Posted by: Kathy Temean | February 19, 2015

Writing a Graphic Novel

The other day I was talking to a writer friend and told him he should write a graphic novel. He poo-pooed that idea saying he wasn’t an illustrator. I thought some of you may think the same thing and wanted all of you to know that publishers of these books will hire an illustrator to take care of that part of the production of your story. Of course, a large majority of the graphic novels written are illustrated by the author, but don’t let the lack of artistic talent stop you.

Newbery Honor-winning author Shannon Hale (Princess Academy) teamed up with husband Dean Hale and brilliant artist Nathan Hale (no relation) to bring readers a swashbuckling adventure in her new book Rapunzel’s Revenge.


Shannon Hale says, “Writing a graphic novel script is more like writing a screenplay than a novel.  Basically, a graphic novel is a book length comic book.

Shannon and Dean started by mapping out the characters and making world notes for Nathan Hale, the artist of the book.

Below an example of the mapping of the three main characters:


She is stubborn, curious, headstrong. But she’s also very lonely, isolated, and being shut up in the Villa and then the Tower creates an insecurity in her. She is like the totem tree, shut up in glass, cut back and held down. Once she’s released from her prisons, she grows and shows her true power.


He grew up as a city boy. His ancestors lived on the land where Shyport, a major, Chicago-esque port town, eventually sprang up, and they stayed there, the descendants from that tribe living in the same urban neighborhood. Jack dresses with an urban style, but he was never wealthy. Street smarts taught him you have to take what you need before someone else does. He feels awful about destroying the tenement his mother lived in with a beanstalk back in Shyport, and after stealing Goldy from the giants (a mafia organization), he took off out west to escape their notice. While waiting for Goldy to lay a golden egg so he could buy his mom a new house, he started to steal and gamble his way into more money, but was robbed just before meeting Rapunzel by Heck Burnbottom’s gang. He fears he’ll never be able to give his mom a new house or return home when he meets Rapunzel. She enchants and surprises him, being so utterly different than anyone else he’s met. She makes him want to be a better person.

Mother Gothel

She was born with a meager connection to earth magic. Her own mother was poor and cruel and when a town witch told her that her daughter had the talent, she got rid of Gothel. The girl was sloughed from one family to another until she was old enough to become an apprentice to Witchy Jasper. She seethed with anger about her mother’s treatment of her and was anxious to prove to everyone that she was better than they thought. Even Jasper’s kind (though wacky) treatment of her couldn’t soften her heart, and as soon as she gained power by enslaving one of Carrion Glade’s trees, she began exacting her revenge. In order to assure herself that she was better than her own mother, she was determined to have a daughter and treat her better than she’d been treated. Rapunzel is the result of her warped desire, the last remnant of good in her heart.

Click Here to Review all the World Notes and Map

Then Shannon and Dean wrote up a brief description of the visual for each panel, as well as any dialog, captions, sound effects, or other text items (such as signs) that might go with that image. While the panel descriptions are an important part of the storytelling, ultimately it’s up to the artist to “interpret” the writer’s meaning and make the illustration work.

Here’s the beginning of their script. Compare it with the first few pages from the illustrated book to see how Nate took our directions and how he altered/added/improved. Shannon says, “It was completely up to Nate on how he organized the panels, how many panels were on each page, if an action was told in one panel or several, and so on. He did a fantastic job of taking our script and making it better with his keen eye for action and scene.”

Rapunzel’s Revenge

Part 1: Once Upon a Tower

Wide (top-3/4) view of a beautiful Spanish style villa. The main house is surrounded by lush flower and vegetable gardens, and the whole of it is encircled by a huge brick wall. We cannot see what is beyond the wall, save for a large brown/gray mountain in the background. Six-year-old Rapunzel darts from the vegetation and onto the path. She has mid-back length orangish-red hair stuck all over with leaves and flowers from her mad dash through the garden.

CAPTION: Once upon a time there was a beautiful little girl. That’s me there.

View follows Rapunzel as she runs down the garden path toward the villa. Through the magnificent entry we can see shining granite flooring, two gaudy staircases. A sixty-year-old cowboy, MASON, is walking a couple of horses, and he waves to her.

CAPTION: I lived in a grand villa,

We’re still following behind her as she runs, the view lagging just a tad so that we’re just entering the villa and seeing the kitchen through the doorway. Rapunzel darts through the kitchen, and without slowing down grabs a pastry of some sort from the counter. There are a few kitchen folk watching, some a little amused and some annoyed.

CAPTION: with loyal servants, tasty food,

Suddenly no movement. MOTHER GOTHEL is blocking her path in the inner courtyard outside the kitchen, stopping Rapunzel cold. We’re still behind R, so we see Mother Gothel as she does, looking up. Mother Gothel is dressed as a proper, western frontier Victorian lady would be, hair up, gray clothing, but there’s nothing motherly about her. She’s sturdy, looks like she could take a wild dog in a fight. She is proud of Rapunzel, not angry, but there’s something eerie, not right, about her that would stop you cold in your tracks, too. Let’s not make her a stereotypical ugly witch, though. This may be a good point also to begin to feel the un-welcome-ness of the villa. Rapunzel never feels right there, it should be dark inside, huge, cold. Rapunzel’s red hair and the colors of her clothes should be vibrant, lively, whereas the villa itself is the opposite, despite the garden.

CAPTION: and my mother.

Mother Gothel tries to smile and pats Rapunzel’s head as if making an effort to be motherly. Her faux-affection is disquieting. Rapunzel is uneasy, never able to get used to this woman.

CAPTION: Or who I thought was my Mother.

CAPTION 2: But more on that in a minute.

Rapunzel walking in a long hallway with many doors. Her hand trails against a wall. If we see her expression, she is a little frightened in her own home, edgy.

CAPTION: The Villa wasÉwell, it was big. Three stories, seventy-eight rooms, one thousand and twelve chairs.

CAPTION 2: I know, because I counted them all. There wasn’t much else to do.

Wide shot of villa entrance, through main doors. Rapunzel is standing on the upper railing, looking very small. No one else is in sight. This picture should be a portrait of loneliness and not-right-ness to compliment the understated text.

CAPTION: Yep. Home.

Click Here to Read the Rest.

Here are two panels from the inside of the book.


You can see more of this swashbuckling and hilarious twist on the classic story on Amazon when you look inside.

I hope this give you food for thought on another way to write your book.

Talk tomorrow,










  1. I totally love this graphic novel (read it a million times, plus the sequel) and think it’s a clear picture of what a graphic novel should look like. Amazing, funny, and brilliant!


  2. Thanks for the insight into the making of this graphic novel to learn more about how they can be tackled!


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