Showing and telling

‘Show rather than tell’ is useful advice for all fiction writers.  It is better to try to show through what the protagonists do and how they behave rather than tell (show how A is jealous of B rather than simply tell your audience that A is jealous of B).  With a graphic novel, there are additional opportunities to put this into practice beyond the obvious fact that it is composed largely of images.  One element of this is the exploitation of silence which we have covered in a previous blog (here).  Another, which overlaps with the idea of generating meaning through silence, is the space between panels and the juxtaposition of images within a sequence.  Movement from one panel to the next requires the viewer to construct a reading and make deductions.  In chapter 1, ‘The Southerner’, for example, the first kidnapping sequence of monsieur Comtois ends in a panel that shows his pet dog ‘Louis’ lying dead in a pool of blood.  The dog’s killing isn’t shown.  The viewer has to deduce what has happened for themselves.

Showing and telling within a graphic novel is often interdependent in order to fully transmit a coherent meaning.  There will be many instances when simply words or images on their own are insufficient.  In the Comtois kidnapping sequence referred to above, for example, there is a shift of location from the Comtois household on one page to the kidnappers’ lair on the next.  To indicate the proximity of locations between the two and the fact that the two moments are occurring simultaneously, the final panel of the household sequence shows a close-up of the peeling of a clock tower’s bells illustrated with onomatopoeic sound-words and those same sound-words are then present in the distance above the city skyline from the perspective of the kidnappers’ lair in the first panel of the following page.

The dividing of labour in the conveying of meaning between images and words also allows the possibility of playing them off against each other, not simply to emphasise or solidify a meaning but to create irony, nuances and apparent contradictions that the audience has to decipher.  For example, in chapter 7, ‘Spies’, the final panel of the sequence which involves the Southerner visiting Paul’s family embeds an ominous image of Pierre’s empty wheelchair beneath the Southerner’s utterance to Paul’s wife (see panel above).  In chapter 11, ‘End Games’, an apparently innocuous comment by de Bernis is given more sinister connotations by being placed below a close-up of a pair of cat’s eyes and so drawing on the association of cats as natural predators.

‘The Prologue’, and chapters 1 to 3 of ‘Casanova in Paris: The Shadows of the King’ are now freely available here.

6 long form articles on Casanova’s life and times are freely available here.

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