Recently I have been reading web comics obsessively. As in, being distracted from my own writing and reading of novels, obsessively. As a lover of art, I spend hours finding new stories on certain sites that catch my eye with their unique style. The art might draw me in, but the story is what will keep me. Isn’t that usually the case with any avid reader?
As my eyes feast on the raw talent before me, I often think about why it seems so much easier to tell a good story in a comic than in a novel. Inner thoughts are often cut short or summarized in a comic, as opposed to pages of musings in a book. In both you have to hook a reader pretty quickly so they won’t lose interest or move on. But with comics, or illustrated novels like children’s books, you can not only show what a character looks like without having to list their features, but you can express their feelings with just one look.
One thing I often remind myself, and those I beta read for, is that characters can use their body language to express themselves. You can’t let dialogue carry every interaction between characters, even minor ones.
Give us some facial expressions. Are they smiling or frowning? Are their eyebrows raised or pinched together? Are they pouting or sticking their tongue out? Do their eyes seem melancholy or sparkle with joy?
What about their hands? Are they clasped together, cupping a chin, or are fingers fiddling with clothing?
If they are sitting, do they have their legs crossed at the ankle or over one knee? Are they leaning forward or sitting rigid as a plank of wood?
Show us nervous habits. Show us silly winks. The author can tell us exactly what sort of mood a character is in without getting inside their head at all. One clap of the hands or flush of the cheek can give it all away. This is what most editors and beta readers mean when we say “Show us some action with this dialogue.” It doesn’t mean the speaker needs to be running around the room while they converse. They should be showing us their anger, impatience, glee, etc. with their entire body.
For comic artists, this is as easy as raising an eyebrow or slanting a mouth. With practice, we authors can paint spectacular visuals in our writings with the magic of words. Good luck, writers!