Category Archives: Dialogue

Storytelling and Comic Books: What to Learn and What to Leave Behind

Can we just geek out over comics right now? Let’s.

I was introduced to comic books a little late in the game. My college roommate Danica was a proud, certifiable nerd. I was still in the closet and unsure if it was something I was willing to let myself become. One day, she invited me and our other roommate Ashley to Comic Book Club on campus. With only around ten members, the club had a comfy, family-vibe. What surprised me most was how welcoming everyone was, accepting of whoever came, conversing with them about whatever form of comics they were into. This included the guy who showed up who just really liked Dilbert.

Slowly, the members of Comic Book Club fed classics and newer works into my nerd IV, filling me with a new love for the medium. They took me to free comic book day, showed me the local comic book stores, and took me to see the new rash of comic book movies coming out at the time (X-Men: The Last Stand was our biggest Comic Book Club outing). I ended up writing my senior year Sociology paper on my university’s Comic Book Club, and my professor not only gave me an “A” but wanted to talk more about it after class.

What I wasn’t was a closeted book nerd. As an English major, you kind of give yourself away in that respect. I might even dare call myself (or would’ve called myself at the time) a book elitist. I didn’t read genre fiction, and found anything genre to be more on the entertainment side than on the enrichment side. So imagine my surprise when I loved comic books right away.

Over ten years later, skinnies and trades are a regular part of my balanced reading diet. In 2017, I read 104 books, 30 of those being comic book trades. I count them equal to any book in terms of enrichment and importance, something my 20-year-old self would call taboo.

However, there are some real and important differences between comic book and novel storytelling beyond the obvious, and they are important for writers to pay attention to.

Pacing.

Comics, by nature, are fast-paced. The reason for this is half of the story is told visually, and our brains process visual information much more quickly than reading words and conceptualizing those words into scenes in our minds. Also, in most comics, the majority of the words are conversation between characters, cutting out long descriptions, body language, and physical cues.

As writers, what can we learn from this? I’d argue learning pacing from comic books with caution. In many comics coming out today, the speed is breakneck. This is not always the best way for novels. Personally, I like a slower, blossoming effect, as I think it is more artful and immersive. Some indie comics are better for this effect (Shortcomings by Adrian Tomine and Blue Pills: A Positive Love Story by Frederik Peeters come to mind). However, if your book requires fast-paced scenes, sharp scene breaks, and minimal to moderate character development (aka when story is king), then comic books are a fantastic source to learn from.

Dialogue. 

I love comic book dialogue. This is a no-brainer for me. Yes, all writers can learn sharp, concise dialogue from comic books, especially how to write humorous exchanges. In humorous dialogue, the pictures don’t matter – the snappy wit and curt replies do. You don’t even need to look at the characters faces to know if it’s effective. Brain K. Vaughn is a master at this, and his work should be on your to-read list.

Character Development.

In my mind, this is the most obvious hinderance when learning storytelling from comic books. In order to serve the story, most characters have classic and even clichéd flaws and personalities. That’s totally fine, and I’m not meaning to suggest it’s right or wrong. Because it’s fine, and most comic book writers use these tropes very well. However, most characters’ backstories aren’t fleshed out when compared to novel characters. Usually their backstories are only fleshed out as much as is needed in order to make the story believable, or to serve a story element or conflict.

Brevity. 

One of the most beautiful things in comic books, in my humble opinion, is the brevity. In half the time and space of a novel, a comic book writer can tell a complete story. It’s masterful, really, when done well. Many of my writer friends become bogged down in their long-ass word counts, wondering how they can cut 20-30k words from their manuscripts. Comic books only keep the most important stuff – and that’s a big lesson for novel writers to learn.

What are some lessons you’ve learned from comics? And what comics are you reading right now? Personally, I’m geeking out over Lumberjanes, Saga (of course, duh), Faith, and Paper Girls.

Using Whole Foods in your Characters’ Diets.

