Non-Linear Fiction – 3 Visuals

Below are three non-linear representations of extracts from my novel. Executed by Esther Harding to whom my thanks goes.

The texts were written long before the notion to represent them non-linearly. I came up with the images, of perfume bottle and drinking straw independently of the text as I started thinking about visual representation. I’ve got a list of about 10 images in all. But it just so happened of my list, 3 ideally fitted extracts from the novel. There’s a third one to come when Esther has had a chance to do it. So I’m wondering what would it be like to set out to write a novel, or parts of a novel from the outset in this style? In my case, since I can’t draw, there would be a bottleneck between writing and execution. The first draft would really be the first half draft. That would impact on the momentum, which is something that I rely on as a writer. I don’t know, I’m just throwing these reflections out as maybe a basis for discussion. marc nash

~ by yearzerowriters on April 16, 2010.

10 Responses to “Non-Linear Fiction – 3 Visuals”

  1. particularly looking forward to Sarah’s contribution to this in light of her Beautiful Things

  2. Of course you know I like these.

    The next step would definitely be something extended beyond one image or page.

    These pieces remind me of Kenneth Patchen’s illustrated poetry. I’m a major Kenneth Patchen fan.

  3. OK, bee thinking about this a lot overnight. First up, an apology – you all know I’m “the wrong age” so I grew up in the 80s/90s swallowing a whole lot of stuff about art and text rather too uncritically.

    This is a fascinating question. And the drawings are even more fascinating, because I genuinely think I see only one thing (that teardrop with “fugue” in it) that’s non-linear. In specific terms I think these are fantastic, and wonderfully illustrative (they’d also make great covers), but they aren’t non-linear. Non-linear to me doesn’t mean “not laid out from right to left and up to down”. It has to do withhow the reader is provoked by the piece into relating to it.

    Image/text is non-linear if it makes me think why? If the use of text breaks up our natural interpretation of the image and our use of image breaks up our interpretation of text. For me, in these pieces image and text enhance and enrich each other, which makes them more like the illuminative illustration Sarah uses than something non-linear.

    I’m not sure 100% what you mean by a non-linear visual/text novel (I guess that’s what you’re having us discuss). So I’ll amplify with more questions:
    – are you assuming anovel has arcs and themes and developments, in which case are you asking how linearity such as this can be portrayed non-linearly?
    – if the novel itself is non-linear and is simply about referencing, feeling, resonating, then the answer is very simple and lies in the juztaposing of a series of image/texts such that the “novelist” element consists in a combination of technique (creatingthe pieces) and curation (deciding how to arrange them (or not arrange them) together for the “reader”‘s first encounter


  4. To my mind we have to get away with associating linearity or non-linearity with narrative arcs. I am talking about text, words, alphabets and typographical characters. If anything, these two pieces don’t go quite far enough (and part of that is because they are ripped out of context of a linear narrative).

    The starting point should be the primordial letter ‘soup’ inchoate, unformed pools of letters in the glass or in the perfume bottle. Through compression of the atomiser, or siphoning through the straw, they are squeezed into some sort of legible order, becoming words, settling in space on the page. The primordial soup could do with being even more compacted with a letter jumble, so much so that few actual letters can be recognised. They should maybe be darker in shade so as to be more dominant visually, the coherent words emerging tentatively, maybe apologetically.

    Part of this returns to the question of contextualising the whole thing – if one has established the notion of inchoate letter ‘soups’ then that part of the image might resonate more.

    In the case of the atomiser, I think the letters should be much more ‘spray’ like – spaced apart, forming their words by (a distant) adjacency not proximity. Tiny, tiny letters, falling in columns, but reading words in rows.

    Here are disadvantages of collaborating remotely. Were the two people together an talking, able to react the more instantaneously, then we could get to the exact heart of these issues. With time lags, the energy dissipates to some extent. But that’s just a practicality. I could have kept sending it backwards and forwards with proposed changes, but I wanted to get them out there.

