‘Literary Constellations’ Take the Opening Sentences of Classic Books and Turn Them into Star Charts

Thursday January 16, 2020 Written by Sam

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One of literature’s most appealing qualities is its ability to transport the reader to other dimensions of reality. Some stories draw you in gradually, with others all it takes is one killer opening sentence and you’re there. Not surprisingly, literary folks have long amused themselves arguing over fiction’s best first lines. Now digital artist Nicholas Rougeux has gone one better and mapped a bunch of them as astronomical charts.

To help you wrap your head around this unusual concept, here’s his ‘Literary Constellation’ for H. G. Wells’ classic, The Time Machine.

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Beautiful, right? It also happens to be a genuine data graphic of the opening lines from every chapter in the novel. Other classics given similar treatment include Frankenstein, Dracula, Through the Looking Glass and Robinson Crusoe.

Unlike the great novels they depict, these diagrams came about purely by chance. “I didn’t intend to create constellations,” Rougeux explains. “I just wanted an interesting visual way of looking at text.” After realising his visualisations resembled constellation maps, he “decided to explore that idea by creating one, based on not just the opening lines of entire books but the opening lines of each chapter in books”.

His approach is admirably methodical. Each sentence is broken down into its component words, which are classified according to type – verb, adjective, pronoun, preposition and so on. The words are then mapped with lines radiating in different directions depending on what type they are. The lines’ lengths reflect the length of the word, as does the size of the circle representing the word itself. The first word of each sentence, meanwhile, is portrayed as a starburst.

Finally, each sentence’s constellation is mapped into a galaxy of sorts, with nice-looking results. Sure, they’re a far cry from actually reading the books, but they certainly capture fiction’s power to transport us to other dimensions.

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Starstruck? Read more about Rougeux’s data-driven journey here.