A few months ago, we wrote an article on how to write for comics DC style, or full script. This week, we’re talking about how to write a Marvel Style script, also known as summary script or plot script.
I stated in that previous article that I like to write DC style. It just fits with how my brain works. If you didn’t like the sound of writing DC style but want to write comics, then read on. This style may be for you.
Keep in mind, this is not just writing two to three sentences saying “maybe we’ll do something like this.” You will still need to write out your story fully, but with a few key differences from a full script.
The Big Difference
If we think about our comic like a road trip, you as the writer are driving with your artist or illustrator to your target destination. That destination being a completed comic. Using the full script method, you’re driving the entire time, or at least navigating the entire time. You’re always dictating the direction the car is going.
With a summary script, you’re splitting that duty. You’re navigating, but the artist is steering. You’re giving them directions, but there’s enough wiggle room for them to take turns or detours when needed.
What Does This Look Like?
With the Full Script style of writing, we label each panel on the page. Then we write the description of that panel and then the dialogue. This makes full script a panel-by-panel method of writing.
In Marvel Style, we write page-by-page.
For each page, we write a paragraph or paragraphs detailing the changes that occur on this page. These are changes in the visual, emotional, and dramatic sense. The characters will start the page in one physical or emotional location and end in a different. Stories are just sequences of changes held together by a theme after all.
You summarize the plot and let the artist decide how that plot gets shown. Then you come back and write the dialogue afterwards.
You need to give your artist and your editor a good deal of information in these paragraphs, otherwise they’ll think you don’t know your own story. Don’t think this is a lazy method and you get to just skimp out on details. Also, don’t do this half and half with another style. You’ll confuse everyone on the project.
An example of this method of writing is how Matt Fraction wrote Hawkeye.
Here’s a few pages from our very own Head Honcho’s plot for Cat & Mouse #1. He said to note that it begins “page 5,” but that page 5 is actually the printed page 1 as it was revised.
How Does This Work In Practice?
You’ll use this method if you are fully collaborating with your artist. That means that you want to share the burden of creating the story with your artist and they are okay with making those decisions. This is a conversation you’ll need to have when you work together. Some artists want to co-create the comic, some just want to be fed details and illustrate what you have created.
Your artist will tell you how much or little detail they want to work with.
The Dirty Secret of Writing Comics
So after we explained the full script and Marvel methods, are you ready for a dirty secret? They aren’t even proper methods. As in, there are no rules saying what you can and can’t do.
No two people will write similar scripts, even using the same style. At least comfortably. If you’re going to write a comic, then you need to write it in whatever way that you’re comfortable. You might start with something that resembles one of these methods and then it will morph into your own style.
You should certainly try to make a variation of your style that resembles either method. Just so that you can work with any artist and meet their preferences.
The only accurate guide for style and formatting will be your editor’s instructions, if you work with one. They may have their own preference, or they may just want you to deliver a script that is at least consistent and cohesive.
What To Do Next As Writer?
The next thing you should do as a writer is experiment. Try Full Script and Summary methods, see what feels right. Change formatting and style to make it your own. Read plenty of comics and comic scripts as well.
The more you read, the more you elevate your taste. As your taste improves, your skills will rise to match that.
Most importantly, have fun.