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B&N Week 11: Dialogue, Part 1

| March 8, 2011 | 9 Comments

Why is it that no one sings songs about Tuesday? I mean, Tyr is a god of the Aesir, and deserves some respect! Let’s give him some!

Welcome back to another installment of Bolts & Nuts. Lately, we’ve been spending time talking about the actual scripting process, finally being done with the preliminaries. Last week we talked about Pacing, and I said this week we’d talk about Dialogue.

For purposes of today’s column, I’m going to say that dialogue is any word that is not part of the artwork. This does not include signage. I’m talking about anything that gives a “sound” to the panel: spoken words, captions, and sound effects. All of these are going to be lumped together because they will be serving the same purpose—to heighten the scene depicted with the illusion of sound.

I’m not going to get all philosophical with this. Simply stated, everything that you write for a panel that falls outside of the panel description I will consider to be dialogue.

I’m not going to lie. Dialogue is hard. You’re trying to get across ideas or intents or emotions through words that are not “yours.” You’re literally putting words in someone else’s mouth, and you have to do it in their “voice.” Not only does it have to read well, it also has to convey a lot of information in the most economical use of space available. Dialogue is HARD.

Now, there are lots of opinions on dialogue, and everyone has one. Some will tell you that the dialogue will sound “forced,” “not realistic,” or “on the nose.” I’m going to tell you to take their statements on dialogue with a grain of salt. [Some may need an entire salt lick.] Why? Because dialogue is the most subjective part of a script, in my opinion. Writers can talk about panel description and format all day long. There’s no real right or wrong way to do it, and in the end, it doesn’t really matter, because as long as the artist is able to muddle through it and get the idea of what you want in the panel, it’s good. The reader isn’t going to see it.

What the reader WILL see is the dialogue—the most subjective part of the script. The actions of the characters will carry a lot of weight, but what they say will also stay with you.

How many of you can recite lines from The Princess Bride? C’mon, don’t be shy. Okay, fine. Something easier. Star Wars. “Luke, I am your father!” Jerry Maguire: “You had me at hello.” James Bond. The Pink Panther. I’m betting each of you reading this can recite a line from dozens of movies. Why? Because words have power, and they stay with you. It doesn’t get simpler than that.

Now, because each of us is different, the dialogue that each of us writes has to go through a filter of what we do and do not find acceptable. What we think is the “right” way to say something.

I ‘m going to tell you that your job is to make the dialogue as reader friendly as possible, but also, unless you’re self-publishing, you’re going to write it to the standards of your editor.

However, there are tips and tricks you can use to make your dialogue better.

After you get over the idea that all you’re doing is talking to yourself [see? You’re not crazy!], you have to work hard to put what you hear in your head onto the page THE WAY YOU HEAR IT.

If this wasn’t much harder than it sounds, I wouldn’t cringe whenever I read some scripts. The first thing to do is to not even write down what you’re hearing in your head. It’s not going to help you if you’re writing things down wrong, writing in incomplete sentences that are unintelligible. The idea is to get your thoughts across, not have the reader scratching their heads as they try to parse what you’re saying.

Instead of writing, I want you to do the opposite. I want you to listen.

Listening is easy, and you can do it literally any- and everywhere, and at any time. Taking public transportation? Take out the earbuds and listen to the conversations around you. That guy talking business on the phone? How does he form his words? How does his end of the conversation flow? Where does he put his stressors? What’s his diction like? Going to Applebee’s? Wait until you’re guaranteed to wait, and listen. That couple with the sleeping child? What are they talking about? If you’re at the mall, hit the food courts. That’s the best location to listen, especially around the holidays.

And don’t forget the kids! Listening to adults is easy. As an adult, you’re going to be able to mimic them the easiest. Their speech patterns don’t change. Teenagers? Yeah, good luck with that. Their speech patterns change at the drop of a hat, from one month to the next. They’re influenced by MTV and BET [we’re going to talk about Black people in a little bit] as well as music [because we all know that MTV and BET barely show music videos anymore] and each other. If you have teenage kids in the house, you have to turn your parent’s ear off and your writer’s ear on and actually listen to them. And then go to an online slang dictionary to find out what the hell they said.

