A Writer’s Notebook: Script Frenzy

So, as you might know, my planned 10-day interruption in participating in Script Frenzy turned into two and a half weeks, because we were stuck in Amsterdam for a week trying to figure out how to get home.  Then I was resting up, then working on other projects, like my travel journal….  Needless to say, I didn’t do anything like the kind of work on my Script Frenzy experiment I had wanted to do.

Still, I’m writer enough not to completely abandon a project, so I figured I’d try to toss out a handful of pages at least, and while I was at it I could use it as this week’s Writer’s Notebook exercise.  I’m managed about 10 pages so far and might push that to 12 by the end of the day, though that’s as far as it’s going to get.  But just for fun, here are the first three pages of what might become the graphic-novel adaption of my dissertation.  (To see the pages properly formatted, click on the pdf version; for the “rules,” see below.)

Page 1

There are four horizontal panels on this page, roughly equal in height.  Each is black.

Panel 1

The first panel is all black—completely blank except for the inky emptiness.

Panel 2

This panel is also black.  In the top-left, there’s a narration box.

NARRATION

I can’t breath.

In the bottom-right is a sound.

SFX

leaves crunching, like a “krish” sound.

Panel 3

Also black.  In the top-right is another box.

NARRATION

It hurts.

There are sound effects moving along the bottom from left to right.

SFX

“snap”; rustling effects, possibly with movement in the form of lines or a faded-black streak; and a “splish,” possibly with a watery rub-out surrounding the last effect in the bottom-right corner.

Panel 4

The last black panel, this one with a fade to a soft, golden glow in the bottom-right corner, radiating from a bright center.  It could be a spotlight, or it could be a tunnel.  In the top-left is another box.

NARRATION

Oh god.

Page 2

This page is a three-tiered layout, with two horizontal panels and a bottom tier of three panels.  Panels 1 and 2 together take up slightly less than half the page.

Panel 1

This is a horizontal panel roughly equal in size to the previous four.  This one is an extreme close-up of a tire, with the weedy edge of the asphalt just visible beneath it and the old hub, a rust-spotted chrome cap, flat with alternating ridges in the sloped walls of the cap like a wide cog, slipping into the frame from above.  The tire is not quite centered; the bulk of it is on the right.

NARRATION

I just want…

Panel 2

This is a thin horizontal panel, at most half the height of the previous one.  It’s an extreme close-up of NESSIE’s blue-gray eyes.  They are wide, not from fear so much as confusion and a bit of pain.  Her white face is wet, but not from crying—there is at least one drop of water falling from her brow in the upper-left corner.

NESSIE

Please.  Help me . . .

Panel 3

This is a vertical panel, roughly one quarter of the page.  It is an overhead view of the road, which comes into frame just left of center at the bottom and goes out of frame just right of center at the top; the road curves a bit at the top, and it takes up most (or all) of the right side of the panel.  On the road sits a white Dodge Ram full-size touring van.  It’s a plain van, no bells or whistles, and it’s a first-generation Dodge Ram, the paint a bit faded, with a flat glare of white sunlight coming in from everywhere—there are no distinct shadows.  The van is aimed up the road, toward the top of the panel.  The driver’s door is open, and HARISH, a bald, liver-spotted man with dark olive skin, is leaning out the door, one hand on the armrest, looking back down at the road.  Nessie is huddled in the weeds on the left, on her knees but slumping sideways on her left side, and she’s surrounded by three elderly people, one of them a black woman with iron curls and the other two wrinkled old white women in flowery dresses.  The black woman has a hand on Nessie’s shoulder and her face near Nessie’s face; the two white women have their hands under Nessie’s right arm.  On the right side, the passenger side of the van, the two side doors in the middle are open into the road.

Everything is washed in a thin gray tone, like a silver wash on an old photograph.

In the top-left corner is a narration box.

NARRATION

to sleep . . .

Panel 4

A smaller, horizontal panel.  The vantage is from ground view, looking at the rear of the van from roughly the level of the rusty license plate (no state is given, only the numbers 551 195).  Most of the driver’s side of the van, from the wheel on, is out of frame, so all we’re seeing is from the license plate and right of it, including the DODGE RAM logo on the bottom-right of the rear door.  The passenger side of the van is visible, moving straight out away from the viewpoint, with the front end just out of frame.  The side doors are open, and the three women are helping Nessie crawl into the van; she has one leg draped on the ground, and she’s collapsed on her other knee, which is crooked into the open van doors.

Panel 5

A square panel, slightly taller than Panel 4.  It’s a head-and-shoulders view of Nessie, seen from over the worn beige seat back in front of her; she’s slumped against a dark-tinted window with a shabby cream shoulder strap hanging behind her, unused.  She’s in her mid-thirties and wears solid-color, nondescript clothes and no make-up.  She’s no Hollywood beauty, but she’s feminine enough even though she clearly has a tough edge to her.  Her eyes are closed, her shoulder-length, ashy blonde hair has fallen half into her face.  Her face is a watery reflection in the glass.  Through the window is a dark vision of a scrubby woods, live oaks and cedars.  In the bottom-right corner is a narration box.

