“Other people’s words are the bridge you use to cross from where you were to wherever you’re going.”
— Zadie Smith, British novelist

Dialogue do’s and don’ts

Leave room for the pictures!

All talk and no pictures make comics a dull read.

HE SAID, SHE SAID Make dialogue pithy.

Make dialogue pithy.

And that’s the first rule of comic dialogue: Leave room for the art.

Tighten to fit.

Here are ways to keep comics short:

Let the pictures do the talking. In our first draft of a script for “Safety Moment” (below), your brilliant editor (me) included the line, “a 3-foot flame shot from an electrical outlet.”

I must have forgotten that readers would be able to see the three-foot flame the artist drew. Remember: Show, don’t tell.

Keep maximums in mind. Some writers limit themselves to 17 words per balloon, 30 words for a typical-sized panel or 60 words on a page, write Nat Gertler and Steve Lieber, authors of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Creating a Graphic Novel, 2nd Edition.

There’s no magic number, but you might study a comic book like the one you’re creating and use its standards. One page of The 9/11 Report, for instance, has 176 words, as many as 56 words per panel and as many as 18 words per balloon.

Drop unimportant details. If it doesn’t help your story, cut it.

Break it into two balloons. Still too long? “Two shorter balloons are less daunting and easier to integrate into the art,” write Gertler and Lieber.

Talk the talk.

Here are some more tips for polishing your dialogue:

  • Make it conversational. This is people talking in a comic strip — don’t make it too stuffy. Two ways to practice writing dialogue, and they both involve the ear:
    1. Listen to what people say and how they say it. Capture dialogue at the deli, on the bus and in the interview.
    2. Read your dialogue aloud. “I often work out conversations aloud before typing them up to avoid that stiffness,” Gertler writes. “That’s why you see me talking to myself on the bus.”
  • Don’t forget the action. “There’s an instinct to stop everything, putting characters into chairs to do nothing but chat,” Gertler writes. “That’s not a wrong thing to do, particularly in drama. But if you take the same conversation and stage it during a bike ride, or at a boxing match, or at the zoo, it becomes more interesting.”
  • Don’t get too creative with accents. “Yerr readerr vill kvickly tire uv tryink to dezypher ebery verd,” write Gertler and Lieber.

Learn more about how to write conversationally.

Anatomy of a comic script

Here’s the evolution of “Safety Moment,” a four-panel strip. Notice how the more words we strip away, the better the strip becomes.

SAFE PLACE 'Safety Moment' started out as a 197-word story and a photo of a guy standing next to an electrical outlet.

SAFE PLACE ‘Safety Moment’ started out as a 197-word story and a photo of a guy standing next to an electrical outlet.

PICTURE THIS At 56 words, this four-panel cartoon is hard to read. Perhaps we should have tipped in a tiny magnifying glass to help readers see the tiny words.

PICTURE THIS At 56 words, this four-panel cartoon is hard to read. Perhaps we should have tipped in a tiny magnifying glass to help readers see the tiny words.

SAFE BET At 38 words — including the sound effects — this piece is more visual — and more readable.

SAFE BET At 38 words — including the sound effects — this piece is more visual — and more readable.

Learn more about how to cut copy.

Communicate With Comics.

Ready to try graphic storytelling for your communications?

I’ve recently teamed up with Bill Wylie, former Marvel Comics illustrator, to help organizations tell their stories and sell their messages through graphic storytelling. Let me know if we can help you get your message across with a:

  • Comic strip
  • Comic story
  • Comic book
  • Graphic novel
  • Cartoon
  • Caricature
  • Storyboard

Bill and I look forward to working with you to bring the power of words + pictures to your next campaign or communication.

Check out our new website, CommunicatingWithComics.com, to learn more ways to move people to act with visual storytelling.

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“Metaphors hold the most truth in the least space.”
— Orson Scott Card, science fiction writer

The Mighty Metaphor

Karen Brooks brings the Portland dining scene to life

The rumor that I moved to Portland, Ore., solely because of the restaurants is only slightly exaggerated. But boy, do these people know how to eat.

So I found Karen Brooks’ new book, The Mighty Gastropolis, delicious on several counts: Not only did I gobble up the juicy back story on Portland’s restaurant scene, but I also devoured Brooks’ delectable metaphors.

Here are some highlights to amuse your brain as well as your bouche:

On butchery at Simpatica Dining Hall:

“It began with the sudden appearance
of an outsized leg of prosciutto
swinging from a ceiling pipe
like a shout-out from a Francis Bacon painting.”

On Portland’s dining scene:

“For years, Portland was a backwater,
its food scene relegated to the kids’ table
while rival sister Seattle sat with the big boys.”

On the 2011 James Beard Award nominations, held in Portland:

“Inside the Oregon Culinary Institute,
the air was tighter than the stock market floor
during President Obama’s
‘let’s get tough on Wall Street’ speech.”

