Article length: 3200 words (preview 800/wds)
This is the last article you’ll ever need to read to write absolutely perfect dialogue!
Well, not really…
If you’re a member of this pro class (and not just a lurker/creeper), you know you never stop learning. Even when you become the best, there’s always some new insight or technique to discover and become even better.
I actually was planning to make this my final article on dialogue, but wound up going off on some other dialogue mechanic stuff near the end. I decided to post this really important stuff now and throw the rest up later.
This is the second to last article you’ll ever need to read to write absolutely perfect dialogue! 🙂
I’ve been helping a lot of folks with dialogue lately and decided I should sit down and write a nice long article on dialogue. Wellz, it turns out, I’ve already gone done that. Like trying to find my car keys, it gets easier for me to lose track of what I covered as I get older and the number of articles increase every year.
Anyway, here’s a quick TOC of my dialogue articles for anyone who wants to review;
And of course here on Story to Script;
The meat and potatoes one;
In an effort to not cover the specific mechanics, which I’ve mostly covered in those articles, mostly, let’s get all Wassily Kandinsky up in this joint, and dive into the abstract, or more to the point; the fundamental reasoning behind the choices that shape excellent dialogue.
I’ve talked extensively about the trap of talking heads, which should be avoided at all costs.
I constantly warn how talking heads break the synergy of comics, pushing the scales of narrative balance away from the visual artistic realm, and fully into the cerebral narrative realm.
In order to put your best dialogue forward, this is a critical concept to understand.
As I mentioned in newcomers ignore comictography, comic books arrive in (at least) 4 levels;
- The surface story script.
- The subtextual story script.
- The surface visual script.
- The subtextual visual script.
So at any given moment, the visuals of the comic (film/anime,etc.) tell a story; parts 3 and 4.
To some extent, I might argue that the visual story is more important than the story script itself.
Good lord, what did I just say?
OK, let me rephrase a bit. I know some of y’all writer folks just fell outta your chairs.
The visual story in a visual medium such as comics and film, is not so much as “more important”, but dominant over the non-visual story telling. The purpose of dialogue in a visual medium is to compliment, support, or enhance the visual story…
Any artists reading this article might be throwing their hands up celebrating the age old (silly) question, “which is more important to a comic, the art or the story?”
But y’all need to settle down now, because while the dialogue works to compliment the visual story, the writing and story also first defined where and how the visuals began.
Story Structure – lays down the foundation that manifests…
Art – which lays down the foundation that manifests…
Dialogue – which completes the medium.
As a writer in a visual medium, your first duty is to establishing a coherent, potent, effective, engaging visual story. The writer accomplishes this starting with solid story structure, moving to express that structure through scene selection, building out the scenes utilizing the vast craft of writing as we’ve been discussing all these years, then finalizing with polished dialogue.
Script dialogue should always be included to add greater clarity, depth and complexity to the visual story.
Any moment the script takes on the entire job of carrying the story, whenever the story script replaces the visual script, you’re holding a burning hunk of metal in your bare hands. The longer you hold it, the more damage you do.
The dialogue and narrative in script, the #1 from above, isn’t meant to carry the entire, or even bulk of the narrative. That’s what a novel does. Allowing #1 to take control of expressing the story may be a lot of things, but it’s not writing for a visual medium.
The clearest two examples of the story script completely usurping the visual story are;
- Talking heads, as I’ve noted.
- Text on black. This is where the writer tries to mimic the dramatic narration over a blank screen of film. Usually when someone loses consciousness or falls into some deep depression or something. I don’t care what anyone says, this isn’t effective in comics. It’s hasn’t been effective in movies since Pee Wee’s Big Adventure. Ok, they opened the LOR with it, but really, was it effective or did you just not care cause the movie was so good? (And if it was really effective, why did the narration switch off of black, over live action after the logo crawl? Why didn’t in run 7 minutes of narration over black? You know why.)
So first and foremost when choosing your dialogue, be sure that the dialogue compliments, supports, or enhances the art.
Before we depart this point, let’s hit an example;