Episode 59 of the 99% Invisible Podcast explores what happened when artists were brought on board to work with architects on a project in New York City. Some of the architects didn’t like this much, being used to owning the creative talent and having the artistic sway, but the project manager told them to like it or lump it. Artist input did result in a creation quite different.
This made me wonder how things would be if programmers were given more creative sway in publishing houses, especially as big publishers move tentatively into the digital world. Programmers are not known for their creative bones, instead for their attention to detail and methodical mindsets. Yet the programmer in this house counts photography among his hobbies. Creativity and attention to detail go very well together, if only creative streaks are let loose.
On the one hand I can’t understand why we’re not seeing far more creative storybook apps coming out of the largest publishing houses, who I presume have much bigger budgets than ours, and who could really push the boat out if they wanted to. On the other hand, I can see that if programmers are not adequately invested in a project — if they’re paid by the hour, say, and told what to do by the designated creatives — the acquisitions team (and author illustrator teams) may not have the foggiest idea of all that is possible. It takes an experienced programmer to know that.
Header illustration: One of the illustrations by Mike Wilks from ‘Pile- Petals from St Klaed’s Computer’ by Brian Aldiss (1979)
The terminology we apply to books, texts and reading do not seem to attach to the picturebook so readily. For example, if we speak of ‘the text’ of a picturebook, do we mean the words or the words-and-pictures together? … And when we say ‘read’ a picturebook does the word — and the process — apply equally well to the visual images and to the sentences and paragraphs alongside, or do we need another term that better represents the special relationship of picture and beholder?
from the introduction to Reading Contemporary Picturebooks: Picturing texts by David Lewis
An ABC book, from Medieval Latin abecedarium (“alphabet, primer”).
a device in which characters or events represent or symbolise ideas and concepts. A message is communicated with symbols.
(adj. allusory) An allusion is a reference to another story, for example an illustrator might include a girl in a red riding hood in a modern story, alluding to the classic fairy tale. Allusions are good for creating new dimensions.
chronological misplacement of any kind. (You probably know the word ‘anachronistic’.)
another word for a ‘flashback’ or ‘switchback’. A secondary narrative precedes the primary one. For example, a grandparently figure looks back in time. This might be expressed pictorially with a thought bubble, or sepia tones, or other recognised devices for expressing retrogression. The plural is analepses.
Childhood according to Seuss is a perpetual zigzag between good sense and nonsense, between the anarchy of the Cat in the Hat and the selfless stoicism of Horton. They are like the ego and the id, not so much eternal antagonists as complementary poles. The books that he wrote, averaging one a year from the late 1930’s to the mid-1980’s, alternate between ever loopier (and sometimes forced) excursions into whimsy and ever more pointed (and sometimes forced) fables.
a call-out or callout is a short string of text connected by a line, arrow, or similar graphic to a feature of an illustration or technical drawing, and giving information about that feature (comic book speech bubbles)
A tale told in folklore, to warn its hearer of a danger, e.g. in “Little Red Riding Hood” children are warned not to dilly-dally on the path and talk to strangers. Cautionary Tales are now outdated and more often satirised, for example by Hilaire Belloc in Cautionary Tales For Children.
the treatment of spatiality and temporality. A word to describe the way time and space are described by language, because time and space are impossible to depict via visual signs alone. Time can be indicated only by reference. In picturebooks time might be represented by changing light as the day fades, or with clocks and calendars or seasonal changes or ageing characters. But mostly in picturebooks, the passing of time is underscored by words. (Later, at ten o’clock that night, that afternoon, etc.)
Continuous narrative art gives clues, provided by the layout itself, about a sequence. Sequential narrative without the frames. Vignettes are often presented continuously, too.
On Nikolajeva and Scott’s scale of interanimation taxonomy we find ‘contradiction’, in which pictures and words do not match each other – one tells a different story from the other. This sort of picturebook demands more from the reader in terms of active synthesis, and may appeal to an older, more sophisticated audience, or to a dual audience, in which young readers understand one part of the story and the adult reader understands another. Of course, pictures and words can never be absolutely contradictory. It is a matter of degree. Stories with contradictory pictures and words are also called ‘twice-told tales’.
On Nikolajeva and Scott’s scale of interanimation taxonomy we find contrapuntal (the adjective form of ‘counterpoint’) — a useful word when talking about words and illustrations which deviate from each other somewhat. Further along the scale comes ‘contradiction’, in which the pictures and words completely contradict each other.
communicates by telling. The flipside of mimetic. In a film, a soundtrack is ‘diegetic’ if it occurs naturally as part of the story, such as in the films of Quentin Tarantino, or on the TV series The Wire, in which any music must come from a radio, or from a CD that a character is playing in the background, rather than added later as part of the editing process. In picture books, verbal text is diegetic
When an author intends adults to get things out of a story that children would not. (See also: single address). Some commentators have called the middle grade version of this The Mark Twain Wink, as he was well-known for it. E.B. White and A.A. Milne also used this technique. Note that all of these men also wrote for adults.
a graphic/illustration spreads across two open pages
“Droodle” is a nonsense word suggesting “doodle”, “drawing” and “riddle.” Their general form is minimal: a square box containing a few abstract pictorial elements with a caption (or several) giving a humorous explanation of the picture’s subject. For example, a Droodle depicting three concentric shapes — little circle, medium circle, big square — might have the caption “Aerial view of a cowboy in a Port-a-john.”
A ‘children’s book which appeals to both children and adults. Big budget stories (e.g. Pixar movies) are expected to appeal to both children and adults.