On dining at Evoe:

“Scan the wall-size blackboard menu,
every inch crammed with possibility,
call out your order, and Kevin Gibson begins performing
like a biology professor on Restaurant: Impossible.”

On Oregon’s natural bounty:

“Enterprising pickers and pluckers
wheel up to the back doors of restaurants,
scales in hand, to peddle wild porcini
the size of small purses
or twenty kinds of heirloom tomatoes.”

On Xocolatl de David Raleigh Bars:

“… the thinking person’s Snickers:
one bite, and there’s no going back.”

On Laurelhurst Market:

“Dyer calls it ‘a reaction
to where the meat industry failed itself,
a response to cutlets on foam trays
wrapped in plastic with a diaper underneath.'”

On a dish at Castagna:

“No one seems to notice
that the famed steak and haystack fries
have been replaced by halibut
cloaked like a Christo installation
in an outsized cabbage leaf.”

On pizzas at Tastebud:

“The pizzas are back, and, on Saturdays,
the oven spits out the original flatbread
in salty flaps as big as a queen-size pillow.”

Make Your Copy More Creative

Want to communicate better with creative copy?

How can you cook up metaphors like Brooks does
to make your readers devour your messages?

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“Don’t kill the messenger.”
— Sophocles, Antigone

Bad news works in safety communications

Tell employees how close they are to killing someone

In 1931, a man named Herbert William Heinrich noticed something odd about accidents.

SPEAK NO EVIL Safety communications are more effective if you're honest.

SPEAK NO EVIL Safety communications are more effective if you’re honest.

Heinrich’s Law

An inspector for Travelers Insurance Company, Heinrich spent his days looking at clients’ accident rates and found a ratio. For every 300 injury-free accidents, there were:

  • 29 minor-injury accidents
  • 1 major injury accident

This ratio, now known as Heinrich’s Law, is now a key model for safety professionals.

Communicate ‘the next big one.’

Safety communicators can also tap this law by communicating how close we are to a major accident.

“The ratio of accidents for railroads in the U.K., is 12 to 1.5 to 1,” writes TJ Larkin, principle of Larkin Communication Consulting. “So if the UK railroads experience six near misses in six months, safety communicators can say:

“We are very near a major accident.
In the next 6 months,
we will probably kill somebody.”

Small accidents have similar causes to big ones. So, Heinrich learned, if you can reduce smaller accidents, you’ll can help eliminate the big ones.

Making sure your employees know “where we are” in the escalation to a big accident can help.

Plan powerful communications

Want to master the art of effective communication planning?


Sources: TJ Larkin & Sandar Larkin, “Employees Should Know How Close They are to Killing Someone,” Larkin Page No. 56, February 2007

H.W. Heinrich, Industrial Accident Prevention — A Scientific Approach, McGraw-Hill, New York, 1959

Linda Wright and Tjerk van der Schaaf, “Accident Versus Near-Miss Causation: A Critical Review of the Literature, An Empirical Test in the UK Railway Domain, and Their Implications for Other Sectors,” Journal of Hazardous Materials, July 26, 2004, pp. 105-110

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Semicolons: “the only unretweetable punctuation mark.”
— Dan Zarrella, HubSpot viral marketing scientist

Punctuate on Twitter

Just don’t use semicolons

How do you create tweets that goes viral on Twitter?

PUNCTUATE, PERIOD Some 98% of retweets contain punctuation; just 86% of normal tweets do. So don’t drop the colons, periods and exclamation points.

PUNCTUATE, PERIOD Some 98% of retweets contain punctuation; just 86% of normal tweets do. So don’t drop the colons, periods and exclamation points.

Punctuate, counsels Dan Zarrella, HubSpot’s viral marketing scientist.

Zarrella spent nine months analyzing 5 million tweets and 40 million retweets to find what makes some messages travel the world while others just stay home on the couch.

Among his findings: Some 98% of retweets contain some form of punctuation, compared with 86% of normal tweets. So don’t forget the colons, periods, commas and hyphens.

But do forget semicolons — “the only unretweetable punctuation mark,” according to Zarrella.

Reach readers online.

Want to get the word out on the Web?

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“Ann helped us elevate the professionalism and quality of our materials and communications that our investors find both relevant and appealing.”
— Roberta J. Laughlin, vice president, Mutual Funds Marketing, Northern Trust

Get expert advice

Improve your communications with Ann’s consulting services

IF YOU ASK ME ... Get your message across, with consulting services from Wylie Communications Inc.

IF YOU ASK ME … Get your message across, with consulting services from Wylie Communications Inc.

Do you need to create a communication vehicle that brings in new clients? Communicates corporate messages? Helps your organization achieve its goals and objectives?

