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Getting to the Point

HippieVan at 12:00AM, Sept. 23, 2016

So, I tend to be long-winded. The mark of a historian, probably, or I maybe I just love to hear myself talk. But rarely does that become so evident to me as when I’m turning my comic script into actual comic pages. Suddenly what seemed like a brief remark is taking up half a panel, and I’ve either got to redesign the page to accommodate a bunch of text or do away with some of the dialogue.

Having realized this would be a problem as I illustrated my Prologue, when it came time to revise Chapter One I did my best to cut down what my characters are saying. My characters probably shouldn’t be talking like I do, in any case – that is to say, in meandering drawn-out ramblings. Easier said than done, though. I find that I’m cautious about taking out filler words, for instance, because they make conversations seem more natural to me.

One of the classic rules of comic making is show, don’t tell. By this token, if you can illustrate something rather than having a character explain it, that’s usually the way to go. There are definitely times when reminding myself of that works for me: does this character really need to be saying this, or is the sentiment perfectly obvious from what they're doing in the image? Sometimes a line that seemed necessary in the script can be cut once it's been illustrated.

Of course, a rule is never a rule when it comes to art! And there are plenty of comics that do lengthy diatribes well. I’m a big fan of graphic novel versions of classic literature, which are almost always pretty wordy. And obviously you need enough dialogue to allow for meaningful character development and so on. But for most comics, especially action-oriented or humorous comics, walls of text – even when it’s dialogue – can really weigh things down.

How do you keep your characters’ dialogue succinct? Or do you embrace wordy diatribes? If you’re verbose like I am, how do you keep your comic pages looking dynamic?

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KimLuster at 6:59PM, Sept. 25, 2016

Short answer (how's that for irony) is I don't keep it succint! Of all my shortcomings, this one is probably my worst! I just have this huge fear that readers are just not going to get what I'm trying to convey, so... I put in extra dialogue/monologue to try to make it more clear, and over and over it's too much... Readers here are very forgiving, but when reread pages I see it... But it's not something I can fix easily! I angst over what to cut and end up cutting very little - maybe it's just one more thing that we have to practice to get better at, so that means I have to try...!

HippieVan at 2:27PM, Sept. 24, 2016

@bravo: This definitely wasn't intended to rail against wordier comics! There are plenty that manage to do it well.

bravo1102 at 3:12PM, Sept. 23, 2016

And the longest comic I ever did was the one that had no script. It just went on and on trying to get to a conclusion but without a script there was always another scene created to try to move things along. And instead only dragged it out.

bravo1102 at 3:10PM, Sept. 23, 2016

Best be careful because some the most wordy and densely scripted comics around here are also the most popular and highly regarded.

Udyr at 1:46PM, Sept. 23, 2016

I dont use scripts anymore, its how I fixed that problem. Though there's still alot of text once in a while and occasionally one have to do it over more pages than originally planned. HOWEVER I put the text onto empty panels per page to visualize how the page will eventually look like, and i change it later on. Its at least how i find it easier and it makes room to improvise or having a change of mind later. You adjust the panels if you need to, and that way you can read through the comic even without having it drawn and visualize how it will look like/fix mistakes before its even done.

usedbooks at 11:18AM, Sept. 23, 2016

At times, I do a lot of trials and wordsmithing. I try different phrasing to make things concise and, more imprtantly, in chatacter. Stepping away from a script for a few days (or months) is super helpful. When I read it with fresh eyes, I have a better perspective of what is essential/important and what can be cut or I can restart the conversation from a different angle if it feels wrong. Pinning down "important" dialogue isn't just getting to what moves the plot or explains things to the audience. Some characters are more wordy. That's okay. It's okay to stretch a scene an extra page to keep it reasonable for reading. I try to keep in the characters' minds for dialogue. If it's not matural for them to explain something, they won't. I'll approach the visuals and plot order accordingly. (I start with scripts/dialogue, so it's easy to work around it for the storytelling.)

Banes at 8:18AM, Sept. 23, 2016

The 25 words and 50 words sounds like a handy rule of thumb. I have this issue when scripting too; it's much easier to pare down when some rough drawings are in front of me. My comic is sort of about dialogue and verbal back n forths, but I cut out as many nonessentials as possible whole still keeping a natural feel ( I could probably cut more). My early issues got WAY too wordy in places; some recent ones, too. A constant effort!

HippieVan at 7:26AM, Sept. 23, 2016

@Prototype: That's a good point about most comics not having an editor. I think Banes has written about "why do all my characters sound like me?" before - that's definitely hard to avoid! That's good to hear, actually; I worry a bit that my own comic is too rushed; most of the chapters are only twelve pages or so. But I really don't want to pack more stuff in there just for the sake of adding more pages.

HippieVan at 7:24AM, Sept. 23, 2016

@Ironscarf: I've never heard of that rule! Good to know! I also like the quote. :D

Ironscarf at 6:48AM, Sept. 23, 2016

There are rules for this dating way back, but the only one I can lay my hands on right now is Dark Horse's script guidelines: 'Captions and dialogue should be limited to approximately 25 words per balloon, and about 50 words per panel, max.' Sounds reasonable. If I'm struggling with this myself, I think of Miles Davis' reply to John Coltrane, when Coltrane said he never knew how to end a solo. "Try taking the goddamn horn outta your mouth!"

Prototype at 4:06AM, Sept. 23, 2016

That is the bane of many, many webcomics. The lack of a second opinion or an editor turns many good stories into overly detailed and bloated stories that are hard or boring to follow. (Too many characters that all talk like the author doesn't help either.) It can be frustrating to be forced to tell a whole story in 22 pages, but many webcomics go too far with their freedom and expand small stories that just go on and on for hundreds of pages.

bravo1102 at 2:07AM, Sept. 23, 2016

I tend to repeat myself but still have a reader comment that they didn't know that and I am like how many times do I have to repeat that story point?

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