    So there would have been more of an assault on the typography. That’s where non-linearity lies. But I’m not dismissing your point about narrative entirely out of hand, because it relates to the bigger ‘picture’. A novel entirely in this form, with no interlinking blocks of text, well how is that different from a graphic novel? A post-modern graphic novel maybe, one that interrogates its tools of words and pictures, but that’s not really what I’m about. If you do choose to retain blocks of text, interspersing images like these, then how do you embed the images and justify there existence as other than just nice illustrations of what’s in the text – a return to the illuminated monk’s manuscripts, focusing on a letter/word here or there?

    I don’t have the answer to this.

    marc nash

  5. Hmm. Sounds like we’re both asking questions rather than attempting answers. My questions were prompted mainly by the fact you used the word novel, and if you are trying to get away from the idea of narrative arcs I wondered why you would use that word as opposed to “collection” or “installation” – because it seems to me that what you are talknig about is much more like a heavily curated exhibition consisting of several pieces that are all somehow linked – in the viewer’s mind but also (even if it is only by a conscious decision to make people consider the connection between unconnected pieces) the “author”. In other words, I entirely get what you’re saying about typography, and the layout of representational objects on a page, but the moment you talk about a novel you are throwing the relation between pieces to the fore rather than the internal composition of those pieces.

    I DO like the way what you say about typography blurs boundaries between text and image, but that’s also I think where our particular interests diverge in that you very much, I think, want to question the building blocks of language -the actual shapes of letters, for example – whereas I am interested in how forms of representation (or non-representation presented in a representational way) interrupt each other. I think it would be fascinated if we both worked on projects that sonded the same to see what we’d come out with.

    What’s the ultimate bugger about an idea like that, of course, is that if I understand you right (and I’m sure you’re more modest than you allow) neither of us can draw for toffee.

  6. Agree entirely with your analysis in the second paragraph and no I can’t draw for toffee.

    I only used the word ‘novel’ because that’s where these three pieces of text came from. Like I said, initially there was nothing about them other than their place in a block of text on whatever page of the novel they found themselves. I lifted them from the novel for this representation much after the fact.


  7. (this is in a different vein, but these are my thoughts about this sort of work. I probably don’t get any questions answered either)

    Okay, so you are all extremely lucky in not being artists. It’s a whole other nightmare opened up when you’re struggling with both parts of illustration/non-linear representation and the writing itself. While it might be out of your control, handing something off to an artist is probably the better deal. Well, the less stressful deal. And I do think working with an artist in close proximity is a better idea. It’s the sort of thing a friend should do; if the art and words are so fused, the people behind them should, ideally, be fused as well. This is only a theory, though, and probably a bad one because I don’t know any real people anymore.

    For me, part of the difficulty with doing work like this is wondering how much we subconsciously know about the graphology of our words. How much do we know, just innately, about a bow down in the middle of a sentence? How does that affect the reader reading it, if they’re conscious of the connotations of sadness brought on by that bow or not? Visually, of course, we’ll understand the bigger words having more emphasis, the smaller words less, the close words crunched, self-deprecating, if it’s a name. But how do we want to go about presenting these words? Do we want to crunch that word? Should we match the sentiment of the sentence with the proper graphological psychology, or do we want to oppose it? Even then, will a reader pick up on this subconsciously? Can this completely destroy the words, if they’re put in the wrong form, or will it make them better if we get the shapes right?

    Of course with fonts you’re not going to run into many of the graphological characteristics, but if it’s hand written, do you even want the handwriting of the artist altering the mind behind the words? Even I’m not comfortable a lot of the times with my own handwriting carrying the words of some of my own work — this is when the hand written “fonts” show up.

    This is where the real heart of work like this lies, in the typography and graphology of it. Putting words into images, making images out of words, can’t alter what we know about the forms of our own words. It might make us start thinking in one way, we might ‘get it’ or recognize the bit about the narrator feeling trapped is in the shape of a grave, which is sad and depressing, but will the actual shape of the words themselves agree? What are they saying to us?


    • The frustrating thing about the lack of technical skill is that I have the artistic sentiment and know exactly what I want to do – it’s just that I utterly lack the ability to put it into reality.

      I like what you’re saying about shapes and words – that’s sort of what I mean about interrupting meaning

      • You think I don’t have that problem? I’m constantly ripping up sketches because it’s not what I want. This is how having the ability is even worse — because you have the potential, you ought to be able to do it, but you just can’t. And that’s no one’s fault except your own. That’s worse than anything.

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