Finally, young children. They shouldn’t sound like adults, and some writers have this problem. It’s a hard thing to listen to them and then write them effectively. I know. Remember what I said: dialogue is hard.

And now we get to a touchy subject. Black people. First, don’t take this as a “you” vs “them” thing. That’s not it at all. I’m Black, but there are a lot of White comic creators. Facts. Nothing new. Nothing controversial. Just facts. And the fact is that Black people, generally speaking, have different speech patterns than White people. Throw out what you’ve heard on television. That’s just a writer’s filter on how THEY think someone speaks. Unless it’s a “reality” show, I suggest you get out the house and go listen somewhere. You’ll find different speech patters across the different age segments.

For my part, I think all kids are going to sound the same, or nearly so. Differences spring up when you hit the teens.

Black and White teens sound different. Black and White adults sound different. And definitely Black and White elderly people sound different. They sound different, act differently, and have different outlooks. And yes, their outlook on life affects how they sound.

Basically, everything I’ve just said is about dialects—the way people speak in a given region. Yankees sound different than those from Down South, which sound different than those from the West Coast., which sound different from the Midwest. When you add in people from other countries, it gets even more complicated. Then you throw in different timeframes, and it gets that much harder.

Anyway, after you’ve done nothing but listen for a few weeks, then you should start writing down what you hear. (Weeks, Steven? Really?) Really. You’re going to be writing for years, given your level of drive. What’s a few weeks honing what you want to do compared to that? It’s all part of the process. So you listen, and then you write down what you hear. And then you do one of the most important tests there are for a writer.

You read your dialogue aloud.

Write it out, and then come back to it later, like a few days. Read it out loud and see how it sounds. This will tell you if you’ve written down everything you needed to, or if you’ve missed words or letters, which can change the meaning of what you’re trying to communicate. But most of all, you’re reading it out loud to see if it sounds realistic to you.

I’m going to be the first to tell you that, as a new writer, you are more than likely NOT the best judge of realism. That’s going to be a fact of life until you get more scripts under you. You’re going to need to get a LOT of writing done, always challenging yourself, in order to get better.

So you’ve listened and you’ve written, and now you’re ready to write dialogue for your script. You’ve got a hard boiled character in Pen-Man, and because you want this to be as realistic as possible, you’re going to have a field day with all the cursing. You’re going to do in a comic what Deadwood did on HBO in elevating cursing to an art form.

Wait right there.

Remember the recall of All Star Batman and Robin The Boy Wonder #10? The reason was a LOT of cursing in the Frank Miller penned tale. A LOT of cursing, besides the occasional “hell” and “damn.” Four letter words that start with letters like F and C. In a DC comic.

Deciding whether or not you want to curse or use the symbols that have been in comics for decades is up to you. And no, those aren’t your only two choices. With the advent of computer lettering, letterers are able to do all kinds of effects with letters much easier than they could twenty years ago. Just remember that sometimes, the choice is going to be taken from you.

If you’re Joe Schmoe and you’re writing for Marvel/DC, you’re not going to be allowed to do a lot of things, and cursing is one of them. Not in a showable manner. You’re going to be asked to either change the dialogue some [if it’s not changed for you], or you’re going to be strapped with the symbols that have been a comic staple for a few generations. If you’re self-publishing and you use blue words but also have the fortune of being able to go through Diamond, you may also be relegated to the adult section of Previews, which will limit your chances of being seen. Something to think about.

So far, I’ve basically talked about words that are being spoken by a character. The same is going to hold true for thought balloons. So, two birds with one stone.

Captions are going to work a little differently. Captions can work in three different voices. The first one I’ll talk about is the voiceover, because it’s easiest. Simply put, it’s a character talking that’s not in the scene. They’re somewhere else entirely. It could be as part of a transition to another scene, it could be the explanation of a flashback, or a few other things. The caption will then resemble a novel or magazine quote, because it’s going to have quotation marks around the words. It’ll look something like this:

CAP: “I’M SORRY, JOHN, BUT I DON’T LOVE YOU ANYMORE.”

