Ready for another secret?
Dialogue is difficult. But, I have some tips to make it a little easier for you.
The first thing to understand is that comics are a mixture a words and pictures. Last week, I said that you were the master of time, and that you can add more time to a panel by adding dialogue. This remains true.
The next thing to understand, right on the heels of that, almost simultaneously, is that you cannot have 100 words in a single word balloon. And believe me, I’ve seen writers try it.
Making comic books is really a study in economics. You have to be economical with the words you choose to put in your characters mouths, while still telling a complete story. It’s a challenge. This is why dialogue is difficult. You have to take physics into account with what’s being said.
Yes, physics. You have to work within a small amount of space, and try to get complete ideas across, with a minimum of words.
The secret is the word balloons. If you look at a word balloon in a comic, they’re oval shaped, and the words inside roughly form a diamond: a few words on top, longer words in the middle, and a few words on the bottom. It could look something like this:
My name is
That’s a very simple example, but it illustrates the point.
What most new writers don’t take into account is the fact that there is negative space within the word balloon itself. By negative space, I mean space that isn’t used. The bigger the balloon, the more art it covers. If you try to shove a lot of words into a single balloon, you’re going to have a lot of unused space. Don’t do it. The more words you use, the bigger the balloon.
Try to keep your dialogue to around 30-35 words per balloon. (This is not a hard and fast rule. Know what your panel can hold.) Try not to have more than 50 words per panel. (Again, know what your panel can hold.) Remember there is negative space you have to contend with when it comes to word balloons.
Now, there isn’t as much negative space to contend with when you have a caption. You can fit in more words, because you’re not beholden to the oval shape of the word balloon. You can go only a little crazy. Think of the “rule” as being relaxed a bit.
This is a powerful realization, and will help your scripting immensely when used correctly.