Friday, January 8, 2010

Novels vs. Comics: Fight!

...actually, the difference between writing comics and novels isn't so much "fight" as "watch them run away from each other at top speed".

I went into writing novels without any noticeable research in how to do it, aside from having read tens of thousands of them over the years. Comics were a much more deliberate process for me: I had a very clear idea that I didn't know how to do it, so I set forth to find out how other people did.

Good thing I did, too, because they're completely different animals. And on one hand, the differences are obvious--scripts vs. prose, frames vs. chapters, 22 pages vs 400 (that's sort of a big one), collaboration vs. individual work--but those obvious differences don't fully address some of the things I found most striking.

As a novelist, everything happens on the page. In comics, all the action is *off* the page, between the frames: you're catching a frozen moment. There can't be both an action and a reaction in the same image; it doesn't work. That's a huge thing for a novelist to adapt to.

Moreover, in novels, chapters and scenes are as long as you want them to be. In comics, a scene is very often just two pages, because turning the page creates a new space and a new scene in a way that white space or chapter breaks do in books. So the pacing for a comic has to be *extremely* deliberate and very tight. Obviously scenes can, and do, go on for longer than two pages--but as a writer, you're still usually looking at a page turn for your scene break...and when you only have 22 pages (the standard for a modern comic) you want to be extremely careful with your storytelling.

Interestingly, the scripting process for comics led me to a habit that's become increasingly helpful for novels. Television and film use something called a "beatsheet", which are just brief, sentence-long descriptions of the most relevant "beats", or scenes, in a show. I adapted that for comics writing, using a beat for *every* scene, in order to more thoroughly control the story structure. It's turned out that a novel-sized beatsheet is exceedingly useful to me, too--less formal than an outline, but more or less of the same nature, it's helped a great deal in moving past sticking points in novels.

So while the two formats are wildly different, it turns out studying one can really prove to be helpful with the other. It's worth the effort, and I'm more than happy to have had the comics experience I've now got. With any luck, I'll do more in the future, and learn even more clever things to bring from one medium to the other!


Who: C.E Murphy. I wanted to have C.E. Murphy on my blog for quite some time and back, when her comic book series Take a Chance was announced, I wanted to conduct and interview and get a picture of what’s it like to go from novels to comics. Due to deadline clusters however that was a no-go, until now, when C.E. Murphy [author of the Walker Papers, the Negotiator Trilogy, the Inheritor's Cycle] reveals what’s the difference between writing novels and comic books.

Links: Website & Magical Words [contributor blogger]


Hagelrat said...

Great article, I love the walker papers btw.

Lisa Lane said...

I'm "starring" this one on my Google reader--I think the advice here is beneficial to writers of all formats.

Catie said...

Thanks, Hagelrat. Glad you're enjoying the books! :)

Cool, Lisa! I hope it remains of use to you!


Harry Markov said...

There is much awesome-ness here and explains why I sucked at trying to do a comic book with an artist friend of mine. :)

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