By Matt O’Keefe
There is only one right way to properly script a movie. If you don’t follow the established template, your script won’t be taken seriously. It needs to have the correct font, margins, line breaks, etc.to be accepted by studios or writing workshops. Comic scripts, on the other hand, have no such limitations. As shown on the Comic Book Script Archive, writers script their comics in a number of different styles. Below are five ways authors can tell their stories.
Word Processor — Established Template
While there is no universally recognized format for scripting comics, there are certain existing templates endorsed by industry professionals. Former Marvel editor Andy Schmidt and Book Club Manager Paul Allor created a comic script template for Schmidt’s Comics Experience online courses. Click here to download a copy.
This is a good choice for writers looking for something that is, above all else, reliable. It’s unlikely an editor would be displeased by a format supported by someone as respected as Schmidt. His Comics Experience template is strongly suited for someone who isn’t looking to reinvent the wheel.
Word Processor — Custom Format
Most comic book writers like to add some of their own flair when formatting their scripts. Fred Van Lente shares his personal scripting style here. Thanks to Jim Zub for referencing it in one of his invaluable tutorials.
Sometimes a pre-established template, no matter how thorough and well thought out, won’t offer a way for a writer to incorporate a new or uncommon technique in his or her script. The most obvious solution is to customize your scripting style so that it can do what you need it to do.
Marvel heavyweight Brian Michael Bendis, among other writers, uses screenwriting software to script his comics. The biggest benefit, as Bendis says in his Tumblr post, is that it encourages you to keep writing. The software auto-formats as you write and remembers character names and settings.
The downside is that neither Hollywood standard Final Draft nor other screenwriting options have a well-regarded comic scripting format, so you have to essentially design your own template. In this author’s opinion, there are ways to script a comic that are equally effective without the extra hassle.
Scrivener has always flown under the radar, but it’s one of the most versatile writing programs out there. For writers in any medium, the software is a valuable tool because of its adaptability and export options. More to the point, Scrivener has a great comic script template designed by Antony Johnston. The author of Umbral, Wasteland, and Umbral explains the benefits and potential of Scrivener better than I could ever hope to.
NOTE: Robert Marland recently developed a downloadable template inspired by Van Lente’s scripting style that auto-formats and is usable in Microsoft Word. You can view and download it here. It looks great, but is fairly new so it hasn’t yet been incorporated into established software like Johnston’s has. At least not yet.
ComiXwriter launched a Kickstarter campaign in June of 2013 to fund development costs for what it calls “the first software solely dedicated to writing scripts for comic books and graphic novels.” It promises to include features such as the ability to make notations on the page and automated pages, panel numbers, spacing, etc. that allow you focus on story, not format.
Two aspects promised in the fundraiser separate ComixWriter from a program like Scrivener. One is its collaborating function, which offers easy side-by-side viewing of the script and the artwork. The other is the inclusion of several already-installed comic-scripting templates, as opposed to just one. If it delivers what the Kickstarter promised, it could be the most intuitive and effective way to script comics. I interviewed one of its creators, Glenn Farrington, to learn more. Look for that discussion soon.