Used primarily for the life sciences, this term has also been employed by sociolinguists and psychologists to describe the ways in which organisms interact with environment. The term ‘ecology’ might also come in handy for discussing picturebooks, and the ways in which words interanimate with pictures. The term ‘ecology’ may be especially appropriate because the ways in which words and pictures feed off each other are different from book to book and even from page to page. One moment words can step forward to occupy centre stage; next moment they return to the wings or comment like a chorus on some key point of action. Ecology is far more dynamic than any kind of taxonomy.
describes readers who have not yet achieved fluency, and who may need a slightly different kind of picturebook from fluent readers
On Nikolajeva and Scott’s taxonomy of interanimation we have ‘enhancement’ somewhere in the middle, in which the pictures enhance the words without being contradictory. Agosto calls this ‘augmentation’.
Also called end pages. Peritextual parts of a hardback picturebook found on the flipside of the back and front of the cover. Endpapers have been a part of bookbinding since the mid 1600s. We have front endpapers and back endpapers. These pages are the first parts of the interior of the book seen when the book is opened, and the last to be seen after the story has been read and the book is about to be closed.
Gerard Ganette’s word for the creations that exist around an author’s work: interviews, publicity announcements, reviews by and addresses to critics, private letters and other authorial and editorial discussions. These exist ‘outside’ of the text in question but still influence how an audience will come to a work, and their reading of it.
The real-world experiences readers bring to the page, and that author/illustrators can assume of readers. For example, children know that some children go to school on a school bus, so this basic concept need not be explained.
a genre of painting and illustration featuring fairies and fairy tale settings, often with extreme attention to detail. Fairy painting was popular in the Victorian era and made a comeback in the 1970s.
Funny animal is a cartooning term for the genre of comics and animated cartoons in which the main characters are humanoid or talking animals, with anthropomorphic personality traits. The characters themselves may also be called funny animals.
A category including acrostics, calligrams, concrete poetry and other kinds of visual poems. Also called ‘shape poems’.
A term referring to a style of drawing, associated with The Wall Street Journal half-column portrait illustrations. They use the stipple method of many small dots and the hatching method of small lines to create an image, and are designed to emulate the look of woodcuts from old-style newspapers, and engravings on certificates and currency.
In visual art, horror vacui (Latin for ‘fear of empty space’) or kenophobia (from Greek for ‘fear of the empty’) is the filling of the entire surface of a space or an artwork with detail. In physics, horror vacui reflects Aristotle’s idea that “nature abhors an empty space.”
Italian art critic and scholar Mario Praz used this term to describe the excessive use of ornament in design during the Victorian age.
If something is so detailed it almost makes your brain hurt, you might describe it as horror vacui.
An extreme degree of imitative coloration or ornamentation not explainable on the ground of utility. (Adjective: hypertelic.)
The relationship between a given text (the ‘hypertext’) and an anterior text (the hypotext) that it transforms e.g. Snow White in New York is the hypertext of Snow White the traditional fairytale (the hypotext). This word relates to diegetic levels.
A genre in which neither image nor text is free from the other. A term (first?) used by Richard Wagner, who wrote the bookReading Iconotexts: From Swift To The French Revolution. Author/illustrator Jon Klassen discusses this ‘middle space’ between illustration and writing which the reader must fill for themselves, creating a much more expansive world than either the illustrations or words could achieve by themselves. The process in which the reader interacts with an iconotext and fills in the gaps is called interanimation.
(As opposed to backdrop setting): Describes a setting which is an essential part of the story. It may even be considered a ‘character’ in its own right. If the setting were anything else, the story would not be the same or would not work at all.
An interrogative text has the force of a question.
In an interrogative text, authority is questioned. Harry The Dirty Dog is an example. Carnivalesque texts are interrogative by their function.
Writing that appears as part of an illustration, such as book titles on spines of books, writing on a computer screen, an addressed envelope. Slows down our ‘reading’ of the visual text and adds to the text-image tension.
A rhetorical figure based on a deviation from the dictionary meaning of words. Irony cannot be expressed by pictures alone, but can be achieved when the words in a picturebook don’t match up with the pictures, creating an ironic counterpoint. In order to work, all stories everywhere need a certain degree of irony.
Picturebooks are ironic in ways specific to picturebooks.
In their book How Picturebooks Work Maria Nikolajeva and Carole Scott came up with a taxonomy to describe how words and text work together to tell a story. When picture and text do not line up, they say there is ‘ironic distance’ between them. The difference between a picturebook (one word) and another kind of illustrated text: Picture and text must be working together in some way to create something new.
Here is the taxonomy they came up with:
SYMMETRY: Words and pictures are on an equal footing.
COMPLEMENTARY: Words and pictures each provide information.
ENHANCEMENT: Words and pictures each enhance the meaning of the other.
COUNTERPOINT: Words and pictures tell different stories.
CONTRADICTION: Beyond different narratives, words and pictures tell the opposite of each other.
Nikolajeva and Scott are talking about the ironic distance between words and pictures in terms of narrative.
There’s another layer of ironic distance which comes from mood (for lack of a better term).
Though [Lisbeth] Zwerger’s watercolors are sometimes disturbing, the decorative beauty of her work also functions as an antidote to the violent content of the tales. This dynamic is reversed in Hague’s “Read-to-Me Book of Fairy Tales”: Allison Grace MacDonald’s gentle prose mitigates the ferocity of some of Hague’s illustrations.
A beautiful picture can moderate violent images in a horrific story. Likewise, a sweet, innocent story can be spiced up by ferocious and daring illustrations.
A story is isochronical if the timespan of the story and the time it takes to read the story (the discourse timespan) are the same. See also: Talking about story pacing.
