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Thread: Q: How do you approach panel writing?

  1. LeeNordling Guest

    Q: How do you approach panel writing?

    Hi, folks.

    We're going to go back over a topic we discussed a few weeks ago.

    You know that I walked you through a series of exercises, which were intended to shift your perspective for how frozen moments of time progress through a panel, and how, pacing-wise, that affects the way a person reads or views its contents.

    Now let's discuss, for writers, how you write panels, and why you write them the way you do.

    For artists, how do you wish panels to be written for you, and why is that important to you?

    We've got two aspects to consider, and they need to be separated: content & style.

    Question 1: How much information do you feel is necessary for including in panel description?

    Sub-question: Does knowing the artist affect that decision, and if so, how?

    Question 2: How do you feel panel-writing should be approached, stylistically, for yourself as a writer or artist, and why does that work for you (if not necessarily for others)?

    In addressing these questions, I'd like you each to share whether you're a writer, artist, or both.

    I'd also like you to please begin with the questions you're answering, so we can keep track.

    Throughout the week, I (and others, I hope) will be asking questions about your beliefs and process.

    There are no wrong answers, and I am asking now for nobody to suggest there are.

    You are, right now, who you are, and you do what you do for your reasons. I am asking that you share them, and more importantly, perhaps through an exchange of dialogue, explain them.

    Those reasons may change over time, but for now they're part of you, and we need to respect that, especially if we're to understand them.

    What's the point?

    The point of this exercise is to understand two things: not everybody thinks or works in the same manner, nor should they; and that being flexible enough to understand somebody else's process will help you learn to adapt to others, which is a particularly important aspect for a largely collaborative medium.

    At some point, I'll share my personal answers to these questions, but I won't expect anybody to adopt them; they're simply answers that work for me.

    Now, let's get to work.

    ***

    Lee Nordling is the owner and founding partner of The Pack (the-pack.biz), a comics-related content provider for the publishing industry. He is also author of “Your Career In the Comics,” an overview of the newspaper comics syndication profession and industry.

    If you wish to contact Lee separately from Comics Pro Prep, please write to him at lee@projectfanboy.
    Last edited by LeeNordling; Tuesday, January 19, 2010 at 08:34 PM.



  2. drgerb Guest

    I'm an aspiring writer and artist, so I'll try to answer them accordingly.

    For artists, how do you wish panels to be written for you, and why is that important to you?
    As an artist, I've not yet accomplished much, haven't been published yet, and I am still learning. I think I can ink / draw from reference fine, but I'm not yet dynamic enough to pencil an entire project by hand. That said, if I was a penciler, I'd like very in depth descriptions and where possible, reference photos so I know which route to take. Leaving it open, for me, I think would end up in me falling flat on my face. As a penciler.

    Question 1: How much information do you feel is necessary for including in panel description?
    If it's a project I am planning on writing and drawing my panel descriptions usually leave something to be desired. I can see a panel in my head and have a rough idea of how it'll look like once I drew it. But I don't describe my panels, as a writer, good enough for others to understand. That's one thing I gotta work on.

    I think you should let a professional / talented artist do what he wants, so I'd say not that much information. And where it's needed, or essential to the story, I'd like if the writer said so. Don't just throw in a ton of details and not explain why this is more important to include than that. But don't confine the artist so much so he's drawing what you (the non-artist / writer) imagine. Writers write, artists draw (or whatever). Bleh.

    Sub-question: Does knowing the artist affect that decision, and if so, how?
    I think so, definitely. If I know the artist good, or if I have a project lined up with some great professional, I think I'll leave most of my minor details out. If instead I'm going into this project with another no-name creator, I think I'd like a little more control over the panels, and be more in depth with the information. If the artist is unproven, I feel like adding in more description is like holding his hand. If I can help describe what I see as a writer, then he can help me by drawing the best possible panels he can. If I KNOW the artist is awesome, I know regardless of how I plan out the panel, the amount of detail, all that, I KNOW he'll end up with awesome panels.

    Question 2: How do you feel panel-writing should be approached, stylistically, for yourself as a writer or artist, and why does that work for you (if not necessarily for others)?
    Wow, hah. As a writer (for projects I'm going to write and draw, and also cause I'm still not that great a writer. I can't really explain what I see in order), I usually skip over small details that I know I'll remember when drawing them. I skip things, then end up backpeddling, etc. It'd probably drive any other artist crazy. I can remember enough as the artist, it's just if somebody reads my scripts without viewing my panel sketches, I think they really miss some stuff. Mainly because I'm not that precise as a writer. That's one thing I need to work on, especially if I ever choose to just write or not draw my own stories. Right now I think it can work, even if it's something I'm trying to work on, to write the way I write. But if I'm not the artist too, I'd either have to send panel sketches along with the script to the artist or really get better at my panel descriptions.

