Deepen the Dialogue

It is difficult not to impose yourself as a writer on your characters, giving them your voice rather than a voice of their own. Re-reading a passage I had written I was shocked at how often I am guilty of this and how boring that is. It helps me to read out loud when I write, although I wouldn’t recommend you do this around other people, as you will be the recipient of many worried looks and whispered consultations from the next room as they confirm to themselves that you have finally lost it.

In graphic novels, there is a certain frugality of words required. Less is more as you don’t want to have your text intrude on the artist’s illustrations, after all, you only have the space of a text bubble or a small caption to use.

Allowing each of your characters to have a voice of their own with unique speech patterns, makes them appear more authentic, enabling the reader to distinguish between the different characters without you drawing attention to it.

You can control the pace of your story, enhance subtleties, show tensions, moods and convey emotions by making use of pauses, interruptions, silences and visual clues when your characters speak. Using the five senses: hearing, tasting, smelling, seeing and touching, speeds up the pace and tension of your story while descriptive, detailed narrative will slow it down if needed.

I find that using too many adjectives and adverbs creates unnecessary clutter for example cold snow as opposed to snow and hot fire as opposed to fire and that it is better to let the noun speak for itself.

People don’t often have conversations in complete sentences and using perfect grammar. We use shorter, more abbreviated sentences when we speak for example: shouldn’t, couldn’t, can’t and won’t as opposed to should not, could not, cannot and will not. We finish each other’s sentences and thoughts and we interrupt one another. Characters listen when someone speaks but not for so long that it becomes tedious, although dialogues can become so fragmented with interruptions and interjections that the story becomes vague.

It isn’t always necessary to go into the details of the characters’ pre-history with one another. Once the dialogue has achieved its purpose it is wise to move on.

I find that the way in which characters interact with each other, says a lot about their personality and enhances the dialogue. Is the character angry, impatient, terse, friendly, loving? What kinds of idioms do the characters use to express themselves?

Unless the character is an educated snob, politician or, dignitary, formal dialogue may sound contrived, I find using colloquialism and slang where appropriate to be effective in conveying the necessary tone. Aspects such as dialect in dialogue give the reader an indication of where the character is from without the necessity of saying Ann is Irish and Sven is Norwegian.

As mentioned in my previous post on Character Development, a little research goes a long way towards creating a richer character. An antique dealer, for instance, would have knowledge of antiquities and the associated jargon and terms, the same way as a plumber or a mechanic would know the difference between a monkey wrench and a caliper.

Whether or not a character is educated would be reflected in the way he speaks or, his choice of words. Gratuitous swearing and cursing could establish a character as being less sophisticated and uncouth.

In the context of writing a dialogue for a graphic novel, it may simply be a case of show don’t tell. It won’t be necessary for you to say, “Suddenly, there was a huge explosion. Then total silence. Devastation laid bare the very bones of the city,” when the panel illustrated by the artist very obviously draws attention to the fact that this is the case. 

It falls within the writer’s realm to describe to the artist each scene on every panel including, setting, details vital to the action, which characters appear and what they are doing.

In the context of a collaborative partnership, the writer has to add value to the artist’s work, not detract from it.

Continuous communication between the writer and the artist provide the vital link for successful interpretation of the story and the imaginative representation of the scenes.

Author: Nanieve Groenewald

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