From Cullen Bunn’s blog on his step-by-step process for planning an issue of a comic. I’m a process junkie, I think most writers are as we grow—we’re always trying to improve. What’s interesting about Cullen’s breakdown is the post-it usage. He writes panel descriptions on a yellow post-it and the dialogue on a blue post-it. As well as a studious way to think about page breaks. You should read the whole thing if you’re like me and addicted to this kind of thing.
Like Cullen, I hand write everything. It started years ago when I was studying in Oxford and didn’t have a laptop; I had to hand write everything, and it has stuck with me ever since. I hand wrote my entire thesis before I even started typing. It’s like getting out everything you want to say in one draft and clears the junk. In comics, it helps plan out how much you can get on a page and when you have a lot of downtime (like I do riding from Astoria to Brooklyn College twice a day, five days a week) I get a lot done while I’m in transit.
Usually I handwrite the plot that is happening on every page and then start writing the dialogue when I get home. This practice started when I read Nick Spencer’s Writer’s Workshop:
For me, I think one of the big tricks to dialogue is that dialogue is all about rhythm, it’s all about being in it — if you sit back and you’re breaking from it from every panel or every page, it’s going to feel forced and it’s not going to feel like a song anymore. It’s going to feel like a lot of stops and starts, which is what a lot of comic book dialogue has a tendency to sound like. It has a tendency to sound like 10 conversations over three pages between the same three people.
I can always tell when that is — it’s usually because either the writer is writing out his action beats first, or he’s writing his action beat, then his dialogue for it, then his next action beat, then his next round of dialogue. That’s why it’s sounding more stilted, that’s why it’s stuttering more.
What I’ll go through — I’ve written entire issues as dialogue, and then gone and done the panel breakdowns. What ends up happening is it sounds a lot more like a real conversation, because you just let it play out — you let the back-and-forth happen, you let them talk to each other. That’s the shorthand for me, really, is it has to work read out loud or on the page.
That’s something I’m beginning to learn that the Marvel style of plot first is getting better results from the great people I’m working with, because my philosophy is this: my job is to put dumb words in the balloons and tell a story that keeps everyone involved excited, it is not to tell the artist what should be in each panel and how it should be framed or shot. That’s telling them how to do their job and nobody likes a micromanager—it drives me insane. So the dialogue is very important to me, and generally writing dialogue is quick. It’s all about making it fun, and as Warren said, “You are, in many ways, writing a love letter intended to woo the artist into giving their best possible work to the job. A bored or unengaged artist will show up on the page like a fibrous stool in the toilet bowl, and that’s not their fault — it’s yours.” That’s how I approach it, like writing a letter to an old friend while telling them a story over some beers.