Advice from Batman Author and Editor Denny O'Neil on Writing Comics

I mentioned in another thread that Denny O’Neil sent Bleeding Cool Notes from his class at New York University. On 2009.

Google bleeding cool denny o’neil comic book class fall 2009. #1

To get fist. Class notes. The notes are from #1. to #9. plus #13 and #21 exist.

Half of the recommended reading is on screen writing, which is similar to comic book scripts in many ways. Many of these books are not available, at least on Kindle. Look up Hero Journey on Wikipedia. The New York Times has a short article on the American Monomyth. I read Peter David’s book and all I remember is four types of stories man against man, self, society and nature.

We submitted summaries of several ideas for a comic book and a script, in comic book format, for a complete issue.

Sample page of a script are in the Free DC Nation issues 4, 5, 6. The role of an editor is covered on one page in issue 6. Denny covered that in the course. He was the Batman editor for several years.

Denny hated writing Superman stories. The problem in writing Superman and the Flash is stopping them from solving the problem on page two. The problem in group books like Justice League is why is a group needed when any one of the heroes could solve similar problems in their solo books. So haul out the kryptonite, or create a natural disaster to occupy him, and divide the less powered members in small group of two or three to solve multiple problems. Show the character at the beginning of the story and at the end, and give him plenty of action at these points, so the reader doesn’t feel cheated.

I think that was why Wally West quit the New Teen Titans. He is too powerful a character not to solve most problems quickly.

Denny O’Neil recommended a short and fun book called Save the Cat, by Blake Snyder. Blake basically says instead of writing page 1, line 1 of your screenplay first, consider a lot of ideas instead and pick the best one. Then work as high as level as possible, with the fewest words, eliminating a lot of work and frustration.

Start with the movie title, it should give some idea of genre and potential audience. Blake lists the 10 movie genres, including Monster in the House and Why Done It

Then create a log line. This is one sentence that describes the movie. When asked about your story, if you can only say this happens, then this, then that, you don’t really have a story.

Then test out the movie title and log line on people and see their reaction. Often used in an elevator pitch, when you have limited time to reveal your proposal.

An example, on Kindle, you can buy a great super hero story, called Kingdom of Heroes, for .99. My log line for the book is:

The seven super heroes who rule America, reluctantly free their greatest enemy, the Detective, to investigate who is murdering them, one by one.

What reaction do you have? Are you thinking Injustice? Batman? Neither actually. But unique in its own way.

Once you find your title and log line, put each potential scene on an index card.
Arrange them, Cut some, Add some. Can you see the work you are saving?

Create your characters and put them on the index card

Then write the first draft of the screenplay.

Screenwriter Alexandra Sokoloff suggests recreating a plot structure from a movie by writing down the main points of action. Then use that plot structure in your own work.

In some sense, an original Graphic Novel is like a movie. You have the burden of introducing each new character, etc. A comic book series is more like a tv show, where most of the characters are already known.

One book on Writing suggest having a book handy that is similar to the one you are writing. If writing about a swordfight, it will show you the level of detail you need. Books on swords, sticks and guns exist.

Always be specific. Don’t use the word gun, say specific type, like Glock, as well as model number.

Use vigorous verbs and nouns, rather than adverbs and adjectives.

Omit needless words.

Active not passive voice.

Use said, not than variations. People ignore say. They notice chortle.

Read comic book scripts, but not British Authors like Alan Moore. They put too much in their scripts.

Recreate the original script from existing comics. Then you will be at ease in the format.

As far as I know, DC does not accept submissions, especially those with DC characters, fearing claims of plagiarism by submitting writers, if DC publishes a similar idea. Also a lot of work for them.

They want to see portfolios at conventions. Scripts rather than short stories show competence in the medium. Devin Grayson said once she had to make sure each panel contained one action, so artist could draw panel. Published work is important. It doesn’t have to be from Marvel.

If given opportunity to write a sample, Create a complete, six or so page story with an obscure DC character, which could be used in DC holiday or Halloween issues.

I can’t write in the first sentence, then second sentences manner. If I do, my critic says the work sucks.

I need an idea or prompt that restricts me in some way.

I use a notebook and write down any thing that comes to mind. For the story - dialogue. Description , setting. I do the same for many sessions, often repeating myself .Then I read the whole piece and sort the sentences. One version of the sentence may be better than the others and it is selected. I notice omissions and write those as plain sentence.

Then I write my first draft.


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Trying to add link from Drive to everyone on my comic book script to Denny O’Neil in his comic book class, fall 2009

Works for me. but I own file. Please check to see if works for you.

I had to rotate screen to go from portrait to landscape

Still had to make font smaller to get every line. Most lines okay.