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Tell Me What I Say - Dialogue

Banes at 12:00AM, Aug. 20, 2015

image by Banes

Last Thursday I talked a little about writing a scene, in terms of the change that happens, what the character wants, and what obstacle is in the way of achieving that want.

But what about dialogue? Eh?

One way to help define what's going on in a scene is to write some “on the nose” dialogue.

This is dialogue that expresses what the characters are thinking and feeling, and states what they want. Writing this kind of dialogue can give you a clearer sense of what's going on in the scene.

But once you've figured that out, you probably want to change that dialogue to something…off the nose?

The thing is, people don't generally say exactly what they're thinking and how they're feeling. To give you a f'rinstance, I've never ONCE expressed an actual genuine emotion or thought. That's a whole other story, though.

So if you can have clarity on the mechanics of the scene, with the wants, obstacles, and type of conflict and behavior that's going on, you can try to move the dialogue away from that. Maybe have minimal to no dialogue at all. Or have the characters HIDING their true intentions in some way.

Honestly, I find myself writing “on the nose” dialogue more often than I'd like, to get the point across.

But when I can have characters hiding their true intentions, lying, or denying, the scenes are much better. And when readers comment and say what they think the characters are actually thinking and feeling…well, reading those comments is maybe the single greatest thing about being a webcomic creator. At least for me.

How do you approach dialogue in your comics? Any thoughts on what makes “good” or “bad” dialogue?

P.S. Hey, have you checked out the new, rebooted ARCHIE series by Mark Waid and Fiona Staples? I just picked up the first two issues and it's fantastic! Mark is one of the greats among comic writers, and really understands these characters, and Fiona, who I'd never heard of before this, is a phenomenal artist. Recommended for our DD Archie fans!

Have a good one!



KimLuster at 5:48PM, Aug. 22, 2015

Stellar is absolutely correct! Since most of my art is traditional, all my speech balloons are added after scanning. It's important to have a pretty good idea of what the speech will be for each panel and how it will 'flow' (with the balloon placements. This has gotten me into serious trouble before... Like Stellar said, I've had balloons creep over into art I didn't want covered, and I've had to chop up too-wordy speech because I didn't properly account for my panel room (and I'm so damn wordy!). Like all things - it gets better with practice!!

usedbooks at 11:04AM, Aug. 22, 2015

usedbooks at 11:01AM, Aug. 22, 2015

I plan out my speech balloon placement at every step. I usually go through a small thumbnail step followed by a rough draft and then a final penciled page. After that, it's all digital. I sometimes change balloon placement or dialogue in later steps to fit better (not often, though). I don't use rectangular panels, so I use the speech balloons to guide readers to what panel comes next. They are like signposts for my art.

Stellar at 9:48AM, Aug. 22, 2015

Abt got the point I was looking for! I've written novels and comics and I find with comics you have to be more concise with your dialogue because there's limited space. I'm like you Banes where in my comics I'm writing more to the point than I'd like because of this. But what I find really important in webcomic dialogue is placement as well! If you're not typesetting so the words flow with the images then the reader may get confused or stumble through the page. It seems like a simple thing, but placement of dialogue effects the art that goes in the panels, or if you're like me and add it after the lineart is done you have to decide where it fits and how much of your art you're willing to cover up. I love the topic you're picking banes!

Banes at 5:54PM, Aug. 21, 2015

These are fantastic, illuminating comments! Thanks youse! Gunwallace, that made me laugh really hard. HA!!

Gunwallace at 1:45PM, Aug. 21, 2015

For one glorious year I had an English teacher at High School who would start each lesson with a 5-minute conversation writing exercise. Only dialogue, no explanatory text. Then she would pick one person to read theirs out loud to the class. I was only picked once ... and that day I read a conversation between Hans Allover, Luke Shystalker, and Princess Leia Orgasm at the Death Star Burger Bar and Grill ("use the sauce, Luke. the tomato sauce.") She never picked me again. However, I always liked those lessons, and they stayed with me.

Abt_Nihil at 2:29AM, Aug. 21, 2015

I usually don't use a "plot -> scenes -> dialogue" writing sequence, but rather I often have a general idea of the story and then go where the character interaction, which often amounts to dialogue, takes me. Having to write dialogue when you *know* where it has to go is hard because it often makes it sound forced... I'll try to just let it flow and go where it goes naturally, and then try to trim it down and make it sharper.

