Sir Terry Pratchett: R.I.P

So, in case you somehow haven’t seen the news- Sir Terry Pratchett, the author of the Discworld series and a host of other books, passed away peacefully in his home following a long battle with Alzheimers disease, one which he made public around 8 years ago. During that time he spent much of his life trying to raise awareness of the disease, championing the right to die and trying to generate more funding for research into how to cure and treat the condition.

This alone would make Sir Terry worthy of praise- being dealt an absolutely terrible hand and still fighting to try and make the world a better place for others in the same position as himself. I can’t say enough for his attitude towards death and how he undoubtedly made it much less scary for a lot of people.

However, I mostly wanted to talk about his writing, because Sir Terry has been and always will be my favourite author. Not just my favourite- those words aren’t strong enough. He has been my biggest inspiration, and is responsible for giving me the passion to try and write myself.

I first pulled a Discworld book (Guards, Guards) off my dad’s bookshelf at the age of about 10 or 11 and was immediately captivated by the richness of the world and the incredible humour and warmth which suffused it. Some of the jokes undoubtedly flew over my head, but I loved it, and continued to quietly plow through the rest of the books in the series until my dad noticed and got annoyed about me bending the spines, insisting that I use my pocket money to buy my own copies so as not to ruin his. (I always picture the Librarian’s opinion on books when thinking about this- books aren’t meant to be read, you might wear the words out!)

What captured my imagination most about the Discworld was the strength and power of Pratchett’s “author voice”. Reading them makes you feel as though you’re being told a story by a kindly, bearded uncle with a twinkle in his eye- sometimes. At other times, Pratchett’s anger and fury at the injustice of the world and the many problems that our species has pours through and scorches its way off the page. His mastery was in being able to weave together the different strands of his voice- from telling fantastic tales of magic and dragons laced with dry humour and wit, to stark, thinly-veiled commentary on the problems of our own society as mirrored by the Discworld. And then there was the inspirational side of his writing, where his characters stepped off the page and into my head. Moist von Lipwig’s life motto in particular has stuck with me since I first read it in ‘Going Postal’;

“Run before you walk! Fly before you crawl! Keep moving forward! You think we should try to get a decent mail service in the city. I think we should try to send letters anywhere in the world! Because if we fail, I’d rather fail really hugely. All or nothing, Mr. Groat!”

I could wax lyrical for thousands of words about every one of Sir Terry’s characters. Of Death, who somehow became human and heartwarming and heartbreaking all at the same time, while still being a 7-foot tall skeleton and the reaper of souls. Of Granny Weatherwax’s incredible, innate stubbornness and sheer, bloody-minded refusal to quit. Of Cut-Me-Own-Throat Dibbler, the most optimistic businessman in history, constantly coming up with schemes and ideas to make a fast buck. And of course, of every member of the City Watch- and Commander Vimes in particular, the very first Sir Terry creation that I encountered and my all-time favourite, a man who distrusts every kind of authority despite being an authority figure himself, who despises the Gods themselves for getting the world wrong, who balances himself on a knife-edge and willingly battles with the knowledge that he could be very bad but chooses instead to be very good.

I could keep going, but I’d be labouring the point. Anybody who’s reading this and has read the Discworld will know exactly what I’m talking about- anybody who hasn’t picked up a book, please do, I can promise you won’t regret it.

Thank you, a thousand times thank you for letting us into the world inside your head, Sir Terry. We promise to keep the lights on for you.

Non timetus messor.
Sir Terry Pratchett 28 April 1948 – 12 March 2015

On Comics: Dialogue

Hey, everybody!

This is intended to be the first of a couple of posts in which I espouse my thoughts on writing comics, distilled from having been doing it for the last few years (and from writing a swathe of fiction before that). I’m not going to claim that I know everything (because I absolutely don’t), but hopefully I can provide some insights and start some discussion about the whole process!

Anyway, in the first of these posts, I’m going to be talking about dialogue.

Dialogue is, in my opinion, the most important part of any comic, especially from a writer’s perspective- dialogue is the part of the comic where you, as a writer, get to speak directly to the readers. You can write all of the incredible prose descriptions that you want for your panels- you can evoke scenes of sweeping, Elysian majesty when describing a landscape, or set the tone of a moody cityscape with thunder and lightning and poetry. You can do all of those things. However, it’s probably not really worth it- because your readers will never read those descriptions, they’ll only see what the artist has interpreted from them (which may or may not match the image in your head).

Dialogue is the part of the comic where the artist cedes the floor to you, as a writer, so it’s incredibly important that it sounds natural, conversational and not forced. There are a couple of things that can help with this, and I’ll go over two of them below.

1. Read your dialogue out loud.

Dialogue is speech. Humans are a conversational species- we like to talk, we like to listen. Comics dialogue is characters speaking to each other or to themselves, and therefore it must mimic the nuance of human conversation. The easiest way to achieve this is to read every line of dialogue that you’ve written out loud (or maybe in your head, if you’re in a crowded place and don’t want to look like some kind of sociopath) and see whether it sounds natural. It should be immediately obvious if it doesn’t, because the words won’t flow naturally out of your mouth!

One of the undisputed masters of dialogue (in my opinion) is Garth Ennis, writer of Preacher and The Boys, and the reason his dialogue is so good is because every line sounds like it could be spoken by a real human being. He makes heavy use of slang and contractions so that you can hear the regional accents that his characters have in your head (Cassidy from Preacher, Wee Hughie from The Boys) and this makes every line seem natural-sounding. Furthermore, this makes the characters much more likable because despite the unrealistic nature of their surroundings (Jesse from Preacher and the angel/devil hybrid that lives inside his head) they come across as real people with real voices.

