Pictures in Novels

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Paul Whybrow

Full Member
Jun 20, 2015
Cornwall, UK
Recently, I've read several adult novels that had illustrations set into the text. I wonder if this is indicative of publishers pandering to the limited attention spans of modern readers, who need visual stimuli to maintain an interest.

Stef Penney's third novel, Under A Pole Star, featured drawings at the beginning of each part. It's a tremendous read, by the way, unexpectedly erotic.

S.K. Tremayne's The Fire Child is a psychological thriller set in Cornwall. I've been reading local crime stories to check out the opposition. As I ploughed through this turgid novel, I kept thinking that it felt like a marketing exercise. Normally, I become irate with stories that are nominally located in the county, as they lack authenticity. The Fire Child takes the opposite tack, by placing too much emphasis on Cornish locations and history. If the author mentioned one tin mine, he always went on to list another nine of them, which is OK in a guide book but not so in a novel.

He overegged the cake, possibly at his publisher's suggestion, and this included having lots of moody black and white photographs, some of which were irrelevant to the plot. These were taken by 19th-century lensman John Charles Burrow.


Alasdair Grey is perhaps the best-known modern author and artist, whose drawings feature in his novels.

Illustrations are common in children's stories, of course, but I'm surprised that they're starting to appear in novels for grown-ups!

Have any of you come across examples? Would you like to use pictures in your stories?
Actually I have, though very sparingly, and they were directly relevant to the story. Haven't done it for every novel, and won't be doing so for the murder mystery ones, only the fantasy ones. With the upcoming (maybe next year?) sci-fi, I might put a couple in, but that would be about all.
As part of a local writers group I am helping to put together a Zine. Interestingly, a number of writers contributing want to include pictures as part of their prose or poetry.

I haven't included a picture for my contribution of prose. However, I can see the point that visualisation adds an extra element and in many ways makes the Zine 'different' to mainstream or traditional publications. There was even talk of sticking Post-It notes or paper clips or tiny object as well to increase its bespoke/alternative feel. The Zine will then be distributed to a number of locations, such as coffee shops, libraries etc.

It should be produced sometime next month (a group of us will be doing it all by hand one Sunday) and is proving to be a very interesting exercise to be involved in.
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