In literature, style is paramount, the work is thematically integrated, character is rounded, originality at a premium. Contrast with genre fiction.
Some people think that ‘magic realism’ is an unnecessary term to describe a type of low fantasy, for people who don’t like using the word ‘fantasy’. Others believe we should be making more use of the word fabulism. A highly political term, magic realism generally describes a story which seems grounded in our real world but which contains fantastical elements.
Mark Twain is famous for a style of narration in which a narrator cracks jokes which tend to go over the heads of child readers and appeal to the adult co-reader. We also see E.B. White and A.A. Milne writing in this way. We might hypothetically see this in picturebooks, though contemporary writers usually mean something different when they’re talking about picturebooks and ‘winks’.
The wink commonly refers to the ending in which a careful observer notices there’s something more to the story. Commonly there’s a clue which tells the reader the story is about to repeat, or that magic is actually real.
MATERIAL BODILY PRINCIPLE
This is Russian philosopher Mikhail Bakhtin’s term. Picture books about the human body and its concerns with food and drink (commonly in hyperbolic forms of gluttony and deprivation) are stories about the material bodily principle.
Gross-out middle grade texts are often concerned with excretion (usually displaced into opportunities for getting dirty). Sometimes we get gross-out picturebooks, too. The Disgusting Sandwich is one example.
In stories for older readers this turns into concerns with sexuality (often displaced into questions of undress).
Harry The Dirty Dog (1956) is a good example of a picture book concerned with the body and the unfortunate need for maintenance.
Fiction which draws attention to the fact that it is fictional, not attempting verisimilitude. In children’s literature, directly addressing the reader (or ‘breaking the fourth wall’) is a common metafictive technique.
Most often white space, sometimes negative space comprises another colour such as black. In many ways, picturebooks are like film, but negative space is not an option in most kinds of films, where there has to be some kind of backdrop. Advantageous because lack of setting means a story may not date so much.
Technically, nonce words are signifiers that lack the signified. In effect, these tend to be words used for the purposes of this story only. Also called ‘occasionalism’. Fictional coinages do not fill any lexical gap, nor do they enrich the lexicon. Thus, the ‘one off’ characteristic of fictional coinages is a predominant feature of such new words. In literature, the main motivation for new word formations is not to enrich the lexicon but to enrich the text itself. Since there is little chance for literary coinages to enter the language, they can be classified as nonce formations.
Note: The word ‘nonce’ is not related to the word ‘nonsense’. It means ‘for the once’.
That said, every now and then a nonce word from a very popular children’s book does enter the shared lexicon. Runcible probably comes from Edward Lear’s limerick The Owl and the Pussy-cat (1870).
The difference between a neologism and a nonce word: Neologisms are young words which have occured naturally in our shared lexicon. Nonce words are performed for a work of art, and, generally, remain meaningful only within that work of art.
The popularity of Dr. Seuss has given rise to what we now call ‘The Seussian idiom’. See ”If I Ran the Circus” and ”Dr. Seuss’s Sleep Book”, which initiate young readers into the enjoyment of language. When learning to speak, children learn to master the phonetic patterns of their mother tongue(s) by babbling streams of plausible but nonexistent words. This explains the popularity of made-up language with early readers.
Literary nonsense (or nonsense literature) is a broad categorization of literature that balances elements that make sense with some that do not, with the effect of subverting language conventions or logical reasoning. … The effect of nonsense is often caused by an excess of meaning, rather than a lack of it.
Gibberish, light verse, fantasy, and jokes and riddles are sometimes mistaken for literary nonsense, and the confusion is greater because nonsense can sometimes inhabit these (and many other) forms and genres.
Wikipedia (Literary Nonsense)
Anne Carroll Moore, superintendent of children’s work for the New York Public Library system, called Dr. Seuss the American counterpart to Edward Lear, the tentpole author of British nonsense. Lewis Carroll popularised nonsense literature further. But some (e.g. Leonard Marcus) say Dr Seuss is not really a nonsense writer. He uses nonsense as a device to hold the interest of the reader.
A picture book example of nonsense is Meal One by Ivor Cutler.
Some children’s authors write in the style of oral tradition. Enid Blyton is a good example, as is folklore, making use of formulaic language, schematic and derivative characters, stories which change to suit the circumstances of time and audience and an open form. (Contrast with ‘literature’.) Oral traditions are no less valid than literary works. Stories making use of the above conventions might be described as ‘written folklore’. This type of story has a low status, partly because of its popularity.
Panoptic narrative art depicts multiple scenes and actions without the repetition of characters. Think of the word ‘panorama’. ‘All-seeing’ (pan + optic)
Symmetry by another name.
In a word: omission. Also spelled paralipsis. The device of giving emphasis by professing to say little or nothing about a subject, as in not to mention their unpaid debts of several million. In picturebooks, too, a kind of paralipsis can happen when something mentioned in the text is left out of the picture, or vice versa. Negative space might be said to be the picturebook equivalent of paralipsis. For example, a page might be deliberately left blank because the character has disappeared for a time. An empty chair may draw attention to the fact that its usual occupant has died (See The Heart And The Bottle by Oliver Jeffers. Paralepsis can also be a secondary narrative in which time is independent of the primary story. For example, there’s a paralepsis in Where The Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak, when Max travels ‘through night and day and in and out of weeks and almost over a year’. This kind of anachrony is common in picturebooks which describe an imaginary journey. For example, all the happenings of Narnia can’t possibly fit into the time the children would’ve spent at the country house.
All the physical features within a book aside from the author’s words. Front and back covers, dust jacket, endpapers, half-title and title pages, and dedication page all work together with the text and accompanying illustrations to produce a unified effect. These are known as a work’s peritext, a term first used by Gerard Genette in 1987.