Simple.

The next one is a character talking to the reader. They’ll act as a Narrator, but everything is from their point of view. These type of captions also often take the place of thought balloons. As a matter of fact, the thought balloon has fallen out of favor over the past ten years or so in favor of the caption. I’m not in agreement of it, but Bendis has brought it back in a unique way in the pages of Mighty Avengers.

The last is the Narrator. If it’s not part of a conversation or a character talking to the reader, it’s the Narrator.

Again, simple.

Now, just a short interlude when it comes to captions and thought balloons.

In the past, thought balloons have been used to ill effect, telling what was going on in the panel rather than letting the artwork do the heavy lifting. Instead of being a gateway to someone’s thoughts, they were used for exposition or info-dumps. Not good, and because of it, there are some new writers who have a total disdain for them, preferring captions over them.

I’m going to tell you all right now that I think that train of thought is wrong.

Why take tools out of the toolbox? It doesn’t make sense to me.

Here’s what a thought balloon does: it gives immediacy to the story you’re telling. It lets you know what the person is thinking right then and there.

On the other hand, a caption doesn’t do that, even if it’s first person. A first person caption removes you from the immediacy of the story, because the “speaker” has already lived the story, and is only retelling it. We’ve gotten accustomed to not asking the question “who are they talking to” because of novels, but the question itself is still there. The first person caption, whether you realize it or not, tells the reader that the character has finished the adventure and lived to tell the tale. The sooner that’s realized, the better off you’ll be.

This is not a rant on the inherent goodness of thought balloons. This is just some advice against taking a perfectly good tool out of the box without first fully understanding its function and why you’re taking it out. That’s all.

Anyway, we finally have the Sound Effect.

In a script, it’s denoted as SFX. Onomatopoeia goes here. (Ono-what?!) A word that spells out a sound. BRAKOOM and RATATATATAT. Stuff like that. If it rings, rumbles, shoots, zaps, splashes, explodes—if you can think of a sound and make a decent pass at spelling it out and you want it in the script, it goes here.

Sound effects are not necessary to a script. Sometimes they help, sometimes they can hurt. Most times, readers are indifferent to them. If you’re doing a superhero comic, they’re almost a necessity.

I have a pretty good ear for dialogue. (You’d better, Mr. Editor-man.) However, I’m going to tell you that I don’t like writing it. It’s not my favorite thing to do. Sound effects have their place, just like everything else. You have to know when to use them, though. Superheros and action comics? Probably a good thing to have. Horror comics? You have a choice. Will it lend atmosphere, or ruin the mood you’re trying to set? Comedy? Again, a choice. However, the one thing I’m going to tell you about sound effects is to be consistent. If you start, continue through the needed portions of the story you’re telling. If you don’t start, don’t suddenly start in the middle or last third of the comic when it’s not needed. Consistency.

That holds true for captions and thought balloons, especially first person captions. It’s easy to discontinue using first person captions if you’ve started and then stopped using them. Picking the thread back up can be a challenge. Just try to be consistent. That’s all.

No, really, that’s all.

For homework, all I want you to do is listen. That’s all. Listen to everyone as they do everything. No writing, just listening. You know that song you listened to as a kid, and love, but don’t know all the words to? Listen to it. Decipher it. Make sense of it. In two weeks, start writing. Enjoy the “break.” You’re not going to find much more homework that’s so easy.

Next week, we’re going to talk more about talking. That’s right. More Dialogue. Then, we may dissect a script. Any volunteers? All I want is two pages. Doesn’t have to be complete at all. If I get no volunteers, I’ll either use one of my own, or I’ll start to discuss superheroes. We’ll see what happens.

Until then, enjoy!

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Category: Bolts & Nuts

About the Author ()

Steven is an editor/writer with such credits as Fallen Justice, the award nominated The Standard, and Bullet Time under his belt, as well as work published by DC Comics. Between he and his wife, there are 10 kids (!), so there is a lot of creativity all around him. Steven is also the editor in chief and co-creator of ComixTribe, whose mission statement is Creators Helping Creators Make Better Comics. If you're looking for editing, contact him at stevedforbes@gmail.com for rate inquiries.

