Thursday, 19 March 2009

Yada Yada Yada

I’m writing a talking scene today, and I’ve been putting it off. I have 25 pages of script and in the middle of it there’s a block of panels that’s waited several weeks to have the dialogue added.

I hate talking scenes. Admittedly I write a lot of dialogue (so do Moore and Gaiman, is my hubristic excuse) but comics is a visual medium and you really don’t want it all to grind to a halt while two characters natter at each other. What I mean is: while they do nothing but natter to each other.

In a movie you can have characters walking while they talk. The changing background scenery creates visual interest. You can even work in some little visual details to counterpoint the conversation as one of them buys a newspaper or stops to light a cigarette.

In a comic it’s not so easy, because there it’s much more obvious that you’ve just got a bunch of two-shots from various angles and distances. The medium demands more visual variety than a movie, and then it can just end up looking desperately busy: the direct overhead shot, the over-the-shoulder, etc.

Okay, so spice it up with a secondary narrative thread. Two characters are talking and there’s a knock at the door, and one guy answers it while they're still talking, and gets a parcel from the FedEx guy, and they're still talking (not about the parcel) while he unwraps it, and then if the parcel contains something that ironically reflects the last line of dialogue you have an almost classic comic sequence.

For instance, say it’s one guy’s birthday and he ends whatever it is he was talking about with the line, "I'm not going be jerked around anymore." And he unwraps this parcel and it turns out to be a puppet. Just cut there and the die-hard comic nerds will love it. (Feel free to groan, by the way.)

That example is just tricksy, though - it has dramatic irony, which is entertaining, but it'd be much better if the secondary narrative thread illustrates something about the characters that isn't being said in the dialogue.

In one episode of Mirabilis I had Jack talking to Estelle, and a lot of it is exposition. They get to her car and the chauffeur says it's broken down and Jack is saying, "Newfangled contraptions, eh? I'll get you a cab." And Estelle says, "Nonsense," flips up the hood and fixes it - to Jack's astonishment. So that was good because it not only covered the expository stuff in the dialogue, it told us something about Estelle (she's independent, modern and good with machines) and more importantly it moved their relationship on, because Jack is left feeling like he's made a fool of himself so next time they meet he's got the baggage of this scene to deal with.

My ideal scene is one that does all of the following:

  1. Evokes the feeling of being there (setting, weather, time of day, etc)
  2. Reveals character (facts about somebody and/or aspects of their personality)
  3. Advances the plot
  4. Develops or changes relationships and/or emotions
  5. Contains the theme of the story (though not usually overtly!)
  6. Entertains the reader (ie is imaginative, interesting, intriguing, exciting - or just funny)

The scene I have to write today? It’s one of those scenes where two characters take stock so that we get to see who they’ve become in the course of the story before going into the big finale. A campfire scene. My favorite campfire scene ends like this:

You are what you love, not what loves you.
That’s what I decided a long time ago.

But that’s Charlie Kaufman. His dialogue is brilliant, he had a great performance (two performances!) from Nicolas Cage to carry it, and he had the genius to set that scene right in the middle of a life-or-death manhunt.

Now if I can just come up with something as good as that. And if I can’t, at least you’ll have great pictures by Leo and Nikos to take your mind off it.

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