What Is a Visual Narrative?

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  • Written By: Daniel Liden
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Images By: Alphaspirit, Peter Taylor, Kristian Bjornard, Hemeroskopion, Rafael Ben-Ari
  • Last Modified Date: 30 April 2020
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A visual narrative is a type of story that is told primarily or entirely through visual media, such as photographs, illustrations, or video. There are no restrictions on the types of narratives that can be made in a visual manner — a visual narrative can be fiction or nonfiction of any genre. Some such narratives are even used primarily for practical purposes in order to communicate the same ideas to speakers of different languages. In general, a great deal of emphasis is placed on the quality and organization of the visual elements in visual narratives, as those elements are responsible for communicating the story to "readers." The visual aspects may, in some cases, be supplemented by text or audio, but the emphasis must remain firmly on the visual elements for the narrative to be considered primarily visual in nature.

Visual narrative as a storytelling style allows for a great deal of variety in methodology and presentation. Such a narrative could take the form of a film, a graphic novel or comic book, or simply a series of images. Even within these categories, artists and storytellers have a great deal of space for experimentation. The broad category of "visual narrative" allows storytellers to try to tell stories from many different angles and to use a wide range of methods to communicate various aspects of the narrative.

Written narratives and visual narratives have a great deal in common in that they usually have similar goals. A visual narrative is always intended to communicate a story of some form, just as a written story is. In many cases, a visual narrative, like its written counterpart, is used to communicate the values and ideals of the artist or storyteller as well. They also tend to use similar plot elements, such as complex characters, conflicts, and transformative events leading to the further development of the characters.

Though the visual narrative does primarily rely on images to communicate ideas, many such narratives incorporate other media in order to enrich the story. Films, for instance, often rely heavily on speech and other audio components, even though most of the action is visual in nature. Similarly, though a graphic novel is a form of visual narrative and relies primarily on images, important elements such as dialogue are presented in the form of text. Though many visual narratives do incorporate or rely on other media, some storytellers and artists prefer to communicate their narratives entirely through the use of images. Such a narrative, well prepared and presented, can be as complex and information rich as any film or written story.

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