Words have power, really they do!

A blog article by Bonniejean Alford (Educator, Activist, World Citizen)

When sitting down to read a book it becomes necessary for the story to come alive.  As one reads, it should be as if a reader can see the story unfold on an imaginary movie screen in their head.  As a writer, this is the goal for me.  And as a reader, these are the books I seek out.  While many books have accomplished this task for me throughout my life, only one author has consistently achieved this time and time again.

The author of which I speak is Dean Koontz.  But let us focus on two particular books, simply because to speak of the power in his writing, one must also be made aware of the only book by him that I believe loses the power that he so often wields.

But let me back up a minute.  I began reading Koontz’s work when I was 11 or 12.  The first story I read was an adult fairy tale, of all things (Oddkins).  Despite the illustrations, I was mesmerized by this author’s word style.  I sought out other books by Koontz and have over the years read at least twenty of his over a hundred stories.  I have a goal of reading each and every book he writes (which keeps getting more difficult each time he publishes another book).

Several years ago I came upon the book Odd Thomas and as usual fell in love with the magic of the story, one that possibly challenges the imagination in ways I never thought possible.  Essentially, the story is one of a man that sees dead people.  Yes, I know and recognize that this is a story done many times by many authors.  But the character of Odd, is well odd.  And Koontz, in his unique style has made him real to me.  As the journey of the book unfolds, I can see the story take place, as if I am right beside Odd, traveling the same journey with him.

As the years progressed, Koontz has written other books with Odd at its center (Forever Odd, Brother Odd, and Odd Hours).  I have yet to read them all due to time constraints, but plan to.  In addition to the novels about Odd Thomas that have been written, Koontz has also taken a great risk by creating a graphic novel with Odd at the center.  The book is titled In Odd We Trust and in many ways the story mirrors that of the original novel, but lacks any story telling.

Much like other graphic novels, the story is told through a series of pictures depicting what you are meant to see, rather than all for the imagination of the “reader” to see what it chooses to create.  With only a few words here and there, ultimately the lack of words takes away from the power of the story, a story that Koontz has worked so diligently to build over the course of several novels.

While I must acknowledge the irony in my disappointment with this work in that the first Koontz work I read was one that was illustrated, I cannot deny my disappointment, not to mention my apprehension in even reading Koontz’s graphic novel about Odd Thomas.  I did so simply because Koontz “wrote” it (with illustrator by Queenie Chan of course).

To be fair, over the years I have tried to read other graphic novels, but never could make it beyond page one, even when I was acquainted with the creator.  I have always felt that the story must come alive in the mind of the reader, not forced upon them with pictures decided by someone else.  Even books that I have read that are illustrated, such as Oddkins, have done so in a manner that enhanced the story.  That is, it wasn’t THE story, but rather pieces of the story that work to give one possible image.  A graphic novel such as the one created by Koontz and his illustrator Quennie Chan is designed to be the ONLY way to view the story.

And this is not fair to a reader.

While taking risks is a great thing for a writer, you also need to recognize your fan base.  Maybe Koontz was trying to reach out to a different group of people with his amazing story of Odd Thomas, but something is missing.  And quite frankly, those he is reaching out to in the hopes of gaining new fans may never read the word laden versions of the very same story, which is quite a shame.  After all, it is the words that are meant to spring to life the imagination of a reader; an imagination that leads to creativity within oneself; and a creativity that leads to self direction within the world as a whole.

Reading is ultimately more than just a lesson in how to put words together.  Rather, reading is meant to open the doors of the mind to all possibilities of life, no matter how far fetched and likely improbable.  It is in this recognition that the impact of television, movies, and even graphic novels can be seen.  Too often, the picture is simply given to a reader, who is told what to see by the images put forth before them, rather than have an opportunity to experience the images within themselves, as they might imagine them to unfold.

Simply put, it seems as though fewer people are reading full length novels.  Why should they when picture books are being created for them; when television and movies do all the work for them?

As an author I am saddened by this fact, even though as I write I do so with a hope that my novels will be made into movies, which I suppose is a bit hypocritical.  In that light, I have to recognize that the world I live in has changed and I as an author and a member of the society for which I belong MUST seek out the best way to market the stories that I pen, even if the end result is a picture being laid out before the reader.

In the end, my saying the above is in response to the part of me that longs for the way that once was, where words were really capable of being the most powerful weapon of all.

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9 thoughts on “Words have power, really they do!

  1. I love to read, reading is my go to get away and in particular I love reading Harry Potter. The description is so detailed yet not too detailed where nothing is left to my imagination. When I read the Harry Potter series I get lost in them, immersed in the world of magic and I don’t want to leave. I enjoy watching the films as well but they never do a novel justice, key points are left out, images that seems so much more interesting in my mind aren’t displayed on the screen and divulging in deeper thought is taken away by the added humor, etc. for cinematic effect. Reading forces a person to have deeper thoughts, to question morals, values, beliefs, actions, and so and so forth and beyond that allows one to question these things at their own pace.

