When Kurt Vonnegut proposed for his Ph.D thesis statement that “stories have a shapes which can be drawn on graph paper”, it was rejected as by his university. According to Vonnegut, the reason for this rejection was that “it looked like too much fun”.
The idea that it is possible to visualise the way stories are structured may not be entirely new; yet it is always fascinating to see how Vonnegut’s thesis has progressed.
In a new project, the data artist Nick Rougeaux aims to do just this. In Literary Constellations he posits: “words can be transformed into constellation-like diagrams. The first words of a story—and even every chapter—are unique in that they set the stage for what’s to come.”
The project contains a series of astronomy-inspired diagrams of the opening sentences of beloved books and short stories in the public domain, from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland to The Time Machine.
“Constellations were created from words of first sentences of each chapter in classic short stories to draw a path based on word length and part of speech. The directions of lines were based on part of speech (noun, verb, adjective, etc.) and length is based on the length of the word. Star sizes are also based on word length. Constellations were hand-arranged in a loose clockwise pattern starting at the top with a faint highlight connecting each in the order chapters appeared in the story representing the cloud of the galaxy usually shown in vintage star charts.”
Given that the first sentence of a story is often seen as the most important – Julian Barnes once noted that an opening sentence of a short story or novel “should contain the entire plot in nuce” – it is fascinating for both aspiring and established writers to explore the patterns contained within the first sentence of famous novels; to better visualise the way these critically important first words set in motion the rest of the story.
Take a look at some of Rougeaux’s excellent posters below. All of these are available for purchase starting at US$27.80 for 24×36″