In the last article, “How to write a script for comics”, I discussed some script writing basics that anyone can use as well as what you should do in the event you are handing your scripts off to an artist. In this article, I will be discussing dialogue in comics. These articles are meant more for the beginners than people already making them, so take whatever works for you and use it.
ABOUT DIALOGUE IN COMICS
Writing dialogue is tricky and is sometimes more of an art than science. Not only does the dialogue have to sound realistic, but it also has to match the character you’re writing for. Having a distinguished scientist talk like he and his hommies are going to have a 40 on the street corner probably would ruin the credibility you’re looking for in that character. This is why it’s important to work out character bios like I mentioned in “How To Write A Story” of this series, because it will really help you get the flavor of the character so you can write appropriate dialogue for them.
Once you are able to write the appropriate dialogue for the character, you need to make sure it sounds realistic. I can’t offer any better advice on this than for you to speak your dialogue out loud. Listen to how you say it, did it sound corny? Did it sound long winded? Did you notice that you said the same thing differently changing a word here or there? Often times reading it out loud will reveal exactly how strong dialogue is, or isn’t, so you can make adjustments if needed.
WRITE DIALOGUE AS AN ACTOR
You have to put your acting hat on and remember to write differently for each character based on their mood or general disposition. If someone is panicky all the time, they may talk in short fragmented sentences, or if someone is well educated, they may talk on and on about stuff the other characters think is boring. Do they have an accent? Ya nee’ta write wha’tha sounds like. Not only are you the writer, but you are the actor giving these characters a voice!
REMEMBER THE MEDIUM
Remember that you are writing for a comic, which is a visual medium. There’s always a fine line with comics in deciding if the dialogue moves the story forward or if the visuals do. Would you rather have someone say what is happening in your panel, or just show the reader what is happening?
Remember a picture is worth a thousand words, and in comics it’s even more important!
THE FINE ART OF LESS IS MORE
I find comic writing incredibly challenging at times. I’ll have this great bit of dialogue I wrote and it looks great, but I place it inside the comic panel and realize I have zero room for half of it. I then have to edit it down, again, and again. In some cases I couldn’t edit it down, so I would then split the dialogue up into the next panel, which then pushes the rest of the script back, making me have to edit something else further along the episode. It’s like trying to hammer the round peg through the square hole, and my head is the hammer!
When you’re writing, generally you don’t know if it will fit or not. There are cases where I’ve written something for a specific panel and ended up having room for more, so I would expand the words to fill in the panel better. Just remember that more than likely you will have to change your dialogue when it goes from script to being placed in the comic itself. If you’re working with an artist, you need to work those things out between you. What is really vital that has to stay? What can be cut down or moved somewhere else? Don’t take it personally if your artist requests changes, sometimes that’s the only way to get things to work!
A great resource on this would be reading Scott McCloud’s “Making Comics: Storytelling secrets of comics, manga and graphic novels.” This book is incredibly thorough and will go into deeper detail than I will in this series.
Next week we’ll start tackling the process of actually creating your comic, so stay tuned!