Sunday 25 September 2016

Submission Guidelines

 We're looking for scripts of one to four pages. They must revolve around the theme of the issue for which you're submitting (current theme is "Psychedelic Future Warfare"). The script cannot be set in a franchised universe or be a spin-off from one of your own works. Stand alone themed stories only and the documents sent must be editable formats (.doc/.rtf). CURRENT DEADLINE OCTOBER 1st 2017.

Send all scripts to -

Written by Co-Editor Geoffery Crescent

In this case Donny Don't is not just an obscure reference to the Simpsons, he's the embodiment of all my pet peeves when it comes to comic scripts.

We get to read a lot of scripts - which largely vary in quality. I'm not about to go naming and shaming here, but what I am going to do is give you a handy list of hints and things to observe next time you fancy giving us (or anyone else for that matter) a comic script.  It's by no means exhaustive, and if you fancy arguing with me about some of them, well then by all means bring it on!  It's just that sometimes I get tired of seeing the same mistakes repeated over and over again - so I thought I'd compile this list to help out potential writers,

This is definitely a Donny Don't

1) Spelling and Grammar

This might sound pretty obvious, but the amount of scripts we get that are riddled with typos is ridiculous. Now, I know, everyone makes a typo once in a while. Especially the sort that are actual words, not just the one you intended, which Word sometimes doesn't pick up (I myself went through a phase of writing 'foe' when I meant 'for,' to the extent I had autocorrect switch it back whenever I typed it).  But most of the time it's just big, old fashioned spelling mistakes, underlined on my page in sexy red.  Why haven't YOU picked up on these eh?  If it's because you're using a word processing programme without a spell-checker, then change it, change it now.  If it's because you've been using caps lock for your dialogue, check it more thoroughly.  If it's because you haven't proof-read it, that tells us that you're too lazy to read it through. I'll get on to proofreading a bit later but if you can't be bothered to check your script for errors, then why should I?  It's as simple as, we care about the comic and we need to know you care about it as well!

Grammar is even more of a problem.  If you struggle with grammar then the Oatmeal has some wonderful cartoons which clear up issues a lot better than I ever could.

My two key rules are, if in doubt, leave it out (especially semi-colons which are, as the Oatmeal rightfully states, the most feared punctuation on Earth.) AND if in doubt, sound it out.  I'm talking especially about its and it's, the two most popular culprits.  Its shows possession, it's stands for it is.  If you can replace it's with it is and it still makes sense, you've got the right one.  This poster sums it up better, if a little swearier...


Top Tip!  If you're dyslexic or English isn't your first language, tell us so in the submission. It's better than having us assume the worst.

2) Referencing Things

Comic editors!  We're all a bunch of nerds right?  We all spend our days playing Final Fantastico Five and Bioshops!  Getting the impression that I'm not a gamer?  Good.  Think about that.

If you're going to describe something, describe it.  Use those lovely adjectives, get your creative juices flowing and tell us how you want something to look.   Describing an alien as being, 'like Pikachu, but blue,' is not only lazy, it's assuming the artist has an in-depth knowledge of a Japanese gaming franchise to the point that they can draw one of the characters from memory.  Or perhaps they don't have that knowledge, they'll have to go and search for it, wasting valuable time when they could have been drawing.  Not only that, but if I don't have intimate knowledge of whatever franchise you've chosen to imitate,  I won't know whether or not I've gotten the right idea! Of course, if you'd described the alien as, 'a small mouse like creature with tall, pointed ears and blue fur,' then the artist has more room to move. 

If a character genuinely looks like, or IS a celebrity or franchised character then it's fine to describe them like it, but it's always best to assume ignorance on the part of your editor and artist.  Just because you know Master Chief's back story, doesn't mean we all do.  

I have no idea what this is

3) Reading the brief

For flip's sake. Read the brief.  If the brief asks for a four page story, stand-alone story about vegetables then the editor will not want to see:

 'Dear Editor.  Please find attached a copy of 'Banana Man verses the killer Oranges'  It's a seven page script that I spun off from my own series of epic novels, 'Agent Orange and the Orange People.'

Ahem, yes. Clearly the writer has not read the brief.  Read it at least twice before you write, and then once again at the end, just to make sure. We're a themed anthology so the current theme must be adhered to!

Oh - and just because four is the maximum number of pages doesn't mean you HAVE to submit a four pager - !

4) Proofread

Yes, I know it sounds simple, but proofread the BALLS off of your script!  And once you've read it forwards, read it backwards, you can often pick up on more spelling mistakes that way.  And then get a friend to read it (if you've not got one handy, read it out loud).  Dialogue is a tricky thing to get right, and reading it aloud helps you to see if it sounds natural.  Things that look great on a page can often sound stilted when read aloud.  If you're too embarrassed to show it to a friend, then you shouldn't be showing it to an editor.  Be proud of your writing!

Top Tip: After I've written something I like to leave it a day or two before I edit it.  Otherwise I find it's too fresh in my mind and I can't spot as many mistakes. 

5) Don't get shitty and don't be precious.

