How do you write a graphic novel if you’re not artistic?

Dear Writer Guy,

I have written a picture book story about French Fries called Petrifies! It’s an action packed rescue story. I’ve been told it should be a graphic novel more than once, but have no idea where to go from here. I am not an artist.

Thanks much,

Dear Missie,

As an initial step toward determining whether your story would make a good graphic novel (or even a picture book rendered in comic book style), first read a bunch of these books targeted at younger readers. Notice the simplicity of language, and how much of the story is told in dialogue, versus Rough sketch of a graphic novel page.narration. Notice also how the tale is told visually, and how many pages the usual graphic novel for beginning readers runs.

Not an illustrator? No problem. You don’t need to be an artist to plan out the drawings, but you must do so, even with stick figures, to see how your tale would break down into a sequence of images. Having enough illustratable scenes is key — and I don’t mean scenes of two people chatting. Talking Heads was a great band, but talking heads don’t cut it in the world of graphic novels.

If after doing all this, you feel that the graphic novel route is for you, just follow a simple writing format that lets the editor (and illustrator) easily picture the action. Some writers break it down into panels per page. Others just write dialogue and occasional comics-type narration lines, and leave the panel breakdown to the illustrator. It’s up to you. For what it’s worth, here’s the format I use…

NARRATION: Later that same day…


FARMER J: What’s that you say, girl? You’d like to learn to breakdance? Well, yee-haw, yo!

[ART: Farmer J turns on his boom box, and he and the cow begin dancing.]

Above all, have fun with it! Comics and graphic novels are very popular with kids, and if you have fun, they will too.

Happy writing,

Writer Guy

4 thoughts on “How do you write a graphic novel if you’re not artistic?

  1. Michele Rappoport says:

    I’ve written a few picture books without an artist and wonder if publishers would appreciate the visuals I have in mind (as you show above) or would rather have their artists come up with their own. Some of the story is art-dependent, so I don’t see how I could pitch a project without also giving some idea of the art I imagine could accompany it. Just don’t want to be presumptuous. Thanks.

    1. Bruce Hale says:

      Michele, as you may know, editors like to pick the book illustrators themselves. If your art isn’t top quality, it might turn them off of your project. However, if you’re talking about including a rough picture book dummy to help them understand all the bits that rely on visuals, I’d think that would be okay. Another approach would be to include art notes like: [ART: Jennifer is standing on one leg, clearly about to fall off the ladder.]
      Hope that helps!

  2. George Zilbergeld says:

    I am the agent for a writer who has written an adventure book called The Villa in the Jungle . The weponology is very accurate. The main character is a women named Sam.

    Any interest?

    1. Bruce Hale says:

      That sounds nice. But you need to be approaching publishers, not other writers.

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