WORDS WITH DALE: Strip Script

So last Friday I talked about how we bat ideas around for Luci Phurr's Imps.  After that, I go away and work out how to make the idea work.

Now this isn't just sitting down and thinking about actually writing down the vague ideas.  I have to think about the pacing.  What to show and what not to show.  While it might seem that I have to set EVERYTHING out, that isn't the case.  Readers are smart…. and I've been lucky enough to attract really smart readers.  So I can make the odd leap here and there with the confidence that the readers will know that while we didn't show a specific scene, it was pretty clear what happened.

Of course, the BIG jumps in narrative tend to happen BETWEEN strips, but there are also leaps I can take within a single strip.  If I included everything it woud get terribly boring.

To illustrate the basics…. and I want to stress this is VERY basic (because I've work with Court on several projects and we've developed a very easy working back-and-forth, I know where I can leave things to him to pick up the slack) here is a sample script I made specifically to show the process.

So what does this all mean?

Well, obviously you can read this, and (like I said before) because you're a smart reader, you can get an idea of how the strip will work, simply by looking at this script page.

I've high-lighted a couple of specific points of interest.

1 – The Title.  Dur!  Again, the simplified layout here is something to keep in mind.  If this were with a different artist, or it were set-up for a specific publisher, I would include a lot more information here.  The project title, the story/specific strip title, possibly my name and some contact iformation.  All that stuff would go up there at the top.

2 – I want to clearly indicate the panels.  The sections of the comic strip.  These might be scenes, or they might be a sequence that put together, make a scene.  But I want to make sure they are clearly indicated.  Additionally I need to keep in mind exactly what an artist can show in a single panel.  Obviously in a comic book, there are different sized panels, so knowing that is key…. but in a strip, things tend to stay fairly uniform.  That said, even if I had LOTS of space, I couldn't put the following in a panel:

Dale hears a noise, turns and sees the looming shadow of Court in the doorway.  It's reckoning time and Dale knows it.  He grabs a two handed sword and charges Court.

While technically this happens on a near daily basis in the Luci Phurr's Imps Studio, that is way too much action for one panel.  What is set down there is probably somewhere between four and seven panels-worth of action.

3 – You'll notice that the description here is almost non-existent.  There are a couple of reasons for this:

  • I know the style of the art that will be used for this strip and it will be minimal, so while it might be a wonderful exercise for me to describe the scene in detail, even down to the small vase of flowers on a shelf and how many petals are on each stem, it'd be a waste of time…. it wouldn't fit the style of the stip.
  • Second, as we've hit a bunch of times, by the time we get to this stage, Court knows EXACTLY what everyone looks like and I know that too.  In light of that, what would be the point of me going into details about what the Dale Character looks like?  So we cut to the really important stuff.

Now in fairness, I always try to leave as much room for the artist to flex creatively, as I can.  But if there is an important detail that is specific to the plot, you can bet it will be in the script.  And it goes without saying, if I'm writing a script with an artist I don't have a history with, descriptions will be more detailed…. but even then I will always send a note to the artist to make them aware if they see a scene playing out, visually, in a different way, they should follow that.  It is the artists' job to make it all look good and tell the story in a visually compelling manner…. I'd be an idiot not to use that.

4 – While technically not dialog, this is something I want handled, probably by the letterer.  Regardless of whether that happens or the artist handles that, you can see that this is clearly an important element that I want to emphasized in some way.  Like I said, I stay loose, but important things are clearly stated.  

5 – You'll see that I also clearly indicate what parts of the script are dialog.  Some comic scripts number the chunks of dialog, allowing the artist to roughly plan and leave space for a set amount of words.  The actual amount of words I can use here is also something that can be overlooked.  It doesn't matter how clever the dialog I put in the mouth of a character is, if there's not enough space to include them, it's a waste.  I ALWAYS need to keep in mind the visual aspect.

A kicker here (though with the simple style of something like Behind the Imps (which is the style of this strip) it's less of an issue) is that sometimes the art is just delightful…. and if I'm the one doing the lettering, it becomes a real headache, because I feel terrible covering ANY of the art with words.  (This happens a LOT on Luci Phurr's Imps.)

6 – As you can see here, really this is one chunk of dialog, but I split it across two panels to make sure we don't have an enormous hunk of words and hardly any art.  While I say in the script, "Similar to previous panel." clearly the artist can riff on what is being said in that panel and add expressions or gestures to the art that reflect the dialog.  If I wanted the character to be doing something specific while talking, I'd include it…. but I don't, so I don't tie the hands of the artist.

7 – The last point here is the beat panel.  Obviously I don't want to waste ANY panel, but sometimes I do want a panel in there where nothing is really happening, but the characters are pondering the events of the strip and the reader gets a chance to do the same, or savor the moment of anticipation before the final pay-off.  Obbviously here, that "beat" or "pause" is just before the end of the strip, which has the pay-off (such as it is), but this could pretty much go anywhere you want to emphasize what follows.

Granted, this is a rough script, but it gives you an idea.

With Luci Phurr's Imps related projects, I send the script off to the Editor, and she goes through the script and makes sure I'm doing things right.  This is NOT just about looking for typos.  It's my job to avoid those…. and while they DO happen occasionally, I am not looking for the editor to save me there.  The editor is looking to make sure everything makes sense and that I am not drifting away from the core ideas, concepts or characterizations.  From there, it goes to the artist…. in this case, Court.

Next Friday see what Court does with this and how I finish off the strip.  And you will get a chance to see EXACTLY how he works it, because we've set up a little video that will allow you the chance to almost sit on his shoulder while he works.

  1. Wow, this looks so simple, but it is elegantly done. Thanks for showing the thought process and also all the considerations you take into account when writing. It's lovely and I can hardly wait to see what Court does next Friday.

    • In fairness, there is a lot glossed over in this example.

      The key to the whole thing is that you wanna make sure the script is as clear as possible for the poeple who will follow.  It occasionally happens, but I try to avoid getting a message from someone down the line that says something along the lines of, "Y'know in this scene on that page…?  What exactly did you mean?"

      But it does give you an basic idea of how, at least for Luci Phurr's Imps related projects, we work the process.

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