Right Place at the Write Time #8 – Dialogue
Category: Right Place at the Write Time
Before my tangent in the last Right Place at the Write Time column, I was examining different elements of a comic page and focused on Storytelling Styles and Pacing. I hope the information was helpful and that it gave your mind something to gnaw at while creating your future masterpieces.
Think of this a part two, if you will, as Dialogue planning is equally as important when putting together a comic book page in preparation for an artist.
As a new writer to comics you’ll likely think of dialogue as your main contribution to the work.
You have to be careful of this since it will cause one very very dangerous thing to occur: You will overwrite the book.
Remember that comics are a visual medium. Think of “show, don’t tell” as your new motto. In fact, write it down on a post-it note and stick it on your computer monitor. If that doesn’t work, consider getting the words tattooed across your forehead. Tattoo it backwards so that you can read it in the mirror.
It’s typical of a writer to want to put words on every page and every panel to help carry the story along. You need to know where exposition and dialogue is necessary and where it can be left out altogether.
Your name will be on the cover of the book as the writer. The person reading the issue of the comic or your graphic novel will understand that it’s your story and will be conscious of the fact that the artist produced the visuals. Know that your stamp of “ownership” has been placed and don’t overdo it.
After getting finished pages back from an artist, you may need to further edit your dialogue to ensure that it will fit in the space provided. You should have some flexibility and understand that once you see a finished product you can move words around on the page to guide the eye and build the drama. At some point we’ll even talk about prepping a different version of the script for the letterer that they will use to put the dialogue and sound effects into the book. Be flexible. Nothing should be set it stone until you’re shipping the pages off to the publisher or printer.
Here is an example of an old X-Men comic in which lots of dialogue needed to be squeezed in over the art in order for the narrative to continue and make sense.
Be conscious of the amount of words you choose and don’t let this happen to you!
Of course, the alternative here would have been to re-write.
The age-old adage is is that writing is re-writing. These are true words. Revise your work. A lot.
Once you finish the first draft of your script, set it aside for a few days and come back to it with fresh eyes. You’ll notice lots of things you missed on the first pass.
Re-read your dialogue. Read it out loud. Read it to a friend. Have a friend read it. Ask yourself if it’s long-winded. Ask yourself if it sounds genuine. Ask yourself if people really talk like that.
Some comic pros will suggest that you limit yourself to a certain number of words in a panel and a certain number of words on a page. There’s some great guidelines available online to keep in mind, but in the end, my belief is that you should use whatever number of words are necessary to keep the story moving, bearing in mind, the fewer the better.
Let me give you a prime example of something I ran into on one of my recent projects:
One character asked of another, “Is the system online?”
Once I got the artwork back, I didn’t think I could fit all of that dialogue into the panel, so I shortened it a bit down to, “Yes, Sir. All systems are go.”
But did I really need to say all of that?
Economy on a comic book page is a precious commodity, so ensuring that the art shines through is always priority number one for me.
In the end, I was able to cut it down further in order for the character to simply reply with, “Yes, Sir.”
All dialogue should reveal character or move the plot along. Understand when a soliloquy is necessary and when one or two words will suffice.
In addition to leaving words on the cutting room floor or re-writing them completely, I’ll leave you with one major token…
In my experience, one of the biggest compliments that a writer can pay to an artist is to completely remove all dialogue in a panel when a moment is captured so completely and utterly that the visuals alone tell the reader everything they need to know.
Give good panel descriptions and find good artists and ideally you’ll find yourself in this situation a lot. That’s the best writing you can do.
If you didn’t already guess, Wes Locher writes comic books. Learn more about his projects at weslocher.com, follow him on Twitter @weslocher, or email him suggestions for future columns at email@example.com.
For a full listing of all Right Place at the Write Time columns, click here.comic books, comics, dialogue, how-to, magneto, right place at the write time, scripting, silence, wes locher, word balloons, words, write comics, writing