A lot of readers came here this year, but for those unaware of my history, I cut my teeth on writing in comic form. I became serious about comic script writing in 2010-2011 when I created my webcomic, Flying Sparks, which did pretty well with an audience and lasted 8 issues. Going back and reading those scripts, I progressed as a writer throughout making the comic. Still toying with rereleasing them, though at the very least they need some dialogue updates to be more readable. Here’s one of the old pages:
Which gets me to the main topic point. A lot of prose writers I see flood their books with dialogue. Most of the plot happens in dialogue, most of the worldbuilding is communicated through it in an attempt not to “infodump” — which if there’s dialogue tags around it, it still can be an infodump! Characters go off on sprawling speeches.
Now what’s interesting is comics rely on dialogue pretty heavily. Other than the pictures which communicate most of the background and action, dialogue is all you have as a writer. There’s no tertiary description, and very few abilities to communicate character’s thoughts over the course of a comic pamphlet. But there’s a big difference between the way dialogue drives a comic and the way it’s used in prose: brevity is crucial.
When I started, I noticed a lot of novice comic writers FLOODED their art with words. They couldn’t quite let the art breathe, speak for itself, but instead did the same infodumping techniques I see in a lot of prose. I wanted to make sure I never did that, and so I shortened a lot of the dialogue in my own work. Learning to communicate through less words made for much better comics that flow better not only so the art stands out more, but so the pacing of the book works out better as well. I carried this across to prose. Most of my characters don’t talk very often in long paragraphs (except Harkerpal in For Steam And Country, of which it’s a joke within the story how much he talks). It helps me pace the story so it moves along a lot better than I would have without the comic technique.
Back to comics, the dialogue is how you differentiate characters. Word choices are all the more important because you have to differentiate your characters all the more in comics. This is the onus for a way I edit — where I now do a pass where go through and shift word choices on one character at a time, staying in that character’s mindset so they talk as they’re supposed to talk and it’s separate and different than the way any other character does. In comics, it helps bring so much clarity to the pages, and it does the same to prose.
Finally, comics have length limits due to art. You really need to stick to 20-24 pages for a pamphlet to conform to modern standards. It means an outline needs to be detailed, tight, with very little margin for error. What this did for me was when I came to prose, I could block out scenes and know almost exactly how many words I’d get, and it keeps my books an intentional and consistent length and pace as well. This is another nice pacing element that I wouldn’t have learned without writing comics.
Now comics aren’t for everyone, but it’s an interesting exercise as a writer that helped me tremendously. It might be worth a shot just to try the constraints of comic writing as an exercise. For me, it’s my dream to get back to producing comics on a regular basis. In addition to all of my projects, I’m slowly chipping away there.
For the best of my writing style, check out For Steam And Country, an adventure of a girl who inherits an airship that I could easily rewrite into comic book form. You can buy it here.