Even though I’ve talked about re-readability at least a couple of times before, I thought that I’d take a look at this subject from a slightly different angle today. Namely, what the major emotional differences are between reading a book or a comic (or even watching a TV show) for the first time and looking at it again later. I’ll also be looking at how the difference between these two things can be used to add re-readability to anything that you make.
The very first time you read or watch something, it is new and mysterious. The main feeling behind opening a new book, looking at a new comic or watching a new DVD is one of discovery. You are exploring the unknown and discovering everything within. You are learning about the characters, the setting and the story. You are working out whether you want to continue or move on to something else.
This is, I think, one reason why the very first time that you read or watch something great is often the most memorable. It’s because it is a learning experience, an experience of exciting exploration and discovery. It’s also why many stories, comics, TV shows etc… don’t really seem quite as interesting the second time that you look at them. Since you already know what has happened, there isn’t really much exploration, discovery or learning involved.
Of course, one way to use this fact to add some re-readability to your story or comic is simply to include a lot of background information that isn’t essential to the main story, but which can’t be absorbed in a single reading. However, you have to be careful about how you do this, since too much non-essential information can distract the reader from the main story.
Ironically, the very best example of this technique can be found in a film (which happens to be my favourite film) called “Blade Runner“. Not only is the set design in this film so complex and detailed that you’ll notice something new every time you watch it, but the story itself contains so much philosophical depth that you’ll probably notice a new theme, theory or idea every time that you look at the film.
This brings me on to the subject of what sets re-readable books and comics apart from their “one time only” counterparts. The main feeling behind re-reading something that is worth re-reading is one of comfortable familiarity and/or emotional relevance.
I’ll start by talking about familiarity. This is when a book or comic has such an interesting setting and/or group of characters that you just want to spend more time there. You want to hang out with the characters again, or take a comforting holiday in the imaginative “world” of the story. This usually happens when a setting or group of characters is particularly interesting, well-developed and/or distinctive. If the setting is generic or the characters aren’t that interesting, then a story or comic is unlikely to evoke this feeling.
The best stories also include re-readability by making their settings intriguingly mysterious. After all, if the reader only gets to see a few parts of an absolutely fascinating “world”, then they’re going to wonder what the rest of it looks like. They might re-read the story to see if there are any tantalising hints about the parts of the setting that don’t actually turn up in the story. In other words, a well-written setting can also evoke curiosity (and feelings of discovery) too.
A great example of this technique in action can probably be found in Clive Barker’s “Abarat” books. This story mostly takes place in a world that consists of 25 islands and, although the books contain a lavishly-illustrated map of all of the islands, we only get to read detailed descriptions of several of the islands. So, the rest of the story’s setting is left fairly mysterious – with only a few hints to guide the readers’ imaginations.
As I mentioned earlier, emotional resonance is also another reason why a story or comic can be re-readable. Although this will obviously vary from reader to reader, when we find something that has an emotional parallel with our own lives, or contains something that seems like it was written just for us, then that story or comic becomes more than just a story or a comic. In a way, it can almost become a secular version of a sacred text.
Whilst this will obviously change over time (eg: if I’d first read Neil Gaiman’s “Sandman” comics a year or two earlier or later than I did, then they probably wouldn’t have had the emotional resonance that they did), if a story or comic provides emotional support to a reader during troubling times, or if reading it feels like some kind of emotional epiphany, then it’s going to be something that will be re-read.
Of course, it’s difficult to say how to include this quality in the things that you make. After all, different things resonate with different people at different times in their life. Still, if your story or comic contains a powerful emotional message and/or lots of fearless philosophical depth, then it’s probably more likely to help your audience emotionally or resonate with your audience.
So, yes, these are a few of the ways that emotions and re-readability can go together.
Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