Scripting a graphic novel|
The most challenging aspect in writing a graphic novel for me was the economy of words. In a novel, I can use as many words as I need to create a mood, illustrate a scene, reveal a character. During rewrites, I trim as many words as I can, because even in a novel, I don't want to use a single word more than I need to tell the story. But in a graphic novel, words can be your enemy. We had a page limit, to respect the illustrator's time and keep printing costs down. If you use too many words, they crowd out the illustrations, which defeats the purpose of a graphic format. Really, as much should be told in illustration as possible, only using words for what can't be done visually. It's an enormous challenge to carve out a complex script with only a couple thousand words. Entire scenes must be cut and new ways found to reveal character, expose plot, make a joke. A real challenge for a novelist!
Writing a graphic novel script is more like writing a screenplay than a novel. As the writers, Dean and I gave a brief description of the visual for each panel, as well as any dialog, captions, sound effects, or other text items (such as signs) that might go with that image. While the panel descriptions are an important part of the storytelling, ultimately it's up to the artist to "interpret" the writer's meaning and make the illustration work. Here's the beginning of our script. Compare it with the first few pages from the illustrated book to see how Nate took our directions and how he altered/added/improved. It was completely up to Nate how he organized the panels, how many panels were on each page, if an action was told in one panel or several, and so on. He did a fantastic job of taking our script and making it better with his keen eye for action and scene.
Part 1: Once Upon a Tower
Wide (top-3/4) view of a beautiful Spanish style villa. The main house is surrounded by lush flower and vegetable gardens, and the whole of it is encircled by a huge brick wall. We cannot see what is beyond the wall, save for a large brown/gray mountain in the background. Six-year-old Rapunzel darts from the vegetation and onto the path. She has mid-back length orangish-red hair stuck all over with leaves and flowers from her mad dash through the garden.
CAPTION: Once upon a time there was a beautiful little girl. That's me there.
View follows Rapunzel as she runs down the garden path toward the villa. Through the magnificent entry we can see shining granite flooring, two gaudy staircases. A sixty-year-old cowboy, MASON, is walking a couple of horses, and he waves to her.
CAPTION: I lived in a grand villa,
We're still following behind her as she runs, the view lagging just a tad so that we're just entering the villa and seeing the kitchen through the doorway. Rapunzel darts through the kitchen, and without slowing down grabs a pastry of some sort from the counter. There are a few kitchen folk watching, some a little amused and some annoyed.
CAPTION: with loyal servants, tasty food,
Suddenly no movement. MOTHER GOTHEL is blocking her path in the inner courtyard outside the kitchen, stopping Rapunzel cold. We're still behind R, so we see Mother Gothel as she does, looking up. Mother Gothel is dressed as a proper, western frontier Victorian lady would be, hair up, gray clothing, but there's nothing motherly about her. She's sturdy, looks like she could take a wild dog in a fight. She is proud of Rapunzel, not angry, but there's something eerie, not right, about her that would stop you cold in your tracks, too. Let's not make her a stereotypical ugly witch, though. This may be a good point also to begin to feel the un-welcome-ness of the villa. Rapunzel never feels right there, it should be dark inside, huge, cold. Rapunzel's red hair and the colors of her clothes should be vibrant, lively, whereas the villa itself is the opposite, despite the garden.
CAPTION: and my mother.
Mother Gothel tries to smile and pats Rapunzel's head as if making an effort to be motherly. Her faux-affection is disquieting. Rapunzel is uneasy, never able to get used to this woman.
CAPTION: Or who I thought was my Mother.
CAPTION 2: But more on that in a minute.
Rapunzel walking in a long hallway with many doors. Her hand trails against a wall. If we see her expression, she is a little frightened in her own home, edgy.
CAPTION: The Villa was…well, it was big. Three stories, seventy-eight rooms, one thousand and twelve chairs.
CAPTION 2: I know, because I counted them all. There wasn't much else to do.
Wide shot of villa entrance, through main doors. Rapunzel is standing on the upper railing, looking very small. No one else is in sight. This picture should be a portrait of loneliness and not-right-ness to compliment the understated text.
CAPTION: Yep. Home.
In a courtyard under a tree, Mason teaches Rapunzel how to swing a lasso. Rapunzel is delighted. Mason is older, salt & pepper hair, looks like a young grandfather.
CAPTION: No one was horribly mean to me or anything. In fact, one of the guards, Mason, he was right kind.
Rapunzel lassos a post, and Mason cheers for her. Mother Gothel's silhouette on a balcony of the courtyard.
CAPTION: He taught me tricks when he thought Mother wasn't looking.
