Reply #5 on: April 14, 2010, 03:51:32 AM »
Winging it's a perfectly valid approach  :)

Offline operationremie

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Re: Script writing crash course
« Reply #6 on: April 14, 2010, 07:16:16 AM »
Winging it's a perfectly valid approach  :)

I think the issue that I'm really having is planning out the comic and what's going to be said at first. I have it all in my mind what's going to happen. i don't have a lot of the little story arcs but I know the general basis and how it'll end. so winging the little stuff (and some of the big stuff) seems like a general approach that most people take.

i just hope i can get most of the first month or two done when i officially release it

Offline Rob

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Re: Script writing crash course
« Reply #7 on: April 14, 2010, 09:53:15 AM »
Winging it's a perfectly valid approach  :)

I would have to disagree with my esteemed colleague here.

Winging it is a perfectly valid approach if you have years of experience and some training/education in writing. If you don't have that winging it is usually a massive waste of time. Most people do not have the "instinct" to wing it.

The best method is one of mechanical planning. It only SEEMS like it sucks the life out of your idea.

There is nothing wrong with making a first draft without the outline and the character studies and the bible if you have an idea that's so powerful you want to get it down before you forget something. But then you must do the planning or you will drown in your own thought process.

I've seen it happen. Trust me.

I slept a a Howard Johnson's Express last night.  ::)

Offline Gibson

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Re: Script writing crash course
« Reply #8 on: April 14, 2010, 11:04:41 AM »
Winging it's a perfectly valid approach  :)

I have to disagree with this too, at least in general. Winging it is alright if you're just messing around and you're only looking to have fun, but if you're putting it out to the world in any kind of professional sense, winging it usually just leads to sloppy work. This is especially true if you're doing any kind of serialized comic. Even the comics that I draw myself are scripted out in detail before the pencil touches the page. Granted, I'll often do quick rewrites just as I'm getting ready to pencil, but I always make sure I know what I'm drawing before I draw it.

Offline JGray

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Re: Script writing crash course
« Reply #9 on: April 14, 2010, 01:27:26 PM »
It all depends on what you mean by winging it.

I don't plot out each page in advance at the beginning. When I do that, I tend to lock myself into something that has little room for growth. One of the advantages of a webcomic is you have time to think and plan and plot. To let brilliant flashes of insight burst into your brain.

Flexiblity, on the other hand, allows you to incorporate new ideas as you write. It might be something you hadn't even considered five months ago might be the perfect piece of character development you need now.

Some people need outlines. Some people don't. Experiment and find out which methods work best for you.

On the other hand, always be willing to edit. Go over it all, ask someone else to go over it, too. Spot your mistakes, spot your not-mistakes that can be transformed from so-so ideas to brilliant ones.

Offline operationremie

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Re: Script writing crash course
« Reply #10 on: April 14, 2010, 02:34:08 PM »
i think when i say "wing it," to me it means that you do one or two random comics that don't really have much to do with the story line per say but involve things that could have happened in the main story. sort of like when shortpacked does random batman ones or non-storyline plots. just makes it last longer and lets me get more ideas going, ya know?

Offline Gar

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Re: Script writing crash course
« Reply #11 on: April 15, 2010, 05:53:52 AM »
By 'winging it', I don't mean just sitting down and doing the first thing that comes into your head. As long as you know who your characters are and where the story's going then you're in a strong position to improvise. If you're not strongly story-based then you just need to know who the characters are and be able to come up with scenarios for them to react to.  As long as your characters are consitent you can pretty much do what you like.

My own comic's largely improvised. I know the endgames of the current crop of plots, have ideas for a few key scenes along the way, and a shitload of ideas for gags recorded (my phone has a dictaphone function, which I use a lot.) That said the routes to those key scenes aren't thoroughly mapped out, and the actual script isn't finalised until the dialogue balloons are filled, and some strips I just straight up Marvel-method (Draw a page with characters reacting to each other, and then fill in the dialogue. It's fun!).

I think I'm more of a pure hobbyist than a lot of people here though. I'm in it for the funzies, not the munzies, so my viewpoint will differ to the pros and semi-pros.

Some advice for the winging-it approach though:

1) Keep your individual scenes short. 5-6 strips at the maximum.
A storyline can go on forever, gathering complexity as it goes, but a couple of people talking in the kitchen shouldn't take a year of your strip. If they're talking about someone else, cut to whoever they're talking about, if they're talking about going to the movies, jump cut to the movie theatre and change the conversation topic etc. etc. Staying in one place for too long is an easy trap to fall into. You can always revisit a topic later if you want to - Neko the Kitty, for example, employs many fine poop jokes.

2) Keep your characters in character.
A really relaxed character shouldn't punch someone in the face unless they've got a damn good reason. If you establish a character as a douchebag, he can't be nice without an ulterior motive unless something's really on his mind. Nobody's in one mood all the time, but try and give everyone a baseline you can work around. Like plot, characters also gather subtlety and complexity over time.

