…and setting a scene, but more about me being a fangirl.
Hi! This is the opening page from SECRET SIX #12 (Gail Simone, writer; Nicola Scott, penciller, image totally stolen from The Source, DC’s blog). Meet Wonder Woman’s legs and the Secret Six:
When it comes to showing, comics have an enormous advantage over prose. We get a huge amount of information in one glance, even if we don’t know who the players are or their histories. We know what they look like, their expressions, their positions relative to one another.
Tangent: If you are wondering why in the world I’m talking about this (aside from hearting this comic book series like crazy)?: I was judging writing contest entries today, and one thing I saw over and over again was the dreaded infodump. And in other entries, not giving enough information. Now, I’m guilty of both myself — and sometimes, there’s just no getting around it, and the only thing you can do is try to make the presentation of the information as entertaining and as organic to the story as possible. And if you withhold the info, you just have to make sure that it doesn’t make your reader incapable of enjoying and/or understanding the story until the information is revealed.
But here’s the thing: It’s okay if you don’t have everything on the front page, as long as you give your reader enough. And that enough often comes from dropping in little details that give not just a visual description, but also show us something about character and action.
Let’s look at the picture. Chances are, you know who Wonder Woman is, and you recognize her boots, her lasso, and her starry pants. You can put a name to her, and as soon as you do, you probably don’t need to describe the boots, the lasso, and the starry pants. But it’s also probable that you don’t know who the other people are. But here is what you do know, right away:
Wonder Woman is facing six people. All but one of them are in their pajamas. Whatever happened last issue, happened quickly.
They’ve been fighting. Bloody noses, bloody stomachs. And if you look closely at the dark-haired woman’s tank top, you can see that the rip patterns match the claws in the hand of the blond man next to her, and it probably isn’t a stretch to assume that her blades ripped his shirt. You can’t know this for sure, but it’s a good guess. And, whatever they were fighting about, they’ve stopped — because a bigger threat has just showed up. And you know she’s a bigger threat because of their expressions.
Four of them actually look a little worried by Wonder Woman’s appearance. One of them is smiling and clearly a freak, and the other is defiant.
And from two dialogue bubbles, you know:
That Artemis has been killed (*if this freaks you out because you love Artemis, ask me for spoilers in the comments)
That the woman who answered Wonder Woman has old-fashioned speech patterns to match her hair, is either very strong or very stupid if she thinks that she can hold out against WW, and that — whatever fight had been taking place between them — she believes that the others will listen to her.
Also, that Nicola Scott’s pencils rock some serious abdominals.
Now, when you turn the page, you know enough that you’re probably not going to be completely lost. This is a story you can follow, even if you have no idea what a) happened in the previous issue, and b) who the hell these people are.
And it’s all because of details that, even if written in prose, can show us a lot about these characters, show what they’ve been doing, and set up the tension in a scene. In prose, it’s important to choose details that can do double duty — not only can we describe what characters are wearing, for instance, but we can use that choice to show us a little about the action and character, too (whose clothes are ripped? who isn’t wearing PJs?). So give a picture, first, of both setting and character. Names and the details of their backgrounds can come later.
ETA: Thanks to The Book Smugglers for the shout out on their BBAW post. And this ended up being a wonderfully appropriate post to thank them on. *g*