Comments (9)

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  1. John Lees says:

    I can offer up a 2-page extract from the script I’m currently working on. This scene in particular might be a useful example, as the dialogue was a NIGHTMARE for me to get right. The first couple of attempts, I just hated what I had. There was a clash between the voices I felt the characters should have and the information I needed them to get across. Add onto that the struggles to authentically depict the voices of an aging bounty hunter and a brothel madam in the 19th Century Old West, complete with my attempts at distinct dialects and speech patterns, and the scene drove me crazy. What I have now is the result of me doing a near-complete ditch and rewrite of the initial dialogue, and even now I’m not entirely happy with it. So it might give you plenty to talk about.

    Do you want me to send you it via e-mail, or just post it up?

    • Both. Post it up, so we can all destroy it… I mean, take a look and snicker… I mean, offer constructive criticism, and I’ll do my best to pound it into oblivi–I mean, see what I can do to fix your horrible, horrible dialogue.

      You know what I mean!

      (I know, I know. Go back to my cave!)

  2. John Lees says:

    PAGE EIGHT (4 panels)

    Panel 1. Establishing shot of the Black Lily whorehouse. It is a rather grand-looking two-storey house, made of wood, with an ornately-lettered sign placed over the door reading THE BLACK LILY. It is in a quiet location, with no other buildings surrounding it – though a couple of horses are tethered to a post outside. It is early evening, and the sun is setting in the background.

    CAP/STELLA: “MMM…AH THOUGHT MA DAYS OF WHORIN’ WERE OVER WHEN AH TOOK OWNERSHIP OF THIS HERE ESTABLISHMENT.”

    CAP/STELLA: “BUT FOR YOU, ARTHUR, AH’M ALWAYS HAPPY TO MAKE AN EXCEPTION.”

    Panel 2. Interior establishing shot of a bedroom in the whorehouse. It is dimly-lit, the only light-source coming from various candles spread around the room. Standing in the foreground to the left of the frame is Stella, a playful smirk on her face. She is wearing her undergarments. One leg is resting on a stool, as Stella pulls a stocking up along it. Sitting on the edge of the double bed is Arthur Dagham. He is slouched forward, hands resting on his lap, a downbeat expression on his face. He is in a state of partial disrobe: he’s wearing his pants and boots, but his shirt hangs open, exposing a flabby chest. The rest of his clothes lie on a pile on the bed next to him, his holster with guns and his hat sitting at the top of the heap. Without his hat, we can see that Dagham is now balding on top.

    STELLA: WHAT’S WRONG, DARLIN’? YOU SEEM ILL AT EASE, MORE THAN USUAL.

    DAGHAM: I’VE BEEN THINKIN’ ABOUT THAT BOY I KILLED SOME MONTHS BACK, ON THE DAY THE PHOENIX KID ARRIVED.

    DAGHAM: YOU NEVER GET USED TO IT, STELLA. HOW… SURPRISED THEY LOOK THAT THIS IS HAPPENIN’ TO THEM.

    Panel 3. Medium shot of Stella and Dagham. Stella is sitting down on the bed, resting an arm around Dagham’s shoulder. With her other hand, she is making a big, exaggerated motion of stifling a yawn. Dagham is still sat where he was before, but now his fists are clenched, his jaw set tightly shut as he stares ahead intensely, apparently not paying attention to Stella’s words.

    STELLA: YOU SHOULD KNOW BY NOW, HONEY, THERE AIN’T NOTHIN’ DRIES A WHORE’S CUNNY UP FASTER THAN GUILT.

    DAGHAM: I SAY I WANT TO CHANGE, AND I TRY, BUT IT’S LIKE THE PAST WON’T TAKE ITS CLAWS OUT OF ME.

    Panel 4. Close-up of an angry Dagham, teeth gritted and bared.

    DAGHAM: EVERYWHERE I LOOK, I SEE PHANTOMS!

    PAGE NINE (6 panels)

    Panel 1. Medium shot of Dagham buttoning up his shirt. He seems calmer now, eyes cast downward guiltily.

