How to Write a “Full Comic Book Script”

So, you want to create a Yaoi short story (or graphic novel!) Where to begin?

While you might have a bunch of cool images in mind (perhaps of cute boys fighting monsters and then making out…), it all starts with words on paper — a script. And in my humble opinion, that should be the king of comic book scripts — the full script.

What’s a full script?

A “full script” is a comic book script that tries to include everything an artist would need to visualize each page that you (the writer) have in your head. There are lots of different ways writers work. Some will write pages and pages of description. Others will write a quick outline — sometimes without even dialogue! — and leave it to the artist to fill in the details (in which case, I think the artist really deserves a writing credit…)

The more detailed writer will prefer the “full script.” It not only includes the actual words needed (word balloons, captions, sound effects, etc. — the “lettering”) but also how many panels are on that page and exactly what you see in each of those panels. (Sometimes it might include how you’d like to see those panels laid out on the page, but by my lights, unless you have something really special in mind, those choices are usually better left in the hands of the artist.) For an example of a full script, look at the first five pages of the first comic in our upcoming Yaoi story collection, “A Shot in the Dark.” (The complete script can be downloaded here.)

Page OnePage TwoPage ThreePage FourPage Five

Clicking on a thumbnail page will activate our cool Javascript-based Lightbox viewer. Once you have activated the Lightbox, click on the right side of the page for the next page, the left side for the previous page, and the “X” at the bottom-right of the script page to return to this site. You can also use your arrow keys and the ESC key.

Take a look at the layout. Up top, I list the Page Number and how many panels are on the page, so the artist can see that at a glance. The Page Number refers to the comic book page, which might be a quite different number that the document page of your script — for example, the first page of this comic actually spans over three pages of script. I have set up my Word template so the header up top always refers to the correct Comic Book Page no matter what the document page is.

The page is then broken down by panels with the description of the panel contents preceding the lettering. The actual content of this lettering section is in CAPS, because it is tradition to letter word balloons in comics in caps. (Have you ever noticed that?) It is also indented — to distinguish it from the descriptive text as well as force you to keep in mind the limited real estate available for lettering if you don’t want to bury your art with words, words, words.

I also have chosen to use the letters of the alphabet to distinguish each distinct section of lettering — that way, when the artist creates the page thumbnails, they can quickly indicate to me where they envision each bit of text appearing in each panel without mixing them up with panel numbers. (Click here to see what a page thumbnail looks like and how this works.)

Now, notice how there’s a ton of description on the first comic book page, but by the second comic book page, we’re mostly into dialogue with the description becoming much more sparse. Similar to a film script, you want to lay out the entire environment for each scene up front, so the artist doesn’t have to hunt through the whole script to find the details of the room (or forest or whatever). Ideally, you include that information in the first panel (or at least the first page), even if those panels don’t actually show the entire room. I also try to include information on how I think each character should look when they are introduced. Later, I’ll expand on these descriptions when I create my Character Notes to give to the artist.

I follow a few other filmmaking conventions in the script as well. For example, you’ll see the abbreviations MS and WS, which are short for Medium Shot and Wide Shot, shot framing terms. (I also use SFX as short for “Sound Effects” — the “BOOM!” you might see written in special type on the comic page. And I use O.S. or O.P. as short for “off-screen” or “off-panel” for dialog when you can see the word balloon but not the character.)

I find that using these conventions forms a convenient language for communicating with my artist how I see the subjects in the panel being framed. But more than that, I highly recommend an understanding of filmmaking shot flow as a way to help you get a better idea how to create good pacing in your comics. An excellent book to start with is Film Directing: Shot by Shot: Visualizing from Concept to Screen — it’s all about creating compelling visual storytelling through storyboards and what you learn in that book directly applies to creating comic stories that flow very well.

The full script is certainly more work to create than an outline or a dialogue-only comic book script, but as a Yaoi creator, you’ve made a choice to tell your story in a visual and often collaborative medium. What your readers see in each panel is as important as what they read in the word balloons. Creating a full script is the best way to translate that cool yaoi story in your head into words that others can use to see that same story in their heads.

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One comment

  1. Hello~
    I’m Xan (obviously) and I really love your stores and layouts! I’m also a lesbian and is trying to write my own yuri, do you think I could still use your tips? I am finding them very insightful and they really make me grin as ideas smolder and boil in my head.
    Thank you for posting these tips btw <3

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