How to Get Started Writing Comics

Last week, I launched the Kickstarter campaign for Plexus #2, just before heading to Thought Bubble to table for the first time at the show. In keeping with the excitement I usually feel on the back of a big comic-centric event, I decided to share the workshop I put together for Octocon on writing comic scripts. Check out the slides below, and don’t be afraid to get in touch if you have any questions! The text below is a direct import from Twitter.

In October, I ran a workshop for @Octocon named very simply ‘How to Get Started Writing Comic Scripts’.

Let’s make a thread using the slides from the workshop. I’m still fairly buzzing about comics thanks to @ThoughtBubbleUK this past weekend.

Okay, really simple intro first. Who am I, and what have I written?

I’m a founding member of @lb_comic, and I help run @irishcomicsie

Since 2018, I’ve published four books:

  • Life & Death
  • Meouch #1 (with @garethluby)
  • Plexus #1
  • Turning Roads

What does a comic writer do?

We get the ball rolling. The whole point is to communicate to the art team what you’re trying to achieve.

Include all the necessary info, try not include any padding.

There’s no standard format for writing comic scripts, but when working with a script, you’ll want to include key details like the number of panels per page, details for the artist, reference images and dialogue and captions.

The ‘Marvel Style’ of writing scripts varies according to the writer.

It’s written as prose, rather than in a script format, and can make the artist’s workload greater. Some artists still like working in this manner.

Sample from The Hawthorns in Turning Roads.

Comic scripts are a numbers game, sometimes.

Key things to remember: don’t overcrowd a comic with panels!

@2000AD is a larger format publication, with recommendations for 5-7 panel pages. For US comics, aim for 3-7, but average 4 or 5.

Panel count affects the story’s pace.

For dialogue and other text, be wary not to fill the page.

Leave room for art. Trim back your dialogue and captions.

2000AD guidelines say no more than 3 text spaces per panel, and no more than 25 words per text box per panel. Scale down for US comic size pages.

While most writers aren’t artists, you can still practice layouts from your own scripts.

The image below shows the sort of page flow you should aim for. Can’t recall the source, my apologies.

Writers should always be wary of what’s going on after the script has been written.

In print, page turns are obvious. They’re what you get when you turn the page. Surprises, twists, big reveals, they have greater impact on a page turn.

Those will be your *even numbered* pages in print.

In digital formats, every page offers a chance at a reveal.

Remember that as a writer, you’re just one part of a team.

Learn what everyone does in the creative team, and everyone’s lives will be that little bit easier.

This slide came courtesy of @sxbond‘s interview with @MikeOwenCarroll during @Octocon

As a writer, especially in small press, you’re the one pushing the project from inception to completion.

It’s but one valuable job, but a writer shouldn’t underestimate their own role.

Looking at one page in particular from Meouch, here’s the process from script to letters.

You’ll note from the original script, a couple of panels were removed. They weren’t essential to the story.

Art by @garethluby, colours by @joegriffin111, letters by @HassanOE

These were some tips for new writers that didn’t have another place in the workshop.

Be considerate of who speaks first and where you’re positioning them in the script.

Note important details like the time of day and the weather. The colourist will love you for this later.

How much you write in a script will vary from writer to write.

I like to describe the whole scene in the first panel description.

Keep character actions limited to one per panel.

Remember your script is for the art team, not the reader of the finished comic.

Theatre nerd incoming.

Block out your scenes. How many people are present? Who is visible? Who is doing what?

And remember… you probably shouldn’t ask for group shots in every panel. Don’t overcrowd your scenes or overwrite the dialogue.

Not to hark on about a single point too much, but this one is important:


When people argue who is more important, you stop being a team and start being cogs that don’t fit together.

Listen to your teammates.

While writers don’t go near the art, recognising things like the Golden Rule and the Rule of Thirds from film and photography can help you imagine the scene more clearly in your head.

The better you can envision it, the easier it is to convey your meaning to the rest of the team

Dialogue advice.

