Use of Graphics, Images In Storytelling

by Todd Rogers
(Sacramento, CA, USA)

Question: I have some concerns about the use of graphics and/or images in the telling of a story.

For one, I am concerned as to whether it is wise to use graphics like diagrams depicting say, a football play with X's, O's and arrows showing direction of travel from the line of scrimage and the roles of each X and O in the play during a chapter where my main character is in a locker room of his High School Football team, or whether it is better to write it out?

Also, using static images in the same way...not to replace appropriate words to tell the story of that image or where it's included in the grander scheme of the story, but to enhance the storytelling by giving the reader the visual that the words already describe, and helping to move the story in, for instance, showing a wireframe starship or combat robotic mecha while describing specific features of same.

How much is appropriate or is the entire idea bad?

I learn so much from this website. I consider it my GO TO resource on How To Write A Book, and your answers to previous questions are always specific and informative.

I am so glad to be able to contribute questions that challenge you. I look forward to your response
to my latest conundrum. :)

Answer: Thanks for the kind comments.

You are correct that it is generally preferred to describe a thing in words. That is what writers do. However, there are rare exceptions. Children's books are often illustrated. And even in books for adults, writers may provide an occasional drawing to help readers visualize an important element. Agatha Christie sometimes provided a floorplan of a setting where a murder takes place so readers could visualize where suspects were in relation to each other. J.R.R. Tolkien provided a map of Middle Earth so readers could picture the geographical terrain of the journey.

If the technical details of the football play are important to the plot, and if you take the time to educate the reader as to how to interpret the drawing (which non-football fan readers would need) then I think you can make the argument for including a key diagram. However, you should try to write your story and not rely on a lot of diagrams.

I'm not sure why you would need to include the image of the spaceship or the mech. I doubt the reader needs to picture the precise arrangement of features on these machines. I suspect a description in words would suffice and you can perhaps let the cover artist create an image from your description.

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