Writers Block #8: Breaking it all down

After another lengthy hiatus, I'm back to continue to breaking down the different aspects of writing for comics, which is apt because our next subject is about breaking down your story. Last time I talked about story circles (which where created by Dan Harmon) and showed you a couple of examples. Here's what one of mine looks like (excuse the handwriting): 


story circle.jpg

So with that I've broken down what I feel are the most essential beats of the story. What and who it's about, what motivates the characters, and all the big moments I want to put in. If everything checks out and makes sense I move to the next step which is the page breakdown. 

Essentially what this means is, using the story circle I've already made, I make a rough map of what's going to happen on each page. This looks something like this:


Sometimes I include more detail if I want to remind myself of an important element, sometimes I leave it fairly vague. The basic objective is to figure out roughly how many pages you're story is going to take. Right now the point isn't to get it down to 20/22 pages, but to just figure out how long it would be if you were to tell it as is. Sometimes you wind up with 30 and need to cut down, other times you end up with 16 and need to stretch or add certain things. Either way you  hopefully start seeing things you didn't in the last step.

Once you've worked out what you need to add or subtract page wise, the next step is to break it all down further into panels. Here's a secret, I'm a terrible artist. Want proof? 


So what do all those sticks with circles mean? It's my way of further trying to visualize the story. These layouts are just for me. The artist never sees them, mostly because just look at them, but also my feeling is 9 times out of 10 they can see how to put together a page better than I can. But I like to think by me doing it, it makes their job a bit easier by visually working out if what I'm writing is actually going to fit on a page or just make it a mess. It also helps me figure out if I need some more space. Maybe what I thought would work in one page really needs three to be effective, which means some things might need to be cut, or pushed to the next issue. 

Here are some more examples by Grant Morrison and Matt Fraction. They're very different from each other (and mine) but serve the same purpose. 

 Grant Morrison page layout

Grant Morrison page layout

 Matt Fraction Panel/Page layout

Matt Fraction Panel/Page layout

  This seems like a good place to stop and review all this. Basically I go from story circle which helps to give the story some shape (pun intended), and then move on to doing a page by page breakdown of those beats, with as much or as little info as needed. Once I've got the story down to around 20 pages or so, I start to figure out how many panels I would need per page, which sometimes means I need to rethink the page count to fit it all in. What you'll find is by the time you've finished all these steps, you've actually rewritten your story about 3 times before you've even typed a word, which will hopefully make the next steps even easier. 

Again, you may find that all or parts of this don't work for you at all. Layouts just feel like a waste of time, or breaking down the pages doesn't help you see the story any better. That's fine, forget and it and find something that does work. Either way, the goal is to give yourself some kind of road map before you start typing away, so if you find yourself stuck or lost, you'll have a handy guide to refer to. So start breaking down your story and make some Comics!