Kate Hannigan Gives the Script Room to Breathe

It’s day 6 of our countdown! For those of you prepping your scripts to send to agents and editors, author Kate Hannigan’s advice will help you assess if your GN script has the right beats to carry the story. Thank you, Kate!

Kate Hannigan writes fiction and nonfiction for young readers. Her historical fantasy series CAPE, MASK, and BOOTS (Simon & Schuster/Aladdin) blends graphic novel elements with traditional novel format. Visit Kate online at KateHannigan.com

Graphic Novels and Room to Breathe
 
In my limited experience scripting graphic novels, I’ve had to change my thinking compared with traditional novel writing. With the latter, I might devote a paragraph to a scene and move along, hoping to keep the story trotting at a certain clip. But when working on a graphic novel, I have to change my mindset and really SEE the scene play out, beat by beat. 
 
That’s the joy and the essence of graphic novels: the sequence of images. 
 
So when I have a moment that I want readers to note, I can’t just present a panel and leave it at that. I need to stop, breathe, and let the medium have its moment. Here’s an example of what I mean. It’s from the nonfiction “History Comics” line published by First Second, THE GREAT CHICAGO FIRE: RISING FROM THE ASHES.
As the fictive siblings make their way through a burning Chicago of October 8, 1871, they (and we, the readers) see the devastation firsthand. I wanted to note a big moment (among many big moments) when the gasworks went out and the city plunged into darkness. The first time I wrote the scene, it didn’t stand out from the rest of the chaos unfolding. So as I revised, I pushed other items to another page entirely and tried to stretch this scene out, giving it room to breathe.
 
From the perspective of a gaslight looking down on the packed street, we see the flame is on. A couple panels later, that light goes out, and we can imagine what it’s like for those now left to find their way in the darkness of this burning city.
 
I did the same with the ringing bell at City Hall. Leading up to this, across many pages, I layer in the “ding dong” of the bell, sounding a warning to the city. Then when the big moment comes, I devote the full five panels of a page to show that bell coming crashing down. Eyewitness accounts of the fire recorded this as a devastating image. So, I wanted to signal to readers that this was an emotional crisis point. It deserved a good amount of space, room to breathe.
This has been the biggest lesson I’ve learned in graphic novel scripting. And though it probably seems obvious to many writers already, for me, it took a while to understand how important it is to the storytelling. And as for us, the storytellers, giving scenes room to breathe is where the fun is! It’s an opportunity to revel in the sheer joy that comes with stretching out over a highlight or lingering over an emotional touchpoint. 
 
 
 

Don’t forget to check out the newest release in Kate’s historical fantasy series, BOOTS (Simon & Schuster/Aladdin). Kate is giving away a signed copy of her graphic novel, THE GREAT CHICAGO FIRE: RISING FROM THE ASHES (First Second Books) to one lucky winner. Enter the Rafflecopter below for a chance to win:

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