Storycards and visual grammar

My friend Alex sends along this link to a gift pack of “storycards”. Basically, you can use these cards in sequences to create lots of different novel stories. The idea is similar to McCloud’s Five Card Nancy game.

I’m interested in it for a few theoretical reasons. For example, having a stock set of units that can be combined in different ways is similar to language, where you have a set of words (vocabulary) that are combined in various ways (grammar). As the main thrust of linguistics in the last 50 years has told us, infinite possible sentences can be made with just a small set of vocabulary items, and that’s basically the fun of such a card set!

However, even more interesting, its very similar to a study I finished running a few years ago and am still working on getting written up. In it, my participants were given four panels from a Peanuts strip and asked to arrange them in an order that makes sense.

People were very good at getting the original order of the strip (around 90% if I remember correctly), though that’s not what I was interested in. I was more interested in the errors that people made, and whether there were patterns to them. And, indeed, there were. Prior to testing, we had coded the panels for numerous narrative properties, and found that certain narrative categories got moved around in particular patterned ways.

What this showed was that people don’t just make up sequences one panel at a time as this game suggests, but that elements of that order are conditioned by roles of panels. These roles are determined both by properties of individual panels, and the relations between images.

So, one-by-one reading/drawing, but guided by underlying complexity (grammar) beyond just linear relationships.


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