Scott Westerfeld and Alex Puvilland

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October 19, 2016

Almost Wordless

Today is a bonus posting: thirteen pages of Spill Zone! We decided that cutting this chase scene in half would just be annoying. Besides, there aren’t many words in this passage, and it felt odd to give you six pages of pictures.

Or maybe that’s just me being a prose novelist. In my usual work, I never get to write a scene with no words. Sure, I’ve written passages where the characters communicate silently, but all those meaningful glances still have to be described. My quiet scenes usually wind up wordier than those with dialog.

The bottom line is, in my prose novels words are all I have.

In comics, of course, extended scenes with little or no text are common. I’ve seen everything from a ten-page fight scene to a twenty-page kiss. (Spoiler: that last one was in a manga.) And films are often best when they eschew words. One of my favorite cinematic stretches is in Jules Dassin’s Rififi, a 27-minute bank heist with no dialog at all. (Seriously, go watch it now.)

So when I started exploring this new medium, one of my goals was to write occasional stretches of wordlessness. This chase scene was the obvious place to start. Alex’s “Wolf Thing”—as our script calls it—really needs no verbiage to make it horrifying. And people don’t tend to talk much while being pursued by a mutant creature.

Mind you, the thirteen pages we’ve posted today aren’t entirely text-free. But I did manage to use only ninety-six words in forty-six panels. For a guy who usually takes 85,000 words to tell a story, that’s positively taciturn. And I think it’s about the right amount for this scene.

The weirdest part of writing these pages was the sense that I wasn’t really writing. That I was cheating, somehow, just telling someone else what to do. And once I saw Alex’s beautiful work on these pages, my own lack of visible input was jarring. Baked into most novelists’ brains is a how-many-words-did-you-write-today calculator, which lets us know if we had a bad or good day. After twenty or so novels, that’s a hard metric to ignore.

So for those of you counting, the section of my script that described this passage is exactly 1138 words. They’re in there somewhere. You just can’t see them.

But we hope to see you next Wednesday.

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