Over the last few years, I've stumbled into a new creative skill: writing comics and graphic novels. When I started writing "José and the Pirate Captain Toledano" - my first graphic novel - I had no comics writing experience, but I knew a lot about screenwriting.
I write my screenplays using screenwriting software. The software I use (Final Draft, WriterDuet or Scrivener - depending on the project and its needs) does a lot of the formatting for me, so I can focus my entire creative energy on crafting the story, and not on whether or not the margins are set correctly.
When I started comics writing, I wanted to find software that could achieve that same automation for a comics-format script. That's how I started using Scrivener to write comics.
Using Scrivener to write comics isn't completely intuitive. There are several steps to take, and several tricks I've learned along the way to make the process work more effectively. Here's how I set up a new comics script in Scrivener:
Step 1: Selecting the Comic Script Template
When you launch Scrivener for the first time, it prompts you to create a project. If you've used Scrivener for other projects, it may open the most recently-launched project first. If that's the case, select [FILE] and [NEW PROJECT].
In the window that pops up, you'll see a whole bunch of possible script and book templates to choose from.
On the list on the left, select "Scriptwriting".
You'll see a bunch of script format options. Select "Comic Script" then hit "Create"
Step 2: Creating the Project File
On the next screen, you'll be prompted to create a name for the project, and to select a location on your computer where the project will be saved.
Note: Scrivener projects aren't just one file. They're an entire folder that holds multiple files. This is because Scrivener isn't just a word processor. It's an entire organizational system for writers.
After you've selected the file location and hit OK, you'll see the main Scrivener interface.
On the left-hand side of your screen, you'll see a column. There's a lot to explore here, but we'll focus on the stuff that's specific to comics writing.
IN CASE YOU'RE CURIOUS: Setting up your Title Page and Updating Author and Project Metadata
You don't have to do this step now - but some of you might be wondering about it, so I include this tangentially for you. Skip ahead to Step 3 if you don't want to worry about your title page yet.
On the left side of your screen, click on "Title Page"
You'll see in the center of your screen a default title page with several sections in <pointy brackets>, and a few in [square brackets].
Go ahead and replace any of this with whatever you'd like. BUT: Anything in <pointy brackets> can be edited globally (see below)
Generally, you should update all of this metadata information only when you're ready to compile a finished script. The reason for this is a little silly, but I'll explain in a bit.
To replace metadata tags like <$PROJECTTITLE> and other custom tags on your title page, do the following:
Go to [FILE]->[OPTIONS]
Under the "General" tab, select "Author Information"
Fill in the information that you'd like to appear on your script's title page, then hit "OK".
Next, click [FILE]->[COMPILE]
On this screen, click the little "Metadata" button. It's a bit hard to find, so use this image to guide you.
"Title" here will replace a metadata tag that may appear elsewhere in the document, such as on the title page. The metadata tag currently looks like this: <$PROJECTTITLE>
Once you put your own book or series title into this form, it will automatically replace <$PROJECTTITLE> in the document when the book is compiled.
Once you've filled in this information, click the ab->abc button (to the right of the gear icon). Here, you can put in an issue number, if your book is part of a series.
Here's why you need to wait 'til the end to do this step. There is no "OK" button! If you hit 'cancel', your changes are lost. You need to hit "Compile" for the changes to take effect. It's an odd quirk of the software for which I have no explanation.
In my experience, it takes a few tweaks to the metadata before I'm happy with the way the title page looks after I compile the document. You might just find it easier to edit the title page manually (but be aware there are also headers and footers that use this data. A bit of experimentation may be in order... before you fine-tune your project to your satisfaction.)
Step 3: Understanding Pages
Scrivener is not a WYSIWYG ("What you see is what you get") word processor. It's designed to organize and break down the writing process for you.
On the left side of the screen, in the column with a folder-like structure and icons like "Comic Script Format" and "Front Matter", you'll see an object called "Draft 1.0", and underneath it, an object labeled "Comic Page". This is a 'sub-document' - a part of Draft 1.0.
Click on "Comic Page" and you'll see in the main screen a blank comic page with a couple of metadata tags.
These metadata tags will be replaced when you compile your document with the actual page and panel numbers. This is one of the powerful ways in which Scrivener automates comic script formatting and saves lots of time and headache.
When you hit a carriage return to start a new line, hit it again to open a list of formats. Select "Panel number" to create a new Panel tag, or "Page number" for a new page tag.
Similar to screenwriting software, you can use TAB to cycle into Character, and from Character hit ENTER to switch to Dialogue, etc.
Play around with it, find the shortcuts that work for you.
You could write your whole script in this window, in this very document. But if you do, you might be missing out on one of Scrivener's most powerful features.
Step 4: Setting Up your Pages
Click on "Draft 1.0" in that left column. It will take you to a new view of your project. Sort of like 'index cards'. But for now, there's only one card - the 'comic page' we started out with.
Like any index card, you can add text to this one, describe the scene that should appear on this page.
One of my favorite ways to use Scrivener for comics writing is to actually create a separate sub-document for each page of my comic book or graphic novel.
I right-click the comic page 'index card' and hit 'duplicate'.
I do this as many times as there are pages in my book. In this case, it's a regular issue floppy. The story is going to fill 24 interior pages, so I create 24 'index cards'.
Notice that all of these pages are now individual sub-documents in that column on the left.
Step 5: Adding Story Information to the Index Cards
You'll see in the image above that I started filling these 'index cards' with bits of the story I'm going to tell. I'll often take my synopsis or story treatment and copy sentences directly out of it and paste them in here. It's a great way to plan out where my story beats will land and how many pages they'll take up.
If a scene requires more than one page, I'll copy the synopsis into multiple index cards - I might put (1 of 2) and (2 of 2) at the beginning of each index card that describes a two-page scene. Or I might break up the synopsis of that scene into two parts across two cards.
Once you've done this for your book and filled in the 'index cards', click on your first page in that left-hand column.
Step 6: Adding Notes and Bringing it All Together
When you're looking at your blank first page, click the little blue 'i' in the top-right corner. It opens a window called the "Inspector", where you'll see the synopsis that you wrote into your index card.
You'll also see a 'notes' panel. It's yellow (perhaps to remind us of those old reporter's notepads?) It's a great place to jot down additional notes or ideas for a scene.
If you keep this panel open as you write, you never have to 'flip back and forth' between the page you're working on and your outline or synopsis document. It's all right in front of you!
Breaking a script down into individual pages like this is my favorite feature of Scrivener for comics writing because of the way it allows me to organize and access only the notes I need for that page.
If you'd like to give Scrivener a try for your comics writing, you can download it from the Literature and Latte website. (This is not an affiliate link - L&L doesn't give me anything for referring you, and I haven't received anything for writing this blog article.)
If you'd like to read some of my comics, check out "José and the Pirate Captain Toledano", or pop over to the Maggid Comics website (it's still in development as of this writing) and find my new books there.