Things Are Going Great, and They’re Only Getting Better*

Multimedia and Other DevelopmentsWhen most of us think of reading a story or novel, we think about opening a book or clicking on an ebook link and reading, turning or swiping pages as we go. Lots of people also experience stories by listening to them, too, either through podcasts or as audio books. Those traditions (reading in the ‘regular’ way and listening to stories) have been with us for a very long time.

But times change. So does technology. So does our knowledge of how people learn from what they read, and how young people read. And this means that the options for experiencing stories are changing, too. This is a broad topic, so I won’t be able to do justice to it in one post. Hopefully these few examples will suffice to show you what I mean.

One of the many changes we’ve seen in the last years is the availability of crime fiction classics in graphic novel form. Several of Agatha Christie’s novels, for instance, have been re-published as graphic novels. For instance, Ordeal by Innocence is, as Christie fans will know, the story of the murder of Rachel Argyle. Her adopted son Jacko was arrested, tried and convicted in connection with the killing, and died in prison. Two years later, Dr. Arthur Calgary visits the Argyle home, Sunnyside, with news he thinks will please the family. He can conclusively prove that Jacko Argyle was not a murderer. He wasn’t able to give evidence at the trial, because he had amnesia. But he wants to put things right now. Far from being grateful to Calgary, the family members don’t want this case brought up again. They know that if Jacko was innocent, then one of them is a murderer. This novel, and others by Christie, have been recast as graphic novels by Chandre, and many people find them enjoyable. What’s more, research suggests that, for struggling and reluctant young readers, graphic novels can provide an important way to experience a story and build reading skills.

Several of Arthur Conan Doyle’s works have also been adapted as graphic novels. One of those is The Hound of the Baskervilles, adapted by J.R. Parks and Vinod Kumar. That classic story of a supposed family curse, and mysterious deaths associated with it, has been one of Conan Doyle’s more popular Sherlock Holmes stories. And it was one of only four full-length Holmes novels. Many people argue that making this and the other Holmes stories available in graphic form helps interest new generations in the Holmes canon. And, as I say, there is research that supports such formats, especially for struggling and reluctant readers, as well as those who are language learners.

It’s not just a matter of graphic novels, either. The ‘photo you see is of a video game version of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None. In that game, players take on the role of a character who ends up on Indian Island with the ten people Christie depicts in the novel. As the story goes on, the player’s task is to find the clues and discover who’s responsible for the killings that take place. The game permits the user to ‘travel’ from room to room, ‘talk’ with the various characters and so on. And this isn’t even the most updated of video games. Christie’s The ABC Murders, for instance, is available for both Playstation and X-Box users.  The modern gaming industry has made possible a whole new way of experiencing a classic story.

Stories can also be published, co-written, shared and so on – on telephones. Apps such as Wattpad allow readers to experience a story on any device that can host the app.  Such apps are flexible, too, allowing authors to make changes or add to a story instantly. They can write a story a little at a time, much like stories told in serial form in newspapers and magazines. My Wattpad account is right here, so you can see what Wattpad is like.

And it doesn’t stop there. Twitter users will know that there are stories written in the 140-character-at-a-time-format, and then sent out to Twitter followers. This allows for a lot of flexibility, too, since Twitter allows one to include a ‘photo or video as part of a tweet.

In fact, so does Wattpad (and it’s not the only app with this capability). Certain apps allow the author to integrate ‘photos, videos and audios, so as to make stories multimedia experiences. And there is logic to it. Research has shown for years (to my satisfaction, anyway) that we don’t just think and know in one way. We all have different intelligences, as Howard Gardner puts it. Those intelligences include visual and musical as well as linguistic. If that’s true, so the logic would dictate, why not provide a story that allows the reader to follow the plot on more than one cognitive level?

Not everyone is happy with these new developments, though. There are questions, for instance, about how such new formats help young people build actual reading fluency. And for many people, there is nothing like the feeling of opening a paper book and reading the words, letting their imaginations fill in the gaps. Others have concerns about ‘watering down’ books by adding multimedia elements. Still others wonder about things like focus and attention spans if young people don’t experience books as they were originally written.

What do you think of all of this possibility? Is a story still a story if it’s told in a multimedia format? In the form of a video game? If you’re a writer, what do you think the implications are for your work? It may not just be a matter of deciding whom you’d like to play the role of your main character in a TV or film adaptation. For the author, this could mean working with game developers, graphic artists and others in the visual arts field to add different components to your stories. On the one hand, wouldn’t it be wonderful to be able to add a video of, say, a rainstorm or ocean if that’s the context for your story? Or a street map? On the other, is that necessary? Or even desirable? It’s certainly not a settled matter, but, technology being what it is, I doubt it will go away soon.



*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Timbuk-3’s The Future’s So Bright (I Gotta Wear Shades).


