What Does a Story Look Like Visually?

Everyone has seen the basic linear storyline drawn on their high school chalk boards that begin with exposition, moving to the climax, and then finishing with the resolution. The feminist storyline may also be familiar, with a more cyclical shape, but Kurt Vonnegut studied various story lines that may look less familiar and mapped them out.

Do you recognize the storyline of some of your favorite stories? Is there value in looking at plots in these ways? Tell me what you think in the comments!

Kurt Vonnegut - The Shapes of Stories

by mayaeilam.
Explore more visuals like this one on the web’s largest information design community – Visually.

Literary Look: A Clockwork Orange

My description:

Because of the first person narration in this novel, there isn’t much description of what people wear and how they look. However, I always imagine dystopian-type novels to have characters walking around in jumpsuits – I don’t know why. It just seems sort of futuristic and industrial to me. The main character, Alex, and his droogs are cool and young, so this jumpsuit would be a cooler version of the ones that the adults or workers might be wearing at the time.

After that, I took inspiration from the iconic cover more than the actual text. I included a bowler hat like the one on the cover, but orange, rather than black, to add a pop of color. I also imagined curly, unruly hair and some serious heels that look like they might do a lot of damage in a fight. And I would be remiss to not include some dramatic eye make up, which is one of the most iconic images from this novel.

Picture taken by Simon Zirkunow, cover art designed by David Pelham. http://www.flickr.com/photos/bluesmuse/3990612536/
Picture taken by Simon Zirkunow, cover art designed by David Pelham. http://www.flickr.com/photos/bluesmuse/3990612536/

From the book:

Here is an image of the iconic cover of this book. Here’s a snippet of some of the text: “If he can only perform good or only perform evil, then he is a clockwork orange—meaning that he has the appearance of an organism lovely with colour and juice but is in fact only a clockwork toy to be wound up by God or the Devil.”

Doublethink: What’s Up With the Blog’s New Title?

Doublethink and Schrodinger's cat
I’m adding a picture of my brother’s cat because 1. she’s adorable, 2. I mention Schrodinger’s cat, and 3. pictures of cats make everything on the internet better.

I hate titles.

Well, I love clever, well-written titles, but I can never think of them on my own.

And I think it’s pretty difficult to title a blog because you want to be clever and interesting while encompassing all of the stuff you want to talk about, but it always just feels like you’re being lame.

And I knew I wanted to write about books, but the problem with writing a clever title for a book blog is that book bloggers are word people, and have already taken a lot of the clever blog title names. So, what is there to do?

Reference a book, of course! When in doubt, quote a classic, because it makes you seem smart and classic books are pretty awesome.

So, I started Googling books I’ve loved in the past. I started with the title “Words, Words, Words” because I really love Hamlet, and there’s a scene in that play when Hamlet is asked what he’s reading and he replies, “Words, words, words.” I loved that scene because it’s funny and so clever, but it’s also sort of just Hamlet (pretending to be or actually being) crazy, and that wasn’t totally what I was going for.

So, naturally, I looked into good quotes from 1984.

When I saw the term “doublethink,” I knew I liked it. Doublethink is the idea that you can hold two contradictory ideas in your mind at the same time.

In the novel, this is a way that people are kind of mind-controlled because they are told to believe different things that don’t make sense, but they blindly do because they don’t want to get caught by the Thought Police.

But I think the idea of “doublethink” can be used in a different way. It often fits the way I like to look at literature because there can be so many different and complex ways to look at the world, including sometimes contradictory ideas that makes equal amounts of sense to you. Sometimes I’ll start to make an argument on a book, and come up with an entirely contradictory idea at the same time – and both seem equally valid. Like, for instance, if Hamlet is genuinely crazy or putting on an act.

And I think sometimes the author wants readers to have that Schrodinger’s-cat-type moment of crisis, where you don’t know whether the cat is dead or alive until you probe the question further and really discover what your truth is.

These paradoxical answers to confusing questions make you ask: what do I actually think about this? And the author won’t give you an answer, or really a solid way to figure it out, because these are the ideas that are messy and need more than one story to figure out for an individual person.

(In this link, it says what I’m talking about is cognitive dissonance, but I believe you can have that moment of crisis and find a solution in contradictory ideas, rather than only feel disconcerted by that contradiction – if that makes sense?)

So, I thought, even though some people might think I’m into Big Brother mind control, if I explained my reasoning for the title switch, it might give more insight into what kind of discussions I’d like to start on this forum and the way I like to think about novels.

Let me know what you think of the change (or my philosophy behind it) in the comments below!

