From Prose to Comics…with Corinna Lawson

Hi Scribes Fanatics —welcome our guest today, the incredibly talented, Corrina Lawson!!

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From Prose to Comics:

I’ve been addicted to reading comics since before I could understand words. My very first authorial ambition, when I was five years old, was to write comics.

But that seemed to be a pipe dream to a girl from a small Vermont town. Instead I became a journalist (thanks, Lois Lane!) and eventually, a fiction writer. I never lost my love for comics, however, and one of my main pleasures on the internet is hanging out on comic book boards.

That led to two things I never expected. The first was that my fellow comic book board writers asked me to write a script for a comic, which led to (so far) limited career as a comic book writer. Second, writing the comic scripts made me a better prose writer. That’s the important part to all the writers reading. J I learned three main lessons by switching gears from prose to comics.

Lesson #1: Put People in Space

My first drafts are invariably tons of dialogue and banter. Setting is hard for me. I hear the voices before I see what is around my characters. My second drafts mainly consist of filling up that white space and making it relevant to what is happening in the discussions or action.

Comic scripts demand a clear setting right from the start. It’s not enough to say a young girl is in a bedroom, surrounded by some scientists. I have to fill in all details. I have to say “Beth is about eight years old, she’s in a bedroom stuff with dolls, toys and a overly girly bed and she’s hugging her stuffed bunny close to her. She’s scared and she’s surrounded by men in lab coats.”

That’s a clear visual image and absolutely necessary for the artist to draw the story. In this case, my fabulous artist, Cassandra James, added in pigtails for my little heroine.

And yet if I’d written the story in prose, I would have focused more on the people talking than what was in the background. I probably wouldn’t have known about her stuffed bunny, which is so key to the tale. And I definitely wouldn’t have thought about what the bed looked like.

Lesson #2: Dialogue

I LOVE banter. I could write it all day. And I could bore you with it all day too. Oops. I like the rhythm of the back-and-forth between people, to the point where it goes on far too long. Know what happens when you write a scene with lots of a dialogue in a comic script?

Your editor says “um, hello, we cannot have all these people talking in a scene! The letterer will kill me.”

My editor was talking about a scene set in a bar for my erotica comic script. (No, no, no sex in the bar! My heroine is with her friends, waiting for a booty call. Jeez, people. Bars are no good for sex. Too many sticky surfaces.) The scene the editor made me change has the heroine in a booth with a bunch of her friends from work, teasing and laughing with each other. I initially gave them all dialogue. And that’s when I received the note from my editor.

Keeping it focused is a valuable lesson for prose, almost like keeping a tweet to 140 characters. There is little room for long banter in a comic. It overshadows the action and movement. And that can happen to me in prose as well.

Lesson #3: Blocking

Fight scenes are hard because all the action has to be described and make sense. It’s the same with sex scenes. The writer has to be very aware of where hands and arms and various equipment might be in the scene, lest someone can develop three arms or someone similarly amusing rather than sexy.

In a comic panel, the specific movements of all those involved have to be described exactly. In the case of the panel from Beth’s story, I had to include in the script that she was huddled on the bed. I had to include how the white coats loomed over her, and what he stuffed bunny looked like.

In the sex scenes for the erotica script, I had to describe exactly how many clothes were off (or still on!) for each of the two participants, how they were positioned relative to each other, and where they were in the room. (You know, against the wall, on the couch, on the bed…etc, etc….)

I have no shame writing sex scenes in prose. But it was weird, somehow, to describe the sex to an artist for a script. I blushed when writing it. But doing so gave me a much more detailed image of what was happening on the page.

What did I learn overall?

Writing a comic script helped give me a far clearer visual of what was happening in my prose books and helped me trim dialogue so that every single word uttered mattered. Now, when I get stuck on an action scene or even a sex scene, I swap my brain back to what a comic script of that particular scene might be like and it breaks the writer logjam.

There is one other final benefit: the overwhelming feeling of euphoria when seeing the finished comic pages.  The pages arrived via email from my artist and editor and when I opened them, I stared with my mouth hanging open. To see something that came from my imagination transformed into something so amazing was magic. Tears came to my eyes.

It was one of the best feelings of my career. And now I can’t stop writing them. So here I am, four decades after my very first ambition to write comics and I’m finally doing it.

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4 thoughts on “From Prose to Comics…with Corinna Lawson”

  1. This is soooo cool, Corinna. I can see exactly why and how this would help prose writing.Thanks for sharing your experience. I can only imagine how rewarding it is to see the finished project.

  2. Corrina, are you really writing comics? How exciting. I love the comics. They are part of the American culture. Maybe you can do a CTRWA workshop at Fiction Fest. I can see how helpful knowing/understanding how you get your characters so alive, how they interface, why we love them.

  3. Who knew a job could be so much fun? Anybody else feel that away? This is so great, Corrina. Are your comics out yet? I’d love to buy one (or more)!

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