Hero at 4:36PM, Aug. 20, 2015

@Call Me Tom: It's like I said. Most people are taught to write formally. It's never like I look at someone who doesn't have effective command of voice and say "This person's a bad writer." I look at that kinda writing and say "This person has room to develop in that area." And if you're aware of it, you can always learn, experiment and change for the better, cuz like I said flexibility of voice comes from experience with and attention to voice. It's also only one area of writing. Like, I've focused too much on dialogue before and ran plots into the ground because I'm dialogue guy before I'm plot guy. @usedbooks: Exactly. Like, no one person is the same person to everybody. Unless that's their thing, which is a potential voice in itself.

usedbooks at 1:17PM, Aug. 20, 2015

Oh, and Hero, that is so true about talking differently to different people. I do that so much with my characters. Seiko comes across as polite good girl, even shy around strangers, but has this sarcastic snarky side only certain people know. Also, for whatever reason, everyone is openly emotional and confides in Tristan. He's like the go-to outlet for the "don't tell anyone I cried" moments. (I used to be that person. There must be an invisible "emotional release/free therapist sign on some people.)

usedbooks at 1:10PM, Aug. 20, 2015

Getting into characters' heads sometimes makes me uncomfortable. I have a villain whose every other line is creeptacular innuendo and he punctuates any dialogue with females with condescending terms of endearment. It's very uncomfortable writing for him. I have other characters whose scenes I can't wait for. One is very smooth manipulative villain who says not what is on his mind but what is needed to get his way. Another is a young guy who wears his heart on his sleeve, says whatever he thinks or feels, and emotes with every bit of his body language. I think I love writing comics because it is like acting -- acting for a bunch of characters at the same time. I run dialogue in my head on car trips or hikes and feel all the emotion and motives. It's playing make-believe but in a productive way.

Call Me Tom at 11:16AM, Aug. 20, 2015

I have June say every thing she's doing and ask questions about everything like there is no switch between her brain and mouth... I'm not good at this wrighting thing.

Hero at 11:04AM, Aug. 20, 2015

And, like, when you in the place of thinking about your characters' voices, it's easier to say, "This is something they'd be explaining out loud to this person." "This person they'd hint as something with." "This person they'd never tell anything, they wouldn't talk to this person." Like, voice can affect the mechanics of a scene itself.

Hero at 10:24AM, Aug. 20, 2015

And, let me talk a bit while I still got the mic. There are also intricacies everywhere when two people are talking and it's always about who they are and who they are to each other. Like, whether or not you're conscious of it, you speak differently to your friends, your parents and like complete strangers. Like, you might speak more formally to authority figures or strangers who you want to make a good impression on. You might relax and speak more slang or colloquialisms with your friends. You might do the reverse, you might be trying to seem tough to people you don't know but be kinder and more polite to your friends. And, I think some of the biggest beginner to intermediate mistakes are to write everything in your own voice or to write it like an essay because that's how we're trained to write. And, it take a recognition of how you're presenting your voice before you can change it to begin with.

Hero at 9:56AM, Aug. 20, 2015

I'm all about the voice. And, I think that's one of my strengths in writing and comicing in general. Like, OK, y'all. I'm from a theatre background and, like you approach characters you're writing the same way you approach characters you're acting. You get into their minds and you consider how their history shaped who they are and how they communicate. And, then you research how people with similar backgrounds talk. Oh, gawd do you research. Like, one of my biggest errors was making a bilingual character with my limited knowledge of the other language they're fluent in and even though I've tried and toned it down I still look back on those pages and groan. But, you read and you listen and you dissect and you learn and consult people. And, you also look at bad examples and dissect them to figure out what not to do. Cuz, like flexibility of voice comes from a lot of experience with those voices.

KimLuster at 8:08AM, Aug. 20, 2015

My biggest issue with dialogue is authenticity... Do my 'Gangstas' properly convey 'street-talk'?, do my military-types have realistic 'army-speak'? When I have character speaking in Spanish, but it's shown to the reader in English, does the use of English slang, idioms, and contractions add to or take from the authenticity of it. I really worry that this would be a great criticism if I ever tried to get anything published!

KimLuster at 8:03AM, Aug. 20, 2015

The Godstrain is essentially a Web-Comic told from a 1st-Person point of view, so I haven't overly worried about On-the-nose type dialogue - Everybody knows what Kimber Lee is thinking via her inner-monologue. And when in dialogue with others, she has a knack for knowing what they feel (up to knowing if they're being truthful or not). This makes dialogue easier in some ways and harder in others (harder to introduce believable mystery and subterfuge...)

usedbooks at 7:26AM, Aug. 20, 2015

I'm generally a writer more than an artist (like MUCH more), but I noticed my stories became very heavy on dialogue, more suited for a script than a novel. That's part of why the comic medium fits my writing style (aside from the bit where I have to draw :P ). Most of my scripts begin with a bit of dialogue (witty or dramatic) in my head. When I need to get the story to a certain point, I'll force dialogue to include all that needs said, but I later rewrite it freely ignoring the neccessary and focusing on what is natural for the character. I find on my rewrites that a lot of details I thought were important in the dialogue work fine (or better) unsaid.

KimLuster at 4:10AM, Aug. 20, 2015

These are good things you're coming up with Banes!

Gunwallace at 12:13AM, Aug. 20, 2015


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