In a picturebook, point-of-view might be conveyed via the text or via the perspective of the illustration.
The most common point of view in modern novels is ‘close third person’, which contemporary readers are used to. In children’s novels, introspective narrators are common. Picturebooks tend to be narrated (via the words), with the point of view expressed (via the illustrations) by facial expressions and body language, in particular. Pictures are very good at presenting an omniscient perspective via panoramic views of settings/various scenes of different characters doing different things.
In postmodern picturebooks: reality is presented as less certain than assumed, meaning is not inherent to the work, non-linear narratives are common, the voice is often sarcastic and self-mocking, it is frequently self-referential, metafictive and anti-authoritarian. The reader is required to complete the story themselves after thinking about it.
Also known as an origin story or an etiological tale, a pourquoi story is a fictional narrative that explains why something is the way it is, for example why a snake has no legs, or why a tiger has stripes. A classic example is Rudyard Kipling’s collection of Just So Stories. See also: mythopoeia.
A flashforward/anticipation. The opposite of analepsis. A secondary narrative that is moved ahead of the time of the primary narrative.
Describes the ‘lived experience of reading — the experience of sitting down to read a picturebook — from cover to cover — as opposed to ‘studying’ a picturebook, or examining some part of it.
the front (recto) and back (verso) of a leaf of paper in a book
A variety of a language or a level of usage, as determined by degree of formality and choice of vocabulary, pronunciation, and syntax, according to the communicative purpose, social context, and social status of the user. In picturebooks the word ‘register’ describes a kind of atmosphere evoked by both words and pictures together e.g. grotesque, nostalgic, everyday registers.
a literary form and literary genre, written in unmetrical rhymes.
A love of looking. Film theorist Laura Mulvey uses it. Comes from Freud.
Widely used in medieval art (in ‘hagiographies’, depicting the life of a saint), this term implies a sequence of events. Think of those cave paintings showing a stick figure with a spear, hunting down an animal. The moments are disjunctive in time but imply a sequence. For example, a series of pictures in a picturebook might show a child getting ready for bed: pulling off her jumper, taking off her shoes, brushing her teeth, retrieving teddy bear, getting under the covers. This technique of showing the passing of time works better for slightly older children, because younger children may interpret a series of pictures of this girl getting ready for bed as five different girls. (However, adult co-reading is assumed.) The books of Sven Nordqvist make much use of simultaneous succession. This is most often a type of continuous narrative art.
Simultaneous Narrative Art
Not to be confused with ‘simultaneous succession’. In this kind of illustration, everything in a picture appears to be happening at once. This kind of illustration has very little visually discernible organisation unless the viewer is acquainted with its purpose. There’s an emphasis on repeatable patterns.
When an author intends only to write a picturebook for children, even if the picturebook ends up being enjoyed by adults anyway. (See double address. Not to be confused with ‘dual audience’) It may be useful instead to think of multiple addresses rather than an either/or.
A synoptic narrative depicts a single scene in which a character or characters are portrayed multiple times within a frame to convey that multiple actions are taking place. Synoptic is the adjective of synopsis.
A poetic device, a type of zeugma. In picturebooks, this occurs when you see two or more parallel visual stories, either supported or unsupported by words. A fairly common example in picturebooks is when the pictures depict the lives of small creatures doing their own thing but who remain unmentioned in the main text. The plural of syllepsis is syllepses. See also: parallelism.
Maria Nikolajeva and Carole Scott have created a sophisticated taxonomy of picturebook interactions (between words and pictures) and came up with a sliding scale. ‘Symmetry’ is at one end, in which the pictures pretty much repeat what the words have already explained. At the other end is ‘contradiction’, in which the pictures say something completely different from the words, often creating irony or humour. The problem with having ‘symmetry’ at the ‘extreme’ end is that pictures cannot help but say more than the words, since ‘a picture tells a thousand words’ (or thereabouts). So there will never exist a perfectly symmetrical picturebook.
A term used by writer Idries Shah to describe narratives that have been deliberately created as vehicles for the transmission of wisdom. Teaching stories include folktales, fables and didactic fairytales.
Vanishing Art Style
Design created with large colour areas, enhanced in specific places with details only to suggest important features or clues
A small illustration or portrait photograph that fades into its background without a definite border. In picturebooks vignettes are often used to show the passing of time e.g. a child getting ready for bed might be depicted by the same child brushing her teeth, pulling on a nightgown then getting into the bed.
Is sometimes used to refer to the sum total of the world’s national literatures, but usually it refers to the circulation of works into the wider world beyond their country of origin. Sometimes the German word ‘weltliteratur’ is used even in English to mean the same thing.
This list of art terms relates specifically to Vermeer, but includes many words that are useful when describing artwork in picture books.
Header painting: Carlton Alfred Smith – The Young Readers 1893
Whether an individual picture is static or conveys motion, the more details there are in a picture, the longer its discourse time. The common prejudice is that children do not like descriptions, preferring scenes and dialogue. This must be an acquired preference, imposed on children by adults, since all empirical research shows that children, as well as adults, appreciate picturebook pauses and eagerly return to them.
– from How Picturebooks Work by Maria Nikolajeva and Carole Scott
All of us have a Public, Private and a Secret Self.
The degree of delineation and the stakes depend on our individual circumstances. Because we rarely have insight into the secret selves of others, fiction functions as a useful window. Fiction shows us that we are not alone, whatever our secret self may be.
That, my dear, is what makes a character interesting, their secrets.
Kate Morton, The Forgotten Garden
WHAT IS SECRECY?
