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Writing

7 Tips for Writing Your First Comic Book

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Feb 11, 2020 • 3 min read

Stop and think about every literary element that feels essential to a novel, short story, or screenplay. Perhaps your mind immediately goes to a compelling plot, steady character development, a classic three-act structure, or vivid worldbuilding. All of those elements are indeed important to traditional fiction, and they matter just as much in another medium: the comic book format.

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7 Tips for Writing Your First Comic Book

If you’ve brainstormed story ideas and are ready to start writing your own comic book, here are some key pointers and writing tips that will help you master the artform:

  1. Surround yourself with a brilliant team. Writing comics is very much a group effort. Anyone who knows how to write a comic book can tell you that it’s a collaborative process. The team that puts together comic books (as well as graphic novels, manga, webcomics, and other forms of sequential art) include editors, comic artists and illustrators, letterers, and colorists.
  2. Trust your collaborators. Comics are an inherently collaborative art form, and a lot of people’s opinions and time schedules will be involved. Unless you plan to execute literally every part of the process yourself—from writing the full script to illustrating and inking to self-publishing—you will need to team up with others and respect their input. If you’ve assembled a smart and creative team, your colleagues’ opinions will make your final product that much better.
  3. Understand basic story structure. Audiences expect the same elements from a comic script that they would expect from a traditional book, movie, or narrative podcast. In addition to a clear beginning, middle, and end, essential story elements include: a central narrative (or A-story) supplemented by optional subplots (or B-stories), character development; precise, carefully considered dialogue and narration; and thematic messaging (particularly popular in superhero comics). Comic book writers are typically well-versed in three-act structure.
  4. Plan a story that can be serialized. A comic book author must be mindful of the ways that the comic book script format differs from other narrative forms. Traditionally comic scripts like Superman, The Amazing Spider-Man, and The Incredible Hulk appeared in serialized fashion, with a new four-panel script debuting each day in the newspaper followed by a more substantive installment on Sundays. This gave way to standalone comic books, but these were also serialized. Storylines would rise and fall, but the overall world conjured up by the comic book creator would exist in seeming perpetuity. Even in today’s media landscape, writing for comics typically means breaking your story into installments, so think in those terms as you generate story ideas.
  5. Use the form to its fullest potential. A comic book has a lot of stylistic elements that simply aren’t present in other forms of fiction. Things like a script, panels, gutters, splashes, spreads, narrative captions, and speech bubbles are idiomatic to comics but aren’t commonly found in other media. If you’re writing a humorous comic in the style of Archie, Dog Man, or Scott Pilgrim, you’ll want to find ways to use these tools for comic effect. If you’re writing a horror comic, arrange your panels and spreads in ways that amplify suspense and surprise.
  6. Rely on key archetypes. When it comes to outlining and scriptwriting, it’s wise to think about what has led to success in past comic book series. Superhero fiction is particularly popular, and it focuses on protagonists with superhuman capabilities. Making comics in the superhero genre often involves elements such as: a dramatic origin story for the main character (Superman came from another planet, Spider-Man was activated by a spider bite); secret identities (Batman is really Bruce Wayne, Superman’s alias is Clark Kent); a supervillain adversary like Joker, Green Goblin, or Loki; and trusty sidekicks (Batman has Robin and Captain America has Bucky Barnes).
  7. Play with genre. Some comic books straddle the line between comedy and superhero fiction—think of series like Deadpool or The Tick. If you’re writing a comic like that, you will need to incorporate elements of both superhero and comedy formats. These hybrid-tone comics can be the most difficult to pull off, but they often yield the most impressive final results.

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