    Panel writing, though, and you'll hate me for saying this Lee, I still feel like I really want to describe the foreground of each panel before the background. Like I'd rather explaing the focus / main point of the panel, even if it's on the far right side of the panel. I feel like the foreground has more dominance over the background. Gah. I dunno. I feel like getting to the main point earlier on in a panel description reminds the artist, and the reader where we're at. Then they can go in and fill in the background with little details and such. That said, yeah. I'm still having a hard time trying to go from left to right. Bleh.

    I guess I also don't totally understand that last question. I'll have to wait and read other people's replies to see if anything else comes to me. But yeah...


    Being an artist / writer combo is awesome (so far, heh) cause it gives me the freedom over everything. I'm a nit-picker. It's just in a way it's also my crutch in not being perfectly clear when describing panels, when writing out my story, etc. I might seem anal when describing, in depth, every page layout, the size of the panels, etc. but that's because I'm planning on being the artist too. While I wouldn't boss around Todd McFarlane with my panel descriptions, I will boss around myself. Guess that's about it.



  3. LeeNordling Guest

    Thanks for jumping into the pool, Roberts.

    One section from your post immediately caught my eye.

    Question 1: How much information do you feel is necessary for including in panel description?

    If it's a project I am planning on writing and drawing my panel descriptions usually leave something to be desired. I can see a panel in my head and have a rough idea of how it'll look like once I drew it. But I don't describe my panels, as a writer, good enough for others to understand. That's one thing I gotta work on.

    I think you should let a professional / talented artist do what he wants, so I'd say not that much information. And where it's needed, or essential to the story, I'd like if the writer said so. Don't just throw in a ton of details and not explain why this is more important to include than that. But don't confine the artist so much so he's drawing what you (the non-artist / writer) imagine. Writers write, artists draw (or whatever).

    ***

    Again, with no implication of right or wrong, I have a story, then a question.

    For one of his latter Sandman projects, Neil Gaiman had a list of artists he wanted to work with for each of the stories.

    One of the artists, a "professional/talented" artist, completely disregarded the script and drew what he wanted to.

    Neil tossed the script (and now none of us will get to read it), and wrote a new one to the art that had been created.

    My question: where, if anywhere, should the boundaries be for an artist to follow the script?

    (My PERSONAL answer to this one: If the artist deviates from the approved story--the story, not the script--as long as the dialogue, as written, can work for the new visual interpretation, it's fair and worth considering. If not, I would find this act mindbogglingly insulting, especially if the artist had not at least discussed a complete change of direction. What I would DO about it, though, would depend on my relationship with the artist.)

    More later; I'll be out much of today.

    Again, Roberts, thanks for being the first to take a leap of faith and get this discussion going.

    --Lee



  4. LeeNordling Guest

    Oh, and a reminder for all: we're JUST discussing a panel, though I realize the tendency to discuss the page or the script is inevitable.

    With this thought in mind, should we broaden the question?

    Perhaps.

    On second thought, I'll leave this one to you folks.

    --Lee



  5. LeeNordling Guest

    Next topic(s) for exploration:

    Roberts wrote:
    Panel writing, though, and you'll hate me for saying this Lee, I still feel like I really want to describe the foreground of each panel before the background. Like I'd rather explaing the focus / main point of the panel, even if it's on the far right side of the panel. I feel like the foreground has more dominance over the background. Gah. I dunno. I feel like getting to the main point earlier on in a panel description reminds the artist, and the reader where we're at. Then they can go in and fill in the background with little details and such. That said, yeah. I'm still having a hard time trying to go from left to right. Bleh.

    I guess I also don't totally understand that last question. I'll have to wait and read other people's replies to see if anything else comes to me. But yeah...

    ***

    Well, Roberts, I think you answered the question.

    Some folks might like a terse laundry list of what's in a panel description or script, cold and dispassionate, but clear. Others might like to be lured by dramatic (and clear) writing.

    Some folks might want to know the POINT of a panel, before getting a laundry list of details, an approach that isn't incompatible with left-to-right reading panels.

    FOR EXAMPLE: Johnny Action Jr. is halfway over is leap from one side of a picket fence charging towards the most important thing in the panel: two bully boys pulverizing a kid on the lawn. In the background, the kid's granny leans out window, waving a rolling pin.

    See, we never GOT to writing for panel emphasis...because that would have confused the exercise, which was, SIMPLY, learning to write from left to right.

    I honestly wish I could've come up with something as brilliant as Wax On and Wax Off, but that was the intent.