    DAGHAM: ON THAT SAME DAY, WHEN I TOOK PHOENIX UP TO BLACKROCK PLATEAU… THE THOUGHT CROSSED MY MIND TO KILL HIM TOO.

    DAGHAM: I SUSPECTED THE TWO OF THEM MIGHT HAVE BEEN IN LEAGUE AGAINST ME, THAT BURYING HIM OUT THERE WOULD MAKE ASSURANCE DOUBLE-SURE.

    Panel 2. Long shot of Stella and Dagham. Stella remains sitting on the bed, now looking up anxiously at Dagham. Dagham is now standing. His shirt is buttoned and his waistcoat is on, and he is now fastening his belt with its guns and holsters, looking down intently at the belt as he does so.

    STELLA: ARTHUR…

    DAGHAM: THINK WHAT A DISASTER THAT WOULD HAVE BEEN. THE OPPORTUNITY WE WOULD HAVE LOST OUT ON!

    STELLA: YET NOW WE’RE DIGGIN’ FOR OIL AND PHOENIX STILL WALKS THE EARTH. THAT TELLS ME YOU’RE BETTER THAN WHATEVER DARK THOUGHTS YOU GOT LOCKED IN YOUR HEAD.

    Panel 3. Same long shot, but now Dagham – a thin smile on his lips- is standing over Stella, running a hand gently along the scar on her face.

    DAGHAM: YOU ALWAYS THINK THE BEST OF ME, DON’T YOU?

    STELLA: IT AIN’T HARD, WITH ALL YOU’VE DONE FOR ME OVER THE YEARS.

    Panel 4. Medium shot of Stella, still sitting on the bed, a rueful smile on her face.

    STELLA: BUT ENOUGH WITH THIS WHININ’ AND MISERY, LEST IT IMPEDE YOUR COCKSMANSHIP.

    STELLA: SMILE, IT’S NEW YEAR’S EVE! YOU’RE HERE TO WITNESS THE LAST DAY OF THE CENTURY. THAT’S GOTTA COUNT FOR SOMETHIN’, RIGHT?

    Panel 5. Stella POV shot of Dagham standing at the threshold of the now-open bedroom door. One hand is on the door handle, while the other is placing his hat on his head. He’s looking over his shoulder, smiling faintly at Stella (and us). His coat is slung over his shoulder, and his tie hangs loosely around his neck.

    DAGHAM: STELLA, TODAY FEELS ABOUT THE SAME AS ANY OTHER.

    Panel 6. Same Stella POV shot, but now Dagham has turned his back to us, and has walked out the door and into the hallway outside.

    DAGHAM: LIKE IT COULD BE MY LAST.

    • Hey, folks!

      I know, I’m late. Work has been a bear! But, here it is.

      A caveat: I only read the panel descriptions in order to get a sense of the dialogue in its setting. I’m not doing anything at all to the panel descriptions, just the dialogue.

      Because of the formatting here, what’s bolded is deleted, and what’s in italics has been added.

      So, let’s see what John brought!

      PAGE EIGHT (4 panels)

      Panel 1. Establishing shot of the Black Lily whorehouse. It is a rather grand-looking two-storey house, made of wood, with an ornately-lettered sign placed over the door reading THE BLACK LILY. It is in a quiet location, with no other buildings surrounding it – though a couple of horses are tethered to a post outside. It is early evening, and the sun is setting in the background.

      CAP/STELLA: “MMM…AH THOUGHT MA DAYS OF WHORIN’ WERE OVER WHEN AH TOOK OWNERSHIP OF THIS
      HERE ESTABLISHMENT.” (I kept the essence, I kept the tone, but cut down the number of words. See how it reads cleaner, while still keeping her voice?)

      CAP/STELLA: “BUT FOR YOU, ARTHUR, AH’M ALWAYS HAPPY TO MAKE AN EXCEPTION.”

