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The Formats of Writing for Comics – Synopsis and Plot Tutorial
The Formats of Writing for Comics
The Synopsis
The Plot
Suggested Reading

Writing for Comics – Synopsis and Plot

By Zorikh Lequidre

1. The Formats of Writing for Comics
As in any art, there are geniuses who can work without rules, who can do everything by themselves, and who don’t need to worry about the formats that the rest of the artists in this medium work with. For the rest of us, we have to make sure that what we produce can be understood by the most possible collaborators with the least amount of confusion. Therefore, certain formats have developed through which a writer can communicate his ideas. Each format has a different purpose, suited to the party for whose reading it is intended.

2. The Synopsis
When a writer has an idea that he wants to see turned into a comic, he must present this idea to someone (except in the case of certain self-publishers, but that is a whole separate topic). He may be presenting it to an editor to get an OK on the story for the next issue, he may be presenting it to a publisher to pitch an idea for a new book, or he may be presenting it to an artist in the hopes of recruiting him to draw the story. In these instances, the target audience usually wants a story in its briefest form, with as little embellishment as possible. This is called a synopsis. The format for this is very simple: The title, the author’s name and a paragraph or two describing the events of the story.

Below is a sample synopsis:

By Zorikh Lequidre

Thomas is a Squire to a Knight Errant, Sir Edmond. While traveling, they are attacked by bandits and Sir Edmond is wounded. Before he dies, Sir Edmond gives Thomas his armor and a letter of introduction and tells him to go to the castle of his fellow knight and former companion, Sir Olivier.

Thomas arrives at the castle, and Sir Olivier’s wife tells him that he has gone to join the king in the wars in France. Thomas goes to France and finds the army just as a battle begins. Wearing Sir Edmond’s armor, he saves the life of a knight named Sir Owen. Since Sir Owen is a poor knight with old armor and his surcoat has been torn away, Thomas mistakes him for a squire. Sir Owen mistakes Thomas for a knight, and they treat each other as equals.

After the battle, Sir Owen introduces Thomas to Sir Olivier. Someone then offers Thomas an honor that only knights are allowed, and Thomas does not know how to respond. For a moment it looks like Thomas will be punished for impersonating a knight, but then everyone then finds out who everyone really is, and Sir Olivier takes on Thomas as his squire.

3. The Plot
This step is not always essential to the writing process, but some publishers (especially Marvel) require it and you may find it helpful. For the purpose of creating comics, plotting is breaking down the story into what happens panel by panel. You can use this process to figure out where the scene changes occur, how the pacing of the story will work, and to make sure that the whole story fits the number off pages you’ve got to fill. What you are basically doing here is writing down the story so that someone can figure out what happens on each page. You can use some artistic flourish in your language if it helps get the point across, but remember, the point here, as always, is to communicate. An artist should be able to take your plot and turn it into a drawn-out comic if he has to, and another writer should be able to create a script from it.

Below is a sample plot:

The Bulge
By Zorikh Lequidre

Page 1

Panel 1:
Wide establishing shot of a couple of pillbox bunkers on the crest of a hill, looking small and lonely against the backdrop of the Ardennes Mountains and forest. It’s nighttime. There is a patrolling sentry (U.S. infantry) in the foreground and one in the background. Snow is covering the ground. From one of the bunkers comes a voice saying, “I don’t know what you’re worried about…”

Panel 2:
Interior of bunker. Medium-close shot of three soldiers huddling around a stove. In background one soldier is looking through a gun port, another is sleeping on a bunk, another is reading a letter, etc. One soldier by stove (“Williams”) is talking about how “war will be over by X-mas…” etc.

Panel 3:
Close up of other soldier (“Corporal Kozlowski”) saying he doesn’t believe it’s going to be that easy.

Panel 4:
Close up of soldier (“Boyd”) in bunk half asleep hearing this.

Page 2

Panel 1:
The next morning: medium-close shot of sentry looking intently at something in the distance, and from the bunker behind him, a yawning Williams emerges to relieve him, saying good morning as the sentry mutters “somethin’s going on out there…”

Panel 2:
View from behind Williams. Medium shot of sentry from behind. Williams saying he’s not believing anything is happening.

Panel 3:
Same view from behind Williams, sentry being blown up by an explosion.

Panel 4:
Close up of Williams panicking as we see behind him German tanks cresting the ridge.

Panel 5:
Inside the bunker the men are waking, startled. Williams is framed in the door, shouting, “They’re coming!” Sound effects of explosions and incoming artillery.

Panel 6:
Close up of Boyd and Kozlowski, Kozlowski giving Boyd advice about what to do and Boyd looking to him for guidance.

Next: The script

Suggested Reading:

  • How to Draw and Sell Comic Strips for Newspapers and Comic Books , Alan McKenzie; Format: Hardcover, 144pp.; ISBN 0-89134-214-1; Publisher: North Light Books, F & W Publications, Inc., Pub. Date: 1987

  • The Official Marvel Comics Try-Out Book, Jim Shooter; Format: Paperback, 32 pp.: ISBN 0-939766-76-0; Publisher: Marvel Comics Group; Pub. Date: 1983

  • The New Official Marvel Try-Out Book cover Fabian Nicieza, John “Lewie” Lewandowski; Format: Paperback, 32 pp.: ISBN 0-7851-0274-4; Publisher: Marvel Comics; Pub. Date: 1996

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    Back to:
    Pg.1: Definition and History of Comics
    Pg.2: Comics Today
    Pg.3: Terms of the Trade
    Writing: Story and Plot

    Forward to:
    Writing: Script
    Sample Script
    Penciling: Tools: Short Answers
    Penciling: Tools: Furniture and Paper
    Penciling: Tools: Pencils and Erasers
    Penciling: Tools: Straightedges and More
    Penciling: Creating Characters
    Penciling: Character Sheets
    Penciling: Costumes
    Penciling: Locations
    Penciling: Props and Vehicles

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