Since the month seems to be focusing on the food aspects of writing, I thought I’d be trendy and go in the organic direction. When I think of organic or whole foods, I think of simple, the way nature intended, unadulterated ingredients. In relation to characterization, I think of characters with a rich and unique background, not created to fit the story, but naturally emerging from their setting, lifestyle, and experiences. Many of my readers tell me that’s my special sauce, that my characters are unique and distinctive from one another. How did that become my strength? I’m not sure, but here are a few ideas.

Psychology and people watching: I didn’t like people as a child. When I was young, I decided that people were cruel, selfish, devious, and impossible to interpret or understand. I may have been somewhat lacking in social skills. I determined that animals were superior in all ways. As I grew older and a bit more mature, I realized I had to get along with my fellow humans and the best way to do that would be to understand them and why they do what they do. Thus started my non-career interest in psychology. As I learned, both from books and personal experience, my attitude shifted. I love people. We’re amazing, complex, and limitless. The way that who we are merges with our genetics, environment, and experience, shaping every person to be a little bit different is fascinating. One of the aspects of writing that I love the most is the opportunity to present my characters as truly unique individuals.

Language: I speak multiple languages, sort of, and the acquirement and exposure to these languages has led me to an interest in linguistics. In brief, I grew up in an area with many Spanish speakers, studied French in school, served for my church in the Philippines and learned Tagalog and Ilokano, and our young family went to German-speaking Switzerland for my husband’s post-doctorate employment. The only language I ever became fluent in besides English was Tagalog, now long forgotten. Still, the study of those languages along with listening to people speak from different geological, socio-economic, and educational areas, gave me a sense for how different everyone expresses themselves, not only from one culture to another, but also as individuals within those cultures. I believe that understanding bleeds through to my characters, giving them distinctive ways of expressing themselves.

History: I love history. If I had the history channel I’d never get any writing done. One thing that all of us have in common is a distinctive history. That history doesn’t just span a single person’s lifetime, but extends into the generations before. In looking at my characters’ backstory, I try to look at why they had a childhood like *blank,* why they believe *blank,* and what is their connection, physically and emotionally, to the community around them. I don’t necessarily go through in-depth interviews or write everything down, but as I think about those things, my characters develop a unique personality in my head. I tend to see a lot of my scenes and people during my pre-writing like one might see a movie. Bits and pieces of their history, including how that history evolved will churn in my thoughts, the characters and setting birthing from one another.

Like any good recipe, these “natural” ingredients mix together to create a balanced and tasty meal. In the same way, various characteristics combine to create well-rounded individuals in our stories, with strengths and weaknesses, distinctive patterns of speech, and unique wants and needs. I don’t know if this list helps in any way with your own writing, but I hope that as you consider these points with the characters you create, you can see them as unique people, friends or enemies, as real in theory as the people you interact with on a daily basis are in reality.

Colette Black Bio:
Author PicColette Black lives in the far outskirts of Phoenix, Arizona with her family, 2 dogs, a mischievous cat and the occasional unwanted scorpion. Author of the Mankind’s Redemption Series, The Number Prophecy series, and the upcoming Legends of Power series, Colette writes New Adult and Young Adult sci-fi and fantasy novels with kick-butt characters, lots of action, and always a touch of romance. Find her at www.coletteblack.net

 

Using Feedback to Improve Your Writing Skills

Happy Star Wars Day from The Fictorians

Sometimes it’s a good thing to ask your friends and/or readers what they like about your work. Then again, sometimes the answers they give will surprise you.

While many authors think they have a good idea of what they’re good at, sometimes they’re wrong. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing — in fact, having a couple of things that make you feel comfortable enough to actually sit your butt in a chair and pound a keyboard will help to keep procrastination and “writers block” away. When you feel advanced enough, ask your audience what they think you write best. Understand that you can use this knowledge to improve your writing.

When I started writing back in the dark ages, I thought I was pretty decent at dialogue. It turns out I was, but only to half the audience. My characters tended to sound the same, using similar language and sentence structure. In fact, I had projected a version of myself into their vocal chords, and the characters sounded like me.