    Final note on this topic (till I mention it again), the reason I push push push for people to work at this is because it's the only way to develop these muscles. I get that readers may comprehend it, but trying, failing, trying again, learning why you failed the first time, and finally succeeding, then finally having it become second nature is the ONLY way to learn this. Otherwise, (and I promise this will happen), you'll be under some form of deadline, become frustrated trying it "for real," and reverting to whatever you used to do. Then you'll call this experiment a failure (for you).

    I retain my right to badger, and explain WHY I'm badgering.

    I hope you all understand WHY I'm doing this, and it's not for MY good.

    Next up:

    ROBERTS: Being an artist / writer combo is awesome (so far, heh) cause it gives me the freedom over everything. I'm a nit-picker. It's just in a way it's also my crutch in not being perfectly clear when describing panels, when writing out my story, etc. I might seem anal when describing, in depth, every page layout, the size of the panels, etc. but that's because I'm planning on being the artist too. While I wouldn't boss around Todd McFarlane with my panel descriptions, I will boss around myself. Guess that's about it.

    ***

    When you are your own artist, all rules go out the window in favor of one thing: do whatever successfully accomplishes your goals.

    I do believe it's important to understand and apply things like "left to right" storytelling, but how you get there in the finished product is entirely up to you.

    When I write for myself, I barely produce a script. I use a combination of layout sketches, with, perhaps, a key image noted...but only so I don't forget it.

    I don't adhere to anything I wrote, if it's not working, and my process of layout often changes the script.

    I am, when I'm my own artist, rewriting and revising as I go.

    But for me, drawing is often the equivalent of writing.

    And I'm sure that's the case with many artists.

    The problem occurs, coming back to the previous discussion, is when an artist chooses to rewrite (change) a scene, without consulting with the script writer.

    I think it takes a special kind of arrogance to change somebody's INTENT on a scene or story without discussing it first.

    I have a book that's set up for coming out Fall, 2011.

    I showed the artist (who's since been attached) the script. He liked it. He had questions of character motivation, good ones. He had ideas for how to address them.

    I considered the questions, embraced the ideas that worked with the original intent, expanded on them, checked them with the editor (who said they SOUNDED like they could work, but that he'd have to see them implemented), revised the script, got the editor's okey doke, and sent them to the artist, who liked them.

    Now, that's a more complicated process than an artist just changing stuff because he thinks it would be better, but it's more respectful of all the people who are involved in the book and the process.

    --Lee
    Last edited by LeeNordling; Tuesday, January 19, 2010 at 03:47 PM.



  6. Bret Guest

    Writer's perspective

    Q 1: How much information do you feel is necessary for including in panel description?
    As much as possible, without giving so much detail and direction that it chokes the creativity of the artist. There’s no perfect answer. I just go with my gut and hope that I’m growing as a writer every time I punch out something new on the keyboard.

    Sub-Q: Does knowing the artist affect that decision, and if so, how?
    YES! I’ve been totally blessed to work with artists that have been doing this for a while, so knowing their style definitely alters the way I will write a panel—and I’ll try and add various elements that I know they like to draw throughout the story. And nine times out of ten what they come up with is even cooler on the page than what I visualized. If I was working with someone just breaking in I’d be super clear, with little room for deviation until we developed a “trust” between each other. It’s all about the story for me…not the pin-up shots. (Even though pin-up shots are great and occasionally serve a purpose.)

    Q 2: How do you feel panel-writing should be approached, stylistically, for yourself as a writer and why does that work for you?
    First I want to convey the information that needs to happen in a panel as clearly as possible and in brief paragraphs—pushing the story forward. I CAPATLIZE the characters in each panel and anything really important that must appear. (Ex: MATTRESS MAN grips a giant HEADBOARD in his hands, he’s about to swing it.) That way if nothing else goes exactly as described; at least the character is doing the main thing needed to move our tale along. I’m also cautious about cramming too many captions and balloons into a panel. Panel real estate is precious. If I can say more with less, I’m on the right track.

    I also infuse my personality into the panel description, showing the artist my passion for the story—and making it more interesting for them to read. If I’m into it, chances are they will be, too. (Occasionally I’ll make a silly joke or reference, just to keep things fresh.) I also like to describe how a character is feeling—not every panel but pretty often. This gives the artist an idea of our character’s facial expressions and body language.

    I’m always studying other writer’s scripts to see how they do it. Other than sitting down and practicing, that’s been the best way to learn for me.

    But I’m still learning.

    Bret B.



  7. LeeNordling Guest

    Hey, Bret.

    One line caught my eye, because it's something I've started doing, too, in the last few years.

    You wrote: I also like to describe how a character is feeling—not every panel but pretty often. This gives the artist an idea of our character’s facial expressions and body language.

    ***

    I've discovered that if I write HOW a character feels, I don't have to concern myself with describing whether he looks "mad, with furrowed brows" as much.

