WITH THE SUBTERRANEAN I wanted a different tone from the comics I created in the past. So rather than rely on intuition or studying comic book writing I read several books on how to write screenplays. The best was Story by Robert McKee. Whether you write for comics or film I highly recommend this book. Another great book is Screenplay.
After absorbing the basic elements of screenwriting I started jotting down scenes on index card-sized sticky notes. Some of these story events, although highly creative, proved irrelevant to the story. But I recorded every idea because at this stage it's impossible to know every twist and turn of your plot. Some of these ideas were incorporated into the final comic. Others were sacrificed on the cutting room floor. I archived the rejected scenes for possible use in later episodes.
Within two months I recorded enough material on sticky notes that I could begin organizing my narrative.
I divided a spaceous wall in my studio, using string and tape, into three areas. I labeled the sections act one, act two, and act three. I sorted the events on the sticky notes into scenes that would be most appropriate for each act (see the books listed above for what needs to happen in acts and transitions). All introductory scenes ended up in act one. Some events were highly dramatic and ended up at the climax of the story in act three. Other events made nice transitions and I ordered them appropriately. This wall soon became a mass of notes, arrows, and strings giving order to what otherwise would have been an overly convoluted plot. My daughter called it my Beautiful Mind Wall.
There were frustrating moments in the process. I would occasionally write myself into a dead-end and would have to reconfigure plot elements and resolve them. I frequently had to amp up the drama in slack passages.
It wasn't always easy. It was often quite challenging. But when it finally started coming together it was very satisfying and a great deal of fun.
Having a great script to work from is a great confidence booster. But despite my best efforts occasionally a scene didn't translate well into action that could be broken down into panels. So I had to refocus and revise my script on-the-fly.
I recently had to do this at the end of episode #3. In these cases I tightly storyboard all the action by writing the dialogue on small sticky notes and cutting them into round, balloon-like shapes. I then apply them onto a page to give an idea of how to divide the page into panels. I roughly sketch the panels and reposition the dialog balloons when necessary. I then roughly sketch in the figures and backgrounds. The whole idea is to keep everything in flux. Occasionally I redo a panel by completely obliterating the drawing beneath with a sticky note and reapplying balloons and drawings. It's a kind of visual brainstorming where anything can change at a moments notice.
I've included an example of page 25 from episode #3. Click on the image to see a larger version.
This is my process. Let me know what works for you.
Brad Teare June 2012