This is the story of a crash that didn’t happen.
Diagrammatic Writing by Johanna Drucker introduced to me to the idea that the style, placement, and structure of text can sometimes convey more meaning to a reader than the text itself. The author uses the powerful phrase, “the first words placed define the space” to explain her unique perspective on diagrammatic writing. She goes on to explain that it is not the phrase itself that’s important but where it is placed within the page.
The author asks you to “look at the proportions of the very first page on which the single phrase stands alone. There the line of text is shifted towards the gutter, slightly left of center. If placed at the mechanical center, it would fly off the page. Lower down and it would be oppressed by the mass of space above. Higher up and it would appear too eager, presumptuous, slightly obnoxious in its immediate and pressing bid for attention.”
I have always noticed that I pay more attention to detail when it comes to how I place text and images in different class projects than some of my other classmates but I never considered the result of those choices and how I can use this concept in a more intentional and influential way.
I have to admit when I first started reading Great Rock n’Roll Pauses by Jennifer Egan, I thought I must’ve clicked on the wrong link. What started out as a compilation of 76 brightly colored and confusing slides quickly turned into an inspirational and interesting story when I began to put the pieces together. The author refers to the story as her slide journal and uses different charts and graphics to explain different parts of her story. She uses a single sentence on each slide to portray an important part of the story and a format like the one below to show conversations between her and her family members.
The slideshow definitely gave me a lot of ideas about the different structures and formats I can use to tell a story. I learned to use similar structures to contain equally important pieces of information and to pay attention to how a reader will take in information with the top right section showing you the most eye catching content.
While most films follow a more Aristotelian plotline, a good story doesn’t need to follow rules and a specific structure to give a compelling piece of art. The short film 160 Characters felt super raw and realistic due to its stylistic structure. These days, a good portion of our lives take place and are archived on technological devices through pictures and text and Victoria Mapplebeck uses this fact of life to tell the story of her pregnancy, her experience with being a single mom, and her relationship with her son’s father. It was interesting to see the story unfold from a first-person perspective without really ever seeing the main character. It was even more interesting to see monumental life events take place in the small, less glamorous settings of real life.
Another one of the short films that doesn’t follow the Aristotelian plotline was She and Her Cat, by Makoto Shinkai. This story is told from the perspective of a cat who has a deep love for its owner. This unusual story has an equally unusual structure. It is told through a series of illustrated black and white images and depicts a year in life of a young woman and her cat. The images and fragmented narration do a very good job of making you feel like you are in the mind of the cat and understand her struggles and emotions.
WordPress would not embed my project, so a link to my narrative is posted below. Thank you for your understanding.
A Word on Meaning
It is lamentable that humanity has yet to discover the means of mind reading. Without it, people must resort to clumsier methods of conveying ideas and information. This is frustrating, because while 171,476 seems like a lot of words (roughly the number of words in the 2nd Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary), not counting the 47,156 of which are considered “obsolete” and another 9,500 which are “derivatives,” when compared to the infinite potential of human experience, it is a very small number indeed. That’s completely disregarding that the vocabulary of the average American adult only clocks in at around 4,200 words.
We value elegance in language for the ability to convey meaning in a succinct manner: a poet with a few lines might be able to invoke in a reader an emotional response that would take pages upon pages of dry text to properly explain, if ever. That claim might be hyperbolic, but that’s exactly the point, that it’s not just the words we use but also the way we use them.
The Body (Language) of the Text
It’s commonly stated that only about 7% of communication is conveyed through words, with about 38% having to do with vocal presentation (tone, speed, etc.) and 55% relying on non-verbal communication such as facial expressions and body language. While this obviously excludes anyone communicating through sign language and it’s certainly difficult if not impossible to meaningfully quantify communication, the point is clear, and in the words of Marshall McLuhan “The medium is the message.” We rely on symbols to communicate, but what actually carries meaning is the connections we form between those symbols.
In that sense, typography could be considered the body language of the written word. Just as a poet carefully considers their choices of words, designers may spend hours picking just the right font, leading, kerning, and color pallet to ensure that their words transfer the proper message. But none of this occurs in a vaccuum, it relies on past experience and context for the audience to interpret past the surface level of meaning. The way that symbols relate and interact with each other depends on the context where we find them, as different settings come preloaded with different expectations.