NARRATION

to dream . . .

Page 3

A splash, divided into thirds.  The color tone here, too, is that silvery gray wash, the top third is the sky, strangely colorless, an empty blue without any depths—it is either without clouds or uniformly overcast, but it’s hard to tell which.  The middle third shows the old highway winding up and right across the page over a rugged landscape of grasses and scrub, the trees falling away into the distance as though into mist and the horizon barren of anything but the road, a few bushes, and the slope of an occasional swell.  Once in a while small road breaks off and tunnels underneath the highway, but the roads always loop back into the highway again, going nowhere, like something out of an Escher sketch, and the land out past those roads is all two-dimensional emptiness; no trees, no wildflowers, not even road kill.  Over the last dip in the horizon, where the grass meets the flat sky, a tiny overpass crosses the highway, but we can’t see any road it’s connected to—it’s just a bridge.  In the foreground, a small kick of dust floats behind the van, and the imprint of Nessie’s shape is still in the grass on the left side of the road.  Below that, in the bottom third, the scene fades into white nothingness, completely undrawn.

In the top-left of the page is the tag BOOK 1.

The rules for comic scripts are quite flexible, and the formatting in particular varies widely.  I learned what little I know about graphic narrative from Will Eisner’s Graphic Storytelling and Visual Narrative and Scott McCloud’s two excellent books, Understanding Comics and Reinventing Comics.  But for the practical bits about actually writing a script, I mostly followed Neil Gaiman’s advice both in what to include in the panel descriptions and in how to format the script (he includes that advice and a sample script at the back of the graphic novel edition of The Sandman: Dream Country).  For this, I’ve largely stuck with Gaiman’s advice on descriptions.  For the formatting, though, I decided to try and conform to the advice on Script Frenzy‘s website, which is closer to traditional screenplay formatting.

Published by Samuel Snoek-Brown

I write fiction and teach college writing and literature. I'm the author of the story collection There Is No Other Way to Worship Them, the novel Hagridden, and the flash fiction chapbooks Box Cutters and Where There Is Ruin.

6 thoughts on “A Writer’s Notebook: Script Frenzy

  1. The whole script thing seems confusing. Honestly I don’t even know what it is, but I saw Neil Gaiman’s name in your post and had to find out. I finished the Grave Yard Book a few weeks ago; big fan of his.

    1. I love Neil Gaiman, but I definitely prefer his graphic fiction to his prose fiction. The stories he writes in his novels and short fiction are usually just as mythically inventive as his comics, but his prose style often feels prosaic–it usually bears very little of the complexity or sophistication he achieves in his visual narrative. He seems able to do more with pictures than with words, I guess. But when he’s working in graphic fiction, he ranks among the best, absolutely!

      You know, my wife once saw him participate in a discussion panel at a library conference. She said he’s very cool in person, very casual and direct in his speaking style, and very friendly with an audience. I’m not surprised–he seems like a very cool guy.

  2. The only graphic fiction I’ve read has been the walking dead. I’m a zombie lover but I couldn’t get into it. I had no idea Neil Gaiman had graphic novels. I’ll have to check it out.

    Are you doing the art for your GN?

    1. Ha! Absolutely not. If you saw my post in which I use art as a springboard to a writing exercise, you know why.

      Actually, my artistic limitations are one of the things making this adaptation so slow. I’ve found that having an idea of what the book might look like is of very little help when it comes to actually arranging that graphically on the page. In fact, reworking the novel as a graphic novel is like learning to write all over again. Graduate workshops almost never cover the nuts and bolts of plot–it’s always character character character–but I’ve found that plotting is extremely important to this kind of story, even when it’s character-driven. That’s a good thing, actually; it’s really helped me straighten out a LOT of the messy details of my novel and give it a more cohesive storyline. But then you have to think in terms of arranging that plot visually on the page. I’ve taught technical communication and between the document design aspects of that course and my background in journalism and lit magazine production, I know how to lay out a page, but arranging art visually in order to tell a story is a different creature altogether. It combines elements of traditional narrative and traditional document design with something more esoteric, or at least something I haven’t yet got a firm grasp of. Will Eisner’s and Scott McCloud’s books on sequential art have helped a lot, and I’ve been returning to my old comic book collection with a more critical eye lately, so I’m getting there, but it’s a long process.

      Still, I do love mucking around on the computer and toying with design software, and I have a huge file of reference photos for the visuals I’ve had running through my head, so for a while–partly to get a feel for how to lay this thing out but also partly just for fun–I was using those photos to do a mock-up of the first several pages in Photoshop. If I get brave, I might post those some day.

      Most of Gaiman’s graphic work that I’ve read is confined to his Sandman series, and if you’re not a comics reader, you might start there. It’s probably more in tune with the kind of Gaiman you’d love, anyway. As an old comic book geek, though, I got a huge kick out of his book Marvel 1602. Definitely worth reading, even if you don’t get all the inside references.

  3. I hope you do decide to post your work for this project. I’m curious how it plays out. What’s the story about? At first I thought it was going to be your bayou story, then realized with the white van that must not be the case.

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