Behind the Shades

Exposition made interesting (well, we tried!)
DAJB at 3:45AM, Feb. 5, 2008
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As a super hero story, I hope we've managed to make the action sequences in Shades fun to read. But even the most action-packed story has to make room for a bit of plot and character development now and then (even if only to help with pacing) and that's why they occasionally have to resort to those long talky bits.

In Shades, the long talky bits tend to be exceptionally long and exceptionally talky, so I did a lot of thinking about how to make them more interesting. Whether I succeeded or not, is for you to decide, but this is a brief overview of some of the techniques I tried.

Flashbacks

It might be a bit of a cliche to say that, when you're dealing with a visual medium, it's almost always better to show, rather than tell, but it's still true. That's why, when recounting a character's backstory, I made a point of using flashbacks. The most obvious examples of this are, perhaps, the episodes re-telling Doug's backstory in Chapter 2 and Chapter 5. When lapsing into flashbacks I also tried to switch from narration to dialogue as early in the sequence as possible. I find that also makes the sequence feel more “immediate” (or less talky!)

Movement

When it wasn't possible (or I didn't want) to show the events being discussed, I tried to have the characters do something while they were talking. They could be talking while engaged in an action-based sequence or a humourous one but, as far as I was concerned, the important thing was to give the reader some visual movement to focus on. Often the movement might be fairly mundane but I was determined to keep the characters in motion and not present a series of “talking heads”. Good examples of this are Stan and Sunil getting on a bus in Chapter 1, and Stan being wheeled through the corridors of Boo's hideout in Chapter 5.

Diversion

When it wasn't particularly appropriate to have the characters themselves doing something, I tried to have something else happening in the background. This was the approach I took in Chapter 3. Stan and the Shaman did the important chatting bit, while Starflower and Starflare (hopefully!) provided the necessary entertainment value, by tackling the intruders.

Distraction

When it wasn't practical to have the talking characters do anything visually interesting and there was no obvious scope for diverting background action, I tried to cut back and forth between the exposition and another (more visually interesting) scene, all together. There are numerous examples of this, especially in the later chapters when there's a larger cast and I was able to cut from one character to another.

Combinations

Obviously, none of these techniques are mutually exclusive. Sometimes I used them sequentially and sometimes together. In telling Doug's backstory in Chapter 2, the focus moves in sequence from flashback (Doug's attack on the German Leviathan bomber) to movement (his walk through the garden with Stan), through to distraction (the figure eavesdropping on their conversation from the top of the gasometer). In Chapter 6, however, I folded two of the techniques into each other. Essentially the whole of this chapter is about Stan recounting Boo's backstory to Becky. I therefore had him busy with his tasks in the workshop while he talked and cut back and forth between this and Boo's visit to the Shaman's temple.

Viewpoint

Finally, when there was simply no way to avoid a page of talking heads, I had to rely on Harsho's wonderful artwork to carry the day. In his case, his facial expressions are simply superb and something of an attention-grabber in their own right. However, there are also Wally Wood's 22 Panels That Always Work. If you haven't got a copy of this saved on your PC and hung above your workspace, go get it now. (Just in case you have to draw something one day for a wordy old windbag of a writer like me!)
last edited on July 18, 2011 10:23AM
Adam Black at 8:39AM, Feb. 11, 2008
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Awesome tips, bro. Thanks!
last edited on July 18, 2011 10:23AM
DAJB at 9:23AM, Feb. 11, 2008
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posts: 1,462
joined: 2-23-2007
Thanks, Adam. I'm sure none of these are exactly ground-breaking nor is the list exhaustive, but they're the techniques I was very conscious of using (whether they worked or not!)

If you come across any other techniques that seem to work, please do add them here!
last edited on July 18, 2011 10:23AM

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