With any writing, every word counts. But with a graphic novel, every word really counts! I didn’t realize until trying my hand at the process just how teensy each of those speech balloons is. Naturally long-winded, it’s a real challenge for me to remember that each panel is like a billboard, where I’ve got a max of about 8 words to use—and sometimes that’s pushing it! In fact, some of the best graphic novels are completely barren of words, such as Robot Dreams by Sara Varon (First Second).
While I’ve never written a screenplay, I imagine the script looks somewhat the same—heavy on the dialogue. It’s tricky to look for ways to balance that out. But it’s the fun part, too! That’s where sound effects come in. BRRRAM! YOWWSA! And then there are thought balloons and narrative captions—setting or plot-advancing tools. The writer can also indicate entire panels, pages, or spreads where the plot advances only by the visuals. It’s liberating to learn to think that way.
This will be a five-part series all this week on the why's of writing a graphic novel, illustrator collaboration, graphic wordplay, turning to the experts, and where to start. Tomorrow: Turning to the experts!