Tricks of the Writing Trades (2 of 5): Dialogue + Layout = Mood

From the concerted efforts of writers on major motion pictures to comics creators, novelists, travel bloggers, copywriters and others in between, writers are using an arsenal of techniques, methods and tricks in the shared pursuit of capturing the emotions of the audience. 

The creativity of it all is fascinating. So here are my thoughts on…

Using Dialogue in Conjunction with Layout to Develop Mood

Yes, this falls under Show Don’t Tell, and overlaps into prose, copy writing, blogging, etc. too. But for this post, I’m focusing on storytelling in comics.

Remember: in Western comics, you read from top-left to bottom-right in a zig-zag motion. Now, check out this page from Marvel Presents: Weapon X by writer/artist Barry Windsor-Smith.

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I shouldn’t of had candy before bed.

Pretty cool stuff, right?

With this page, while the zig-zag motion is in fact tight, like a snake coiling in a Nokia, you can also read it loosely because of the layout and dialogue placement. Your eyes are trying to make sense of this scary-weird scene, automatically moving to panels that don’t necessarily fit a linear reading of the dialogue, creating its incoherent, dream-like feeling.

This is because the outer panels orbit the inner three of Logan waking up. We gather he’s having some sort of bad dream or hallucination. The following pages begin to reveal it’s a bit of both as Logan is dreaming while being operated on – the infamous operation that gave Wolverine his indestructible skeleton. And we begin to suspect something fishy by the last panel, which shows Logan leaning on what looks to be, perhaps, an operating table (in similar colour and fashion to the tech in the adjacent panel with the scientists).

There’s so much to explore in this one page. What’s important here is that the talented Mr. Windsor-Smith captures the mood of this point in the story poignantly. He shows us fear, despair, paranoia, confusion, and more — grabbing our attention. The dialogue works inline with the structure and artwork, it serves it, and that’s important.

You see this in other writing too. Dialogue comes second to actions in screenwriting. Dialogue is surgically injected into prose or used as a narrative guide. Dialogue shows us the end of a point made in copy writing or punctuates a feeling gathered from a paragraph or two as a caption in blogging. And that’s just a small set of examples.

Dialogue atop layout can finish off setting the mood. So file this away as a trick to be aware of next time you sit down to write the shit out of something. And guys, that goes for first dates too!

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4 thoughts on “Tricks of the Writing Trades (2 of 5): Dialogue + Layout = Mood

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