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Monstress: Unique Fantasy Done Right

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Amazon.com: Monstress Volume 1: Awakening: 9781632157096: Liu, Marjorie,  Takeda, Sana: BooksLearn visuals from the masters!

As you might have noticed, I've been on a graphic novel kick lately. It started with On a Sunbeam, but has since expanded to several series, some of which I might discuss here later on.

But one that deserves to be brought to your attention is the creative, beautiful, and eerie masterwork, Monstress.

Monstress takes place in a world where there are magical subspecies of half-human creatures whose bodies can be harvested for Illium, which is used by the human world for power and weaponry. In this beautifully-illustrated, violent setting a young woman named Maika Halfwolf is infected with a dangerous demon who both keeps her safe and makes her into a villain.

A monstress, if you will.

The story is steampunk and weird and sprawling. But the thing I think writers can learn from this and other graphic novels is the value of imagery. Reading these is, in some ways, more like watching a movie than reading a book. You can see exactly the image the artist/author are trying to convey, and there's very little lost in the translation of telling the story. Their fantasy world is immersive and real, the characters vivid, and the experience all-consuming.

Because of this, the plot is able to get away with certain... softness. There's a lot of rambling, many parts of the story that feel like filler, and often a feeling of aimlessness in the character's progression toward her (ever-shifting) goal. This isn't necessarily the comic's fault; most long-running series suffer from similar problems. But because of the gorgeous art and imagery, I (a picky reader, as I'm sure you've noticed by now) don't mind those foibles. I'm so happy just being submerged in this world that I don't care if the story takes more time than it needs to reach where it's going.

The lesson, then, is the value of well-executed description. As authors, it can be easy to get lost in the drama, the characters, or the plot and forget to build the world around them. What do things look like, smell like, feel like, taste like? While graphic novels have a clear advantage in the visual department, novels can go even deeper, tapping into all five senses. Don't info-dump, of course, but there's a real art to leading your reader into a world of your making and letting them breathe it in.

This is not to say to suddenly inject your narrative with only visuals and abandon the idea of plot or story. It's still critically important to value concept, arc, character growth, and plot points. But even a mediocre or slow-moving story can be elevated by the subtle use of human senses.

Build excellent visuals and readers will stay for them.

Are you creating a world? How are you creating an immersive experience for your reader? Tell us in the comments!

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