What we consider secret depends on time and place. Historian Jill Lepore draws a distinction between mystery, privacy and secrecy, three separate epistemological categories:
MYSTERY: what we can’t know, but are asked to believe.
Matters of religion (less mysterious after followers could read printed texts)
the law allows us to keep what we know to ourselves
the right to be left alone
What is considered private depends on the time and culture. The invention of the smartphone challenges the concept of privacy.
SECRECY: the secularisation of mystery. What is known, but not by everyone.
The European ‘age of secrecy’ happened between the fifteenth and eighteenth centuries
This was the age of the secret sciences, considered ‘good knowledge’: everyone kept secrets: the state, nature, the human heart, trade guilds, God.
This culture was the perfect setting for occutism: spy networks, esoterica, ciphers and secret societies (the Jesuits, the Freemasons, the Illuminati)
Even into the eighteenth century, the common people had no idea about the level of state debt, details of taxation, the size of their own country’s army.
What is considered secret depends on the time and culture. For instance, secrets of nature were exposed after invention of the camera.
BENEFITS OF EXPOSING THE SECRET SELF
Jack will act in ways which recognise, and are sensitive to, Jill’s interests, only if he is able to grasp how things are for Jill, and understands why they matter to her; and, further, recognises that things being that way for Jill makes a claim on some of his own attitudes and behaviour.
Any Jack’s gaining access to Jill’s perspective on life thus demands a degree of sympathy. But when Jill’s interests and aims lie outside the normal range of Jack’s own experience, his ability to sympathise with Jill’s concerns enough to be considerate about them in relevant ways, will require him to see beyond his own usual range. Most people can learn about the needs and interests of others by extrapolating from their own experience and from their observation of people around them, but if these were the only resources for insight, the scope of an individual’s sympathies would be limited. And this is where the narrative arts come in. Exposure to the narrative arts overcomes that limitation: it enormously widens an attentive individual’s perceptions of human experience, and enables him — vicariously, or as a fly-on-the-wall witness — to see into lives, conditions and experiences which he might never encounter in practice. This extension and education of the sympathies is therefore the basis for a richer moral experience and a more refined capacity for moral response.
A.C. Grayling, The Reason Of Things
Grayling goes on to explain that educating moral sensibility through education ‘has a general tendency, not a universal effect, and works by heightening morally relevant insight in at leat many cases, in not all of which will the insight necessarily conduce to the good (after all, the sadist has to have insight into his victim’s circumstances in order to dow hat he does; so mere possession of the insight is also not a guarantee of such goods as kindness and consideration).’
Interiority describes parts of a story that convey a character’s thoughts, feelings, and reactions. Storytellers achieve interiority when they let the audience inside the character’s head, revealing the part of a person normally hidden to the outside world. Written stories are especially well-suited to conveying interiority. On screen it is much more difficult.
Because interiority is one huge advantage of the written word, writers would be silly not to make the most of it.
In terms of interiority, I am always begging writers for more interiority, and less Bad Telling, and less Physical Telling (which we will get into next week and which I do admit to using once in my rewritten examples below). But I think for writers unused to writing good interiority, you can cross the line over to telling every once in a while and we won’t really notice it that much or fault you. It’s when interiority is missing that telling becomes a problem.
One of my most frequent comments on manuscripts is highlighting a piece of telling and writing “Interiority instead.” I harp mercilessly on all of my clients to include more interiority.
When writing, a storyteller decides how much of each character’s secret life to expose. The more of their secret and private selves are exposed, the more rounded the characterisation. By allowing readers insight into a character’s secret self, readers tend to understand, judge, forgive and then sympathise with the ‘confessor’.
A four step progression comes from the work of Dennis Foster who wrote Confession and Complicity in Narrative (1987). Though these steps apply to fictional characters, they apply in real life as well. This is the astounding power of fiction — when we learn that others have a secret self, and when we learn to empathise with fictional characters via this secret self, we tend to apply these skills to real people.
Secrets bind and separate in strict accordance with who’s in on them.
Lionel Shriver, We Need To Talk About Kevin
PRIVATE, PUBLIC AND SOCIAL CLASS
Freedman and Hellerstein (1981), write of “the doctrine of the separate spheres” which prescribed British women’s “personal lives centre around home, husband and children”. These values were of course exported to the colonies by British settlers.
What happened with the separation of home and work? Families became more private and a refuge from the world. This reinforced the Victorian middle-class Cult of Domesticity. Women were idealised as “the angel of the house”. Home was the woman’s private sphere; the public world was a male domain. This was not disrupted until women demanded emancipation. With emancipation came a natural blurring of the public/private divide.
But this was a middle-class thing. For working class families, there was no clean distinction between public and private life. Judy Giles (1995) suggests that the concept of privacy for these groups means simply ‘not public’. The middle-class ideal was to ‘keep yourself to yourself’, so some understanding of private self and inner life was required. Middle-class women understood privacy and what was their own business.
THE USEFULNESS OF THE CONFESSION
Stories which focus on a character’s Secret Self are often described as confessional. There is a huge advantage to writing confessions — the confessions themselves lend suspense. This suspense is caused by the reader’s desire to acquire certain information from the character. Each new piece of information functions as a reveal. Reveals are a necessary component of any suspense story.
Confessional stories have the quality of immediacy, especially when a character conveys information directly to the reader. Readers feel like the special chosen ones, with characters conveying secrets directly to them.
