Writing Process for a Graphic Novel

Posted: June 27, 2011 in Graphic Novel, Nyctalopia, Womanthology

When I sit down to write  Nyctalopia, the graphic novel I am writing, my writing process is very different from that of a short story or novel-writing. The only similarity is that it still starts with prose. I begin as if I am writing a story, but with the idea in my head that pictures will take place of the descriptions. I focus a lot on describing the scenes from the beginning. Dialogue rarely factors into the beginnings, knowing that as the process goes along, I will add dialogue based on my artist’s drawings. I keep tidbits in the back of my mind, and as I continue writing the story, the dialogue begins when I need it to. Sometimes it’s a matter of needing to see the drawings first before I know what the characters will say, or sometimes they really don’t have anything to say and I would rather have narrative in that panel. But I am getting ahead of myself here. In the beginning, I don’t think in terms of panels but more in telling the story. I just need to get the story out on the page, trying to make scenes that I want a certain way as vivid as possible, leaving others with less description because I’m unsure how exactly I want it to look, and what I need from the beginning is the bones of the story, with some bits of fat hanging from them. This is my first draft. Occasionally, my artist sees them. In fact, she drew the first 5 pages of Nyctalopia from prose, not script. My first draft is messy, filled with typos and errors, but it’s still a story. These first drafts are usually handwritten, although they are occasionally typed as I sit on the floor, glorified typewriter on my lap, with a cup of coffee next to me. I finish the scene or the short story or the page in prose form, breathe a sigh of relief and walk away from it. I’ll work on something else, or work on a different character’s scene but I always leave it to sit for a while, even if it’s just a few hours (but more likely a few days, or a week, it depends on how much my artist has done and how soon she needs the pages).

I revisit the pages and start the script. I go through the prose, editing the typos, writing notes in the margins for changes I want or crossing out entire sections altogether. I start writing out the script, going through each panel and describing the scene in detail. Occasionally, I’ll only write a bit about what is going on, knowing my artist can draw that particular scene better than I can describe it with words. As much as I love words, sometimes a picture says so much more, showing an idea in all its glory, full color, in a way that my words can’t capture. That’s the point of a graphic novel though isn’t it? If the words worked better, well… there wouldn’t be the need for the pictures. My script is her guideline, but it’s really a way for me to understand the layout of the scene and see the flow of the pages before I see the pages. I fully expect that my artist will take the panels and draw them the way I want them, but change it up. She may take my script for one page and turn it into two pages, or she might combine panels together into one. She will call me if she thinks something should actually be changed, but I expect her to bring the pages to life in her own way. It might be my words, but it’s our story.  I’ll write what I think the character will say, or think, or narrate, or the sound effects. This helps me see the panel in its entirety, and it also gives my artist a story to read.

Once I have the draft of the script finished to my liking, I send it off to my artist and wait, talking to her about anything she needs changed or any clarification. She sketches it out and sends me the sketch or comes over so we can go through the pages together. I tell her if I want anything different, but that’s pretty rare, and then I take copies of the sketch pages and start writing all over them as she works on the finals. I decide loosely where I want the text, now that I have the images to work from. These pages get scribbled on, and maybe one day I will remember to do this part in pencil so that I can erase. I change wording, give new dialogue altogether or leave it as I wanted it. I might give these pages to my artist, but usually I wait for the finals to do my final draft. I fill in the text, send it off to her and let her put it in and finally have a finished page (hopefully).

What is the point in going through all this? Well, if you are like me, I actually like to read about other’s processes, but I also had another motivation. We (my artist and I) are currently working on a project for Womanthology. This will be a short story, 3-4 pages in length and I have been writing out a few of my ideas. I write them as prose, using the same method, but as a whole story, not just a scene or chapter. These stories, just like Nyctalopia, start with a lot of description. These are my first drafts, before I take the pen to them and turn them into scripts for my artist. I decided I wanted to share them on this blog, in all the first draft glory that goes along with them, so that I could invite feedback and comments, share my work with my fellow creators and anyone else who cares to read them, and hopefully make a decision. The first one will be up in the next day or two, followed by another when I have it finished. I wanted to share the process as a sort of apology for the roughness of the stories. First drafts are never the prettiest. Read, comment, and don’t forget to check out the Womanthology page to see what the project is all about.

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Comments
  1. ~c says:

    coooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooool!

    i’m glad i’m not the only doing several drafts before i/we get what we want 😀

    love
    your aritist!

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