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Graphic Novels: Reading and Writing in Pictures: ELEMENTS

The layout of a graphic novel takes into consideration the size of panels and the and how other elements can emphasize important details and help the story flow. Look for these elements:

 PANEL (a combination of image and text in a single instance, a snapshot)

FRAME (lines and bordersthat contain a panel)

GUTTER (space between framed panels)

BLEED (images that extend out of their frame or onto another page)


Figures, including characters and symbolic objects, are used to portray both emotion and action.  Consider these elements:

EXPRESSION can be portrayed on the  whole or part of (extreme close-up) of the face.  When a character's face does not  show emotion, it is referred to as an "open-blank," inviting the reader to rely on text to imagine the appropriate emotions. 

ACTION demonstrates the behavior of the character, as well as movement of the plot.  Action can be an indicator emotion. For example, 

hands shown palms out = fear
hands over the mouth = fear, shame
hands over the eyes = discomfort or grief
feet turned in feet = embarrassment
feet accompanied by motion strokes = panic, urgency, speed 

The "weight"  of a visual element focuses the eye and helps readers to determine the important information. 

 CONTRAST and PATTERNS draw the eye to key elements.
 SHADING evokes mood and invites readers to "look" beyond what is evident in the artwork.
 COLOR choices can evoke mood and color pops can draw the reader's attention. 
 PERSPECTIVE invites the reader to view a scene from a particular point of view. The placement of figures guides readers to consider details.

 The EXTREME CLOSE-UP demands a reader's attention.

 Figures in the FOREGROUND of a panel are closest to the viewer and invite the reader to focus.  They are most often the subject of any action or text displayed.  
 Figures in the MIDDLE GROUND offer a natural resting place for the eye and provide context for the subject's actions or words.
 Figures in the BACKGROUND offer the reader additional information and are generally skimmed over in the reading of the novel.  Some artists use this location to provide important clues or foreshadowing.   


Text is used to provide information that cannot be easily provided through illustration.

 CAPTIONS accompany panels and are used in setting the scene or explaining ideas or emotions that are not evident in the graphics. 

 SPEECH BALLOONS provide space for both external and internal dialogue.

 SOUND EFFECTS are provided through special effect lettering and fonts that mimic the sound being made.


Learn more about the interesting art of graphic sound effects!

Learn More

Abel, Jessica and Matt Madden, Drawing Words Writing Pictures. 2011.  

Dallacqua, Ashley K.,Exploring Literary Devices in Graphic NovelsLanguage Arts, 89:6. July 2012

Examples on Pinterest

TED Talk

Library Information and Media Center - Monona Grove High School - Monona, Wisconsin

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