Filed under Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle

36 responses to “Things Are Going Great, and They’re Only Getting Better*

  1. Margot, I’m very much in favor of people reading anything rather than reading nothing. Graphics novels, condensations, comic books, popular best-sellers, bodice-rippers, and anything else you can cook up seem worthwhile if they result in more readers in the world. I am reminded of my youth when Classic Illustrated comic books were my introduction to “literature.” I’m glad they were there, and I might revisit them now, especially as I am in the doldrums about books right now (which I’ve discussed at my latest blog posting). Well, the bottom line is simple: people should read more, and what they read is not really important (unless it represents something too subversive and toxic such as some pornography). Even as I write that last parenthetical, I’m not sure even about that limitation.

    • I agree with you, Tim, that the point really is to read, regardless of the form it takes. That’s possibly especially true of young people as they develop their interests. But even for adults, reading is better than not reading. And thanks for mentioning the reading blues, too. That happens to a lot of people, in my opinion. And sometimes, switching to another kind of reading is just what’s needed to start to shake them off.

  2. To me all these different formats are not interchangeable, but just one in addition to another. I don’t perhaps make much use of the other available formats as the simple printed word, but it’s nice to have the option. Of course, the danger with younger readers is that they do substitute one for the other. For instance, my older son read the Harry Potter books and then watched the films, while the younger one is perfectly content to just watch the films and thinks he doesn’t need to read the books anymore.
    I personally love graphic novels and have quite a few on my bookshelf that are both the original version and the graphic adaptation – simply because of the artwork.

    • Oh, the art in graphic novels can be fantastic, Marina Sofia! As you say, they can be worth reading just on that score. You make a well-taken point, too, that these different ways of experiencing a story are options, rather than, if you will, replacements. There are people who just like the printed word. Others prefer audio books, and so on. Being able to choose one or another really is liberating. That said though, your comment about your sons is something a lot of parents (and teachers) think about: how to ensure that children do learn reading fluency. How can we encourage children to try different books and get the meaning from the author’s point if they just see films? It’s not an easy task.

  3. Interesting debate Margot. I would argue they are not new concepts though. The Victorians has Penny Dreadfuls and serialised stories (Dickens) in broad sheets. I have an example of a modern day Sherlock Holmes comic that I use in my talks which also harks back to Spring Heeled Jack of the penny dreadfuls. Perhaps it’s more of a retrograde step? Certainly and interesting topic. Thanks Margot.

    • Thanks for the kind words, D.S.. And thanks for the reminder that this debate has been going on for a very long time. To some Victorian readers, Penny Dreadfuls must have seemed sacrilegious. Certainly they didn’t ‘count’ as reading. Same with the broadsheets of the day. And there’s the debate in some of Agatha Christie’s work as to whether tabloids such as News of the World count as good reading. I’ll bet your talks are fascinating!

  4. Col

    I’ve not tried too many graphic novels, but have a couple to try – one from Ian Rankin, I think. I might dip in and dip out from time to time, but no more than that.

    • Graphic novels aren’t for everyone, Col. And there are plenty of people who think they don’t really hold the reader’s attention. It’s one of the things I like about the options, though. Practically everyone can find a way of reading that feels right.

  5. I saw the book of Acts from the Bible repurposed into a graphic novel. Fascinating! Very visually appealing. Can’t find it on Amazon now but perhaps it was the Manga version? (That, in itself, is sort of funny. Bible Manga. Two words that should never go together.)

    • Oh, that is funny, Matt! Bible and Manga….hmm….. And it is interesting that so many books besides crime fiction have been adapted as graphic novels. I’m sure it was fascinating to see how the Bible adaptation looked.

  6. Like MarinaSofia, I tend to think of different formats as additions rather than replacements. For example, with audiobooks, I prefer to listen to books I already know, and listen really for the performance of the narrator as much as the story. The same applies to graphic adaptations, where I might read them for the artwork, but they’d never be a replacement for the book. But in terms of words, I don’t much mind whether I read them on paper or electronically, though I do find reading on the laptop too tiring to do it for long. But anything that can be formatted for Kindle – great! Films, too, are a great addition, but never a replacement. I guess I like all these things because I enjoy seeing how other people interpret the stories I love…

    • I like the way you put that, FictionFan. Each format (audio, graphic, film, etc..) is a different interpretation of a story. They can’t replace one another, but are alternative ways of telling a story. It’s interesting, too, that you mention reading with a laptop. I find it tiring, too, for any length of time, ‘though I will if that’s the only way to access a book I want to read. I do love my Kindle, though. And I do like it that there are a number of options for experiencing stories.

  7. A while back I heard of this company called Below the Ink, where they place story elements underneath words and phrases in ebooks. For instance, if there’s a location in the book, they’ll have the location clickable and Google Earth will open to that location without ever leaving the ebook. Unfortunately, because their technology was so time-intensive, they demand something like a 80/20 royalty split. Plus a set up fee, paid by the author. They must target self-published authors. Otherwise it would be like getting 5c a book. And that’s what I worry about with other tech. companies as well, that the reader will have everything to gain and the author will be left with nothing for all their hard work.

