Open Mic Friday! how to write comics

Welcome, lovely readers, to Open Mic Friday! Guest posts will return next week. For today, I have something a little different for you. As you may know, recently I’ve begun in earnest on a family history that will be in graphic novel form. When I showed my mom the first four pages of the story (which are about her and her mother), she gave me permission to post it here on the blog. I’m not quite ready to publicize the whole thing yet, but I would like to share the first page here with you. And I thought I’d show you the text-only script in addition to the finished comic, since I’m guessing most of you have never seen a comics script before. Hope you enjoy.


Page 1 of The First I Ever Heard of It* by Lisa Hsia



The First I Ever Heard of It, page 1

The First I Ever Heard of It, page 1


*That’s the title of this four-page vignette, not the book title.

Now here’s the script for this page. I learned this format from Nunzio deFilippis, and I think he learned it from Greg Rucka. Traditionally, comics are created by separate writers and illustrators, so the script isn’t just intended as a document of the text of the comic, but is a tool for the writer to give the artist some sense of what he envisions. Since I am both writer and artist, the only person reading my script is me, so my panel descriptions can be vague or even nonexistent if I so choose. But I find it still helps me to write in some description when I’m scripting, even though the panels can change quite a lot once I take the script to my sketchbook.

I’ve put explanatory notes [in italics and in brackets].

Page One

ONE [this refers to the panels on the page]
LISA looking over her shoulder at MOMMY, who stands with arms folded. [Whatever’s in CAPS is vital to that panel, and must be shown]

1 CAP[tion]:        When I was in high school, my mother said:
2 MOMMY:    Come with me. I want to talk to you.
[The numbers show how many caption boxes or speech balloons are on the page.]

LISA and SARAH arguing.

3 CAP:        My sister and I had been squabbling, and now we waited for the lecture. Instead she said:

MOMMY sitting in a rocking chair.

4 MOMMY:    All your life I’ve told you Grandma died in a car accident.
5 (linked)    That’s not true.

MOMMY sits steeled. LISA and SARAH (who sit on the bed) gape, uncomprehending.


MOMMY as a 17-year-old.

6 MOMMY:    In 1966, I was 17 — just your age now, Lisa. Everyone loved and admired Chairman Mao because he was making China better.

Image of MAO orating.

7 MOMMY:    But in that year, everything changed. Mao went into the schools. Teachers were accused of disloyalty to the state, and kicked out. The brightest students were beaten or expelled, and the former nothings became the elite guard, picking on everyone else.

Image of the RED GUARDS looking ominous.

8 MOMMY:    We were all brainwashed.

And there you have it! One page of comic, in script and in final form. You’ll notice the final page does diverge from the script in several ways; also, the script doesn’t account for the layout of the panels, or the caption style for flashbacks. If I were working with a separate artist I might need to do that, but in my case all that stuff came up in the sketchbook stage and not in the scripting. Sometimes it’s fun to wear all the hats. 🙂

Please feel free to chime in, in the comments, with your own work. The mic is open!