3) Remember your own comic.
Go through your archives every once in a while. Knowing what's happened already gives you a notion of what should happen next and a good idea of how your characters are developing organically. Once you've got a bit of an archive going you'll also be able to pick up on little plot hooks, elements you can bring back, relationships between characters that can be developed and potential running gags and callbacks.

4) Name check your characters every couple of strips.
This is more a technical thing than a general writing tip, but I think it's important. People's names don't come up all that often in regular conversation, so it's easy to forget to put them in a the strip. It doesn't have to be in every sentence addressed to each character, but knowing a character's name helps the audience think of them as a real person, and you want to reinforce that.

5) Trust your ability to come up with something.
This kind of pairs up with not lingering on the same scene for too long. Winging it makes the whole endeavor a rolling 'what happens next?' game. If you build in cliffhangers as you go (even small ones) then you've got a jumping-off point for the next bit to start. Remember to end each action before you begin a new action, but don't stay on any one thing for too long unless it's a big dramatic climax that you absolutely NEED to spread out over dozens of strips. Even then, see if you can split that into little scenes within the big Scene so that you've got a discrete gag/action/dramatic/cute moment in each strip.

6) Have some idea what's going to happen next, and what's going to happen after that.
This doesn't need to be very specific or definite, but knowing what the goal of the current story is and a rough idea of what you want to do next gives your hindbrain plenty of time to work on them without you even realising it. Let's make up a little story:

Say Zoe's graduating high school soon and she's looking to go to college, after graduation maybe she gets a summer job. She could meet a boy, let's call him Angst. She doesn't like him at first, but he is mysterious and intriguing and they gradually warm up to each other. Angst reveals he's secretly a mystical knight or something and they could go off and fight a dragon for some reason (come up with something!)

This is just a quick scenario off the top of my head, which could be turned into about a year worth of comics. Establish Zoe - Graduation/Applying for colleges - Looking for work - Meet Angst - Relationship bulding - Secrets revealed - Quest. Quite a few short arcs there, and you can just keep rolling with it.

Maybe Angst gets his torso bitten off, but Zoe manages to kill the dragon on her own and learn something important about herself in the process...but now how is she supposed to get all this treasure home?! Once the treasure is secure, does she invest it wisely or blow it all on gummi bears? Let's say she still wants to go to college. The course is tough, but she's got a big heap of treasure, so she doesn't really need to worry about a career. She's happy enough hanging out with her new college friends, but is kind of lacking direction... and how come she's so itchy all the time? Are those...scales growing on her back? HOLY SHIT SHE JUST SNEEZED FIRE! The treasure is cursed and she's turning into a dragon! Now she's got to break the curse before some other plucky young adventurer chops her head off and/or some mysterious dark force tries to kill her and become the dragon on purpose! Oh No, the mysterious dark force is Angst and that was his plan all along!!!

OK, I got a bit carried away there, I was having fun, sorry. You get my point though, you can make shit up. Getting to the next plot point is a matter of sorting out the how and why it's going to happen, and you can make that up as you go along. As long as you make sure your characters and world are internally consistent you'll be fine.

There's plenty of branches in that little story where it can diverge into something else too. Maybe Angst is the boy who makes Zoe realise she's gay and none of the dragon stuff ends up actually happening. The audience won't miss it because they didn't know that's what you were going towards originally, and now you've got the self-realization story to do, the experimentation phase, falling in love, coming out to her parents etc. etc. If the story's one step ahead in your mind, catching up isn't so hard, and neither is keeping that one step ahead. Even if you decide to go a completely different direction than you originally planned, there'll still be little hooks in the existing strips that you can call back to and build upon no matter which direction you decide to take!

It's like playing with lego. Get all your blocks the right shape and you can fit them together to make whatever you want. It doesn't matter if what started as a castle ends up being a rocketship as long as all the pieces fit together.

You could have it all carefully planned and scripted in advance, you're still using the same lego, but you're following a blueprint rather than just playing with it. You can still end up with a cool model (It's a torture chamber for metaphors!), but that's just not how I roll.  

« Last Edit: April 15, 2010, 10:07:16 AM by Gar »

Offline Gibson

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Re: Script writing crash course
« Reply #12 on: April 15, 2010, 11:59:59 AM »
I've never seen such a complex system for winging it.

Offline JGray

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Re: Script writing crash course
« Reply #13 on: April 15, 2010, 01:41:51 PM »
Winging it... well done "improvising" as it were is nothing of the sort, really. It is a subconsious collection of steps much like what was presented above.

Offline Gar

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Re: Script writing crash course
« Reply #14 on: April 15, 2010, 04:18:53 PM »
Winging it... well done "improvising" as it were is nothing of the sort, really. It is a subconsious collection of steps much like what was presented above.

Exactly, it's all done in your head rather than on bits of paper or by typing it out. There's no defined method to it, I was just trying to illustrate the mental process. "Winging it" isn't the same thing as "doing it half-assed".