Don’t Use Captions as a Crutch

This also could have been titled, “Newer Comic Writers, Don’t use Captions.”

While I’ve spoken to captions elsewhere and they are certainly a viable technique in comics, more often than not, writers (especially newer ones) tend to use them as a crutch for bad story telling and bad script visualization.

Here’s what I’m talking about:

Panel 2:
Peter Parker sits on a train staring off into nothingness.

CAP    All of Peter’s efforts had turned up empty. He felt ashamed. No one could help him, so he decided he would go off and find out who killed Mae himself.

Panel 3:
Peter walks along a dark abandoned street in Greenpoint. He holds his hands in his pockets with his head tucked down.

CAP    The night was eerily quiet. Even the homeless were tucked out of view. Peter spent over 2 hours searching the street for clues, but all he got was garbage and summer city stink.

In these instanced, the narration is replacing visual content (and inner dialogue.) Ultimately, it is telling the reader, instead of letting the story visually show the reader.

Instead of narrating “Peter felt ashamed” we could have shown it; a shot of Peter in agony, a line of dialogue supporting the feeling.

Instead of telling the reader Peter searched for clues, we could have shown it; Peter sliding aside a piece of sheet metal. Cleaning off a dirty window so he could peak in. A million visual possibilities… Each pulling the reader into the character’s journey.

 

I want you to take a watch on this video, it’s the opening to the movie “Her”. Sorry it’s crappy quality, only link I could find.

 

I found this opening to be really powerful because it says so much in subtext, everything revealed in action. (There was even a little more to the opening than this clip alone.)

Notice, there is NO narration here. It doesn’t start off;

“Theodore started the day as he did every other. Writing emotional, private letters for strangers. Living vicariously through others, while his own life held no meaning…”

This opening did not need any narration whatsoever, because the story was being conveyed and conveyed in a big way, through the visuals and action.

Never use Captions/Narration to replace or substitute visual story telling.

Narration should be used to inject narrative drive.

To compliment and support the visual storytelling by supporting any story fundamentals or mechanics. Additional subtext, enhancing emotional weight, emphasizing tone, mood and style, etc.

<I have to run out for a bit, but maybe when I get back, I’ll spend some time breaking down some proper caption use examples. I gotta check the other articles and see what I’ve already written on the subject. In the meantime…>

Throw away your Caption Crutch and instead of a narrative barely limping along, it’ll be sprinting across pages in no time. ▪

About the Author —
Nick Macari is a full-time freelance story consultant, developmental editor and writer, working primarily in the independent gaming and comic markets. His first published comic appeared on shelves via Diamond in the late 90’s. Today you can find his comic work on comixology, amazon and in select stores around the U.S.  Visit NickMacari.com for social media contacts and news on his latest releases.

 

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