Dialogue can, in essence, make or break a comic. To graciously sidestep the pitfalls of comic speech, it’s a good idea to heed these pieces of advice:
Keep genre in mind
Where is your story set? How, realistically, would your characters interact with one another? Let’s say that you’re writing a period piece set in 1800s England. Quite obviously, you would like to avoid any anachronistic words such as “derp”, or “bro”, or “hashtag.” Unless, of course, your protagonist is a time traveler. (“Hashtags! Bloody hashtags everywhere, bro!”)
Now, it’s not necessary to follow any set rules regarding dialect and text — you are, after all, creating your own world — but make sure to do your research and immerse yourself in the time period and setting that you’d like to convey. Read books, watch movies; research doesn’t have to be mind-numbing!
Know your characters
Assuming that your characters are neither robots nor zombies, it’s presumed that they have their own thoughts and opinions. Let the dialogue respect and convey that. Sure, actions speak louder than words, but dialogue, well… speaks! This is the chance to really sink your teeth into your characters. It sounds like a clichéd actor’s technique, but it’s best to get into your character’s heads by knowing a bit of their back stories — those little quirks that make them tick. For instance, where do they shop? What TV shows do they despise? Who’s their favorite supervillain? Although these seemingly-insignificant topics may never see the light of day, it’s important to anchor your characters with some solid facts. Doing so will certainly help to strengthen your story, as well.
Make sure that your dialogue complements, rather than overpowers, the action
Although there’s nothing wrong with dialogue-driven stories, try to keep your medium in mind. With comics, you can advance the story through illustration. To make sure that you’re not relying strictly on the written word to get the story across, try viewing your comic page(s) sans dialogue. Better yet, show the text-free pages to a friend and see if they’re able to walk away with a clear grasp of the story. Now, turn the experiment on its head — view a scene of your comic without the characters present on the pages, just text. Are you able to determine which characters are speaking? Ideally, the text and images should work together to tell the story – yet, at the same time, they should be able to separately convey narrative.
And now, in true Making Comics form, an exercise in dialogue!
Some comic writers have trouble with dialogue simply because they don’t experience enough of it. After all, who has time for a Starbucks run when there are pages to be colored? Luckily, as long as you don’t live in, say, the Swiss Alps, this exercise should be simple to practice.
Visit a public place of your choice. This could be mall, a school, or even a park.
Relax and keep your ears open. (Yes, I’m telling you to eavesdrop. It’s okay.)
Observe the way that people communicate in a natural setting. Pay attention to the flow of the conversation — the pauses, the reactions, the energy!
Be sure to take some notes for inspiration. It’s great to have something to give you a push when you’re in a (dare I say it?) writing block.
So, go at it — that dialogue isn’t going to write itself! Or… is it?