Guest Post: Thoughts On Writing (This) Graphic Novel(s)

by Jeremiah Tolbert

jememiah_tolbertI 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.

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