Oh! I love these topics! I find that writing is one of the most interesting ways in which cartoonists vary their methods. I don't recall if this has been touched in other topics on this forum or not, but here's my routine:
I write with a series of outlines getting more and more specific until I get to the thumbnails. I don't like to write out specific dialogue until the thumbnail stage because I like to be "in the moment." In fact, a lot of my dialogue is then rewritten and fine-tuned on the final page.
With short stories, I'm a little looser, usually only writing one or two outlines. Then I break the outline into what I think will happen on each page, and come out with a rough estimate of what the page count will be. Again, I like to keep things loose, and not get too tied down, so that when I'm really in it with the thumbs I can squash or stretch sequences. But (with short stories) I've gotten to a point where if I estimate something will be a 12 page story, 12 pages is what I get.
Longer works, on the other hand, go through a much more thorough outlining stage. It's something like this:
- First a real short outline with the most basic plot points. This leads to this leads to this leads to the end. I leave out a lot of details, and often I know that my character(s) have to get from one point to the next, and I'm not even sure how that will happen. But this gives me an idea of what I have to accomplish, and often having those landmarks all in a row makes it become much more obvious how to connect them.
- Then I do another outline or 2 where I do just that. I try to fill in those blanks, so that I know how exactly point "a" connects to point "d," etc. Still no dialogue here usually, and still not too many specifics, but I'm filling out the outline with more depth and more subpoints to hit, with smaller gaps in between. Here I might run into some potential jokes and gags that will actually move the story along.
- Next I write a prose version of the previous outline, getting a little more specific. What I write is still pretty brief, and wouldn't be a compelling novel or even short story by far, but writing it out this way forces me to fill in blanks that I never noticed before, and now I can start feeling the characters a bit better. Still, not much dialogue, but we're getting there...
- Now I'm almost to the thumbnailing stage! But first, I break down the prose version of my story into a fake page-by-page outline. I literally write:
Establish House. Main Character is looking out window. Sighs.
Inside house, MC hears tea kettle go off, goes into kitchen. Is surprised by what he finds!
You know...or whatever. This is getting kind of like writing "The Marvel Way" only just for myself. I slip in a little dialogue here and there, and some more specific stuff, but I keep to the prose outline which is pretty tight at this point. However, I don't want to just be going through the motions when I get to the thumbnails, so I still leave stuff relatively vague.
- FINALLY: The thumbnails! I print out a copy of my page-by-page breakdown, and always have it in hand when thumbnailing, but I don't stick religiously to what I have as far as pages go. That's why I called it a "fake page-by-page outline" above
For instance, The Ride Home
was an 80 page-by-page outline, and it ballooned up to 150 by the time I was done with the thumbnails. Here I am pretty specific. I write exactly what dialogue I want, and try to convey what kind of shots I want. I don't go in and draw every guy in a crowd or anything, but my thumbs are pretty darn legible, I think. I go through a pass or two, adding and subtracting pages and stuff like that, and always show some friends to get their input.
I'm still open to changing this when I get to the final pages. I think an element of improv is important for keeping a comic lively, but the final thumbnails are pretty close to what you see in the end.