How to Format a Script

How to format a comics script (article) - Fred Van Lente

Scripting programs (article) - Josh Flanagan

Scripting (podcast) - Dirty Old Ladies

Alright, your story is well outlined and you’re ready to start on your scripts. So… what does a script look like anyways?

There are many different ways to format a script. Different publishers expect different formats so make sure to look into each publisher’s requirements before you submit to them.

Ex. Dark Horse’s script format.

If you’re looking for references, Comics Experience and Scripts and Scribes have fantastic lists of scripts from creators such as Alan Moore, Brian K. Vaughan, Grant Morrison and many, many more:

If you want to see how I format my scripts, check out my template. I like to label panels within a page as 1.1, 1.2, 1.3 so it’s easy to talk about them with artists and editors. When I say panel 4.5, everyone knows I mean page 4, panel 5. It also makes searching for them much easier. Type ctrl + f, then 4.5 and you’re there!

Do I Need To Write A Script If I’m Doing The Art?

If you’re drawing your own story, your scripts will often only be seen by yourself. In this situation a script is primarily for the sake of organizing your ideas so that they can be drawn later. Some artists already have a good idea of what they want in their panels so they don’t write scripts at all. As always, I encourage you to do what works best for you.

That said, I think it’s beneficial to write a script for your stories. It’s a helpful way to keep track of your ideas and make sure you’re fulfilling all your promises (remember the M.I.C.E. quotient!).

Many publishers require applications to have a written script so if you plan on submitting, make sure you read up on the requirements of each publisher.

If you feel like it would just be a waste of time, don’t bother writing a script. If you’re just being lazy, help yourself out by putting in the effort to make a better story.

Writing Panel Descriptions

When writing panel descriptions, it’s important to remember that you’re writing for an artist, and not your audience. Leave the fancy prose writing to novelists. As a comic writer, your goal should be to write in a straightforward manner, painting a clear image of what you want drawn in that panel.

This can be summarized in two points: Be brief and avoid ambiguity.

Writing “Jane gazes up at the large, cold rock in the sky floating above her” is unnecessarily complex compared to “Jane looks up at the moon longingly”. In the second example, the artist should have no problem understanding what’s to be drawn. This isn’t to say you can’t be colourful with your descriptions, or include details like the way a character does something, or what feelings you want to evoke from a panel. Just make sure that whatever you do end up describing is unambiguous for the artist.

Another point to remember is that you don’t have to describe every little detail of a panel (unless you’re Alan Moore). I’ve seen plenty of scripts go on and on, diving deep into minute details of the panel. Does it really matter if your character is looking down at a 35 degree angle with their sleeves rolled three quarters of the way up their arm? Overly descriptive panels can end up restricting the art, detracting from the actual important elements of a panel. Remember that artists are creators too. While you may have a specific idea for a panel, often your artist will have equally great ideas as to what will work best for the panel or the page as a whole. Also, the more restrictions you give them the harder it will be to execute cleanly. Leaving them some room to express their artistic abilities will often result in more natural feeling panels. Focusing your descriptions on what matters most in a panel helps the artist understand the core elements of what you really want to convey.

That said, make sure to always explicitly describe any part of a scene or character that will be important for continuity later on. If on page 5 you describe a character turning to look out the window but didn’t describe the window on page 1 of the scene, your artist might have already drawn the room without windows… no good.

Ultimately it’s up to you to decide how in depth you want to go with your panel descriptions. Every artist has their own preferences so I encourage you to talk with yours and figure out together what works best for you. Don’t be afraid to communicate!