      Panel 2. Interior establishing shot of a bedroom in the whorehouse. It is dimly-lit, the only light-source coming from various candles spread around the room. Standing in the foreground to the left of the frame is Stella, a playful smirk on her face. She is wearing her undergarments. One leg is resting on a stool, as Stella pulls a stocking up along it. Sitting on the edge of the double bed is Arthur Dagham. He is slouched forward, hands resting on his lap, a downbeat expression on his face. He is in a state of partial disrobe: he’s wearing his pants and boots, but his shirt hangs open, exposing a flabby chest. The rest of his clothes lie on a pile on the bed next to him, his holster with guns and his hat sitting at the top of the heap. Without his hat, we can see that Dagham is now balding on top.

      STELLA: WHAT’S WRONG, DARLIN’? YOU SEEM ILL AT EASE, MORE’N THAN USUAL.

      DAGHAM: I’VE BEEN THINKIN’ ABOUT THAT BOY I KILLED SOME MONTHS BACK, ON THE DAY THE PHOENIX KID ARRIVED.

      DAGHAM: YOU NEVER GET USED TO IT, STELLA. HOW… SURPRISED THEY LOOK THAT THIS IS HAPPENIN’ TO THEM.

      (more)

      PAGE EIGHT (continued)

      Panel 3. Medium shot of Stella and Dagham. Stella is sitting down on the bed, resting an arm around Dagham’s shoulder. With her other hand, she is making a big, exaggerated motion of stifling a yawn. Dagham is still sat where he was before, but now his fists are clenched, his jaw set tightly shut as he stares ahead intensely, apparently not paying attention to Stella’s words.

      STELLA: YOU SHOULD KNOW BY NOW, HONEY, THERE AIN’T NOTHIN’ DRIES A WHORE’S CUNNY UP FASTER’N THAN GUILT.

      DAGHAM: I SAY I WANT TO CHANGE, AND I TRY, BUT IT’S LIKE THE PAST WON’T TAKE ITS CLAWS OUT OF ME.

      Panel 4. Close-up of an angry Dagham, teeth gritted and bared.

      DAGHAM: EVERYWHERE I LOOK, I SEE PHANTOMS! (This should be small.)

      PAGE NINE (6 panels)

      Panel 1. Medium shot of Dagham buttoning up his shirt. He seems calmer now, eyes cast downward guiltily.

      DAGHAM: ON THAT SAME DAY, WHEN I TOOK PHOENIX UP TO BLACKROCK PLATEAU… THE THOUGHT CROSSED MY MIND TO KILL HIM, TOO. (Comma.)

      DAGHAM: I SUSPECTED THE TWO OF THEM MIGHT HAVE BEEN IN LEAGUE AGAINST ME, THAT BURYING HIM OUT THERE WOULD MAKE ASSURANCE DOUBLE-SURE. (I like the sense of this, but I’m also wanting to do some cutting. Just a little. I’m not overly torn, I’m just giving my view. It’s okay the way it is, but I think it might read the same with a tweak, instead of being better. This is why I didn’t cut anything. Sometimes, the editor has to know when to just get out of the way.)

      Panel 2. Long shot of Stella and Dagham. Stella remains sitting on the bed, now looking up anxiously at Dagham. Dagham is now standing. His shirt is buttoned and his waistcoat is on, and he is now fastening his belt with its guns and holsters, looking down intently at the belt as he does so.

      STELLA: ARTHUR…

      DAGHAM: THINK WHAT A DISASTER THAT WOULD HAVE BEEN. THE OPPORTUNITY WE WOULD HAVE LOST OUT ON!

      STELLA: YET NOW WE’RE DIGGIN’ FOR OIL AND PHOENIX STILL WALKS THE EARTH. THAT TELLS ME YOU’RE BETTER THAN WHATEVER DARK THOUGHTS YOU GOT LOCKED IN YOUR HEAD.

      Panel 3. Same long shot, but now Dagham – a thin smile on his lips- is standing over Stella, running a hand gently along the scar on her face.

      DAGHAM: YOU ALWAYS THINK THE BEST OF ME, DON’T YOU?

      STELLA: IT AIN’T HARD, WITH ALL YOU’VE DONE FOR ME OVER THE YEARS.