  2. Words have power, really they do. Personally, I appreciate and value the process of creating a story from simple alignment of words whose type of magic is not easily replicated by illustrated images. Nevertheless, I have to say that I came across a graphic story that in my humble opinion is a very excellent representation of what graphic stories need to be like. The book is called “Persepolis – the story of a childhood “it’s about Iran before and after the revolution shown through the eyes of Satrapi’s (an Iranian high middle class child). Satrapi tells her story and paints an unforgettable picture of Iran history. Meanwhile I have to state that some motion pictures do provide another venue of this magic, without diminishing the importance of reading the books and enjoying all the details it depicts. This happened to me in Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings series, where the technologies in those films were so extraordinaire that it provided a third dimension to the stories and helped them reaches millions.

  3. I always think that good story telling is important is any work (not just in books). In novels, movies, and other mediums story should be one of the most important parts of the work.

    With that said, I have to disagree with your opinion that illustrating the story somehow takes away from it. I don’t really read graphic novels, but I don’t think that the story in them can be less imaginative than that of traditional novels. I also don’t have a problem with traditional novels being converted into a graphic format, especially if the writer is involved. Having the writer involved can help show the writer’s interpretation of the world and characters presented. That’s not to say that words can’t have power, but images can too.

    Every story, regardless of medium, is open to interpretation. I think that it is far more important that the story be interesting and immersive than be in one medium or another.

  4. In my judgment, I think that the words actually do have power. I came from a culture where reading is not strongly encouraged as in the American culture. Even though I started reading my favorites books since I was fourteen, which was a series of juvenile novels that involved the mind, written by Carlos Cuauhtémoc Sanchez. These books were non-illustrated, but the author used many powerful words to captivate the readers. I definitely like to read more without graphics. I believe that books with no graphics offer through the author’s words infinite possibilities for each individual’s imagination. While the graphics format could be powerful in the perception effect, it is limited to the graphic artist’s interpretation.

  5. As we advance further with technology people are going to get used to more and more automation. Way back when books were a big deal, for that is all anyone had. Reading was a form of entertainment that one does to just relax or wind down just before bed. Nowadays tv is just the newer form of entertainment. Maybe in the future our form of entertaiment will be a straight shot to your brain fooling it as if you are there because your brain would not know better, you would not know better. I myself do not particularly engjoy reading, unless it something i am very interested in. People most likely do not read because it requires work in a way. Anyone can flip on the tv and just vege out and it requires no braincells. It is face that reading expands your mind and your vocabulary. the more you read the better you get at it.

  6. I disagree with your assertion that images are somehow less imaginative than words alone. Books fill a different niche from graphic novels, but both are capable of great depth and profundity, like any artistic medium. I own graphic novels that are difficult to imagine without their illustrations, and books that would make poor (and immense) comics. I think it is of greater importance that a work allows its audience to stop and think about what they have read or seen, as well as come back to it later easily. You can do this easily with a book, illustrated or not; less so with a movie, especially the all-action flick that has become epidemic of our era.

  7. While I agree that for a book to be good, it is necessary for the story to “come alive” and actively engage the reader. I do love to sit down with a good story and read until my eyes hurt or I get extremely uncomfortable on the living room couch; but, based on the article above I feel the author may be missing the point of comics or, to appease the potential uptight reader, graphic novels. Like television, books, videogames, and movies; graphic novels are a medium through which the author can share his story. I have read my fair share of manga and comic books, and I do agree some of them fail to engage me completely, but the art mixed with the text is meant to help bring the reader into the setting, and allow said reader to understand and know the characters thoughts and feelings. I do agree that how the words are ordered and chosen can make a difference in how the story flows, but the true makings of a book, movie, or graphic novel is the story itself.

  8. There’s a certain magic to reading a book, imagining everything as you see fit. While it may seem rather silly, a similar concept is the idea of a video game telling you what to do versus letting you make your own story. While linear games with a defined story usually do a good job of it, sometimes you want to do something else or decide how your character interacts. Yet in “sandbox” games there can sometimes be a lack of direction and the story, if there is one, is usually pretty pathetic and worth ignoring. Both have their merit, much like comic books/graphic novels vs books and novels (unillustrated). There’s certain things that only explicitly visual storytelling can provide, mainly because explaining everything word for word can be a pain, but the free-form imagining of the details is its own experience.
    In the end, I feel as though it is all based in personal preference.

  9. I agree that words challenge the mind to create and interpret a writers work. If we are given the big picture we can’t really relate and discuss what we read in totality because, all the answers will have been given to us. Not only that but, when I read the novel the hunger games i imagined the characters differently, and the plot of the story to be more intense. When the movies came out what i had once imagined in my mind about the characters, and the plot had changed. What I interpreted the book to be and the characters to look like had been replaced by actors.Every time i hear the name katniss i see Jennifer Lawrence and not the nameless woman i had once created in my head from the authors description.

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