Over the weekend I was at my parents’ new place, briefly lending them a hand in unpacking after yet another move. (They do it for a hobby, I swear.) Amongst the pile of boxes I uncovered a collection of books from my childhood days, including a rather battered copy of Hans Christian Anderson’s collected works. Cue cessation of all unpacking as I flicked through it.
What struck me was that I didn’t remember most of the stories. These were the formative food for my imagination and I’m sure they contribute to the foundations of my own writing in some way, but the majority of the plots had vanished.
The pictures, on the other hand… Those simple line drawings were exactly as I remembered. I couldn’t tell you the tale behind them, but the images were crystal in my head. A little dusty, perhaps, but solidly embedded.
The brain works in weird ways. I’ve known for a long time that I pick things up by ear better than by eye, but I hadn’t appreciated that images are easier to remember than stories. It does make sense, I guess – we evolved to react to movement and colour rather than text. Those of our ancestors who could spot the sabre-tooth tiger in the grass tended to pass on their genes better. Images only lack movement, and our imaginations supply that very easily.
Why, then, do most adult books not include pictures? What is the thinking behind that fashion? Images are key to telling a story, and can add a whole other dimension to storytelling technique. In fact, when I read I usually don’t see the words at all. My brain translates it to a film – quite fuzzy, and the casting isn’t clear, but it’s images rather than text.
It also makes me wonder why comics and graphic novels aren’t more popular. I know there’s a stigma of either childishness or geekiness (why?), but some of them tell very mature stories. It’s just that the medium is different and, in my mind at least, ought to appeal more.