In Diagrammatic Writing, Johanna Drucker both explains and demonstrates some of the ways that the relations between text elements can suggest additional information. Beginning with a single line of text, she explains how it’s position on the page can create an emotional charge to the words.
“Look at the proportions of the very first page on which the single
phrase stands alone. There the line of text is shifted towards the gutter, slightly left of center. If placed at the mechanical center, it would
fly off the page. Lower down and it would be oppressed by the mass of
space above. Higher up and it would appear too eager, presumptuous,
slightly obnoxious in its immediate and pressing bid for attention.”
In this sense, the text becomes almost a character in itself whose position and deliver on the space of the page communicates to us the way an actor on a stage emulates exaggerations of body-language. By adding additional elements, dialogue of a sort begins to emerge, and the audience is left to interpret this based on their expectations of a book just as the audience in a theater interprets the actor’s body-language based on their expectations of human interaction. By using headers, footers, footnotes, annotations, and other conventions of the written word, the writer can take advantage of these assumptions. Drucker discusses, for example, the duality of having text elements appearing in two separate columns: they are of the same scale and height, they are intentionally separated by space between them, and that all suggests a sort of dichotomous equity between the two, such as the typical “pros and cons” table utilized in decision making. However, on the page the one element on the left will always hold the upper hand, as we are naturally inclined to read left-to-right in the western world, meaning that the left-most column will usually have the luxury of being read first and seeming more important, more urgent, while the right is to be left on the defense, retaliating and playing counter-point in their dialogue.
Young-Hae Heavy Industries utilizes the power of text to convey information beyond the words they represent. Characterized by their bold, contrasting letters that fill up the screen, the words are aggressive and confrontational. Little space is left around the words, cutting off all points of escape. Even so, the font size in a work often varies, as does the capitalization of the letters, to add extra gravity and urgency, creating tempo and rhythm in sync to the story and the jazz music playing int he background. Working in video rather than print, they gain the added dimension of time, and through control of when the text appears on screen and how it does so, they can further manipulate the nuances of the piece.
Great Rock and Roll Pauses utilizes an unconventional medium for telling a story, but one with which many people have experience. Using PowerPoint style slides and generated graphs/charts, the flow of the unfolding story is very different from the convention reading experience. In the above example, the implied reading order is to move counter clock-wise around the blue circle, as indicated by the red arrows and the expected left-to-right, top-to-bottom order of Western texts. The grey squares act as pop-outs from each quadrant of the circle, denoted by a bullet, a modular short hand that implies the point is subservient to the text preceding it. However, the text elements could be read multiple ways: focusing on the grey boxes first then returning for the blue circle, or the blue circle first and the boxes last. Each quadrant of the circle however is connected to a box, and even though the audience has to choose which order to read the text, the association remains between the two elements. Furthermore, the grey boxes depict an outward scene, the actions of the characters in the story, while the blue circle is the inner experience of the main character. This is reinforced with the fact that the text in the circle is literally placed inside while the grey squares float on the edges. The quadrants of the circle are connect, but the grey squares connect only through relation to the circle, making the scene feel more “stream of consciousness” by places on the focus on the chain of tactile experiences and memory events linked through them.
Text has a long history of experimentation with the minutia of its form. Ergodic literature is a branch of literature that focuses on writings that are deliberately obtuse and either play with or defy the expectations we bring into the piece with us. This causes the reader to slow down, to think deliberately about the way that we interact with media and the impact it makes on us, often through subtle means. These include books like House of Leaves and J.J. Abrams’ S. Many of these works are non-linear to some degree, leaving the reader to make their own path through the text. With digital media, the options are compounded, and while a lot of work has been done to explore the finer details of digital media, there’s still a lot to be played with.
The short films that we watched for this lesson were very interesting because they did not follow Aristotelian plot structure. The first short film, Meshes of the Afternoon, was difficult for me to understand. I got the sense that it was almost a thriller since there was a time loop around her possible death. I was confused with the plot and what it was supposed to convey, it seemed as if there were multiple animations of that day all intertwining with the rose, key and knife symbolizing her death.
I connected with Small Deaths more than the first video because the plot was delivered differently. I got the impression that this video was about a girl who had witnessed bad situations throughout her life. First with her father leaving, then the dead cow, and finishing with a nasty overdose prank. The plot was more linear, but it did not have a central conflict or a climax, it was more of a few memories.