Eavesdrop on people on buses and in cafes.

Listen to podcasts to pick up necessary jargon from industries you don’t work in.

Read your dialogue aloud and listen back to it to see if it sounds natural.

Only write as much as fits into an action.

Where can you find collaborators?

Events are handy. In lieu of them…

@CreatorAdvisor is a key resource. Or just put out a tweet from your own account.

Irish creators can also be found through @irishcomicsie, @IrishComicNews, @comixireland and the @DublinComicJam

How do you pitch a story to an artist?

Email is best.

Tell them what the story is about, how long it’ll be, and how you plan to release it.

Ask their availability and page rate.

Attach a pitch doc if you have one.

My pitch docs include the concept, a summary, the tone, the length of the comic, and a publication plan.

If you’re approaching an artist who doesn’t know you, tell them your comics history if you have one.

Pitch in the image for Dead Ringer with @GavinFullerton1

When pitching to anthologies, like @lb_comic‘s DOWN BELOW:

Keep the concept, tone, story length details, summary

Remove the publication plan – the anthology is the plan

Add in creator bios. Sell yourselves.

Make sure your portfolio contains comics.

Start with short pieces you can post online.

Use a dedicated website to show them off in one place. Editors shouldn’t have to go looking through your Twitter or Instagram.

Keep it updated.

Make a PDF in Word if you can’t send a link.

Key tips:

Read the guidelines carefully.

Pitch within the genre and page count, and before the deadline. For Turning Roads, I had pitches fail in at least one of those three areas.

When the book is themed, aim to be as original as possible. Your first idea isn’t always best.

When releasing your comics, choose how you do it.

Digital comics can be distributed for free.

Physical books need some investment. Decide how you approach the ‘label’ idea carefully.

See @ComicPrintingUK for printing standards. NB: BLEEDS.

Okay, that’s the end of the slideshow.

Ask questions if you have them. Share your thoughts.

Check out my Kickstarter if you fancy it.

Originally tweeted by Paul Carroll 📚✒ back PLEXUS #2 on Kickstarter (@writeranonymous) on 17th November 2021.

[Update: 19/11/2021: the text in a tweet in this thread erroneously said 25 words per panel, when it should have read 25 words per text box per panel.]

How to Keep a Story Short

When it comes to writing short fiction, sometimes it can be difficult keeping the word count low. In this post, as part of my NaNoWriMo series, we’ll take a look at three tips for keeping a story short. This is essential if you’re planning on writing a short story a day for NaNoWriMo, if you know how long each one is meant to be.

What makes a short story?

A short story is like any other story – it needs a beginning, a middle and an end, and should actually say something. It helps to understand general word count ranges for different lengths of story.

  • 0-7,500 words – Short story
  • 7,500-17,500 words – Novelette
  • 17,500-40,000 words – Novella
  • 40,000+ words – Novel

It’s imperfect, because everyone disagrees about one thing or another. Some people will specify word counts for flash fiction differently, whether it’s up to 100, 250, 500 or 1,000 words, and others will insert a noveletta into the mix, as well as specify word count ranges specific to genres.

With that in mind, how do you keep your word count down?

Start as close to the end as possible

The less build-up you have to do, the less time you need to spend wrapping up.

We don’t need to know how everything happened, just that it did, and pick a moment near the end to focus on. This will help you avoid the sort of set-up that a novel requires, and protects the short story from going stale before it’s gone anywhere else.

Introduce the premise, character and their motivation as quickly as possible

We should know everything we need to know from the get-go, especially for fiction of less than 1,000 words. 

If a character’s relationship with their father isn’t important to the story, you don’t need to mention it. If a character’s motivation is to become an astronaut, the story should be about that. 

Ideally, aim smaller: the character just needs to get through an interview, or a lunch, or get somewhere on time. Big motivations, long-term goals, are for novels, unless we’re close to the end.

Short-term goals, things a character can achieve in a day or less, are better suited for short fiction. And always refer back to the previous tip.

