Filling in the Gaps: Reader’s co-authorship in the creation of writerly texts in picture books and immersive theatre.

Before joining the Children’s Book Illustration MA, I worked as a designer for an immersive theatre company called Punchdrunk. The company create devised performances which take place within large unoccupied buildings and are explored by an audience who can roam freely, in an order of their choosing. This mode of performance puts the onus on the ‘reader’ or ‘audience member’ to piece together their own version of a narrative.                                   

Over the course of this module, I was prompted by Elys Dolan’s description of the synthesis between word and image to consider how these theatrical techniques relate to the creation of picture books. Dolan (2021) says “an illustrated book is at its best when the words in the images are working together. When the images are telling you something which hasn’t already been mentioned… or something that you can’t already see from the images, so it’s only when you experience the two together that you can understand the full story” (Dolan 2021). The liminal space between words and images, necessitates agency from the reader to fill in the gaps in the same way as Punchdrunk hands over control to the audience who discover for themselves the story being told.

The reader’s agency, or lack of, is described by Janet Evans (2015). She states “readerly texts are unambiguous and can be described as didactic as they impose an invariable meaning on the readers. Readerly texts position readers as “consumers” who are neither expected nor invited to make any contributions to the meaning (Barthes, 1970). In contrast, writerly texts position readers as imaginative interpreters of texts who “write” while reading, by filling in the textual gaps” (Evans 2015).

By looking at Punchdrunk and Shaun Tan’s work I would suggest they share an ambition to create writerly texts.

Tan shows how a writerly method can be created by paring back, or losing words altogether. He writes  “There is no guidance as to how the images might be interpreted, which can be quite a liberating thing. Words have a remarkable gravitational pull on our attention, and how we interpret attendant images, like captions under a press photo. Without words, an image can invite much more attention from a reader who might otherwise reach for the nearest sentence, and let that rule their imagination.” (Tan (nd))  This observation of the gravitational pull of words can be compared Punchdrunk’s Creative Director’s decision to ‘pare verbal text right down’ to liberate a text.(Machon, 2007).

Creating a wordless narrative was my initial intention for the Paradox module but I ended up defaulting to words. My storytelling instinct is to create an imaginative readership, but I have discovered this is difficult to do in practice. Through analysis of Punchdrunk and exploring picture book makers who use minimal words or wordless stories, I hope to arrive at an understanding of the different methods to create a reader’s imaginative co-authorship.

Word count: 499

Reference List

Dolan, E. 2021. Paradox Induction video. Cambridge: Anglia Ruskin University.

Evans, Janet. 2015.Challenging and controversial picturebooks: creative and critical response to visual texts. Oxon: Routledge

Machon, J. 2007. Space and the senses: The (Syn)aesthetics of Punchdrunk’s Site-Sympathetic Work’. Body, Space & Technology Journal.

Tan, S. Silent Voices: Illustration and Visual Narrative. Available at Accessed 18th February.

Indicative Bibliography

Children’s Literature

Brown, M.W., Hurd, C. 2017.Goodnight Moon. U.S.A: Two Hoots

Tan, S. 2010. The Red Tree. Sydney, N.S.W: Lothian

Tan, S. 2007. The Arrival. London: Hodder Children’s: Print.

Ware, C. 2019. Rusty Brown. Penguin

McNaught, J. 2010. Histoires de Pebble Island. Dargaud.

Zoboli, G. 2017. Professional Crocodile. Chronicle Books