Ahead of Myself…

(In which I talk about script work on the graphic book, and a useful writer’s tool for you writers out there of all kinds.)


I’ve been easing my brain back into thinking regularly about the book project and getting momentum on it again. [As you recall, I’ve been distracted by family things, and before that, focussed on finding a publisher for it.) The momentum part is not easy because… newborn. (I’ve been saying that a lot: “because …newborn.” I am tempted to make a (drool-covered) t-shirt with that as a slogan, but the trouble with that idea is that I do not wear t-shirts with things written on them if I can help it. Uh-huh, I’m weird.] My plan is to finish writing the scripts for the book, including storyboarding/thumbnailing the whole thing out to get the page designs right. In essence, flesh out the book with enough of the main stuff of it so that I can then work on tinkering with structure, etc. This involves not just moving words around as you would a prose book, but planning how the words work on the page in concert with the drawings. I’ve often done this by just scribbling in a notebook, but ultimately one wants to be able to have everything in a form one can refer to easily, revise, cut and paste, etc. That’s where this marvellous tool called a computer comes in. A lot of writers in comics use the same sorts of software that is used for plays or screenplays (Final Draft and the like). People have even written comics script templates for such programs. They allow for page descriptions, panel descriptions, etc.

(At this point I should acknowledge that the typical reader probably did not know that comics and graphic books had scripts. Well, they do. There’s a lot more to say about that, but I won’t do that here. Google it.)

Over the years I’ve been slowly putting my scribblings into a piece of software that allows for a comics-like template, but also allows you to store a ton of associated stuff, like extra notes, bit of research you’ve done (for me that can be location scouting information for backgrounds, etc)… all linked together rather nicely for easy recovery. The main thing it does is allow you to store all your written components as little bits of arbitrary size, and then you can move them around (visually if you like – there’s a simulated cork-board if you like that sort of thing) and compile them into a final form in different ways (very useful for when you want to leave working on structure for later). It is a very simple but powerful writing tool (called Scrivener) that I recommend to anyone doing larger writing projects (of any sort, the scripting template* is optional), as a means of helping with organisation.

It might be that you are already have a system – large moleskine notebooks with yellow stick notes, etc., and that’s great – the point is that you can bring that system (keeping it just the way you like it) onto your computer in a way that can be useful for quickly remembering/searching just what’s in all those notebooks when you’ve lots of things (like other components of your life and work) that pull you away from your project for weeks, months, years. As this is the case for me (I’ve always lots of competing projects, roles, etc, that take me away from things… and also, now: newborn) I spent time scanning notebook rough sketches, typing up and formatting prose, hyperlinking bits of it to research photos or location sketches and the like… I started this some years back.

Then apparently I recently forgot that I did a lot of this, and more! (I don’t know whether this is a good thing or a bad thing. Perhaps it is just a thing.) I sat down a couple of days ago to work on one of the chapters, thinking that I’d better start beating it into shape and thumbnail out some layouts, and then opened up the program and dug a bit, finding that I’d not only already done that, but I’d dome a second pass on the thumbnailing and had drawn a lot of the full (rough) page layouts too! I’d forgotten I’d done it since I’d not put them in quite the best place within the program. But anyway, it was a delight to find I’d already done a ton of this work on that story, and then I set about digging to see what else I’d done. (You know those Spring break hideaway retreats I did each of the last two years? That’s when I did all this, I now recall. Hurrah!) I’ve now inserted the visual images of my layouts into a part of the program so that when I am on a given page in the script, a second window automatically shows the visual layout I’ve drawn for that page. You can see that in the screen shots I’ve taken for you of the whole thing operating in full screen mode (click them for larger view; the blurring is deliberate). (One has a rough layout sketch, another has a more fully rendered completed page: I drop in updates of the page as I revise, for reference in the later revision. This keeps the script and page from drifting away too far from each other… One can take snapshots of parts of one’s project and refer to them at earlier stages if one wants to revert to earlier versions… there are a ton of features like this. For more, you should look at the main page for Scrivener here.)


I wonder if one day I might start using this for certain of my physics projects too. I keep everything (speculations, computations, results) in notebooks, meticulously dated and so forth, and need to be able to scribble and sketch free form, often on a bus or a train. For long projects that run over several notebooks it can be a drawback to have to have all the notebooks with me in order to reconstruct things when I come to write a paper about the work. Scrivener would be ideal for pulling it all together. It might be a tall order to have to put all those notebook pages into the computer – although if one got into the habit of just doing it at the end of every day (maybe just taking a snapshot with a phone camera?), maybe. I’m not sure the overhead is worth it for smaller projects, but for book-length projects, a strong maybe (it would be a yes in a flash if someone combined Scrivener with LaTeX somehow – let me know if you do!).

Writing people of various sorts: Have you heard of Scrivener? Do you use it or something similar?

Anyway, better get back to actual work on the book before my little morning writing window ends and childcare duties kick back for a while.


*You can find more about the origins of Scrivener’s comics scripting template here.

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