The Writer Learns the Design Side

There are different ways to learn, to develop processes. My favorite is experimentation. I like trying to figure out the best way to bring my vision to life.

For example, a few years ago I thought it would be fun to figure out how to write a graphic novel. I was just starting to really get into manga, and I’d learned about a world manga series that had been designed, in part, to help boost SAT verbal skills. It sounded like a great idea, so I started playing with it as a storytelling medium with an toward using it as a curriculum vehicle. I actually got pretty far with the script, but my lacking artistic talents put a quick stop to the project.

Right now, I’m consolidating everything from that project into digital files so I can archive it, get it out of the way of my current project, and still have it if I ever feel like pulling it out and playing with it. When I wrote the script, I included with each chapter my vision of how each page would be laid out. At the time, I was just trying to get some sort of flow. I made a small attempt to be mindful of where scenes started and ended within the pages.

I wish I’d been so mindful with my layouts. In putting things down digitally, I’ve discovered some interesting problems. For example, my placement and panel sizes give no real sense of hierarchy to the scene. Even better, for some reason I insisted on giving small boxes a lot of art and/or text and larger boxes little art and often no text. I actually drew out the first chapter, and then discovered that you can read the bubbles without ever being drawn to look at the art. While the story has flow, the layout doesn’t.

Once upon a time, I used to be good at laying out teacher guides, how-tos, and wayfinders. Now, I feel completely lost just trying to create a graphic novel. Same design principles…need more practice.

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