Monday, August 12, 2013

Scrapbook Novels

This adventure into not-quite-graphic-novels-but-not-novel-novels all started when I read Chopsticks by Jessica Anthony and Rodrigo Corral a few weeks back. Intrigued by the style of Chopsticks, I went on the hunt for similar titles and came up with The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt: a novel in pictures. I've since sorted out my thoughts about this new -at least for me- genre and decided to write this blog post to take a closer look at what these alternative, "scrapbook" novels have to offer. 

Let me start by filling you in on the two books I looked at. 

My lovely sister holding up the book
Chopsticks: It's a story about Glory, a young pianist, who has spent her life traveling around with her widowed father for piano recitals. Enter love interest, Frank, the artistic bad-boy, who rescues Glory from her father, her grief and demanding lifestyle. At least that's what I think happened in the book. Since the story is told through magazine clippings, photos, T.V. Screens, text messages and other bits, it's a bit difficult to know if I really picked up on all the plot points.
Cataloged in the Teen Fiction section at the public library.

Here are some pictures of the different pages in the book. Click to enlarge to photos and flip through them, if you'd like.

The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt: This is the some-what cliched story of France Pratt's journey into adulthood during the 1920s. This story follows Frankie (she hates Frances, she informs us within the first few pages) as she goes to university then travels to NYC and Paris searching for a better life and writing career (and not to mention romance). This story is told a little bit more clear than Chopsticks, because Frankie fills in the gaps with dialogue and short clues about what's going on that she types on her typewriter than clips to put in her "scrapbook". The clippings mostly include photos, lots of advertisements, some school papers, ticket stubs and period illustrations. Found in the Adult Fiction section at the public library.

Some photos of the inside of the book. 

The difference between these two books is that Chopsticks leaves much of the story interpretation up to the visuals, whereas Frankie Pratt depends on the text to tell the story with the other bits simply for visual interest. Although I'm wildly unlearned on writing these scrapbook novels, it seems to me that Chopsticks was more creatively driven and Frankie Pratt was driven by the nostalgic, romantic, Fitzgerald-esque interest in the 1920s. However, that being said, Frankie Pratt, was equally (if not more) enjoyable than Chopsticks, because I actually had a really good understanding of what was going on. I know, I know, I'm not quite there with appreciating the philosophical  interpretation...but hey I'm working on it, besides balancing the creativeness and actual plot is key to this genre. 

Reading these scrapbook novels, did remind me of two important elements of story telling:

1. Dialogue is important to create the characters of the story
Both of these books had written dialogue and relied on actual words at some point. In Chopsticks it was the text messages and in Frankie Pratt it was the typed text. For me, both of these stories came to life when I heard (or rather saw) the characters talking. Dialogue must be strong and unique to each of the characters to create memorable, plot-moving stories. 

2. Symbolism adds depth to the story
Chopsticks in particular, relies heavily on what the objects symbolize and what the objects mean to the story. For example, this book shows a picture of Glory playing solitaire in a room by herself on one page and the next page showed Frank doing the same in a different place. Although that is a fairly simple symbol, it's effective; they're lonely. The symbols get more complex (think back to English class when you rip books to shreds looking meaning in these symbols) and show more of the characters true feelings. Whether or not the reader picks up on all the symbols in your story, they're an effective way of foreshadowing and communicating a higher theme, thus creating a layered story. 

Scrapbook novels are a unique type of story telling. Since they strip down the elements of fiction, they force you to look at what's really essential to a narrative. I'm constantly learning as I read these types of books and encourage you to pick up one similar and maybe even try your hand at writing one. 

Has anyone read any other scrapbook-esque novels and has a recommendation? Want to talk about your feelings towards this genre? Are you interested in writing these types of books? Other thoughts? Comment below.

Reading: Casual Vacancy by JK Rowling 
Watching: Wives and Daughters


  1. Have you heard of the Invention of Hugo Cabret? It's not exactly a scapbook novel but it's pretty similar. Half of the story is in hand-drawn pictures by the author and the rest is in normal writing. Wonderstruck is a little more similar because it tells two stories: one with only words, and the other one with only pictures. They're both pretty good and there's a movie based off of one of them called Hugo. (:

    1. I've read Invention of Hugo Cabret and seen the movie. I really enjoyed both of them. I totally forgot about them, but both of those books are great examples of alternative/different/unique novels. Thanks for reminding me:D


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