What is story telling? In Lynda Barry’s graphic novel What It Is, storytelling is chaos. It is imagination and creativity. It is images, and most evidently, it is memory. Barry’s book is split generally into two sections. The first contains much of her own stories and memories from childhood, interspersed with hundreds of images; the pages purposefully chaotic and all over the place with images both drawn and seemingly cut from magazines and newspapers. The second section of Barry’s book is filled with activities for the reader to do while they work on their own art and writing goals. Barry focuses on writing with imagery, and in fact many of the activities she presents asks the reader to come up with a memory and then put themselves in that moment, visualizing what was behind them and before them; to their left and right.
Descriptions and images of a moment and a story are Barry’s priority, while sometimes interspersed with words and narrative, for with every picture comes a thousand words, and with every memory comes an image. Barry’s narrative itself was intriguing, though the way it was surrounded by sometimes seemingly random images came across as confusing to the non visually-minded person. For the realist, too, the visuals are confusing and distracting, though the creativity is clear, and to those minds that rest in a world of visuals, the story and the offered activities are a paradise, providing ample opportunity to let the images surround the story and fill in the pages and narrative.
Certainly the activities offer great opportunity to exercise the visual centers of a person’s creativity, and to practice the art of writing in the form of stream of consciousness. The exercises are then excellent within the goals of putting all aspects into a narrative, and really exploring the moment in question. The activities, however, often rely on memory, and the importance of memory and of picturing yourself in a specific moment with a specific person or object. As such, it creates difficulties for those who do not enjoy nonfiction writing, or those with poor memories. However, the ideas Barry is getting across are a great basis. Even in fiction writing, descriptors and details are vital, and being able to get enough across that the reader is able to picture themselves in the given setting is extremely important, and as such, the activities offered can be beneficial even if merely used to describe a fictional setting to yourself and in a narrative.