Outline in 3-5 bullet points

If you need 20 bullet points to plot your story, it won’t be short. Keep it simple. Refer back to the previous tips.

Your plan for your story can follow something like this:

  • Introduce the premise, the character and their motivation.
  • Introduce an obstacle.
  • Explore how the character will overcome the obstacle.
  • Climax.
  • Conclusion. Wrap it all up.

Write about moments, and let the story end, no matter how much you love the characters (or what you get to do to them.) That’s the key to making it short. If you like the characters, and you haven’t killed them all by the end, you can always write another story about them. Arthur Conan Doyle did it with Sherlock Holmes.

Do you have to plan?

Technically no, but I know a lot of people who try to write without a plan and end up going way over their target word count. Planning your story will help you figure out exactly how much will happen in it. Likewise, if you know how many words you’re allowed to write – if you’re writing for a submission to an anthology, magazine or competition – you need to be able to plan your story accordingly.

What’s next?

My NaNo prep series is done, at least this time around. Ahead of the July Camp session, I may write another series, covering other topics.

In the meantime, my own collection of short fiction,Tales of the Fantastical, is currently available on Amazon. You can download some sample stories below by signing up to my newsletter.

The Time to Write

Any creative act takes time. Novels happen to take a lot of time, even just to get a first draft. That’s fine. When you’ve done it a couple of times, you expect to spend a large portion of your available time sitting at a keyboard, working away. NaNoWriMo just happens to require that you condense the experience into a month. In this blog post, we’re going to look at some tips on making time, and making the most of what you’ve got.

Making time out of nothing

Finding the time to write is difficult, especially if you’re working full-time and/or raising children. During the time when I was minding my niece, my productivity went way down. When I was working in an office 9-5, my available time was gone, too. You learn to make time out of nothing.

Set time aside

The first thing to remember is that the time won’t just appear out of nowhere. You have to make it. Spend a few minutes and take note of how you spend your days. Are you staying in bed long after you wake? Are you playing games on your phone, or browsing social media for an hour?

What’s the least important thing in your day? What can you give up at the drop of a hat?

You already have time to write if you spend time doing nothing. Try to set aside a couple of hours in your day to work on your novel. They don’t need to be consecutive blocks of time, but they should be whole blocks, and you shouldn’t include the time it takes to make tea and power up your laptop. Remove distractions before you get started. That hour is your writing time.

Try the Pomodoro Technique

The simple version of the Pomodoro Technique is this: set a timer for 25 minutes, work for that period, take a five minute break, and then work for another 25 minutes. Starting and stopping with the timer is important. The break is necessary.

Using this as a guide, you can fit two Pomodoros into an hour block, and wind down before you need to do anything else.

If you think 25 minutes is too long, try 20 minutes. During NaNoWriMo, I’ll be helping the Dublin region by running some writing sprints of that length of time throughout the day. When we did it in November 2019 for a couple of hours, three times a day, many members wrote several thousand additional words over their average, and productivity as a whole increased.

Write faster

This piece of advice is kind of a cheat. The faster you write, the more you’ll get done. The truth is, the more you write, it’s likely that you’ll get faster. Some people find this statement is true even of a single sitting – the longer they go without having to stop for an extended period in the middle of the day, the more words they can write.

The time making formula

This blog post has been about highlighting three ways of increasing the amount of writing you can get done in a day. To recap:

  • Set aside time you already have
  • Use blocks of time to work
  • Write regularly as training for writing more

Combined these three things can help you make the time you need to write 50,000 words in a month. Or more. Many overachieve. It doesn’t necessarily make them better writers, just people who can make more use of the time in the day to write.

What if you don’t write novels?

These techniques are aimed at NaNoWriMo as an event, but are applicable to writing generally. I’ve done this for writing comics, short stories, blog posts, and more. Time is limited, but creativity isn’t.

Tomorrow, we’ll look at the writing of short stories instead of a novel, and my simple tips for keeping a story short.