      (more)

      PAGE NINE (continued)

      Panel 4. Medium shot of Stella, still sitting on the bed, a rueful smile on her face.

      STELLA: BUT ENOUGH WITH THIS WHININ’ AND MISERY, LEST IT IMPEDE YOUR COCKSMANSHIP. (Cut this entire line. They’ve already concluded their business, so his performance shouldn’t be an issue.)

      STELLA: SMILE,! IT’S NEW YEAR’S EVE! YOU’RE HERE TO WITNESS THE LAST DAY OF THE CENTURY. THAT’S GOTTA COUNT FOR SOMETHIN’, RIGHT?

      Panel 5. Stella POV shot of Dagham standing at the threshold of the now-open bedroom door. One hand is on the door handle, while the other is placing his hat on his head. He’s looking over his shoulder, smiling faintly at Stella (and us). His coat is slung over his shoulder, and his tie hangs loosely around his neck.

      DAGHAM: STELLA, TODAY FEELS ABOUT THE SAME AS ANY OTHER.

      Panel 6. Same Stella POV shot, but now Dagham has turned his back to us, and has walked out the door and into the hallway outside.

      DAGHAM: LIKE IT COULD BE MY LAST.

      • John Lees says:

        Thanks for the edit, Steve!

        What some of these alterations remind me of is that, more than just watching your word-count, you also have to watch the length of the words you use. You might think you’re well within the preferred word limit, but words like ESTABLISHMENT still take up a big chunk of real estate on the page. And even things like cutting linking words, or shortening THAN to ‘N can go a long way towards tightening things up.

        I think this continues to be one of the biggest challenges I find writing dialogue. Anyone who has seen any of my replies here on ComixTribe knows that brevity is not my strong suit. But with comics scripts space is always an issue, with the value of every word being weighed. So you’re trying to write dialogue that sounds authentic, but in fact isn’t authentic. When people talk, they meander, they “umm” and “aah”. In comics, you need to get across a message in as economic a manner as possible.

  3. John Lees says:

    Wow. Posting on the comments section annihilates formatting. 🙁

    But there it is, presented for you to emerge from your cave and devour!

  4. Jules Rivera says:

    You bring up things like dialect, but that actually touches on an ongoing conversation I’ve had with a fellow writer friend. He’s British, and he has been saying for quite a while that some of the biggest dialect offenders, especially in the webcomics world are writers who overdo dialect. They make it too strong and too hard to read. His thoughts are here:

    http://hard-graft.net/2010/07/on-accents-and-stereotypes/

    Now, I’m not only acting as a mouthpiece for my friend, but the article ties into my question of how much dialect inflection is too much? I generally avoid things like local color and accents because they get in the way of the overall storytelling. Am I wrong to do that? Do I shortchange my reader a richer experience? Or is it worth streamlining a few things out of a comic that could otherwise be distracting?

    I’m interested to know your thoughts.

    • John, I promise I’m going to hack into your stuff sometime today. Promise.

      Jules, thanks for taking the time to comment! I appreciate it.

      Here are my thoughts: anything that gets in the way of storytelling is wrong. Simple, I know, and doesn’t really answer the question, but there it is.

      When writing, the best we can do is simply tell the story. If that means having dialect in the story, then put dialect in the story. It really is up to the reader as to what they find unreadable or not. We have very little to do with it when we’re writing. We can just make it as “authentic” as possible while still shooting for a level of readability and logic. It’s more important to get your information across than it is to make someone talk in a dialect.

      Of course, there are caveats to everything, but that’s going to be the basis of the “rule.” You’ll know when to break it.

  5. John Lees says:

    Its funny, since I come from Glasgow, but Glaswegian dialect is something I have had a hard time writing. My initial urge was to go all out with, and phonetically write certain things the way I say them in all their dense, unintelligble glory. But then I pulled myself back and decided to tone it down a bit to make it more readable. But then in the edits one of the criticisms was that my Scottish dialect wasn’t convincing enough, so I got this surreal experience of being a Scottish writer with an American editor teaching me how to more convincingly write Scottish dialogue. 😛

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