RELIGION AND THE SECRET SELF
I’m in no position to offer a comparative analysis of how various religions deal with the concept of the secret self, but I’ll offer this from an anthropologist studying supernatural beliefs and Pentecostalism Papua New Guinea. In short, sin is thought to exist in hidden areas of the body, especially in the uterus. Hence, women are blamed more often for concealing things they shouldn’t. This plays into an historic, enduring, cross-cultural notion that women are basically liars:
Pentecostals often describe two types of Christian—“spirit Christian” (the truly devout) and “body Christians” (those too concerned about material things, those who do not truly “believe” or have “faith”)—a sort of interdenominational pejorative that condemns doctrinal emphasis on outward ritual rather than inner belief (Keane 2007). The outer body should ideally reveal an inner “spirit body,” as, for example, through the kinds of ecstatic experience often associated with Pentecostal religious fervor.
In contrast, sin is understood as hidden in the body. Sermons that focus on sin as hidden thinking or emotions are interpreted by people listening as themselves a form of veiled speech referring to a problem of great consequence in communities: witchcraft. Through notions of hidden resentment or unseen discord, this Christian discourse associates sin with the gwumu witchcraft …. Following the sermon on Cain and Abel, church members told me that the visiting preacher was referring to witchcraft by using a local metapragmatic category of talk called tok bokis (literally, “box talk,” but usually referred to as “veiled speech”) or gramiyi harekeneve (“hidden talk”) in Dano. Ideas about hidden sin are extremely common in Pentecostal services and discourse, and the idioms in which hidden sin is described are frequently also associated with witchcraft. Sin is often described in the local language as hidden in the bilum (“netbag”) of the self, where the word bilum (ro in Dano) also means uterus, the location in the body where gwumu lives. This is a gendered, but flexible, discourse, as some accusations are also made against men. Nevertheless, Sunday morning altar calls seemed to me to be directed mainly at women congregants; speakers might even turn toward the side of the church where women sit when discussing hidden sin.
Nikos Aliagas is a photographer of celebrities but he doesn’t ‘know how to use photoshop’. He shoots famous people in natural light, aiming to show something that isn’t visible with all the other, modified, highly staged photographs which abound, and which are more familiar to us all.
First things first: Does this story require an active and alert reader, and do the interactions reward interactivity and alertness?
1. Should interactions be user-initiated or autoplay? A mixture?
I prefer narration to autoplay, with the option of turning it off completely from the main menu. When I have to press a button to start the narration on each page it takes me out of the story. As for the rest of the page, a mixture of autoplaying actions and user-initiated interactions works well in many cases, as long as any auto-play noises are not too irritating. Irritating = loud, unpleasant tones or even a pleasant sound that’s on too short of a loop.
2. How much animation, if any?
Too much animation and the storyapp runs the risk of emulating a film, losing its true interactivity. For small development teams, too much animation is costly and therefore not an option. When simple animations are utilised, which ones help to tell the story?
3. Should interactivity be allowed before the narration is over, or must the reader wait?
I still get frustrated when I can’t start the interactivity when I want to, regardless of whether the sound that accompanies the interaction drowns out the narration. It’s about user control. Also, I prefer gentle sound effects, which don’t drown out the narration even if played simultaneously.
4. After an interactivity has played out, should the user be able to cycle through again, or will the page fall inactive, waiting for the reader to turn the page and move on with the story?
The advantage of looping is that readers can linger on a page for as long as they like, which makes the reader feel more in control. The disadvantage is that younger readers in particular may lose the thread of the story, derailed by the interactivity. We used both finite and infinite loops of interactions for The Artifacts on a case-by-case basis. I’ve grown to slightly prefer finite looping, because if readers really want a specific page they can jump to it via the navigation pages, or simply turn onto the page again from the previous, losing no control — only a small bit of convenience.
5. Should the developer offer hints with flashing/arrows, or should the reader have to find all the interactivity themselves?
We believe young readers are more than capable of uncovering any interaction we think we’re hiding in an app. We hear quite a bit from parents that children find Easter eggs in apps that they never suspected were there. We don’t believe everything needs to be handed to a child on a plate, and goes with our general philosophy of ‘try it and see’ — an important attitude when using any type of technology.
The best children’s apps are successful because of a pair of more traditional qualities. Great storytelling. Strong characters. It seems apps aren’t so revolutionary after all, but that’s a good thing.
An astonishing number of the characters depicted in picture books are not people at all, but animals—or rather, humans who look like animals, for Horton the elephant of Horton Hatches the Egg and Pearl the pig heroine of The Amazing Bone are certainly more human than animal in their interests and motivations. In many picture books, indeed, only the pictures inform us that the characters are animals; to give just one example, Russell Hoban’s Frances is a badger only in Lillian Hoban’s illustrations of her; in the text, she talks and acts like an ordinary human child.
Perry Nodelman, Words About Pictures
Certain animals come with prepackaged character traits: wolves are evil, foxes are cunning, bears like honey. These animals are character archetypes. Cats and dogs don’t get on, pigs are messy and baby chickens are cute and vulnerable. When an author wants to use (or subvert) one of these tropes, it’s efficient to make use of an animal archetype. Also, one specific character trait can be emphasised in this way, and readers expect flat rather than rounded characterisation.
Related to animals as archetypes, animals have long been seen as ‘plain speakers’. While humans don’t say things as they are, animals in storybooks do, like sages. The reader then has the choice to either appreciate what’s been said at face value, or to look for some deeper meaning.
2. MORE EMPATHY WITH ANIMALS
In some books, the animals don’t have the power of speech. Children identify with animals because young children cannot express themselves verbally either. On the other hand, it’s difficult to identify too closely with an animal character, which is just as well when we have small, cute birdies chased down by big, bad wolves. Animal characters can provide just the right balance of empathy and distance.
