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Being explicit about the implicit: inference generating techniques in visual narrative

  • NEIL COHN (a1)


Inference has long been acknowledged as a key aspect of comprehending narratives of all kinds, be they verbal discourse or visual narratives like comics and films. While both theoretical and empirical evidence points towards such inference generation in sequential images, most of these approaches remain at a fairly broad level. Few approaches have detailed the specific cues and constructions used to signal such inferences in the first place. This paper thereby outlines several specific entrenched constructions that motivate a reader to generate inference. These techniques include connections motivated by the morphology of visual affixes like speech balloons and thought bubbles, the omission of certain narrative categories, and the substitution of narrative categories for certain classes of panels. These mechanisms all invoke specific combinatorial structures (morphology, narrative) that mismatch with the elicited semantics, and can be generalized by a set of shared descriptive features. By detailing specific constructions, this paper aims to push the study of inference in visual narratives to be explicit about when and why meaning is ‘filled in’ by a reader, while drawing connections to inference generation in other modalities.

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This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution licence (, which permits unrestricted re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

Corresponding author

Address for correspondence: Neil Cohn, Tilburg University, Department of Communication and Cognition, PO Box 90153, 5000 LE Tilburg, The Netherlands. e-mail:


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Kaitlin Pederson and Ryan Taylor contributed to the featural analysis. Renske van Enschot provided advice on inverted U-curves. Joost Schilperoord and Joe Magliano offered useful feedback on earlier drafts.



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Being explicit about the implicit: inference generating techniques in visual narrative

  • NEIL COHN (a1)


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