20 July 2017

DeConnick Scripting from the Dialogue

In this 2011 interview with with Tom Spurgeon at the Comics Reporter, comics scripter Kelly Sue DeConnick described her method of writing dialogue:
DeCONNICK: I suspect that’s more a result of the actor training than anything else, but I’m sure they’re all related.

SPURGEON: You even work from dialogue first as opposed to structure or visual cues or graphic beats. How does a page form when you work from dialogue first?

DeCONNICK: A looooooot faster than if I try and break things down into panels as I go. [Spurgeon laughs] It took me a while to figure out that that was the best approach for me, and I still forget it sometimes and try to pound it out panel by panel and it’s just... torturous. And not very good.

Okay, so, when I get to scripting, I’ve already got my outline. So I know what the scene is and who's in it. Without sounding too pretentious—I hope!—I just kind of let them talk. It’s like…well, I was an actor, right, but I was also a professional improv actor for three-plus years. So, it's like improvising a scene—only I'm playing all the characters. I take down the dialogue and then I go back and look at it. I cut what I don’t like. Then I start breaking the scene down into beats the very same way an actor breaks down a script. The big beats? Those are page turns. The smaller ones are panel breaks. More important beats call for bigger panels—though I never dictate that sort of thing, I only suggest.

Some beats are silent. . . .

Oh, hey—I remembered something about actor training that is directly relevant to writing comics—psychological gesture. I thought of you this morning when I was acting out a panel at my desk trying to decide if the gesture I was asking for felt right.

SPURGEON: What is psychological gesture exactly? Can you describe what it is about a certain gesture that you feel is valuable to consider when putting together a script?

DeCONNICK: It’s pretty much exactly what you’d think—it’s something the actor does with his or her body to give the audience additional information about what’s going on in the character’s head. It’s a simple enough idea, but it’s one of the things that makes acting an art form and not just Pretty People Playing Telling Lies.

So, for instance, my scripts often indicate when characters are making eye contact—or more importantly, when they’re not. People sometimes touch their mouths when they’re lying, cover their eyes or foreheads when they’re ashamed. I consider it valuable because it adds information that isn’t in the dialogue.
I am, of course, not convinced that it’s so easy to tell when people are lying, or to convey that in a way most readers pick up. But I am intrigued by DeConnick’s approach to scripting as acting on the page.

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