This week we have a guest blog by award-winning author Christina Courtenay.
Last week I went to see an exhibition about comics at the British Library – a slightly surprising venue for such a thing perhaps, but then comics, or graphic novels as they are now called, are books too, just with more pictures. And they’re brilliant!
The exhibition – Comics Unmasked: Art and Anarchy in the UK – was a very detailed and complete history of the genre, starting with artists like Cruikshank and Hogarth who created connected prints that formed a sort of comic strip. Although really, art as story telling had been around long before then – perhaps one can even count stone age cave paintings as some of them tell a tale of some sort! Basically, story-telling is as important to humans as breathing, or maybe that’s an exaggeration, but as singing at least. And obviously there are three ways of passing on a good story – by mouth (learning by rote), by writing and by creating pictures.
I’ve always loved drawing and painting, but sadly I’m not very good at it so I could never have become a comic artist (or any kind of artist for that matter!). Looking at all the fantastic comics on display at that exhibition, I felt very jealous at first. The artists were all so talented and managed to convey their characters’ feelings and movements perfectly in each panel of their graphic novels. I wished I could do that too, as it seemed such a powerful way of telling the story. The impact was twofold, visual and written at the same time, and therefore felt as though it affected me more strongly.
But then I started thinking about this and realised that in a way, novelists do more or less the same thing because as authors we paint with words.
Our descriptions are paintings inside someone’s mind – the readers have to interpret our ‘brushstrokes’ and form their own version of the painting in their imagination. If we do our job properly, they will see exactly what we see when we are writing a scene down. If not, at worst they won’t get the picture at all or (perhaps not quite such a disaster) they might imagine the scene in their own way. That would be okay unless it’s the complete opposite of what you had intended. When it comes to heroes, for example, it’s an absolute bonus because if we only give a vague description, suggesting certain traits/looks, the reader will apply these to a man they can fall in love with, the sort of male they prefer. Whereas if they’d seen the picture the author had in mind, they might not have fancied him at all.
I have to admit I’m not very fond of descriptions and long narrative sections in novels. I have been known to skip them if they go on a bit (shock, horror!) and much prefer books with lots of action and dialogue. Perhaps it’s because I’m not very good at descriptions myself – I find it almost impossible to come up with similes and metaphors that others haven’t already used. And I don’t want to have to resort to clichés unless it’s absolutely necessary. Far better to keep it short and sharp then, at least, if, like me, you are writing to entertain readers and not for the sake of the language itself.
I do admire beautiful writing – who doesn’t? – but much prefer to read easily digested, light-hearted stuff without long descriptive passages. Perhaps that makes me shallow, but it’s what I enjoy so I’m sticking to it. How about you? Do you prefer a quick read or do you like to linger over wonderfully phrased descriptions and clever use of words? I’d love to know.
Christina’s latest novel, Monsoon Mists, is out now – for information click here - http://www.choc-lit.com/dd-product/monsoon-mists/
Social media links:-