A Few Rough Rules Of Thumb For Writing Comics / Graphic Novels

  1. You can do anything you want except bore your audience.
  2. Every panel is a frozen moment in time.  It is static, not moving; a snapshot, not a film clip.  A character can do A in a panel, then do B in the next panel, but cannot do A then B in the same panel (unless the script states the character is seen in multiple poses in one panel).
  3. Try not to have more than four major story points on a given page (the previous example has two:  The miner emptying the cart and the outlaws attacking).
  4. Use emotional words to help convey a sense of mood to the artist; this is more helpful that exacting technical descriptions (tho obviously there are times when such detail will be necessary).
  5. A typical American style comic book page has 5 – 6 panels, a Japanese style manga has 3 – 4.  American comics tend to be more plot oriented, manga-style comics tend to be more mood & character oriented.
  6. You can do more than 6 panels per page (WATCHMEN famously laid out all its pages in variants of a 9-panel grid), but it tends to make the story a bit more cramped & claustrophobic (which is fine if that’s your intent).
  7. Ideally an American style comic should have no more than 35 words per panel, 200 words per page.  This includes dialog and captions and titles and sound effects (including symbols used in place of dialog as “…..” or “#%@&”).  Limiting your dialog to 25 words per panel is much, much better.  (Obviously, you can use more if you’re looking for a specific effect.)
  8. Manga should have no more than 25 words per panel, ideally 12 or less, for a total of 60 per page.  (Again, exceptions for specific effects.)
  9. By “words” we mean anything that conveys a written element of the story in that panel.  A sign in the background that says “Gas & Food” is not counted against the panel word count if it is not conveying a crucial plot point.  If it is, then it counts.  (In other words, if you can cover it up and not lose anything, it doesn’t apply against the word count.)
  10. If two or more characters are speaking in a panel, American artists tend to put the first speaker on the left hand side of the panel, then the second, etc.  In large or in vertical panels, the first speaker tends to be at the top.
  11. It is better to start / end scenes on the first / last panels of a page than in mid-page (but nobody will arrest you if you don’t).
  12. Remember Rule #1:  Keep it & nothing else matters.

Creating Christian Graphic Novels

Script Writing For Comics / Graphic Novels