She and Her Cat was interesting in the way of it being a short story with no clear purpose. The cat was talking about his first love, his owner, and I think that she left him in the end. It reminded me of a nursery story that has a small message hidden in a cute tale. I did not fully understand the message behind it, but it was cute.
The last film, 160 Characters, was the most emotional for me as I can completely relate to what happened. I too was left to raise my daughter on my own and no matter how much I tried to keep the father around, he chose not to be involved. I wont get too much into that, but I really felt that film as I knew the feelings she felt all too well. This story was a recollection of how Victoria ended up as a single parent to her son.
All of the short films had a linearity that told a tale about a past event. There was a conflict in each film, a possible murder, hard life events, the love of an owner, and parenting alone, but they were told in a linear fashion set in the past rather than the present/future. The first film had me extremely confused for a day (I am only now figuring it out), the second reminded me of some of my past, the third was cute but sad, and the last had me teary. There was also narration in all of the films, with the first and second using visualization rather than words. I still caught the narration because in Meshes there were multiple layers of the same story, much like canon or round singing. In Small Deaths the story is told by watching the events as one would in a memory.
After reviewing the message of “Sequential Arts” “Gutters” and “Time Frames” in reference to digital storytelling, I personally resonate with this education a lot. I see Instagram as a large-scale comic book. This site has Gutters, it works in Time Frames and it exceeds the definition of ‘Sequential Visual Arts’.
I enjoy Instagram and the stories a messenger can display with messages, similar to these readings. Rather it be through an image of photography, with the agenda to place the reader into a particular mindset, complimented with text definitions to support that feeling. Or the messenger uses their Instagram ‘feed’ to portray a specific feeling or mood through slides of photos. These are both very common uses for individuals, companies, brands, movements and agendas.
For my next project, I will look to adapt visual aids and techniques (arrows, colors, flow and borders) from my creative perception of what is being explained here. For examples, when explaining ‘Sequential Visual Arts’ McCloud uses the description “Juxtaposed pictorial and other images in deliberate sequence, intended to convey information and/or to produce an aesthetic response in the viewer” to describe his perception of the definition.
I will seek to have my pictorial/illustrated drawings match similar to message and aesthetic of my assignment. I will incorporate an illustrated, mindful, education like comic, with the storyline of natural, mindful, heartfelt message typography with the agenda to leave the reader feeling my visuals and message similarly.
A few ideas I have moving into my next assignment are using fonts that resemble expansive, southing, guided education while using colors to compliment my agenda with tones of the ocean. A color pallet consisting of calming, collected, peacefulness. I will attempt to be the messenger for the reader to experience an environment where one can connect deeper with their environment to find fulfilling breathwork.
I pasted my embedded code into the “Text” section on WordPress but for some reason my slides are not showing up.
Here is a link to my Google Slide:
Going into the next Visual Narrative assignment I want to attack it by understanding that one setting can make for multiple scenes. When McCloud mentions time frames and how they are broken apart piece by piece like a rope, I can relate that towards how making a video is. By this I mean that I’ll be looking at breaking one scene into several different interactions that can take place within that scene. In a comic book perspective it’s noted that each action or scene is broken up by the general indicator of having a border to show time and space are being broken. For my Visual Narrative this will be done by using cuts and transitions.
“The strange relationship between time as depicted in comics, and time as perceived by the reader.” (McCloud: Pg. 99)
McCloud states that in comics we’ve learned to perceive time spatially and since there’s not conversion chart, we’re left with a vague sense of believing that when we read along it means as time moves so does space within the realm. For my Visual Narrative I want to establish depict what action is being done within space and how time is being shaped. I think that this will be important to establish so the audience can know when I jump to a different scene what time is being perceived.
“Comic readers are also conditioned by other media and the ‘real time’ of everyday life to expect a very linear progression. Just a straight line from point A to point B. But is that necessary?” (McCloud: Pg. 106)
For my Visual Narrative I think it would be very interesting to test this theory. This passage by McCloud specifically inspires me to want to attack these unwritten rules on having to maintain a linear story. I think that plenty of great movies have broken these barriers in linear storytelling while also maintaining the story that they wanted to tell.