Monday, February 11, 2013

Do or Diorama: Visualizing Your Novel

by Cat Woods

I love museums. As a kid, I would sit for hours in front of the dioramas, wishing glass didn't separate me from the world in miniature. I had a special affinity for Native American scenes and those depicting the pioneer days. Often, I would fantasize about slipping into those worlds and getting lost in another place and time.

I suspect that's why many people read novels today. While reading, we can slip away from homework, dirty dishes and nagging family into a world where teens spin the tapestry of life.

But only if the author does a stellar job of painting that new reality, as Gennifer Albin did in Crewel.

Over the past week, my Middle Son was assigned a science project. He had to create a diorama of the coral reef. This is the fruit of his labors.


His fifth grade translation is enough for us to picture this underwater world with some degree of accuracy.

  • Sand? Check.
  • Giant clam? Check. (Double check for the pearl found inside.)
  • Coral? Straight from the Dominican Republic.
  • Sea anemone? Not one, but two.
  • Seaweed, algae, jelly fish? Check, check and check.
In a similar way, my favorite novels can be seen as dioramas.

  • The Hunger Games would have milk carton shacks with dryer lint covering everything like a fine coating of coal. On the back wall, a fence would separate the dreary gray from the vivid forest beyond. Like her or not, nobody can dispute the amazing storytelling capabilities of Suzanne Collins.
  • A.G. Howard's Splintered would utilize flamboyant colors interspersed with dark shadows. Wonderland in all its splendid--and contrasting--glory. And bugs. Lots o' bugs.
  • Unwind by Neil Schusterman becomes a graveyard of broken planes, while Sarah Darer Littman's Want to go Private? is a blank computer screen. Deep, dark and terrifying.
A good novel will have a distinct setting. While this doesn't mean unique-made-up-100%-from-scratch, it does call for enough detail to let readers visualize exactly where they are and what the world looks like.

Even a contemporary novel told within the confines of a school should have defining characteristics. A little extra something to set it apart from every other school in the world. Think Sideways Stories from Wayside School by Louis Sachar. His school has 30 floors--one floor per classroom. Simple, yet effective.

However, without a connection to scene, readers can feel ungrounded. As if the story isn't quite real because it has no place to live. A poorly developed setting would be a bit like finding a giant clam on the Oregon Trail--too unreliable to trust.

All this got me thinking: what about my own novels? What would my dioramas look like?

What about yours? How much diorama potential does your novel have?

As a mother of four and an ex-preschool teacher, Cat Woods can turn the simplest objects into creative works of art--a trait she obviously passed down to her children. When she's not helping with homework or visualizing her newest writing project, she blogs at Words from the Woods. Her short stories can be found Spring Fevers and The Fall: Tales from the Apocalypse.

12 comments:

Sophie Perinot said...

Love it!

My eldest actually read my first manuscript for a book report and built a diorama of a climactic scene. Wonder where that thing went . . .

Matt Sinclair said...

Cool idea!

Bethany Elizabeth said...

This idea is crazy and awesome and I really want to know what diorama my novel would be now. :) That's an extraordinary way of looking at things, I love it!

lbdiamond said...

HA! Love this!

SC Author said...

This is great! And my fantasy would look kind of like that coral reef your child did :)

Jemi Fraser said...

Love that diorama!! What a great task, Cat - I'll have to imagine how mine would look!

Martina at Adventures in YA Publishing said...

Yes, yes, yes! A great tool to make sure that the writing is visual and significant enough. I love this!!!!

Lynn Proctor said...

i too have always loved museums--very inspiring places!

Debra McKellan said...

That is the cutest thing I've ever seen. I remember procrastinating and making a very awful diorama about black bears when I was a kid. It was embarrassing. lol

I would love to make a diorama of my manuscript. It would definitely be an experience, if nothing else. lol

Cat Woods said...

Sophie~ in the treasure box, I hope.

Thanks Matt and lbdiamond. As MS finished his project, it struck me how cool it would be to condense a novel into a distinct setting.

Lynn- Museums are the best. In another lifetime, I would work at one.

Cat Woods said...

Bethany, Martina, Jemi and Debra~ it's awfully tempting to give it a try, isn't it?!?!

If you do, let us know how they turn out!

Cat Woods said...

SC~ kind of wants to make you go for a swim, doesn't it?