Imagination vs. Reality, or Graphic vs. Novel

Ever think about the difference between a graphic novel and a novel? They might seem somewhat similar, but I just thought about an interesting element at play, and now I have to post about it.

So, in a graphic novel, everything is placed in a two-dimensional image. We can imagine the third dimension, as we do with any 2d picture, but we have a pretty great idea of what the scene looks like. The only in-the-moment elements conveyed in words are the sounds that are in the scene.

In an actual novel, the faraway mountain range that was so beautiful in the graphic novel may be written as “Snow-topped mountains.” That’s it. That is all of the explanation that is provided. The rest is imagined.

The reason for all of this, of course, is that while looking at pretty mountains takes about half of a second, reading a description of the fog that settles on the rocky peaks of a misaligned mountain range while snow dusts the trees that reach up toward its balding caps is so tedious and bording that you probably just skimmed this horrific sentence.

Reading a description takes longer than seeing the thing visually. Does this make graphic novels better?


If all we need is a mountain range, I can imagine one as fine as any described or painted on a page. Tell me that there is a mountain range in the distance, give me the height and snow maybe, and I can paint my own picture in my head.

However, imagine the sensations experienced in other realms. The imagery of hellish, otherworldly landscapes, the glimmer of other dimensions that exceed our own, these are hard to imagine. Some might get a good detailed picture from a book that is written meticulously, and others will skim the boring bits or set the book down, while a picture, of course, is worth the thousand words. Unfortunately, pictures sometimes find it hard to convey inner struggles and conflicts in the same way that words do. Thus why narration, internal thought, and conversation are a big part of graphic novels.

There are different strengths and weaknesses of format, and even then they don’t have to be played straight.

A stick figure comic can tell a good story, if needed. A book that describes every little detail of fantastic scenes can be done well. These are hard to get right, but it can be done, by playing to the strength of the other medium.

The takeaway of my ramblings is this:

Readers (of written novels) don’t need that much description. Certain elements are key to the image, the atmosphere, the scene, the location, the orientation. Make sure the reader has what they need. They will illustrate the rest.

See you around!

-Kyle Adams

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