Young readers seldom have problems identifying with anthropomorphic animal or toy characters as long as these hold the disempowered subject positions similar to their own (therefore, mice, bunnies, and kittens are more popular in children’s fiction than tigers and other aggressive carnivores.)
Maria Nikolajeva, The Rhetoric Of Character In Children’s Literature
3. VISUAL HUMOUR
An animal dressed up on clothes will never lose its appeal, although I’d love to go back to the day Beatrix Potter’s first book came out and see the look of true delight that must have crossed the faces of readers who saw animals dressed as, and acting like, people for the first time.
In a cast of many characters, making the characters animals saves the need for an author to assign names and likewise, saves children from having to memorise them. ‘Miss Fox’ obviously refers to the character who looks like a fox; ‘Squirrel’ would be the squirrel. Also, animal characters can be more easily accepted as flat and static. Curious George can have his ‘monkeyness’ amplified. A non-human friend has no social obligations (no parents of their own), and can do things like sleep in the same bed as the human child.
Again I’m talking about making use of archetypes, and as Perry Nodelman explains, much of this practicality is owed to Aesop:
There are historical reasons for this concentration of animals who act like humans, among them the fact that some of the first stories considered suitable for children were the fables of Aesop, in which supposedly characteristic animal attributes are identified with human behaviour. These identifications still operate in picture books today. The image of a fox in The Amazing Bone immediately evokes the idea of craftiness, and in picture book after picture book, we are meant to understand immediately that the lions depicted are arrogant, the peacocks proud, the pigs gluttonous, the mice timid, the rats nasty. As Leonard Marcus says in “Picture Book Animals,” “animals as images in our everyday thought and expression are among the most association-rich classes of symbols. Just under the surface of picture book fantasies, cultural meanings may well be at work.”
Perry Nodelman, Words About Pictures
Nodelman also points out that traditional (Aesopian) ideas about which personalities belong to which animals can be subverted, inverted, used ironically. He gives the example of Pearl the pig in The Amazing Bone. Traditionally, we expect pigs to be dirty and gluttonous, but Pearl is delicate and refined. Dr Seuss does a similar thing with Horton the elephant, who would normally break a tree by sitting in a nest. We see Horton’s bulk and don’t immediately expect him to be timid. Young readers learn not to judge characters based on their appearance. These stories contain the message that we shouldn’t judge others based on preconceived ideas.
I’d suggest that picture books with animal characters are a great way to avoid all those visual mis-match problems whilst getting to the emotional heart of the matter.
So now, after a long tradition of storytelling, we are used to stories about animals which are really about humans. Why did Aesop tell stories about animals instead of humans in the first place?
Legend has it that Aesop was an African slave born in 620 B.C. and a hunchback with a quick wit and tongue. If you understanding that these stories were created in a situation where free speech was dangerous for the lowly, you will grasp the special flavour of the fables. Take the story of the “Lion and the Mouse” where a lion frees a mouse he has captured because of the little creature’s laughable promise to perhaps someday help the larger one; later that promise is fulfilled when the mouse gnaws through ropes after the lion is captured in a net. Here we can imagine a slave trying to subtly suggest to his master that sometimes the lowly should be listened to and can assist their betters; but we should note that this point is being made in a completely inoffensive and oblique way, by means of animals.
However, problems of the dominant culture don’t suddenly become absent as soon as illustrators/authors turn people into animals. On the contrary: the pettiness of current social practices can be universalised, as described by John Berger.
5. DELIBERATE AVOIDANCE OF HARD HUMAN TRUTHS
It’s impossible to create a picture book — or any work of art — without covertly commenting on social and economic status, ethnic identity and gender roles (for starters). When characters are animals, some of this extraneous stuff can be avoided, at least if they’re moles living in a hole. Not so much if they’re middle-class white rats living in a suburban house. (Pinocchio can endure more than a human child would. Horrible stuff happens in that book but the animals — as well as the fairies — soften it up a bit.) There’s a school of thought that children don’t see gender, for instance, so therefore it’s okay to code all animal characters as masculine. I don’t buy into this idea, but I believe it’s an influential idea which has influenced the number of animals in picture books.
6. AN OLD FASHIONED VIEW OF CHILDREN
To represent characters as animals or toys is a way to create distance, to adjust the plot to what the author believes is familiar for child readers. This reflect a stereotypical and obsolete attitude to children as not fully human, at least not fully developed as human beings… Fables, which represent human faults in animal figures, were considered suitable for children during certain periods. Animals are seldom portrayed as protagonists in books for teenagers or in mainstream literature, outside allegory, such as Watership Down, or satire, such as Animal Farm.
The Rhetoric of Character in Children’s Literature, Nikolajeva
7. ANIMAL UTOPIA
A countryside populated by small, indigenous animals is many people’s wish, hope, and memory; but such a place, if it is to give imaginative satisfaction, has to be happy and romanticised. Animal life is not happy in the human sense; it is merely neutral. Human life can be, might be, more often is not, but always has, the possibility. Giving these small animals human qualities is to put them out of reach of inevitable fear, pain and death which is their natural lot. But the device also waves a magic wand and makes humans small, giving them animal qualities and cutting them off from human miseries and frustrations, sexual pangs, jealousy, bitterness and revenge, so that these minute societies have the best of both worlds.
Animal Land, Margaret Blount
The Wind In The Willows — this story does not entirely succeed at keeping real-world miseries out of the talking animal utopia. This is deliberate, as Kenneth Grahame has important things to say about real life.
The Little Grey Men — written by Denys Watkins-Pitchford under the nom de plume “BB”. The story follows the adventures of four gnomes who may be the last of their kind. It also features the countryside during three seasons of the year.
