Writing for Comics pt. 1 – my Rule of Six

Alright, I’ve resolved to myself to update this a great deal more often than I have in the past – due to my inspirational sister, Lauren, who is currently applying some cyber jiu-jitsu to her blog in order to post pictures. She’s taken the blog thing and really gone with it; I think the only natural response is good-natured sibling rivalry.

In any case, I know that every comic book writer, editor, artist, et cetera debates the proper format of the script. There are many approaches and variations, but the end result is the same: A nice, straightforward explanation of panel-by-panel action for a twenty-two (or four) page book.

Am I specifically qualified – not having been published yet – to write about this, when there are writers who’ve put out scores of books? Of course not. I’m approaching this in the same way that a student in a Master’s program is entitled to present their research, and have it debated.

First off, right out the gate: Less is more.

Less text, less panels, less dialogue, less actions. I’m fully aware that comics have a reputation for being visually (or textually) dense, but I find that a more minimal approach works the best. The actions should leap off the page without confusing the reader, and the text should compliment – not frustrate – the relationship it has with the image. Finally, I have a personal “Rule of Six“:

Wherever possible, I keep it under six panels. And sometimes, even less.

Visually, this creates a more cohesive presentation. The eye can only keep track of so many elements, otherwise it gets overwhelmed – in a bad way. (You want to draw your readers in, not alienate them; so cut out the twelve-panels-a-page-business!)

Likewise, don’t write action-dense panels without room for them to breathe  – and for the penciller to strut their stuff. Have a few simply directed panels, and save the big complicated mess for the single-page or double-page spread.

Think about it. Rarely does a nine or ten-panel page work on a visual level; more often than not, it’s anything under six panels. I also like using the number of panels as a way to subconsciously play with tension; I’ll use an even number panels for something resolved on that page, and an odd number for making things more tense.

(Geez. I should write a post on that.)

See you next week for Part 2.

-Brian

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3 responses to “Writing for Comics pt. 1 – my Rule of Six

  1. I am currently working on my first script for a graphic novel and I found your rule of six idea very helpful. For some reason I was stuck on the number four. I also purchased “The DC Comics Guide to Writing Comics,” and there was a lot of good information in there. This is such a fast undertaking but I’m always up for a challenge. I can’t wait to see what part 2 has to offer.

  2. “I’ll use an even number panels for something resolved on that page, and an odd number for making things more tense.”

    Brilliant. (Takes notes). I never thought of that. (Takes more notes).

    I look forward to reading more about your tips/ thoughts.

    I’m a huge fan of minimalism, especially Amy Hempel.

    Chuck Palahniuk wrote an essay-ish essay for the LA Weekly about her that sheds light on her whole way of doing business. It’s always super inspirational to me:

    http://www.laweekly.com/2002-09-26/art-books/she-breaks-your-heart

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