Friday, March 05, 2021

5 Tips for adding noise to your comics script

Comicbook Sound Effect SFX Text - Blam

Have you ever sat in a coffee shop making odd sounds? Then you might be a comics writer. 
Way back in the day, when my wife was still my girlfriend, and I used to sit at her kitchen table with my typewriter working on comics scripts, she’d give me funny looks as I tried to devise phonetic spellings for words.

It was part of the job, though. Sound effects, often written in comics scripts as SFX, are a useful part of the comics and graphic novel universe. They're a component to help your comics come to life. 

The 1960s Batman series harnessed them with humor in all of those episode-ending battles. Remember POW and TWOCK as Batman punched out The Joker and The Riddler? While they’re obvious and a part of pop-culture, many beginning writers don’t think about them as they script, but they’re important and they really are part of the writer’s job. 

They’re fun too. For all of the bold colors and exciting visuals on the comic book page, the medium is a static, two-dimensional one. Sound effects are one element that makes a story more dynamic. So, what are some tricks for crafting good sound effects?

 1. Be aware of what’s being done out there. 
It’s about social scanning as I mentioned in my previous post on comics scripting. When you read comics, take note of how effects are being used. Take particular note of how they’re being used in comics similar to yours. Sound effects are word art, and letterers are artists. They have many new graphics tools they’re just waiting to put to work. Those transparent-letter sound effects that let us look through the word as action transpires are an innovation of a few years ago. 

Letterers keep coming up with new ways to make words visually interesting. You might even want to seek out and watch a few lettering tutorials. Seeing how letterers work and what they can do can inspire you. You can always drop in a note and suggestion to the letterer in a comics script if you see something you like. 

 2. Sound it out.
As I mentioned above, it really helps in creating SFX words to try making the sounds, even if it inspires funny looks at the coffee shop or from your pal or significant other. SFX actually allow you to create words. Though that might not make the most diligent English teacher’s happy, that’s how we got some words such as crunch. They’re considered “of imitative etymology” meaning they imitated natural sounds when they were devised back in the 19th century or so. 

3. Don’t just fall back on restating what’s happening,
It’s tempting to just use a verb for a sound effect or fall back on a crack or thump. It’s more interesting to be imaginative and strive for a word that’s really appropriate to the scene and that gives the reader a sense of the audible sound that’s transpiring. 

4. Don’t forget there are tools that can help you.
All of these sound effects are technically onomatopoeia. There are actually onomatopoeia dictionaries out there, and Written Sound is a fairly handy online version. Another handy one is Comic Book FX - The Comic Sound Effect Database.

If it doesn’t have exactly what you need, it may be handy guide to get you started. 

5. Work to develop a good ear for sound. 
Really listen as you walk through the world, and stop and think how you’d write various sounds. As the dryer tumbles your stuff, what is the combination of whir and rattle that transpires? How’s your car sound when you turn the ignition? Or what's the approach of your bus sound like? What about your electric toothbrush? 

Like all creation, sound effects work improves as you flex that creative muscle, and it’s something that will enhance the reader’s experience. That’s the goal after all. Give the reader a wow!

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