Character: Dialogue

I’m writing a new comic (which I’ll finally be able to discuss next week after the announcement at Image Expo) and this early in the work I’m still learning the voices of my characters.  Some of them are emerging full-born, chatty and easy — others, I’m having to tease and tweak, and experiment with.  It’s fine, either way.  I enjoy this part of the process.  But it has reminded me again of the differences between writing comics and novels.

Good dialogue always matters.  Always, always.  But let’s say that writing dialogue isn’t your strength.  Okay, that’s fine.  In novels you can sometimes camouflage bad dialogue.  Or even limit the amount of dialogue you’ve got through the work of engaging a character’s interior life.  There’s always a work-around.  It’s not easy, but you can do it.  Where you’re weak in one area of prose, you’ll hopefully be strong in another.

I don’t think that’s actually possible in comics.  Dialogue stands out in its isolation.  There’s no prose, no descriptive cushion.  Just the art — and your words.  Words that are specific to characters.  Words that are conversations.  Words that sometimes provide narration.  You may craft a gorgeous script, but the dialogue is all that the reader will ever see.

There’s also the extra burden of limited space.  In a typical comic, panels aren’t large enough to accommodate a huge amount of talking.  Conversations have to be succinct, and should accomplish a couple things at once: imparting information, but also character (i.e. think about how personality is revealed through the way someone speaks, through the words used, to the rhythm, to the body language).

It’s not easy.  Or rather, some characters make it easy.  But we’re not always that lucky.  So what’s the solution?  In my case, nothing more than continued revision, speaking lines out loud, rearranging conversations, re-imagining characters.  Playing until it feels right.  And sometimes it’s never going to feel right, and I just have to own that fact, and keep it moving.

This is also my strategy while writing novels, but the pressure feels a bit different.  The lines in comics are just so much more exposed.

Anyway, that’s what I’m wrestling with right now.  A lot of moving pieces, and all of them are words.



2014 via Instragram

It’s hard to sum up a year — so much happens, so much that’s small and lovely and difficult and beautiful — but moments get captured, nonetheless.  At least, those moments I choose to share.  Very few of the photographs I take end up on Instagram.  What people usually see are cats, food, sunsets, snippets of my life here and there.  It’s not entirely representative of who I am, but there’s a definite theme that’s all me, and all true.

That said, here’s what my 2014 looked like, via Instagram.

I would love to know his secrets. #catpower

A photo posted by Marjorie Liu (@marjorie_liu) on

From morning to sunset, over Harvard Square. A photo posted by Marjorie Liu (@marjorie_liu) on

Well, I’m in Tokyo. For the next 40 days.

A photo posted by Marjorie Liu (@marjorie_liu) on

“Have your courage.” #tokyo A photo posted by Marjorie Liu (@marjorie_liu) on

Another shot from Miyajima on this cold, rainy morning.

A photo posted by Marjorie Liu (@marjorie_liu) on

From a sunny day this week in Fukuoka: the best green tea ice cream, eaten during a walk to the shrine. A photo posted by Marjorie Liu (@marjorie_liu) on

I hung out with my other boyfriend today. Shhh!

A photo posted by Marjorie Liu (@marjorie_liu) on

Also, most beautiful sight ever: cherry blossoms hanging over the canal in Naka-meguro. A photo posted by Marjorie Liu (@marjorie_liu) on


What can I say? I attract super villains! #wondercon (seriously, best costumes ever) A photo posted by Marjorie Liu (@marjorie_liu) on

“Yes, Batman, what IF art ruled the world?” #montreal #walking

A photo posted by Marjorie Liu (@marjorie_liu) on

Good morning from the deck of a ferry, crossing the sea after a storm. A photo posted by Marjorie Liu (@marjorie_liu) on


When I swing, I feel like I’m flying. And then I feel like I’m going to vomit. But flying is totally worth it.


A photo posted by Marjorie Liu (@marjorie_liu) on

Do not mess with me and this riding lawnmower, folks. I will roll all over your shoes. And giggle. A photo posted by Marjorie Liu (@marjorie_liu) on

This is what a perfect summer looks like. A photo posted by Marjorie Liu (@marjorie_liu) on


A gloriously beautiful day for a walk along the beach.


