Friday, May 31, 2013

Old fashioned writer 2: On Illustrations

The first old fashioned writer post can be found here.
As a child and teen, I remember that I used to pick up illustrated novels for adults, recently however if novels for young readers are illustrated, the illustrations seem rare. So today I'm going to play Alice complaining about her sister's book. 

 “And what is the use of a book," thought Alice, "without pictures or conversation?”
― Lewis Carroll, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.

I like old books and classics. And I can't help to remember the pictures in Stevenson's Treasure Island, in Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, in Jules Vernes' Voyages Extraordinaires which contain no less than more than 60 illustrations by novels which give in average one illustration every 7 pages in the original edition or in Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes

Even in a well written novel, illustrations can still play a very important role. One of the main advice between writers is "Show, don't tell." This is a very good advice and rewriting the story by adding description and details is a good exercise to show the story. Including illustration to the novel bring on another dimension. It helps people visualize the action more easily. I like to illustrate my novels and to provide images of my characters for everyone to see, even though sometimes my drawing skills might not exactly reflect the picture I had in mind.

Here is a list of few purposes of illustrations

The first is the portrait: It feature the protagonist or secondary characters and help the reader visualizing with the narrator. In case of an omniscient narrator, it can also help visualizing who is talking and in direct communication with the reader. When I read a story I always tend to imagine the characters a bit differently than they are describe, maybe that's a personal flaw. I used to look at the pictures and wonder what I had missed in the text. It's a funny game at least for me to go back and check. I think a lot of people have their own vision of the different creatures in my books as well for example reading the title "Demon Soul" gives a lot of thoughts about nasty ugly demons... maybe an illustration more than the front cover only helps a bit to overcome that kind of prejudices.
Seti, main character of Demon and Fairy, draft.
The second is the landscape: It shows the place where the protagonist arrives and visits, it gives another dimension to the narrative as it helps the reader following heavy description or filling the blanks for lighter, incomplete descriptions. There are always part of the landscape that can't be described, either because they are hard to turn into words or are considered uninteresting or useless. If you are having an action scene with a lot of characters, you might want to focus the reader on what is happening more than on the decoration. Providing a picture help the reader make their own opinion about the place. This is probably my weakest point in drawing but I consider I might work a bit more to get better pictures for Demon and Fairy. Actually writing this I realized that I don't have any landscape picture to show.

The third is the document: Travel adventures can always use a good map the reader can refer themselves to, to know where they are at. When your character is traveling across land it is very nice to have a map. I remember how much I liked the map in Simonay's Phénix because the world was ours but somehow different with all the time that had passed or in Clement's Le voyage de Théo because I could try to guess where he would go next.
Map of Viorel's travel in Europe (Vampire Heart) to be updated has he progresses (the character will be redrawn)
The fourth is the action: It pictures specific, important moment in the action. Sometimes your characters can do something out of the ordinary and it might be difficult to accurately describe it. Sometimes it's just something plain and boring and a picture just brings some light to it. There are a lot of reason to show actions, it captures a particular moment of your character's live a bit like a photograph of yourself having fun with your friends. They show the things the reader will later remember.
Hitomi and Demian meeting at the mirror. (Attic Mirror)

I really enjoy illustrating my novels, I think illustration bring something more to the story and if they are not always necessary they correspond to my style of novels and writing.

The first old fashioned writer post can be found here.
What do you think about illustration? Do you like to read illustrated novels or do you prefer plain text? As a writer, do you like to illustrate or have someone illustrate your stories for you?

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