That leads into an additional point- take some time before you start writing scenes to think about how your characters sound, and to try and hear their voices in your head so that when you write their dialogue, it fits who they are. If your character’s an American redneck from good ol’ Tennessee, his dialogue had better sound like he’s from Tennessee instead of the clipped ‘received pronunciation’ of a British aristocrat! You can achieve this by throwing in speech characteristics (like “y’all”, or other similar things) but also just by trying to emulate that voice in your head and speaking it out loud so that you know whether it works.

2. Punctuation, punctuation, punctuation

Punctuation is another incredibly important part of writing dialogue. When humans speak to each other, we naturally add in punctuation- we pause for breath, use linguistic techniques to indicate a break in what we’re saying and indicate full stops, semi-colons and others through the tone and pitch of our voices. Therefore, since dialogue is speech, dialogue must contain that punctuation in order for it to sound natural. Here’s a fairly obvious example:

Ex. #1: “Oh I didn’t see you there is everything okay?”

Ex. #2: “Oh! I didn’t see you there, is everything okay?”

The first example has no punctuation beyond a question mark. Try reading it out loud- there isn’t a natural break in the sentence, it’s just a stream of words, and means that the “Oh” at the start of the sentence doesn’t indicate any surprise, despite the words that follow it. In the second example, the exclamation mark makes that “Oh” into an expression of surprise, as well as breaking up the sentence so that it’s clear that the character is shocked by somebody’s arrival. The comma in the second example also helps provide a natural flow to the sentence, creating a break between the statement (“I didn’t see you there”) and the question (“Is everything okay?”)

Punctuation is incredibly important in emulating human speech patterns when writing dialogue, because it can turn a string of words with no grace or elegance to them into human-sounding speech that our brains will recognise and respond to. Learning what punctuation to use and when is vitally important, and will elevate the dialogue in a comic from a kind of breathless recitation of facts and statements into something with nuance, something that bypasses your brain and goes straight into your ears.

It’s my firmly-held opinion that a great comic should read almost like a movie or a TV show- the panels should flow from one to the next naturally, as though in full motion, and the dialogue should sound like it belongs there. Some of the truly great examples of the medium achieve this perfectly- Akira by Katsuhiro Otomo and the aforementioned Preacher are just two that spring to mind. Put time and effort into crafting your dialogue, since it’s the part of the comic where you as a writer are most fully on show.

Thanks for reading!

Chris

She Rides to the Sabbath

Well now, it’s been a busy month since my last post!

 

Life continues unabated, as usual- working full time and trying to cram comics and music (as well as some actual free time) in around the edges is still just about holding up, even if the house could really do with some more spring cleaning and our dog Tia continues to pester for walks and attention. Since last time, I’ve started working much more strenuously on pulling together a pitch for Brigantia, my big project with incredible artist Melissa Trender– we’ve gone over the scripts, tweaked bits here and there, discussed story ideas and character motivations and I’ve even driven out to the Peak District to take some reference photos of a particular part of the landscape that inspired one of the scenes in the first issue. Our next step, once we have some sequential pages and character designs to really sell the world and the story of Brigantia, will be to research exactly who we can pitch to! We have a few publishers in mind who we’d like to approach, some more ambitious than others, so we’ll see what happens. Better to aim high!

 

In the music sphere, this past weekend saw me play one of the biggest shows I’ve ever done with Northern Oak- we supported pagan folk metal band Moonsorrow at a venue called Fibbers in York. Moonsorrow are one of those bands who are very highly-regarded and “famous” in the underground metal scene, but not really outside of it- they’re not going to be on the X-Factor any time soon, but they’ve played the main stages at some of the biggest metal festivals in the world and have a legion of devoted fans. We were very honoured to get the chance to support them, especially since our flautist Catie is a huge fan of theirs, and I think we did a great job with the half-hour set we had- the pictures I’ve seen so far certainly look impressive, the crowd were shouting for “one more song” when we’d finished and we’ve had one great review come through already. I’m hopeful that the show will have given us some good exposure and earned us some new fans, so fingers crossed!

 

That’s all for now- I should probably get back to (real) work, bleugh. We out! *mic drop*

Chris

Website Updates

New year, new start! 2015 LET’S DO THIS.

I’ve finally gotten round to doing some updates on my website- adding the various projects that I’ve been involved in over the last year, changing up the appearance and generally sprucing the place up a little. There’s still some more tweaking that needs doing, but at least it’s starting to look a lot more fleshed-out!

This year is going to be a big one for me- we’re going to be touring and playing a host of gigs to promote the new Northern Oak album, which came out in October 2014 (and had a slew of excellent reviews- check ’em out if you don’t believe me), issue #4 of Professor Elemental Comics is being officially launched in Leeds in March and then we’re aiming to get issue #5 out for Thought Bubble 2015 in November! On top of that, myself and Melissa Trender are going to be working hard on preparing a pitch for our Brigantia project so we can finally get that moving, and I’m hoping to make some progress on the Promethean Foundation as well once issue #5 of Prof Elemental is out (issue #5 will contain the second part of the Locomotive story that began in issue #4, and I sincerely hope that people will love the character enough that they want to see more of him!)

*deep breath*

So yeah, it’s going to be a big year. In the words of the almighty Becky Cloonan- COME AT ME, 2015!!

Chris