In Writing Natural Dialogue, I discuss a number of focal points to do just that. In this article we’re gonna discuss an important common problem and dive into a more advanced approach of structuring dialogue.
Understanding the difference between conversation and dialogue is key to good writing (especially in comics).
I see a lot of scripts these days where writers try to be uber-stylish and inject their scripts with natural sounding conversation. I call this the Tarantino effect. And it doesn’t work in comics.
I read a mainstream comic, from a well known writer a while back and for a few panels he had the main character repeating “Fuck.” Yeah, if my dog runs off into the woods, I’ll chase after him saying fuck, fuck, fuck. But who wants to read that story? That dialogue is empty, it’s literally, wasted space (as we’ll discuss in a minute).
Storytelling is not reality, it’s hyper-reality, dramatized-reality. Reality with a point you’re trying to express.
The Tarantino effect doesn’t work in comics because, a) actor performances compensate in the movies (see Works in the Movies, Not in Comics), and b) Tarantino has his “A” game on when it comes to subtext and loading up his conversation dialogue with other elements of story. (Off the top of my head, I’d say he primarily showcases character development/personality, but I’ve never really analyzed his work). Whatever his formula, it’s his skillset… a very special talent and the reality is most folks can’t get there without a lot of time and effort honing their craft.
To avoid the Tarantino effect, I strongly suggest you establish yourself as a writer able to deliver solid dialogue before considering developing a conversational style.
So what’s the difference between Conversation and Dialogue and how can we capture the latter and avoid the former? First let’s define them.
Conversation is casual, spur-of-the-moment. The pace may meander. Subtext may be minimal or non-existant. It may have low or no significance.
Dialogue on the other hand is premeditated. It may sound natural, but it’s not natural. Every facet of it WORKS towards an end.
As a writer you always have to know at any given moment what that end is. If you don’t, if you have two or more characters talking and no clear intent in mind, you’ve got conversation—a waste of real-estate and a build toward potentially losing the reader.
Think of your dialogue as soldier about to drop out of Boeing C-17 over enemy territory. The more you know the intent of what you want to convey, the clearer the soldier’s mission.
Each element of story you bring work into the dialogue makes the soldier more combat effective.
You reflect the story theme in your dialogue, you’ve just given your soldier an extra magazine. You pay attention to the pacing, slap on another. Foreshadowing plot, that’s a grenade. Subtext—give that solider a razor-sharp Ka-bar!
Beyond all the elements of story (everything discussed within this site and the books) we can bring to bear in dialogue, beyond the 9 points discussed the Natural Dialogue article, there are a few key more advanced considerations to keep your dialogue out of the realm of conversation: