Writing for screen-based comics

Screen-based comics in the panel delivery format allow for a range of storytelling techniques that I find difficult to communicate in a standard comics script format.

When I started working in the panel delivery format with artist Pål Henrik Roska and producer Morten F. Thomsen, the first task we set ourselves was to come up with some terminology and a script format that would be more suited to these techiques. This is what we came up with.

Click here to read a sample script for a screen-based comic.

Step

Definition: A unit of story progression resulting from an action on the part of the reader (tap, click, swipe, etc.).

In a script, steps are indicated by bracketed numbers like this:

1)

Screen

Definition: A dynamic page consisting of one or more panels and/or captions, word balloons, and other copy. We go from one screen to the next whenever all content on the screen changes on the same step.

In a script, screens are indicated like this:

SCREEN 1

Panel

Definition: A single story image. Panels can be laid out next to each other, or – if they appear on successive steps – on top of each other.

Static panels and the steps at which they appear are indicated in the script like this:

1) Panel A

2) Panel B

I use letters instead of numbers as panel identifiers: the numbers are already pretty busy identifying screens and steps.

A panel may be dynamic, meaning its content, size or shape changes from one step to the next. A dynamic panel that appears on step 2 and changes on step 3 is indicated like this:

2) Panel B

3) Panel B2

Copy

Definition: Word balloons, captions, sound effects, and other text.

A word balloon that appears on step 1 is indicated like this:

1) Hamlet: TO BE OR NOT TO BE? THAT IS THE QUESTION.

Expiration point

Definition: The step at which a panel or piece of copy expires, i.e. disappears.

For a panel that appears on step 1 and expires on step 3, the expiration point is indicated like this:

1×3) Panel A

And for a unit of copy that appears on step 1 and expires on step 2:

1×2) Hamlet: TO BE OR NOT TO BE? THAT IS THE QUESTION.

So that’s pretty much how we do it. Used with bit of creativity, these elements seem to cover a very broad range of the storytelling options that the dynamic canvas format offers. Hope you find them useful.

Example

Click here to read a sample script for a screen-based comic.

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