If you’ve been following my progress, (and a few of you have) you know that the screenwriting class from Spring Quarter was an immense help in moving forward my story, characters, plot and setting. All of these beforehand were mere flashes from some strange disconnected dream where I could see a character that looked like this and a villain, a controversial scene, and the makings of a future world — all nothing but ideas. The screenwriting class helped this all to congeal fairly well. Screenwriting however is not graphic novel writing. Though they are both intended to become visual narratives, film has a much different dynamic, driven by a completely different way of advancing the story across time.
Which bring us to the next discussion on the otherliness of comics. I have concluded that they deal with time differently in at least three respects. First, as I have mentioned in the past, film goes forward, that’s it, and unless you have an annoying habit of replaying scenes incessantly, (not exactly what the director intended) you are stuck in forward motion. Even when wielding the remote control, either backward or forward film provides only one moment in time; one frame. So in the first respect film — in it’s presentation — is linear. In the otherly world of comics, graphic novels, what have you, past, present and future are all laid out on the page right in front of you. Indeed, you can quickly move forward or look back to add context or meaning, much as you do in pure prose. Of course, here we have pictures.
In a second regard, a film has a finite length. I’m sure there is some marketing formula that lays out the ideal length for general matinee fare. This restriction is not completely absent from a comic or graphic novel, since a publisher may have similar marketing motivations here as well. But, in the absence of a tight publishing format or serial precedent, the length is more likely to be based on the story than the number of marketable pages and the luxury of continuing to a next issue or installment if the story calls for it.
Finally, there is the restriction of time as in the time you spend with the story. This is related to the first reason but not the same. In the graphic novel or comic, we can linger, which is different than scanning back or forward for context, it is about enjoying or studying an image for its sheer impact or wonder. Yes, you can do this with a remote control, too, but let’s face it; it’s different: primarily because the images on the page are intended as 2D art and not moving photos. This brings us back to screenwriting. As most experienced screenwriters will tell you, the visual and audio are your primary tools. They will tell you to write, “Only what we see and hear.” No one wants to read a lot of exposition in a movie. Save for the introduction to Star Wars, most screenwriting experts will tell you that if you have to write a page of explanation then, at the very least, you are using bad form. Not so in the graphic novel. In this constantly evolving form, you can pretty much do whatever you want. If you feel the need to tell your readers that the world in 2159 is extremely complex, that there is a new world government, bizarre new crimes, technological wonders, etc., etc., then you can do that. You can write “more than what we see.” Sounds become their own challenge, but the burden falls on the writer/artist to find a compelling way to introduce written exposition in an engaging and creative way — or you can read it. The cool part is that you could read it on a memo, or another visual device that adds context and additional meaning to the story.
I will have more on the switch from the screenplay to the story script in the next blog.