How might we take the idea of a book’s “narrative arc” and expand the metaphor beyond the rather limiting image of a curve? Geometry helps: triangulation, spirals, parallel lines. But geometry is made from lines and surfaces; it lacks texture.
Today I asked my students to discuss the structure of the prologue and first section of Elisabeth Tova Bailey’s The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating, then to wordlessly represent the texture, flow, and rhythms of the narrative using chalk. My hope was that their reading and writing might benefit from the exercise of translating from text to image, from lineated page to blackboard surface. Of course, this is only one way to inhabit the structure of a text. For most, it is unfamiliar approach. Are books fantastical illuminated maps? When they’re good: oh yes!
Here are some of the student groups’ representations. They had just 20 minutes to complete the exercise (with discussion following). Maybe next time we’ll take more time and use a full afternoon to cover the boards. The contrast among their images is striking: heart-beat movement, enclosure within a shell, a vortex of re-visitation, and a sweep into the future.