by Jeremiah Tolbert
I can’t tell you much about the experience of writing a graphic novel in general. I can only tell you specifically about my experience for this particular graphic novel I’ve been writing for the past six months. All told, NIGHTFELL will come in at about 120 pages as I wrap it up. I’m in the final stages, with only a dozen or so pages of panel descriptions to write before beginning a polish pass.
I learned that having an outline to work from for a long form project is super, super important. I wrote two outlines for this project; one for the first half, and one for the second. The first was much more detailed, and the second was a bit limp, and hand-wavy here and there. Guess which part of the script was easier to write?
First, an outline is great because when your confidence in yourself wanes, you can lean on the outline. “The outline says this must happen, and that writer was better than I am today right now.” If you can trust your original ideas, then you can lean on them when you’re not particularly inspired. Conversely, when inspiration strikes and you think of a better way to handle something, you do it the better way. Provided it doesn’t, you know, destroy everything you’ve written already because:
In my case, the artist is drawing pages as I write. This severely limits my ability to go back and re-write pages of script. On most any project, I can do a complete editing pass after finishing something to strengthen the narrative — add allusions and callbacks and what-not. Luckily, with an outline, I know what I need to foreshadow better than if I was just writing it on the fly. Still, I found myself putting in foreshadowing “hooks” even when I wasn’t sure what was casting my shadow at the end of the book. These hooks were super useful, but made wrapping things up harder.
Luckily, because adding the lettering to the comic comes even later, I can still tweak dialogue. So most of the words you will actually read, those I can edit a lot. And boy do I intend to revisit every single line of dialogue when I finish the main story pass on the script.
Working like this has been an adventure, full of weird constraints that force me to think differently. I have hopes that the product will be something worth reading. Thankfully, that result is not based just on me, but on the work of my fine, fine artists who will be drawing and coloring the book.
Jeremiah Tolbert is a writer, photographer, and web designer living in Northeast Kansas. His fiction has appeared in magazines including Lightspeed, Fantasy, and Interzone, and in anthologies including Way of the Wizard. For additional information, visit his blog, where this post first appeared.