Monday 14 September 2009

Slap on the Wrists

How remiss of me; skipped a few blogging days, but thankfully out of a responsibility to prioritise deadlines rather than general lethargy. The good news is it's because I'm getting more work than I expected at this early stage as a script doctor; that and one of those brilliant, half awake swimming upwards from sleep revelations about my novel have caused a dramatic rethink having solved its major plot flaw.

Anyway, what I have been meaning to write for a few days is how much the writing of comics and the writing of television have proved mutually beneficial, specifically how comics-writing has helped my television. I can't remember where I stole this from but I once read somewhere, 'the comic writer's job is not to get in the way of the pictures'. Much as I love Neil Gaiman's prose, movies and general imagination, I do find that sometimes with his comic work, he provides the narrative in his words and doesn't leave the artist enough to do in terms of story-telling. And I've been just as guilty of it; fans of Vinyl Underground (both of you) know that I peppered the action with huge chunks of historical background (and believe me you should have seen it before it was edited. By and large though, both narrative captions and fat speech balloons get in the way of the images and this has been a valuable lesson in telling onscreen drama. Can I tell that story in a picture instead of expository dialogue?

The other great lesson you learn from comics is scenic structure - the very nature of the left hand/right hand page means timing your reveals to the left hand splash, it means placing an image or a phrase in the bottom right hand panel of the right hand page that makes you want to turn over to see that splash.

It makes you structure a location inside the confines of page count rather than natural duration, thereby condensing and compacting the information to the optimum method of story-telling, a lesson every TV writer should take note of, not just for a cleaner purer script, but also because of the production demands - if you've ever actually had to plan a shooting schedule script for a script, you'll know that all too often the writer is often either spending too long in one room or haphardly moving from one location to another for no other purpose than visual effect.

You also have to write 'non-consecutive dialogue'. The confines of the panel structure mean that sometimes 45 seconds has clearly passed between one panel and the next and you have to make the character's response seem natural despite this gap; this means cutting out extraneous conversational normalities to get to the salient point. While I'm not saying this works on the screen, the discipline involved is a good way of shedding extraneous fat from your dialogue.

This panel structure also helps you choose exactly which killer camera angle, still image you want the audience to respond to, something TV and movie script writers often ignore.

So in short, I'd recommend this as a small experiment. Take a vital scene from your script and try blocking it out in three comic pages, starting on a left hand, five to six panels for the first two pages and a splash page for the third. See just how little dialogue you can get away with, think of the most dramatic images you can to convey your ten to twelve snapshots of the script, and the best 'turn the page reveal'. I think you'll be surprised.

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