Tales of Sam Pig and Brock the Badger — by Alison Uttley, a British writer who wrote lots of animal stories for children. Sam Pig lives in a thatched cottage with Tom, Bill and Ann Pig, and also Brock the Badger. The Derbyshire countryside setting shines through as an animal utopia.
The Butterfly’s Ball by William Roscoe — a poem from 1807 , so different from the moral stories that had come before that it forms the first of a new type. Animals are now dressed/humanised for ‘gaiety and charm’ rather than for ‘amusement and strangeness’. It was enormously popular at the time.
These sorts of stories don’t work nearly so well without illustration.
8. ANIMALS MAKE FOR GOOD COMEDY
Due to the efficiency of animals mentioned above, with animals as characters the writer has an inbuilt set of jokes. Animals have their own characteristics (some common only within fiction) and writers can use these characteristics to launch character humour. Puns are also abundant when you have an animal as a character, e.g. in BoJack Horseman you have Maggie Gyllenhaal, who is a maggot.
I do think animals evoke a tone within a story automatically, simply by their presence. Each species has its own characterisations based on what we know about their behaviour. If a character is walking in the woods, for example, the presence of a deer evokes something different than say, a wolf, or bald eagle, or something totally unexpected like . . . an elephant. At a reading of Jasper Fforde’s he once said that crabs are funnier than lobsters, and that he wasn’t sure why, but he felt strongly that they were. We all have generalized associations with animals, and writers use those associations to drive an emotional reaction in their scenes. In the novel The Sisters Brothers, both protagonists have different relationships with their horses, treat and speak to them differently, and it reflects a great deal about who these characters are, what they value, how much empathy they have, and how relatable they are. In myriad ways, the presence of animals in stories enhances what we know about a character, foreshadows an event to come, or gives the scene mood and texture.
We have automatic, instinctual associations with certain animals, and I also really enjoy it when an author plays against them. Children’s stories often use animals as their main characters, very blatantly, but not in the ways that you would expect. My favourite book growing up was Charlotte’s Web. Charlotte, the spider, is the book’s real heroine and when she died it was the first time I ever thought about mortality, as grim as that sounds. Now, I love the work of writers like Laura van den Berg, Abby Geni, and Karen Russell, who use animals and other elements of the natural world in their stories. A lot of their work plays with the tension between the strange and the familiar, and I think this says a lot about the way we relate to animals: we want to understand them, but they will always be a little bit unknowable to us. Animals play so many different roles in stories it would be impossible to discuss them all here, but one interesting trend we’ve touched on in this discussion is how the line between the “human” and the “animal” is often blurred in fiction, with animals taking on human roles and humans, literally, assuming animal form.
A new study by University of Toronto researchers has found that kids’ books that feature animals with human characteristics not only inhibit factual learning, they may also hinder children’s thinking and reasoning about real-life animals.
I decided to put the full workings of this first page up because it illustrates how I changed my mind about the colour scheme. As you can see, I proceeded to create a bluish sort of colour scheme, avoiding the black outline with a colour wash that appears in many children’s books. This is fairly quick to draw, but doesn’t look as attractive to me.
In the end, to overcome the feeling that this project will never get done, I decided to make the ‘A’ version of each page the line-drawing and wash sort of illustration which can take about half the number of hours for me to crank out. This is because instead of rendering form tonally, I can just plonk down an outline and colour it in with a block colour. This makes drawing the characters a lot quicker. Since some pages have multiple touch and fade ‘animations’, drawing each character tonally proved too time consuming. If we spent a month on each page, this app wouldn’t get done before I got sick of it. But it’s not just about time. The ‘A’ version of each page has to look different in mood, and I was wondering how to achieve this at the beginning of the story, before Roya has fully entered her imaginative world.
As you can see, I begin to change the colour scheme back to the colour of the original canvas. In keeping with a more sketchy style, I’ve decided to hand-write the text.
I made Roya’s arms shorter so that she looks a LITTLE bit younger. I think she can pass for 12-14 now so I’m happy with that.
I had to send a whole bunch of preview screens to Dan so that he knows where to position the elements.
That probably gives some idea of the number of elements in this page, and how difficult it will be for Dan to get this page loading quickly and playing nicely. So there are no guarantees that he’s going to fit all of them in. He tells me that Apple are vague about upper memory limits, which means coding an app for Apple is a matter of trial and error to some extent.
Anyway, it would be nice to think that mobile devices were completely free of the constraints of print publishing — the need for a 32 or 24 pages, the need for approximate rather than precise colour and so on. But there are limitations on what we can do in a storybook app, even in an app designed for the best mobile hardware out there: Apple’s.
And here’s the next version. I’d like to say it’s the ‘final’ one, but you never know! I figure the first few pages need mucking around with the most. After I’ve got a mood down, I can remember how I did it, then recreate it on all the following pages.
There are some researchers, who’ve been very lucky with their funding, who have studied the ways in which pets resemble their owners. If you’ve ever been to a dog show you’ll probably have noticed the phenomenon yourself. Sure enough, it’s been noted that when shown a random mixture of owner/pet photos, people are able to match those owners with their pets at a higher than random rate.
I sometimes wish I could see photographs of illustrators alongside their pictures. I bet illustrators most naturally draw people look like themselves — similar face shapes and stature, even if they don’t mean to. Indeed, even if they go out of their way. Because we spend a lot of time looking at family members, and they tend to look like ourselves. We must also have a ‘default setting’ for a face, and that default is ourselves.
Do you look like your pet? We own a rather attractive Border collie. Though if I think harder, he hasn’t had a good brush in quite a while, and I have to admit I care about my own coiffure just about exactly as much. Think I’ll duck off to the bathroom and run a comb through my hair…