Thinking back, I now know why. When I would run Dungeons and Dragons gaming sessions, I would always have to be the voice of the various non-player characters the party met. Sometimes I would add in an accent, but the word choices were always a version of me. I had uneducated farmers using words like “obfuscate”.

Not a good thing to do when you write books and short stories.

I started to add in things such as verbal tags. In one short story I turned in this week for a submission call, the Captain had a habit of saying “Yes, yes,” while he was thinking what to say next.

Next, I began to be mindful of the character’s history and cultural background when I scripted dialogue, doing my best not to fall into the “easy” trap of sticking in culturally insensitive or stereotypical words and styles. This helped to sculpt their vocabulary and how they physically spoke, including sentence length, speed, and even autonomous gesturing like hand movements.

Finally, I made sure that when they spoke, it was efficient and necessary to help transport the story to the reader. For example, the vast majority of people use contractions when they’re talking. Some have valid excuses not to do so, such as Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation, who doesn’t have that software installed. A select few can use that quirk as a verbal tag to flesh out the character.

Once you are comfortable with your writing and have developed a thick skin, ask your trusted, honest reviewers and readers what they like about your writing. It can be a pat on the back or a learning experience to improve your skills.


 

About the Author:DeMarco_Web-5963

Guy Anthony De Marco is a disabled US Navy veteran speculative fiction author; a Graphic Novel Bram Stoker Award® nominee; winner of the HWA Silver Hammer Award; a prolific short story and flash fiction crafter; a novelist and poet; an invisible man with superhero powers; a game writer (Sojourner Tales modules, Interface Zero 2.0 core team, third-party D&D modules); and a coffee addict. One of these is false.
A writer since 1977, Guy is a member of the following organizations: SFWA, WWA, SFPA, IAMTW, ASCAP, RMFW, NCW, HWA. He hopes to collect the rest of the letters of the alphabet one day. Additional information can be found at Wikipedia and GuyAnthonyDeMarco.com.

 

Don’t Split the Party!

Yes, the title of this post is one of the most revered and honored tropes of role-playing games. I can’t even begin to count the number of stories I could tell about the consequences of an adventuring party going their separate ways and being systematically wiped out by frustrated Dungeon Masters whose carefully constructed campaign is being turned into a shambles by players who think it’s a grand idea to have everyone wander off on their own.

But this post isn’t about gaming. It’s about writing. Of course, like all “rules”, this one is frequently violated to great effect in numerous stories from “Lord of the Rings” to “The Avengers.” So as Barbossa would say, this isn’t a “rule” so much as a “guideline.”

But it’s a solid guideline if you want to create a story where readers can experience the rich interplay of characters that is really only possible when the reader has become not only acquainted with individual characters, but has also developed an understanding of the complex dynamics of interpersonal relationships between groups of people.

It is rare for any story to rely on a total focus on one main character. It is incredibly difficult for a writer to keep readers interested in a story like that anyway. So the vast majority of the world’s favorite stories usually have one main focus, but that main focus is surrounded by other characters whose stories weave their own threads around and through the main character’s thread.

In that group of orbiting characters, at least one should be a friend of the main character, not just a flunky, or a tool the main character uses to advance their agenda. Friendships allow the reader to see the main character as a living, breathing person. The more a writer can create a sense of true mutual love and respect between the main character and another character, the more likely readers will be to empathize and sympathize with the protagonist. In most cases we want to root for characters we like, and observing how the protagonist interacts with close friends is the best way for a reader to learn the normally hidden vulnerabilities that make them human and relatable. Sometimes these “friends” are also siblings, but usually not.

Creating close friendships does more than make a protagonist more human. It also gives the author opportunities to use that relationship to bring elements of the story to more compelling climaxes, and to explore emotions to sublime depths. What would the story of Frodo be without Sam? Would we really care as much about Lizzy and Mr. Darcy without Charlotte and Bingley? And Harry Potter would have been far less interesting without Ron and Hermione.

Building relationships like that takes time. It can’t be “told” it has to be “shown” in dozens of little details sprinkled through scene after scene. And that’s not easy to do if you can’t keep the party together long enough to build them.