I’m not going to go into the history of the written word. That’s not what this site or this article series is about. Suffice it to say written languages have been around a long time and then someone decided to make a book and refine the process. Books are everywhere, but that’s not the only way to get a written story. In the old days magazines would have serialized or short stories. You also have the internet these days, with ebooks and fanfic sites. I’m using “book” as an overall term since all prose stories have the same strengths and weaknesses, though short stories, long stories, and serialized stories both have a few differences. I’ll get to the short and serialized methods in the future but when we think of prose we usually think of books and it’s just easier to use. You all understand what I mean.
Books are the most popular delivery system for prose whether in paper or electronic formats. The prose story has been around long enough that we’ve pretty much mastered what it can do, though nobody really plays that much with the layout. The closest you get are books with illustration, which may not get it’s own article but will pop up now and then in the future. While we’re still working on ways to improve comics, movies, TV, and video games as far as presentation books are pretty static in how they tell their story. So how do they do that?
I’d say books are the most accessible form of storytelling but that’s not quite true. Except for ebooks they don’t require any electricity save for a good light, and not even that if you have a sunny day and a place to read that takes advantage of it. Unless you’re illiterate you already know how to read, or maybe you can have someone else read to you, which connects it back to previous storytelling methods. In fact some of those methods require reading from a book or a script. We need to be able to read to better function in our lives even if we don’t get our stories that way. You’re reading right now unless someone or a computer program is reading this article to you. Reading is fundamental, as they used to say to promote book reading to kids.
Editorial requests aside prose is probably the form of storytelling alongside the spoken word that the author has the most control over everything within it. No actors, no Foley artists, no cinematography, and no director with his or her own vision. It’s just the author (or in some cases authors if you’re working in a team, usually two) to the audience. This is both a blessing and a curse as the author gets sole blame if the story is bad, though sometimes it’s just that the editor didn’t catch something and request a fix. As the author you set the scene, you design the characters, you control the action. It also gives you a sense of freedom. No budget, no need to draw something, and you can get into the characters’ heads through their thoughts. If you have the character as narrator then you really see things from their perspective, but an outside narrator can also set scenes the character may not be a part of. Heck, you can have multiple perspectives within the same book (I think the Song Of Ice & Fire books do that but I don’t follow that franchise in book or TV form). There are blessings to the written word since you don’t need visuals.
Except you kind of do, in that you need to put those visuals into your readers’ heads. No two perspectives are going to be the same unless you drown the reader with minute information bits. This means when a book gets turned into a movie their sets and character designs may not match what the reader saw in his or her head, even if you get a director, costumer, and set designer who actually care about the source material (if there are any left in Hollywood) enough to follow what the books says and attempt to recreate it. Outside of the cover and a few illustrations that may be in the book a scene will be different in each mind’s eye. That means it’s up to you to not confuse the reader and make sure the room or building layout in their heads is at least close enough to yours that it makes sense when people move around the room. Something you didn’t know was there suddenly pops up and now you have to recreate the room in your head and it’s the author’s fault for not making that clear. Then again if they get too explanatory you end up with a boring to read passage. The description of the character or location can have some flavor that helps define the character (how one maintains their appearance or how they decorate their house) but you need to deliver as much information that’s important as fast as possible or you lose the reader.
This is why, while I do have one story idea I think would work better as a novel series than a comic, I’ve never thought of myself as a prose author. While I’ve tried it now and then I don’t feel I’m very good at setting a scene in someone’s head because I lack the patience necessary. I love books and I would like to improve in this department but comics are just easier and more fun for me to create. We’ll get to comics another time though.
You also have to accept the fact that no matter how well written it is some people just don’t like to read. My dad isn’t a heavy reader but my mom was, and she was the one who got me into reading, although I’m told I was spelling words as early as 2 1/2. And there are different reasons, but some folks would rather see the story take place and thus turns to movies and shows, or even the theater, over reading. Plus you don’t need to know how to read to enjoy those most of the time, so they also play to the illiterate as do radio audiences. I saw a video recently from someone who doesn’t like reading and she has good reason not to.
Catch more Jaden Animations on her YouTube channel. Highly recommended channel by the way.
For Jaden here the problem was that teachers and parents made reading into a chore. I already enjoyed reading but my mom knew the right way to encourage it, which was good because I can think of at least one English teacher who might have damaged it by her looking down at my reading choices because she insisted on certain stories not to be well rounded but because she was a bit of a snob I think. I mean, and pardon my minor ranting, you know I’m into science fiction and you can’t sell me on Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, or even Mary Shelley? I don’t even like horror and the passages of Frankenstein in our text book (that for some reason also included a couple comic pages) was more interesting than some of the stuff she wanted me to read. She did once take advantage of my naivete though. I thought Planet Of The Apes might work for a book report because it was an old French tale and had a message (of course so did my Star Trek novels and she was against those) and I talked her into looking it over. She did and approved the book. Folks, if you have seen any of the movies (by this time only the original series had been released), which I hadn’t though I knew a lot about it and still have on the Finally Watched list just for curiosity, this book is not like that. It’s actually rather boring, and the way it delivers its message I found to be rather preachy and uninteresting. Someone out there is sure to disagree and that’s fine. We don’t have to like the same thing, but there isn’t much in the way of action or character development that I can recall.
I love reading because my mom encouraged me to find the books I found interesting and while I do occasionally enjoy something outside my usual tastes like To Kill A Mockingbird or that Robin Hood book I recently finished for Chapter By Chapter I wasn’t forced to read these things most of the time. Even that English teacher I mentioned at least tried to work with me through her biases (more or less) that one time, so be careful how you get your kids to read. As for you authors, this isn’t a discussion about how to write a good prose novel. This is an overview of the strengths and weaknesses of each media format and genre and there are better sites out there to discuss improving your writing. I love books but not everyone does and that’s fine. We all read something, even if it’s a short story on a fanfiction site or just the owner’s manual. Reading is great, but it can’t do everything. Yet somehow books and movies because the most approved forms of storytelling by the “more civilized than you” folks. We’ll talk about that at some point but we have more ground to cover in the art of storytelling.