In response to a reader, Warren Ellis passed along the following notes for writing dialog which strike us as very useful. With apologies, here’s the whole thing:
Dialogue for comics is a hugely different animal to dialogue in books or film, but here’s a couple of general things to think about:
1) You can’t force being funny. Forced funny is never funny.
2) When you have a character talking, have two things you know about their lives in your head as you let them talk. Two things that make them what they are. What was their childhood like? What was their first job? Do they spend a lot of time alone? Are they guarded around people? Because dialogue is about moving information around and expressing character. What you know about them affects the way they talk. Take a book you like — or, hell, even one you don’t — and select a passage of dialogue, and see what you can learn about those characters from the way they speak. (And, on top of that, see if the way they speak changes during the course of the book.)
2a) Once you know what they think is funny, or what’s funny *about* them, their dialogue will get funny.
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.