Have a drink. It might help that mortis attitude of yours.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Doing It Write: Dialogue

So there are a lot of people out there that say there are no rules when it comes to writing. Other than remembering where the commas and colons go if a writer can make it stick on the page then it works. I’m here to say that is a load of bull. I’m here to say that there are indeed rules to writing and while they may be bent, when they are broken half the time it turns the crap.

So today I’m going to discuss two rules of dialogue.

Rule #1: Keep It Short

Comics are a visual medium and therefore the visuals should do more work than the dialogue. An angry expression works more wonders than someone pontificating about how angry they are. If you can say it in two lines say it in one. If you can say it in one line say it in none.

Now, I know there are a lot of readers who miss the Silver Age villains walking around being all chatty. I know there are a lot of readers who loved Kryptonite Man in the pages of Action Comics when he did stuff like this:

I did not. You could say that it is genre specific dialogue; this is how people talk in comics so it’s cool. Noir characters saying “dame” and “roscoe” is genre specific dialogue, someone spouting, “You think that’s genius works, you smug nincompoop?” is not. Sure it would be appropriate for a villain in a James Bond movie to say something like this, but Bond villains sound stupid as well. That’s why so many people make fun of them.

I understand that dialogue in writing is not how real people talk, but it should be a clever impersonation of how real people talk. No one talks like the Kryptonite Man or old school Ultra Humanite, not even the podcast guys when they take to monocle dusting.

So writers should cut their dialogue down and let the visuals do more work than some flapping gums. I never thought I would use a Bendis comic as an example of good dialogue but look at this page from New Avengers #33.

That’s how you write some comic dialogue. It’s twenty-three words and three glances and you get a whole, whole lot.

Rule #2: Make Sure What Your Character Says Is Appropriate.

I don’t mean that the characters don’t swear or anything because sometimes there are characters who say some socially unacceptable things. What I mean by appropriate is that the words that come out of a character’s mouth are actually words that would come out of a character’s mouth. Sure this sounds like a no brainer but how often do you see a character say something and are like, “Batman wouldn’t say that.” I do it all the time. Look at this panel from Cosmic Odyssey:

Darkseid’s numbers “check out,” isn’t that a little colloquial for a god? Shouldn’t he be saying something along the lines of, “I have conducted my own evaluations of Darkseid’s findings. I concur with his conclusion.” That sounds a little more Highfather to me. I know that you're thinking that's just Starlin's writing or something like that. If you want a more contemporary example look at Tomasi’s writing in Black Adam #1. For the most part he nails the dialogue but early on in the comic he has this:

“That’s the spirit.” This from a person who just told someone should have been aborted. He wouldn’t say, “That’s the spirit.” Little League coaches say that after their star pitcher rockets one over the plate and it is usually followed by, “Way to put the pepper on that ball.” Or something, I never played little league.

And speaking of things that Batman wouldn’t say.

While I might admit to that fact, Batman never would.


Blogger Gyuss Baaltar said...

Did you just give props to Bendis Avengers dialogue?


10:58 AM

Blogger Benhatt said...

I did. I must be Bizarro Ben or Skrull Ben

11:17 AM

Blogger Devon Sanders said...


I liked this.

Batman said "Heh." once.

11:40 AM

Blogger RadioSilence said...

Devon and I were talking about something similar the other day at the store but more from the point of view that this can also be indicative of poor editing. You would expect an editor to know the spirit of his characters and be able to reign in his writers when they compose dialogue like you just posted about.

1:47 PM

Blogger Siskoid said...

Note that Black Canary can immediately tell that Batman is in shock from his wounds.

2:07 PM

Blogger Derek said...

Re: Batman saying "Heh." and out-of-character moments in comics.

During Bart's [autoeulogy?] in Countdown, he made some comment about Batman. The next panel is Batman, watching from his cave, getting up and walking away.

I'm sorry, but Batman does not throw a hissy fit because a kid, a fallen comrade, made some crack about him.

Maybe the ultra-loner Batman of a few years ago might, but Bats is a lot more light-hearted these days.

He should have smiled slightly and chuckled.


9:49 PM


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