Why Do We Read? – A Long-Winded Answer

Why do we read?Pretty much as far back as I can remember, I’ve loved to read. I remember rereading the beginning of Danny and the Dinosaur every night before bed, sure that I’d finally make it to the end of the book before falling asleep some day. I would spend hours of my summer vacation, when I got a little older, reading Lemony Snicket‘s Series of Unfortunate Events. And it’s a habit that I still haven’t broken, my Christmas list comprising almost entirely of items sold at Barnes and Noble.

And I remember my step-brother teasing me, saying, “Why do you even like reading anyway? It’s so borrrring.”

I always answered quickly with something like, “I don’t know. It’s fun,” – and then I probably stuck out my tongue at him and proceeded to read to my geeky heart’s content.

But it’s not a totally unfounded question when you really think about it. Why do people read? Why is it something that is more valuable than movies or TV?

Some would say it’s not, but those people probably aren’t looking up literary blogs or reading this post. So let’s rule that argument out for now. (Although, I will post later about why us book people shouldn’t simply disregard TV in being important, in an admittedly different way, than ~Literature~ is.)

One reason people still read, I think, is a nostalgia. Human beings like to remember that we aren’t isolated in time from the past – we like to think about our ancestors, and read the stories our family members have always read. We remember history – personal, national, and even world-wide – because we like to feel anchored in time, among other human beings, tucked away in our own present, with those behind and in front of us keeping us cozy.

We read the classics, not necessarily because we like to decode old English (although, I have to admit, it can be a little fun sometimes. Or am I alone in that?) but because we like to remember that even Shakespeare thought “Yo Mama” jokes were funny. We think of those who preceded us as having a wisdom, and we hope to get some of that through reading the same stories they read.

The second reason is that reading is a window into another world, the way visual media can’t be, because the act of reading happens in your own mind. It simultaneously is a consuming act – of taking in the story – and a creative one – of making the story come to life in your own thoughts. Reading is both personal and shared, which is why the discussions are so interesting – everyone brings something vastly different to the table.

You can read a book, like The God of Small Things, but imagine Velutha entirely differently than I might. (Although, those chocolate bar abs are a hard thing to un-imagine. Yum.) But that’s why the movie versions of books are never right – because they couldn’t possibly be. Every person’s reading of a novel is so unique, vague in some things and oddly specific in others, that no movie would ever capture it.

So why do we read?

I think because we have to.

We need to feel connected to other human beings – those who have died hundreds of years ago, and those who are alive now. We want to learn something from people who live in the same state as us, and those who live on the other side of the world.

We read to enrich our world view, to understand others, and to try to understand ourselves.

We read because it makes us better, more empathetic people.

I read because “I don’t know” and I read because “it’s fun,” and I will continue to stick my tongue out and read to my geeky heart’s content.


Why do you read? Tell me in the comments!

Literary Look: Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

My description:

The iconic moment in James Joyce’s novel in which Stephen sees the “bird” girl at the beach with her skirt tucked up has always reminded me of these fashionable tiered lace shorts. She is a symbol of the feminine in a sexually stifled and repressed society, so she would, in modern day, have a high-necked shirt to offset the bare legs, and I chose this blue to represent the “slate blue” skirts she had tucked and bundled around her. In the description, Stephen notices emerald seaweed that is clinging to her leg, so I added a bright green sandal, and pretty leaf earrings with both blue and green in them to combine the colors in this outfit. Her hair would be messy from the salty wind, but prettily put up.

From the book:

“A girl stood before him in midstream, alone and still, gazing out to sea. She seemed like one whom magic had changed into the likeness of a strange and beautiful seabird. Her long slender bare legs were delicate as a crane’s and pure save where an emerald trail of seaweed had fashioned itself as a sign upon the flesh. Her thighs, fuller and soft-hued as ivory, were bared almost to the hips, where the white fringes of her drawers were like feathering of soft white down. Her slate-blue skirts were kilted boldly about her waist and dovetailed behind her. Her bosom was as a bird’s, soft and slight, slight and soft as the breast of some dark-plumaged dove. But her long fair hair was girlish: and girlish, and touched with the wonder of mortal beauty, her face.”

Literary Look: Catcher in the Rye

My description:

Holden – if he were a girl today – would definitely still have his iconic red hat. He would want to seem brooding and tough, so a leather jacket would give him that vibe. Of course he would conform to skinny jeans – so phony – so he might rock these boyfriend jeans, which are a little more off-beat. I gave him some black high top Chucks because he is a kid after all, and would still have his sneakers.

From the book:

“I put on this hat that I’d bought in New York that morning. It was this red hunting hat, with one of those very, very long peaks. I saw it in the window of this sports store when we got out of the subway, just after I noticed I’d lost all the goddam foils. It only cost me a buck. The way I wore it, I swung the old peak way around to the back—very corny, I’ll admit, but I liked it that way. I looked good in it that way.”

A blog about literature, art, fashion, and some related ramblings.