How to create a Graphic Novel?

I started my first graphic novel. I plan to write it and illustrate it. Full of enthusiasm and excitement I sat down with my idea and………stopped.

  • Do I start with creating the images or should I begin by writing the story?
  • Do I divide my story into chunks and work on it in sections?
  • How do I write the story? As a novel or as a film script with the panels by its side?
  • Should I begin with the characters?
  • Do I outline the plot?
  • Maybe I should create a Mindmap?

Thankfully I have a couple of individuals in my family who are Graphic Novel enthusiasts and keen Comic readers. After a rummage through their book archives I was presented with a few gems, which I plan to share with you here.

Stan Lee’s How To Write Comics

Yes, I’m starting with one of the Grand Daddies of comic creators – Stan Lee. In this book he provides would-be comic creators with his ready and tested knowledge of what to consider when writing for Comics.

Plot First Method – The Marvel Way.

Stan Lee developed a Plot First Style he coined as The Marvel Way, where he would give artists a broad outline of the story and then add the dialogue after the artist’s drawings were completed. It wasn’t unusual for Lee to phone an artist and leave them with the story plot points, expecting a set of drawings with a completed story asap. He encouraged the artists to make suggestions for further plot ideas and develop his . Lee’s was a fast-paced, intense and lively approach to comic writing. The secretary he appointed to keep track during the plot development sessions said that meetings between Lee, his fellow writers and the artists were dynamic events. During these meetings Lee could be seen gesticulating energetically and leaping on and off the furniture as a plot idea unfolded.

And it certainly worked! In this book Lee provides several real examples of short two or three lines plot ideas he gave to the artist and then the stunning art work he was sent back.

The DC Comics Guide to Writing Comics

Having started with the Marvel Way, I must be fair and now describe DC Comics’ approach. In this excellent book Dennis O’Neil provides the reader with a range of methods for writing scripts. He gives an overview of Stan Lee’s Plot First approach and then explains the Full Script approach to writing.

Full Script Method

O’Neil explains that writers who follow the Full Script Method produce manuscripts that resemble film and television scripts. These documents will include sometimes highly detailed information of the plot and will include:

  • descriptions of the visual content of the panels
  • any captions
  • thought balloons
  • the characters – what they are saying and doing
  • pages with all the verbal and visual information needed to create the final print.

Plot First v Full Script Method

In O’neil’s book provides the reader with a succinct list of advantages for the two methods outlined above:

Full Script

  1. The writer has full control of the story – the pacing, the plot elements.
  2. The writer directs the artist.
  3. This method allows the writer to improve on the original idea – they can return to a point in the plot and easily improve or change it without impacting anyone, eg, penciller.
  4. The writer is not reliant on others to get work done.

Plot First

  1. There is more flexibility in this method than with Full Script. Any omissions by pencillers or others can be quickly remedied.
  2. Writers can be inspired by something an artist has created, eg a facial expression, something in the background, a character’s stance.
  3. Lazy writers can bounce ideas off others, use others’ ideas and sometimes just let the Pencillers do their work for them.

Plot First AND Full Script

Both Stan Lee and Dennis O’Neil understand that there is a variation where both methods are used together. Usually this combining of the two methods is used by writers who can draw – or the other way around.

O’Neil holds Archie Goodwin’s work as an example of where this combination works perfectly. Archie Goodwin would begin by sketching out an entire story on paper first and then add the script on additional pieces of paper. Goodwin created some exceptional books by using this method.

If you’re lucky enough to know an artist or a writer who is willing to work with you on a book/comic, the Plot First approach would be a great way to start a new book. In particular this method is useful if the plot is loose and has space for flexibility and changes. However, if you have a story with a clear plot, characters ending and setting it may that the Full Script method might be best suited.

As I am planning to write and illustrate my graphic novel I decided to go with the Full Script method.

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