Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Power of Good Dialog

I have a friend who got me interested in a graphic novel series: Fables by Bill Willingham. It is a series that supposes all fablekind was forced out of their lands and now have a secret society in NYC. It's a fascinating story, but most definitely for adults.

Graphic novels are not a genre I'm terribly familiar with (for those who don't know the lingo think "comic books"). Before this series, it had been years since I had read Persepolis and decades before that since I had read comics. And it is a genre that you read differently from other genres.

Because of the nature of the genre, nearly the entire story is told via dialog with an occasional time or place marker. Especially as I started reading the series, however, I read it like a novel. Meaning, I followed along from frame to frame reading all the dialog and forgetting to look at a lot of the pictures. I would kind of have to force myself to actually look at the images.

But the interesting thing was, although the artwork is amazing, I didn't really feel like I was "missing" much when I didn't look at the pictures. And that is due to the incredible writing ability of Willingham. His dialog literally told the story to me without needing extraneous information. I knew exactly what was going on, and usually which character was speaking.

Ah, that we all could be that good.

That is something that even prose (novel, short story, etc.) authors strive for. Dialog that is important and adds to story. Dialog that distinguishes characters clearly from one another. And dialog that stands by itself. Proven yet again that the experts are correct - you don't need many tags, descriptors, adverbs, or other explanations for your dialog when you just write good dialog.

Unfortunately, I don't know how to do that. I'm still trying to figure it out. Some people write great dialog where their characters really come alive. I don't think I write bad dialog, but I think I could write better...if I could just figure out the trick. I can tell you when I see good dialog, but I'm still working on how to distinguish the technical differences between good and bad. I've heard the analyses before, but applying that is completely different. But that's what a writer is here for, right? To keep striving to write better and tell better stories.  This is just one stop along a lifetime trail. Learning from masters like Bill Willingham is the best way to move forward.