I love visual art almost as much as I love a good story. When the two are combined, I’m pretty much this || close to wetting my pants with the turn of every page. Many novels aren’t illustrated, unless they’re novels for children, and I’ve been wondering why that is. Sure there are other things you can pick up to get your picture fix, like comics, graphic novels, and the like. But sometimes it’s nice to see the world you’re reading about at least partially visualized.
One example of this that comes to mind immediately is the 1st American (Scholastic) edition of the Harry Potter series, in which each chapter begins with a relevant illustration.
This method seems to strike a good balance between guiding the reader’s imagination, but still allowing them to do most of the work when it comes to picturing the people and places in their minds.
When considering what has the greatest bearing on whether or not to include illustrations in a book, here are some factors I’ve mulled over:
Certain genres seem well-suited to the inclusion of illustrations — like fantasy or sci-fi — because their stories aren’t set in worlds we’d recognize. Therefore, it could follow that a reader might need some help here and there visualizing the complex systems or mythical creatures being described. Those genres are also a couple of the most fun to see rendered, exactly because the stories aren’t reality-based, and probably some of the most fun to illustrate, too. I’m one of those people who wonders whether or not my imagination is taking everything into account, so seeing illustrations is great for catching details an author has described but that your mind may have passed over.
The intended demographic for a book will of course have a lot to do with how it’s presented. Since kids have shorter attention spans than (some) adults, sticking pictures into whatever they’re reading probably helps keep them from flinging the book across the room. Illustrations also help develop their minds into crazy dream machines. Getting an imagination-boost wherever you can is awesome, but especially when you’re at that age of deciding what is and isn’t possible. I guess publishers figure grownups shouldn’t need pictures to keep them interested, but it’s not even about that. Sometimes it’s just nice to see a gorgeous illustration, amirite?
Level of “Seriousness”
In a similar vein, I’ve noticed that books that aren’t…you know…like, War and Peace or something might be more likely to include an illustration or two. Not that people being ripped to shreds in a horror novel, or a spaceship exploding in a sci-fi novel isn’t serious within the context of the story. When I say “serious,” I really mean literary fiction aka fiction based on “real life” situations. But then that goes back to my first point because it implies that there aren’t typically illustrations in literary novels because we’re already familiar with that type of world. But in the end, I think it’s down to…
The nature of a project is ultimately what determines whether or not sections of a novel will include images of any kind. For example,
Yes, these books are categorized as YA. But there are plenty of YA books that don’t include images. In this case, the images are key to the Miss Peregrine’s trilogy, especially when you consider that manipulated photos were used instead of drawings. The black and white photos have the effect of making the story feel more like a history you’ve stumbled upon rather than make-believe.
What’s the point of all this? There isn’t one; it’s just something I’ve been thinking about. I really like the inclusion of drawings, photos, crazy fonts, and all that biz in the books I read…but only if it serves the story well.
Do you like your books with pictures? Any you’d recommend?
Happy Writing Wednesday, folks.