Zoom up to Mother Gothel, still watching Rapunzel. She is nearly expressionless. We're not sure if she loves Rapunzel or loathes her. We can see BRUTE, MG's henchman, in the room behind Gothel, holding a peasant farmer by the scruff of his neck. Brute is a large, hulking cowboy type with bushy mustache and long sideburns.
CAPTION: Now it seems so strange that I lived all those years in the Villa and never realized what was going on.
Mother Gothel has turned to join Brute in the room. Brute has dropped the farmer, who is kneeling down, pleading with MG. Behind her back, we can see that she is toying with a pair of scissors. In her hands, they look dangerous. These scissors will return again. They are Gothel's signature tool.
CAPTION: Never saw who Mother really was.
FARMER: Please, Mother Gothel, I beg you. We can't afford to pay your taxes this year, but if you remove your growth magic from our lands—
As above, now Gothel is fully in the room, staring down at the farmer, who looks terrified. Brute is shutting the study door.
CAPTION: And the kinds of things she was capable of doing.
Rapunzel asleep in her huge bed, curled up, her brow furrowed as if she's having a nightmare.
CAPTION: I didn't understand then why I felt the way I did—like something lost, like a toy left out in the rain.
FLASHBACK (should be side-by-side with the previous panel)—three-year-old Rap playing pattycake on her mother's lap, father leaning in behind them, smiling.
(Nate, the flashbacks later are all sepia-toned, like old photographs. What if we make Rapunzel's flashbacks different? Maybe really watery watercolors or charcoal drawings or some medium that feels different, like the memories of a small girl?)
CAPTION: And I didn't know why I had that dream again and again.
Rapunzel sits on a bench in the garden, looking gloomy. Gothel walks by, about some business.
CAPTION: Or why it always left me feeling as sad as a toad.
GOTHEL: Why do you mope like this, Rapunzel? You should be the happiest girl in all the world.
RAPUNZEL: I…I had one of those dreams last night—
Gothel reacts angrily to this, coming in close to Rapunzel, pointing at her threateningly. Rapunzel is scared.
GOTHEL: I told you to never speak about that again, you understand me?
RAPUNZEL: Yes. Sorry.
Gothel moves on, though she looks back at Rapunzel, still mildly angry.
GOTHEL: Ignore the dreams, my dear, and they'll go away.
Gothel gone, Rapunzel looks up at something with a scheming look.
CAPTION: I guess I might've spent my whole life in that Villa, never learning the truth...
Same moment as previous panel, but now we're behind Rapunzel, looking up at the wall she's staring at. It looks way too high for a seven-year-old to climb. A guard with rifle walks along the top.
CAPTION: …if not for that darn wall.
CAPTION: Deep in my gut, I believed if I could just look over it, just see what was there, my dreams would make sense. Everything would make sense.
Mother Gothel is at her desk in the library, looking over papers. SIX-year-old Rapunzel stands beside her, pointing outside.
RAPUNZEL: There's a wall in the garden.
GOTHEL: Yes. It's made of bricks.
Mother Gothel is at her desk in the library, looking over papers. EIGHT-year-old Rapunzel stands beside her, pointing outside. She's in a different dress than previous panel. She's always a little nervous around Mother Gothel, can't be as willful as she is when she's alone.
RAPUNZEL: What's behind the wall, Mother?
GOTHEL: Nothing. Go play, Rapunzel.
Mother Gothel is at her desk in the library, looking over papers. TEN-year-old Rapunzel stands beside her. Again, different dress. Beside Mother Gothel's desk is a potted rose plant with only rose buds.
RAPUNZEL: I'm going go up on the wall, just for a minute, okay?
MOTHER GOTHEL: Absolutely not. It's too dangerous for little girls.
Rapunzel sulks. MG reaches her hand to the plant without looking at it, and a rose bud blooms and grows toward her fingers. This kind of magic comes easily to her. MG keeps her eyes on Rapunzel. She looks a little creepy, trying to smile and be kind.
MOTHER GOTHEL: You'll see when you're ready. One day, my villa, my garden, and everything visible from the top of that wall will be yours.
CAPTION: I'd always known she had growth magic. I'd seen her make things grow or wilt, as easy as snapping her fingers.
MG has plucked the magically-enhanced rose and is placing it in Rapunzel's hair. Let's have a color for magic. We've written her "totem" tree as pink, but whichever color we decide, let's have the rose/flower here be that same color. Rapunzel looks uncomfortable. It's never an easy feeling to have MG's attention focused on her.
CAPTION: She'd tested me once to see if I had the talent to train as a witch, but I was winter-creek dry of any power.
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