create a graphic novel

How to Create a Graphic Novel

Ann O'Brien

August 29, 2022

Stories that use pictures and graphic elements to show the plot, develop the characters, and engage the reader are called graphic novels. While some people might think that graphic novels are just a modern version of a comic book, they actually have developed into their own unique genre while also encompassing some comic book characteristics and evolving some traits unique to graphic novels. If you’re looking to create a graphic novel, check out the steps below.

Graphic Novels Aren’t Just Comic Books

Comic books are typically serialized stories that follow a character or plot over a long course of multiple comic books or even years of stories. But each comic is, essentially, a short story. Graphic novels, on the other hand, are visually represented stories that may have otherwise been fiction or nonfiction novels. Both comics and graphic novels use the panel format to tell their stories rather than the long-form paragraphs used in novels. And similarly, both comic books and graphic novels use word bubbles to depict dialog while graphic novels may lean more heavily into titles, subtitles, or other plot explanations that are non-dialog. Graphic novels typically involve deeper dives into characters, much like a lengthier novel does, over the relatively brief opportunities afforded to comic book characters.

Steps in Graphic Novel Creation

In order to create graphic novel books, authors have to follow a different set of steps to transform a story into a graphic novel format. And while not all authors are artists, a visually appealing graphic novel will combine both a compelling story and engaging artwork, so some authors may choose to seek graphic design assistance to complete the final draft of their graphic novel.

1. Develop or Adapt the Story

The first step in graphic novel creation is to focus on the story you want to tell as well as the characters that you will use. You may want to adapt a longer story you already have written or create one specifically for the graphic novel format. Story development starts with understanding the motivation for the story which is the why that spurs the beginning of the plot. Graphic novels are highly visual in nature so readers will need to be able to see what creates the story from the very start. Elements to consider are:

  • Protagonist and antagonist – readers will need to understand the motivations behind each main character that motivates their actions and their conflicts with each other
  • The major (and minor) conflicts – may be between the protagonist and antagonist as well as other characters, like the protagonist and himself or society and the antagonist
  • The setting – the details should contribute to the conflicts or develop the characters
  • The uniqueness of the story or characters – keeps the reader interested until the final page

2. Breakdown Story by Scene

Since graphic novels visually tell a story, the next step is to transform the story you have created into scenes, much like a theatrical production would. This scene organization will help authors see the overall framework for their graphic novel and provide a starting point for creating dialog and artwork to make their story come to life. This scene breakdown should include:

  • Chapter or section
  • Setting location
  • Character(s) involved
  • Main action that occurs

Top Tip: One element that is common in traditional novels, as well as graphic novels, is a time when a character is thinking or talking to themselves. Authors should include every scene in this breakdown, including these introspective scenes. They are often used to help the reader understand a character better, see a plot unfold, or may even lead the reader to see a conflict in the making.

3. Create Dialog for Scenes

Using the scene breakdown, create meaningful but brief dialog for each scene to show the reader what is happening. Since graphic novels are mostly dialog, if a scene cannot be visually represented clearly to the reader, make sure that a character tells the reader what is happening through their dialog with another character or with themselves. Think of this dialog as the first draft of your graphic novel, since you will continue to tweak and adjust it as you add the visual elements to your story.

Top Tip: Authors of graphic novels should consider hiring a specialized editor to help refine the dialog for their story. Choosing an editor with experience in editing and revising comic books or graphic novels will help make the graphic novel creation go more smoothly. An experienced editor will know how to craft content-rich dialog that flows and can assist in catching common editorial mistakes.

4. Begin Storyboarding

Once your script and story are in great shape, it’s time to begin combining the written and visual components to create graphic novel storyboards. A storyboard is simply a collection of panels that will be the snapshots of dialog, characters, and setting that tell the story. This panel format is a critical element of graphic novels and the way each page of your book can be configured in different sizes and shapes of panels.

Begin by creating a grouping of panels to reflect each scene that was previously organized. One scene may take one or two panels or pages of panels to represent the action and dialog in each scene. Graphic novels can be hundreds of pages, so don’t try to put too much dialog or action into any one panel. The beauty of graphic novels is that they are essentially novels, not comic books, so some scenes may play out over many pages if that is the best way to depict the necessary dialog and action.

Top Tip: Each page of a graphic novel is comprised of a handful of panels. Regardless of the number and shape of each panel, they are read from top to bottom and from left to right. Larger panels are visually more compelling and are read prior to smaller panels, but the placement of the page should allow for a natural, obvious progression of the panel sequence order. Authors should swap out the panel size and configuration to reflect the story itself. Conflict and drama may be shown in bold or unusual panel shapes or a long string of identically-shaped and sized panels could be used to indicate strong emotion.

5. Develop Artwork for Your Graphic Novel

Artistic writers may create their own artwork to represent the story and characters they have written. But some authors may choose to enlist the services of a professional artist or graphic designer to bring the visual component of their graphic novel to life.

6. Putting It All Together

Once your panels have been designed with the appropriate artwork to show your story, authors have to put it all together by adding in the graphic elements that will showcase the dialog.

Top Tip: Graphic novel software can provide a starting point for page layout as well as provide a way for you to add in the word bubbles for your characters’ dialog. Using Adobe InDesign or another graphic novel layout program is a great way for authors to develop the final draft of their graphic novel and layer the panels, artwork, and graphic elements into their book draft.

7. Details to Consider

Once authors have created a complete draft of their graphic novel, a few important details must be considered before submitting a finalized PDF file to the digital printer.

  • Color Scheme: Colors that look good together digitally may not look as pleasing together when they are printed. Carefully choose colors that not only represent the tone and feel of your book, but also represent the genre that your graphic novel falls into.
  • Binding: Formatting the book to accommodate the margins needed for your binding choice is essential so that no margins of your graphic novel will “sink” into the binding. If you are writing a Manga book, note that the book is read from back to front and so the cover, pages, and inside margins will be flipped from a traditional graphic novel.
  • Prepping for PDF: When your book draft is ready to be submitted to the digital printer, make sure that you collapse all of the ink layers before you create the PDF. The panel layout, artwork, and graphic elements are essentially layered on top of one another, but they will need to be flattened prior to finalizing the PDF so it can be digitally printed.

Writing Your Graphic Novel

Transforming a story into a graphic novel brings it to life with exciting visual elements and colors. If you are ready to begin creating your book, be sure to choose a trusted digital printer like Publishing Xpress so your graphic novel creation process results in a beautifully published book that you and your readers will love.

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