Visual writing

/ AUGUST 2015

format 125 × 210 mm | 194 pages | Perfect bound

Visuaalinen kirjoittaminen – visuaalisen kirjoittamisen keinojen typologia kaunokirjallisuudessa
Visual writing – Typology of visual writing devices in fiction

Master thesis (MA) for Aalto University School of Art, Design and Architecture.

Read here (in Finnish)


The visual writing phenomenom exists in the crossroads of prose, poetry and graphic design. Authors working in the commercial field, and especially poets are interested in exploring visual methods and their meaning potential. However, contemporary authors are not aware of, or using, visual writing extensively. The phenomenon is still marginal. This thesis examined what kind of visual devices are found in prose and poetry and what common nominators they had. Based on the findings informed by book examples and previous research a typology of visual writing devices in fiction was created.

Visual writing utilises devices such as experimental typography and composition, graphic elements, photographs, illustrative elements, diagrams, and found materials. It also uses ambiguous devices such as rhythm and spatiality. Visuality functions as an integral part of the story, not as supplementary material. Therefore a book utilising these methods, a hybrid book, can’t be read aloud the traditional way. It lives between the classic work of fiction and the artists’ book.

The methodology for creating the typology used concept analysis and dialogue. By means of dialogue, the research question was investigated focusing on contemporary fiction and book design through two open discussion sessions held in 2015. The thesis also examines the theoretical relationship between text and image and introduces the historical context of hybrid books. The typology loosely adapts Zöe Sadokierski’s (2010) typology of graphic devices in hybrid novels with Alan Prohm’s (2005) categories of visual poetry. Developed, but not exclusively based on previous research a new typology consisting of seven categories is proposed, which fuses together devices found in both, prose and poetry. The typology is presented through book examples of contemporary fiction published in Finnish and English.

It is usually thought that prose does not contain the kind of visuality often found in poetry. This thesis shows that prose can utilise visual devices just a much. Visual writing devices can be detected and applied with the help of this typology. It is worthwhile to note that the devices are not unambiguous, but depend on the context and the reader. The typology can serve as a reference tool for authors, the visual writers. It also deepens the understanding of composition and typography for the authors looking to design their own books.

The typology of visual writing devices in fiction will face a critical period in the history of the book. The borders between prose and poetry are also blurring. The typology must endure time or adapt in the changing scene such as e-books and digital publishing. To anticipate the future challenges the typology could be extended to include more textual and poetic devices as well as animation and movement.