A photo posted by Marjorie Liu (@marjorie_liu) on


Discovered amazing okonomiyaki in a lovely little neighborhood. Total Japanese comfort food after a long Berlin walk.


A photo posted by Marjorie Liu (@marjorie_liu) on

I’d just mentioned out loud that I hadn’t seen any Hong Kong street cats, and lo, a cat appears. #magic A photo posted by Marjorie Liu (@marjorie_liu) on


I don’t know about you, but I could use some beauty and peace tonight. A photo posted by Marjorie Liu (@marjorie_liu) on

My dad and the cat have developed a ritual while I’ve been away: the occasional casual hug while reading books. A photo posted by Marjorie Liu (@marjorie_liu) on

Poodles make the best footwear when dancing through the house.   A photo posted by Marjorie Liu (@marjorie_liu) on

The Immersion Factor: Comics + Novels

I wrote part of my new comic book this morning, and after lunch switched gears to the novel.  This is something I’ve been doing for years — and I don’t usually give it much thought.  I’m a visual storyteller, and the language of visual storytelling doesn’t change that much, from one medium to another.

Well, that’s not quite true, actually.  But that’s also not really the focus of this post.

Instead, I started thinking about how it feels to switch gears.  How it feels to write a novel compared to a comic.  The difference inside my head is tangible, physical, as if one is silk and the other is cashmere.  I can almost touch it.

Now, that’s just me.  But I’d argue there’s a more universal shift that happens for anyone who writes in two different mediums.  Creating a deeply immersive experience for a reader requires deep immersion for the writer.  It just does.  You have to be fully in — in the characters, in the world, in the conflict.

But the type of immersion changes from novels to comics.  Writing a novel means that you, the creator, are solely responsible for making people and worlds that readers can believe in and empathize with — and your only way of doing this is with your words.  That’s it.  Your words are the building blocks, your words are your tools.  You, and you alone accomplish this.  So when I say, for example, that I become immersed in the book I’m writing — you better believe I am all in.  In ways that I find difficult to describe, because I’m really somewhere else, out of body.  I have to be, in order to craft those words into something more than just letters on a page.

Writing a comic require another kind of immersion — equally strong, just as intense — but different.  Because here’s the thing — you are not alone when you write a comic (well, unless you’re both artist and writer, in which case my hat is off to you).  And the script you write?  A reader will likely never see it.  You write that script for your artist.  Your artist and your editor, your colorist, your letterer.  Just a handful of people in all the world.  You tell a story that will be interpreted and brought to life by another.  You and the artist create a world together, and even though your words might set the framework, at the end of the day that’s where the artist does her magic and brings these things to life.

I am fully immersed when I write comics — I am in that world, in the heads of the characters — but because what’s needed of me isn’t completely reliant on the strength of my prose (unlike in a novel), the texture of my work and my focus changes.  I’m focusing on moments within scenes, scenes within parts, parts within arcs — visual cues, dialogue, the importance of a look — and how all these things build and build within a serialized format to make a whole story, over time.  It’s the same as when I write a novel — but again, different.

Different muscles.  Different mental textures.  Different and the same.


Christmas Panic

On Monday someone reminded me that Christmas is next week, and I think I might have sunk to my knees and let out a primal wail.

I love Christmas.  After Halloween, it’s my favorite holiday.  But I’m always caught off-guard, I’m never able to quite get the decorations up, gifts are last minute (sorry to friends and family who are reading this), and then it just seems to happen so darn fast.  There’s not even time to take in the music.

Oh, well.  As I learned watching Christmas movies all throughout my childhood, it’s the spirit that counts — and the Christmas spirit is something we should carry with us every day.  Along with pie, adorable cat ornaments, and Burl Ives singing Frosty the Snowman.

I am going to cook, though.  I may not have the Christmas tree up, but man, I’m going to get in that kitchen and whip up a feast.  The menu is all planned, totally nontraditional — and, keeping some of our guests in mind — mostly vegan.  Mostly.  Because I gots to have my meats.

What are your favorite foods, or things to do at Christmas?  If you’ve got recipes, post them in the comments!


I didn’t talk about it at all over the last three months, but I’ve been teaching comic book writing at MIT — a class full of undergraduates, throwing themselves into the mix.  What great students.  One of them interviewed me post-semester, and wrote a very kind review of the class that you can find here.