A wise man once said, if I may paraphrase: to get anywhere in comics you've got to be good or you've got to be nice.  I'll happily take nice over good any day.  The most mediocre of scripts can be polished into a shining gem with a little co-operation between writer and editor. And the most brilliant of scripts can be thrown into disarray when a writer gets up the pole because you've asked them to tweak a little dialogue. Even worse is the writer who agrees to make the changes, but then doesn't, hoping you won't notice. Worse still is the writer who refuses to speak to you at all when you raise concerns about the script.

It's happened.

If we ask you to make changes, it's not because we hate you, or your ideas or we think you're a bad writer.  It's because the script isn't quite right yet, but we think you can tweak it until it is.  Or because it's not right at all (potentially because you've not followed the brief) but we still want you to write for us, just something a little different. Getting angry and refusing to make changes serves no purpose but for us to consider not working with you at all.  You reap what you sow with this one.

6) Camera angles and film script talk

This may be one of my more personal bug bears, but I know a fair few editors who get irritated by it. 
" Pan across.  Beat.  Cut to. "  All phrases that work fine in a film script, but you're not writing on of those, are ye?  I don't need beats between dialogue, just a hard return to indicate a space. 

Top Tip: If in doubt, find a comic script sample online to copy.  There are plenty floating around, but the sample Future Shocks from 2000AD are a good place to start

7)  Expressions

'The man has a look on his face of shock mingled with awe and anguish, his eyes betraying a slight joy whilst still looking scared'

Keep expressions simple.  Try it out on your own face before writing it down; if you can't manage an expression of happy disgust, chances are an artist won't be able to draw it either.  And keep it to one expression per panel; someone can't change expression on a static page.

8) Too many dicks on the dance floor

This can take one of two forms.  The first is summarised best by this quote from the 2000AD submission page, 'Dredd leaps out of the window and grabs onto the fire-escape, swings up onto the roof and fires his Lawgiver.'  Now, that's about three panel's worth of actions in one!  Comics are static, and characters can't do too many things at once.

The second form this takes is overcrowding.  Too many captions.  Too much dialogue.  Too many panels per page.  Too much action crowded into a single panel; montage panels are the main culprit here.  Try and visualise how an artist and letterer is going to cram that much stuff in!  If you can't see how it would work, it probably won't.  Don't leave it to the artist to 'sort it out.'  It's your job to write a doable script, not their job to fix all your mistakes.

Top Tip: Try drawing raw rough layouts for your comic pages.  Even if you can only draw stick figures like me, it does sometimes help to see when panels are overcrowded and whether or not dialogue will fit.

9) Captions

Used in moderation they can work, but approach with caution!  Do you need a caption to tell the reader it's midnight, or would it be better to have the artist draw a nice full moon?  Is the time even really that relevant to the story?  If the character is thinking aloud, why do we need captions as well as speech bubbles?  And if you've got two sets of captions for two different things, how is the reader going to tell them apart?  Think before you caption!

10) Inside jokes

Now THIS is my most hated thing in comics.  It would be no exaggeration to say that whenever I read this in a script I want to send it back to the writer and refuse to read it until they edit them out.  What I'm talking about it this:

Panel Two:

A collection of large palm trees with giant antennae attached to their leaves are attacking a small, shrivelled looking man who is waving a giant purple tennis racket at them.  (Ho ho, bet you're hating me right now aren't you? >_>)

Damn straight I'm hating you right now.  Stop trying to crack 'witty' asides and tell a damned story!  Sad fact of the matter is I tend to find the more inside jokes to the artist/editor per script, the worse the script actually is. 

And finally 11) Keep it simple, stupid! 

Pretentious wordy dialogue. Lengthy descriptions of a character's left elbow.  A five page story that could be told as a one pager.  When writing scripts, especially short ones, simplicity is key.  When you're describing something, don't tell an artist what could or might go in a scene.  Tell them what will be in the scene.  It avoids any unnecessary confusion on the part of the artist over what to draw and it streamlines the script.  And remember, things which might sound great in a story or novel, "the boy's coat had been handed down to him by his late father and was, as such, a little large on him," for example aren't needed unless the fact the coat is his father's is relevant in the script.  Just saying the coat looks big on him is fine.  

I'm going to end this with a bit of a confession.  I'm not claiming to be a perfect writer, or even a particularly good one.  I'm sure that as you read through this you found numerous spelling and grammatical errors, and bristled at the thought of some small press editor telling you how to write better.  I edit scripts partly because I enjoy it, but also because it helps to inform my own writing.  At one time or another I've broken all of these rules, but I've learned from my mistakes.  When I was rejected by editors, I looked at the things I did wrong and started again.

A few years ago I applied to be in a short story anthology about monster hunting.  Now, to my credit the submission guidelines DID say we could invent our own monster, but what they were really after was a sort gung-ho werewolf or abominable snowman slaying adventure.  Instead your intrepid blogger decided to do a spin-off story set in her own universe featuring her own creature.  Who wasn't a monster.  In fact it was less of a story, more of an exercise in what sort of religion my  universe would have. Needless to say it got rejected.  Partly because it was shit, but mostly because I didn't follow the brief.  But the reason I feel qualified to write a blog about this is because I didn't e-mail the editor with a long rant about why he should have taken my story, I didn't throw down my proverbial quill pen and refuse to write ever again and I didn't take it as a personal insult that he didn't like my story.  Following my rules might not get you the perfect script, but it might help you understand why you've been rejected, and how to improve for the next time.  And there should always be a next time :)


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