    And added bonus is that it gives me a tool for a more constructive discussion with an artist.

    If I write that a character looks "mad, with furrowed brows," then what happens when I don't think the character looks mad enough in the art? It all becomes very subjective.

    But if I describe that the character is furious to discover his wife has been brutalized, then we have some context for discussing whether the single brow lowered over the eye is enough.

    One advantage that prose has over comics is that it allows the reader the opportunity to get inside characters' heads. I think there's an excellent opportunity for us, as comics creators, to exploit that in our scripts, at least to help make clear to artists our character and story goals.

    The more clinical a script is in its descriptions, the more open it is to different emotional interpretations.

    At least that's my observation.

    --Lee



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    Writer's perspective

    Question 1: How much information do you feel is necessary for including in panel description?
    Sub-question: Does knowing the artist affect that decision, and if so, how?
    I can only answer this hand-in-hand with the sub-question. When I write a panel, the amount of information I deem “necessary” is directly linked to the artist. When I write for an artist I don’t know, I tend to be more exact and specific. Also, there are a few artists I’ve written for that have REQUESTED I be very specific, and I am more than happy to do so for them. For the CAT. 5 stories I’ve been writing, with Mike Dreher, (my friend of 20 years) doing the art I can be a bit looser with the details. For Mike, I cover the basics, and list anything specific I’m after. He handles the rest. If he finds himself unsure of something, I get an email or a text from him. Sometimes in the form of a question, sometimes in the form of an image and a caption that reads “This is what I came up with.” Either is fine, because
    A) I trust Mike explicitly.
    and
    B) If I really want him to change something, he’ll do it.


    Question 2: How do you feel panel-writing should be approached, stylistically, for yourself as a writer or artist, and why does that work for you (if not necessarily for others)?
    I’m high-functioning Aspergers (a form of Autism). I tend to think in pictures. What I do is picture the panel, and translate it into a script, which I then hand off to an artist to translate back into a picture. Half the fun is seeing how close the new picture comes to the one in my head. Sometimes they are dead-on, sometimes they are even better, and (very rarely) I have that… “Oh! That’s not what I imagined at all” moment. But as long as it’s just a stylistic difference and not a you-changed-the-whole-thing difference then that’s fine, too.

    Which ties into your
    where, if anywhere, should the boundaries be for an artist to follow the script?
    question.

    I think that as long as the main idea and intent of the panel comes across, then some changes are fine. Those changes need to be in keeping with the story, though. I mean, it can’t just be a whole separate thing. Also, again, it depends on the artist. As I’ve said, I trust Mike. On our first CAT. 5 story, he struggled with a few specific panels. He knew what I was asking for, but he didn’t like the results he was getting. So, he changed them. His panels still went with my story and included all the important “key” elements I asked for, but he came about it all from a different perspective. Some thing from panel one got moved to panel two, a thing or two got dropped outright, and there was an addition I hadn’t asked for. But, it remained true to my story, and the panels synched up without a hitch. In fact, they are some of my favorite panels from that story.
    Last edited by SebastianPiccione; Tuesday, January 19, 2010 at 06:35 PM.
    "Living Robert Venditti's Plan B!"

    CAT. 5



  9. LeeNordling Guest

    Thanks, Sebastian.

    Yep, the answers to the questions are, ultimately, intertwined...which, in a number of ways, creates difficulties for sorting the different facets out at the beginning to determine what's needed.

    Having a process for determining which tack to take in a script is important.

    Knowing what you need and why is as important as knowing what an artist needs and why.

    When I begin a project, EACH project, I discuss ground rules with the artist. I don't dictate; I discuss.

    My current partner on a book asked, "What happens if we don't agree?"

    I tried explaining that I would always work to find consensus, but he still wanted to know what would happen if we didn't agree on a direction. Who chooses.

    A topic I'd like to take up later (perhaps next week, but not now, please) became the issue. He'd worked in comics before, and when people disagreed, it became the foundation for blood feuding and vendettas.

    I told him about my days at Disney, when we'd argue over stuff (for the sake of the stuff), then break for lunch and go out together.

    I told him we'd make our respective cases to the editor and let the editor decide...and that I'd abide by his decision, whether I agreed with it or not.

    All of this, as I initially pointed out, is a precursor to learning to work together in what is, largely, a collaborative medium.

    So I think it's important to figure out our separate-but-qualifying answers to various circumstances, just as you've done.

    --Lee



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    Yeah, so far I've never had any times in which I could not come to an agreement with an artist over something. And, I'm ALWAYS open to changes that can improve on things. Heck, I'm always open to changes that may not improve, so much as simply ensure that that the story gets finished and makes sense.
    "Living Robert Venditti's Plan B!"

    CAT. 5



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