The Challenges of Writing for a Graphic Novel versus a Novel

With the release of Dr. 2, a few people have asked how different it was writing for a graphic novel versus a short story or novel. It was very different, though writing for the comic helped me to grow as a writer in very interesting ways. First  and utmost, what looks like a short sentence in text actually takes up a huge amount of space in the paneling. It forced me to literally dwindle down what I wanted to say to a sentence or less. Conveying emotion is much easier with a cluster of paragraphs than in the space of a bubble. Here’s an example of an original paragraph I wrote versus what it finally became:

“It’s the stench that always gets me… When they’re dead, they stink to high hell. Doesn’t matter how beautiful they were, doesn’t matter how affluent or wealthy. The bowels go loose, shit pours out and stains the ten thousand dollar suit the exact same way it does the laced g-string. You get used to the sight, you get used to the noises, you get used to everything except the smell. Which is why I’m surprised when I enter the apartment. It smells like blueberries and peaches and maybe teen spirit, the tightly compacted habitat of a careless bachelor.”

In the final manuscript:

“The thing with dead bodies is that they stink. The sights. The Sounds. You get used to everything. Everything except the smell. Which is why I’m surprised when I enter the apartment. It smells like… blueberries.”


Both convey similar ideas, but with a graphic novel, because you have the imagery conveyed through the art, you want to take away the text descriptions as they detract from the experience. On page, the words sound simple, but complemented with the imagery, it works much better as there’s less clutter and the two work seamlessly together (at least that’s the aim).

The second interesting aspect was working so closely with a partner. While James is the artist, we developed the story together. That meant every word I wrote was carefully edited in terms of how it’d fit with the paneling and we just kept on chopping away at the script together. This was great for me because while I’ve worked with lots of editors, this was a level of scrutiny I’d never experienced. It exposed some problems with my writing right away (like if I overused a word or had narrative crutches I relied on too much). I wrote at least 50 drafts of each of the two volumes and even now, that’s changing, but the iterative process was very educational for me and many of the lessons I learned are ones I still apply. I know you have to have tough skin when it came to critiques. Our collaboration forced me to iron my skin into rock and be open to anything. I’ll admit, there were times I disagreed with some of James’s suggestions, though I made the changes. Later on, I had to admit I liked some of those changes much better.

Above all, it pushed my craft as a writer and it’s been cool that after I started sharing my experiences, I’ve met a bunch of new writers who are also developing their own graphic novel. It was fascinating hearing their take on it as there are some really creative people out there. While everyone works in a different way, we all share our love for stories, which in the end, is what ties us together. The tools are different. But a good story is a good story regardless of the medium. =)

I wrote several more at the Kotaku Blog, TAY, which is a community I always love sharing with. Hope everyone has a wonderful weekend!

The first issue of the graphic novel, Dr. 2, is in its last day of its giveaway today on Amazon Kindle. Check it out if you’re interested to see what I’m talking about, ha ha.


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