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Jan 14

Susan Shiney

How Graphic Novels Help my Writing


I have been on a big graphic novel kick lately. I think it is in part because I have been making more use of my public library in France, and graphic novels and comic books are popular here. If you are interested in reading more about the French and their reading habits, you can check out this article, In France, Comic Books are Serious Business.


Photo credit: Unsplash - Girl with Red Hat

The English section of my library has a lot of interesting titles to choose from. I started with Watchmen and V for Vendetta written by Alan Moore. These are very popular and a good to sink your teeth in. It is interesting that both of them have been adapted into movies and/or t.v. shows, but the story was more impactful in the graphic novel form.

I also read Blankets by Craig Thompson which is a coming-of-age autobiography, really touched my heart. My most recent read was Sloth by Gilbert Hernandez, which has a very surreal and non-traditional approach to story telling. It follows a main character that willed himself into a coma due to the mundane life of his small town and then wills himself out of it again, but he then moves through life very slowly. I was so inspired by it that I decided to write this blog.

I would love to make it through the Reedsy 100 Best Graphic Novels of All Time list one day.


Photo credit: Unsplash - Joe Ciciarelli

So, what are the benefits of reading graphic novels?

Studying dialogue

I notice I am able to focus in on those speech bubbles and see how much they are able to communicate in the dialogue with minimal description and pictures. The speech bubbles are actually pretty small, so the dialogue needs to be concise. It is also a clear indicator of thought bubbles and I like seeing the differences between the voice of the internal versus the external depending on who the character is interacting with.

I also enjoy reading and writing twitter stories and micro-fiction to see what authors can do in a short amount of space with dialogue and minimal description. I wrote a blog post about it called 7 Tips for Writing Twitter Stories.

Screenplays are also a great source for novelists to focus on dialogue, but that is for another future post...

Show, don't tell

Maybe this is obvious, but the facial expressions and emotions are highlighted vividly without any explanation. I am even thinking about an exercise of looking at a graphic novel page and writing it out through prose to see how the scene unfolds with the descriptions.

Another activity could be to visualize the scene like a graphic novel to evoke more showing than telling. I like doing visual brainstorming of my settings with images on Pinterest to help me create the atmosphere. Maybe trying out a graphic novel sketch beforehand, could add another dimension.


Photo credit: Unsplash - Miika Laaksonen


Graphic novels have this sense of propulsion and movement. I love that it is possible to consume the whole story in one sitting. On a scene-by-scene level it is faster to break down what the character's goal is and what the conflict is than in reading prose. I am a story nerd and like to analyze scenes and macro level structure of books and have found graphic novels to be a fun way to dissect story. I also find short fiction helps my novel writing for this same reason.

Graphic novels get to the point and trim all of the fat. The settings can change from panel to panel, along with which characters are included. When I do feel like the story drags, I like to think about what is going on. Has the character been in the same setting or with the same character for too long? Is it because of the dialogue? Is there not enough conflict? Without prose you can see it much clearer.


Photo credit: Unsplash - Clem Onojeghro

Innovative story techniques

Graphic novels have a different literary tradition and influences than novels do. I think this is exciting as I keep checking them out. I notice a greater sense of play and freedom with the stories that are told and the connections between the characters.

A graphic novel on my TBR list Tamara Drewe by Posy Simmonds has a more hybrid quality, with a mixture of prose along with panels of illustrations and dialogue. The ideas of having the forms merge is exciting as well. I love it when a movie will have clips of animation come in and then back to live action.

My current read, the graphic memoir, Tomboy by Liz Prince has the main character jump into a magazine to have a discussion with the author and then flips to another panel where she is interviewing her mother with a microphone in hand about her childhood to comment on what she just flashed back to. In a couple of pages, such thrilling ideas that are possible with prose, but would take a lot of time and much of the meaning would be lost. It gives me ideas on how I can communicate that kind of innovative movement through prose.

Great way to read more

It is very important for writers to read a lot and to analyze stories. This year my goal is to mix up the types of stories and mediums I read. If you are in a reading slump, a graphic novel is a great way to get out of it. As is poetry, short stories, and audio-books.

Take a look at one of those booktubers or bookstagrammers lists of 100 books they have read in a year and you will see several graphic novels on them. Of course, it is not all about the number, but reading goals help push me to read more.

It is also fun. And writing and preparing for your writing, needs to have a sense of levity to it. To get more fun writing ideas you can check out my blog post, 50 Ways to Make Writing More Playful.

Ideas for adaptations

In this article, The Rise of the Graphic Novel and the Novelists Who Love Them, emilyh discusses the cross over appeal for novelist authors to reach a new audience through graphic novels or to have adaptations of parts of their existing works. It makes sense since graphic novels are gaining bigger and bigger audiences.

I want to stay open as a creative for which medium the stories I have in mind are told. I might have a graphic novel in me one day, who knows. The storytelling in them is definitely inspiring.

Does reading graphic novels help you with your writing? Please leave a comment below.

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