    • That is definitely one of the drawbacks of having a lot of multimedia elements in a story, Sue. Unless the publisher has an in-house team to do those things, or author has the skills to do them, then other companies add those features. And that means the publisher (or author) gets less money. It’s certainly something to keep in mind when deciding what’s going to be in a story. Still, it’s a fascinating idea.

  8. I know so little about this side of things so really enjoyed the post – IO read a lot of comic books as a kid but never really got into graphic novels. A proper eye opener! Thanks Margot 🙂

  9. Excellent post, Margot. My earliest tryst with reading literature in another format was Classics Illustrated, now literally priceless. I have read Christie and Holmes in graphic format but I didn’t like them very much. I have no idea why. Maybe because I like them in book form and also because I associate graphic novels with the comics I read in childhood. For now I will stick to paper and ebooks and eventually graduate to audio books by retirement.

    • I am no expert on illustrated classics, Prashant, but I have heard that you are correct that they’re extremely valuable now. Lucky you to have read them! It’s interesting, too, how your experience with one format has impacted your opinion of other formats. I think that’s probably true of a lot of us. And thank you for the kind words 🙂

  10. I love graphic novels, they’re really interesting and I often find them beautiful. Great post, such an interesting topic.

    • Thank you, Suze 🙂 – And you’re not alone in your opinion of graphic novels. They really can be visually stunning, and that aspect often draws people into the stories.

  11. I’m happy to let others enjoy the written word in their own way, but I still prefer a book I can hold in my hand, preferably a hardcover. I do also read on my tablet or Kindle, but tend to save that for travel or for books not available in print. Audiobooks put me to sleep….and if I want graphics, I’ll take an old-fashioned comic book any day. 😀

    • There are definitely some great classic comics, aren’t there, Pat? I tend to use my Kindle a lot when I travel, too; it’s so much more convenient and lightweight than paper books are. The trouble with Kindles, though, is that they make it too easy to ‘hide’ books one’s added to the TBR…..

  12. What an interesting topic and I think that all the options are great and I think the ability to follow a story in any format is a valuable skill – my preference will always be for the written word but that isn’t because I think it is superior it’s because perhaps that’s how my brain works – I’m not a visual learner and so I guess it follows that I’m not that keen on films or graphic novels, it simply doesn’t ‘work’ for me. I am getting more to grips with audio books, like any other skill it gets better with practice!

    • I think so, too, Cleo. And it’s interesting that you would mention the kind of learner you are. If researchers such as Howard Gardner are correct, we all learn and know in different ways. Some people remember best visually, some linguistically, and so on. So it makes sense you’d have a preference. But at the same time, it’s good that there are options; it means more readers can be drawn in.

  13. What an interesting post. It never even occurred to me that Agatha Christie’s novels were in graphic form or video game. Actually, it might not be such a bad idea because a (likely) younger person playing a video game might lead him/her to read the original. It opens up a whole lot of doors for writers, but oh, my, what a learning curve that is!

    • Oh, it really is, Carol! I think I’d have to work really hard to understand how the things I wrote might be adapted for games or graphic form. And yet, as you say, if that approach draws people in and encourages them to read, so much the better.

  14. I recently read Watchmen and enjoyed it immensely, although it was a little overwhelming. I agree that any kind of reading is fine. I learned a lot from this post, Margot.

  15. Kathy D.

    I’ve never read any novel in any format other than a paper book, although, of course, I read news and blogs online.
    So, I have no other experience to compare with books, but that’s fine with me. I love books and have no reason to try another format — except to try to read some of the wonderful women authors in Australia whose books are impossible to get in the States for less than a ransom.
    I would say I’m a Luddite.

    • And you’re not alone, Kathy. A lot of people read only paper books. They prefer their reading that way and it works for them. In some ways, that makes things easier. But of course, it also manes not having access to some books. I think there are consequences no matter which reading format one chooses.

  16. I am all in favour of different formats, and of anything that encourages reading, and introduces young people to authors or genres they might not have considered.
    That said, a kind person – knowing my love for Agatha Christie – gave me a graphic novel of one of her novels for Xmas. I won’t say which one. I thought it was dreadful – ugly, not true to the book, and with what seemed to be mistakes in it. But I was grateful for the gift, which was thoughtful and priginal, and am glad to have at least had the experience…

    • I’m sorry to hear that your graphic novel experience wasn’t a good one, Moira. I agree with you, though, that if a different format doesn’t stay true to the story, and (in the case of graphic novels) isn’t visually appealing, then it’s not a surprise that you didn’t like it. I’m glad you had the experience, though, and, like you, I think that anything that gets people reading is a good thing.

  17. Kathy D.

    I don’t think I’ve seen a graphic novel.
    I am tempted to get a type of e-reader so I can access some books by women in Oz.

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