When I get ready to work on my webcomic, I sit down, unpack my previous pages I’m using for reference, and whip out my most essential tool: my script. In its easy to read format, the script allows me to see exactly what is going on in the panel and makes finding who is in the scene easy. Sips coffee. Ah, nothing’s better than a pretty comic book script.
How do I format a comic book script?
The easiest way to learn is by googling other comic book scripts and using them as an example to format your work. There are formatting programs out there that make this process easy and quick so you can have a beautiful-looking script in no time. If you are an author working on a comic project where you aren’t the artist, having a properly formatted script is ESSENTIAL. There are certain comic book teams, like Jim Palmiotti and Amanda Conner, the killer husband and wife combo behind New 52 Harley Quinn, who hardly write a script at all. This does not work for everyone, and if you’re handing off your comic script to an author you don’t know, you have to have to be 100% clear, otherwise, the comic won’t turn out as you envisioned it in your head.
What should I use to format my script?
The first step is to do some research. You can easily find scripts for a lot of different comics and can look at their formatting for guidance. At that point, though, formatting a comic in Microsoft Word or Google Docs is going to SUCK. There are so many center justifications, margins, and character names that need to be rewritten and formatted, which can take YEARS if you don’t have the proper software to back you up.
My software of choice for formatting scripts is Celtx. I was using it way back when it was still a downloadable software. Now, it’s all online and they have script options for film, games, and comics, which is AWESOME! Under their free plan, you can only have so many scripts, so I’m planning on upgrading to work on other projects. You can unlock all of their script editing services for only $15 a month, which ends up coming out to $180 a year. Their editor makes it so incredibly easy to format your script at the click of a button. Writing comics has literally never been easier, and I cannot recommend this software enough. On top of that, you can export your comics into beautiful PDFs to send off to your artists that are easy to read, and that’s what matters. Your artists will know exactly what’s going on each page and what you had in mind for your scenes.
When should I format my script?
The easy answer is you should NEVER not format your script. When sending this script off to an editor for the three stages of editing (YES, these still apply for comics!), it will be a literal nightmare for them if your script isn’t formatted up to industry standards. It will take them days longer to go through your script due to inconsistent or hard to read formatting, and that will cost you both time and money. Save yourself some heartache and your editor some headache by formatting your script.
Not only will your editor thank you, but your script will look STUNNING if you present it to anyone. If you’re trying to get funding for a comic on Kickstarter, for example, having an easy-to-read script will make it enjoyable for your audience to want to pledge to your cause. When presenting your script to a comic publisher, they will appreciate the fact that they can read your comic with ease. This will earn you major bonus points and most likely increase your chances of getting published that way. If a publisher sees a script that is impossible to read, they will immediately throw it in the trash. It’s not mean; it’s just the way of life.
How should I format my script?
Here is an example from my comic Heaven’s Equal:
Already, formatting this in Word was a huge pain in the butt. Never again. Using the Celtx software, it automatically formatted it for me so all I needed to worry about was writing. There are a few essential elements in a comic book script: Page, Panel, Caption, Character, Balloon, and Balloon Type.
Page speaks for itself. Unless you have some kind of page title, I tend to leave this blank. I do use it to denote my chapters when writing so that every page under a specific chapter has the same header in the exported script.
Panel is exactly what it sounds like. Every panel should come with a description of what is going on in the panel. This is where you put fluff to visualize your scene for the artist to draw. Be careful to not include too much in each panel.
Caption is the sound or caption associated with that panel. In my example, the sound goes with with Sun Wukong drawing his weapon. These can also be the “Later That Day” captions you see often in superhero comics.
Character is who is speaking at the moment. Celtx is amazing and will auto-store your characters for you, so when typing, you can simply start to fill in the character’s name and press the “enter” key to have Celtx autocomplete it. This saves immeasurable amounts of time.
Balloon is what goes in the dialogue bubble. You never want to fit more than 30 words in a specific bubble, otherwise, it will get too crowded on your page.
Balloon type is often associated with how a character is speaking. Are they shouting? Are they whispering? I’ll also use this to denote when a character off panel is speaking so the word bubble doesn’t point at anything.
With all of these combined, you can create an incredible script. The script will be formatted to your liking and your eyes will thank you!
Who should format your script?
If you don’t want to format your script, there is a chance that there is an editor out there who may do it for you. I could maybe be persuaded to format a script, for example. Most likely, however, you will have to do it yourself. I’ve never seen someone offer those particular services, but it doesn’t hurt to ask. Most editors are not comic writers, so unless you find an editor specifically for comics, they may turn you down.
Formatting a script is nothing to be scared of! With the power of software, it’s quick, easy, and painless. You can save yourself a lot of time by starting in Celtx and writing your script there right off the bat. I wouldn’t even mess around with Word or other word processors just because they’re not cut out for the job. The reason comic scripts look the way they do is because of the era of the typewriter. Early DC comic writers didn’t have the luxury of a word processor, so the majority of the reason formatting is the way it is is thanks to the ability to physically move the typewriter. Because Word is not designed to accommodate for this, formatting can be a huge pain. Save yourself the trouble and use software that is equipped for the job.
With the right tools and a little determination, you’ll have the prettiest script at the ball! Nothing is more satisfying than looking professional, and with a little work, your script can easily impress others. Your editors will thank you, your artists will thank you, and you will thank you. Comic writing is a little less complex than prose writing simply due to the fact that you’re not writing nearly as much prose. Comics are simply descriptive because they are a visual media. With that in mind, you can bang out a story quickly when using software like Celtx. Once you know the elements that belong in the script and where they should go, the only thing that will limit you is your imagination. So… what are you waiting for? Get to work on your next comic already!