If so, Wylie Communications can help — from critiquing your website to launching a newsletter from scratch. Let us help you:

  • Get an extra pair of hands — or four. We provide a virtual staff to write and edit newsletters and magazines for Saint Luke’s, Northern Trust, State Street/Kansas City and Sprint. Let us pick up the slack in your department, too.
  • Revitalize a flagship piece. We revamped Saint Luke’s Health into a more effective, attractive, popular magazine — for the same budget as its less-appealing predecessor. We’d love to help you reboot an old favorite, as well.
  • Make communications more effective. We gave FedEx a blueprint for transforming its management magazine into a strategic tool for the organization’s success. Bring us in to help you align your communications to your organization’s goals.
  • Stop reinventing the wheel. We developed Web page templates, samples and guidelines to help PetSmart Charities and Tellabs streamline the process of rewriting their websites. We gave General Dynamics C4 Systems a fill-in-the-blanks proposal template for closing more deals. Let us create formulas, checklists and templates to make your communications more effective and less time-consuming.
  • Outmaneuver the competition. We benchmarked a Motorola company’s press releases against those of its competitors, then delivered guidelines to help the company set the standards for media relations writing in the industry. Let us help make your communications best-of-class, too.
  • And more. See a fuller list of consulting projects.

Why Wylie Communications?

  • When Ann Wylie served as editor of Hallmark Cards’ employee magazine, CROWN, the publication was named the best of its kind in the world by the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) and the best of its kind in the nation by Women In Communications.
  • In all, Ann’s communications have earned more than 60 awards, including two IABC Gold Quills.
  • During Ann’s editorship of Ingram’s, the regional business magazine’s editorial and design earned dozens of awards for excellence, its circulation increased by 35 percent and its ad sales soared by one-third.
  • No wonder IABC called on Ann to write the book on publication planning. The resulting manual, Planning Powerful Publications, has been called “the bible” of corporate publications.
  • Since then, we’ve helped dozens of companies launch or revitalize their communication vehicles.

Wylie Communications can help you, too, improve your social media vehicles, publications or websites.

Put yourself in good company

Organization from Accenture to State Street/Kansas City have already improved their communications with our consulting services.

Are you ready to take the next step to make your communications more effective? Contact Ann Wylie. We’ll help you breathe new life into your publication or website.

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“Extremely valuable and easy to understand. I will be able to take the information and apply it immediately.”
— Rachel Miller, demand generation program manager, LeasePlan USA

Ann’s touring schedule

Polish your skills at one of these events

Alas, I can’t invite you to the in-house seminars I present for private organizations.

COME ALONG FOR THE RIDE Catch Ann at one of her upcoming workshops.

But everyone’s invited to these upcoming public seminars in:

  • Minneapolis on April 30. Catch Your Readers, a half-day workshop for IABC/Minnesota and Minnesota PRSA
  • New York on June 26. Now They SEE It, a one-hour breakout session for the 2013 IABC World Conference
  • New York on Dec. 2. Write for the Web, a full-day workshop for PRSA
  • Phoenix on May 15: Catch Your Readers, a half-day workshop for IABC Phoenix
  • Portland, Ore., on May 9. Make Your Copy More Creative, a workshop for the TOCA annual conference
  • San Francisco on June 6. Catch Your Readers, a one-day workshop for PRSA
  • Tacoma, Wash., on Aug. 14. Catch Your Readers, a half-day workshop for PRSA Puget Sound
  • Your own home or office, on June 18. Make Your Copy More Creative, a one-hour webinar for PRSA

Would you like to attend? Please contact meeting planners directly for details.

Can’t make these events? If you’d like to bring me in for a workshop at your organization, contact me.

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Where in the world is Ann?

Cut your training costs when you piggyback your program

Save money when you piggyback your workshop by scheduling it when I’m already “in the neighborhood.” Book your program the day before or after another organization’s and split my airfare and ground transportation with the other group.

Ask about piggybacking on my upcoming engagements in:

  • Ann Arbor, Mich.: April 18
  • Austin, Texas: Nov. 7
  • Cleveland: May 7
  • Detroit: April 17
  • Houston: April 23-24
  • Kansas City, Mo.: May 22-25
  • Memphis: April 3
  • Minneapolis: April 30, Oct. 9
  • New York City: June 26, Dec. 2
  • Phoenix: May 15
  • Portland, Ore.: May 9
  • St. Louis: May 21
  • San Francisco: June 6
  • Tacoma, Wash.: Aug. 14

Save even more: Ask about my communication association discounts and second-day fee reductions.

Contact me to discuss piggybacking.

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What are we up to?

The folks at Wylie Communications have been enjoying:

  • Presenting writing workshops for Aviva USA, LeasePlan USA and the National Agri-Marketing Association (NAMA) Heartland
  • Developing templates for PetSmart Charities Web pages
  • Presenting webinars for the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA)

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Keep up with my calendar

Find out when I’m coming to your neighborhood, learn when you can sign up for one of my programs and otherwise keep up with my calendar.

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Let’s connect

Keep in touch via:

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… with two of your colleagues by directing them to our current issue. Better yet, invite them to subscribe to Wylie’s Writing Tips. They’ll thank you — and so will I!

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For more info …

… about my seminars, publication consulting or writing and editing services, please contact me or visit my website.

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