Creating Tonoharu #3–Writing the Script

Image from Tonoharu: Part One 

This is the third post in a series describing the creative process behind my graphic novel Tonoharu. This installment deals with writing the early drafts.

The more I write, the more I’ve come to appreciate the subtle nuance that is a well crafted story.

The old saw “they make it look easy” applies; a well told story flows forward in such an honest and natural way that it’s easy to forget that it had an author in the first place. That behind that timeless tale of love & death was some poor schlub who struggled over countless dead-end drafts, debated with himself over what events to keep and which ones to lose, fretted over settings, timeframes, character histories, dialogue, etc., etc…

The real world doesn’t have an author (well, probably not, anyway), and a good story does such a good impersonation of Life that it’s easy to forget that there’s someone behind the curtain, pulling the strings. The more skilled an author gets, the more invisible his touch becomes.

In his book Story (famous for its inclusion in the movie Adaptation) Robert McKee states that most novice screenwriters have it all backwards: that instead of writing the dialogue first, they should write it last. The dialogue is just the shell, he argues, the final coat of polish; it should be applied only after the core structure of the story is sound.

It’s similar to drawing. If you start in the upper left-hand corner of a sheet of paper and work your way across and down to the lower right-hand corner, you’ll probably end up with a lousy composition. It’s important to have some sense of the whole before you get into the details; even if it’s just a few quick pencil lines. I notice that with both my drawing and my writing, I tend to devote too little time to planning things out; I like to dive right in. But I’m working on it.

These are ideas that I’ve arrived at during the course of writing Tonoharu, not from the very beginning. Initially I started Tonoharu by writing dialogue, beginning on page one, scene one (the writer’s equivalent of the “upper left-hand corner”). And I’ll admit; the first draft of Tonoharu was poorly structured. I’d like to think that in subsequent drafts I’ve turned it around, but it was definitely an uphill battle whipping that imperfect first draft into shape.

I look forward to applying the lessons I’ve learned on the next story I write, when I can again work with a completely blank sheet of paper. Check back in a couple decades for information about that.

The next installment of Creating Tonoharu will address with the design decisions that I made for Tonoharu. That will come in two or three weeks. Next week, just for the hell of it, I have something completely different in mind. Stay tuned.

Creating Tonoharu–#1: Laying The Groundwork
Creating Tonoharu–#2: The Idea
Creating Tonoharu #3–Writing the Script
Creating Tonoharu #4–The Design (1/3)
Creating Tonoharu #5–The Design (2/3)
Creating Tonoharu #6–The Design (3/3)
Creating Tonoharu #7–The Drawing
Creating Tonoharu #8–Inking
Creating Tonoharu #9–Computer Stuff
Creating Tonoharu #10–Final Edits

  • Patricia Lee

    I think the graphic novel is THE new medium. I’ve always loved children’s books and today we are so used to being communicated to with visual texts like advertisements it seems natural that the comic medium is taken to a new level of sophistication. I want to start one too. I have already written six novels .. the usual sort. Do you have any tips for the size of paper to use, the type of pens that work best? Do you make the drawings the same size as they will be published for example? I agree the story has to be absolutely fabulous. I guess I will start with that first. Or maybe I should just doodle some comic strips? ok, too many questions. All the best with Tonoharu.. I will look for it in the shops.

  • Lars Martinson

    Thanks for the thoughts, Patricia. Although I’m putting up my response is so late that you’ll probably never see it, but anyway…

    My method for creating comics is atypical, but if you’re curious, I’m going to write about how I draw comics in a future installment of the “Creating Tonoharu” series, which should be up early January.

    But if you’re just starting out with drawing comics, I’d say yeah, just start doodling and have fun with it. Experiment with different styles, different paper, and different pens. It’ll probably take you a few years before you feel like you have any sense of what you’re doing anyway (at least it did for me).


  • JJ

    Hi Lars,

    Fantastic post. Did you write your script using screenwriting (film) format? How many drafts did you end up writing? How many pages of illustrations equals one script page?



  • Lars Martinson

    Hello JJ,

    I’ll admit I’m not intimately familiar with screenwriting conventions, but my script was probably somewhat similar to a screenplay; it was heavy on dialogue, with brief descriptions regarding locations and actions when needed.

    As for how many drafts I wrote, that’s hard to say. Three or four, maybe? I revised it countless times. After I wrote the script, I laid out the pages (sort of like a storyboard) and made several changes then. Then after I finished the “final” art, I continued tweaking it. I’m still toying with different variations of how I might finish up the story even today.

    It’s been years since I looked at the original typed script; these days I just work from the page layout/storyboards. But if memory serves, I think it was about one script page for every ten pages of finished art. But then, the script was written in pretty dense prose, and I only have four panels per pages, so…


  • JJ


    Thanks a lot. Very helpful information. I guess there’s no standard comic script format. And I guess I have to start working on making our script shorter. Thanks again for your posts, they’re excellent and very useful.