Monday, February 25, 2013


We have all driven by a house in which the lights are on,  the curtains open, and a blur of activity  visible from the street as we walk or drive by in our cars.  
We wonder who lives in this house. 
What are they doing right now? 

Who used to live in this house? 

Where are those people now and what are they doing?
Are they alive or dead? 

We also may wonder about the buildings we pass as we walk through downtown, or a particular section of our city.  

We have all taken those tours when visiting a new place--out of town, state or country—in which the tour guide explains the history of a building, including construction information, tidbits about former owners or inhabitants, the social impact of the structure on the city, and whatever else  he thinks might catch our interest about the edifice.

Those given facts and pieces of lore may lead us to imagine the facts not told, the information not given. 

We imagine a story and a history for that place. We build stories.


Chris Ware’s remarkable graphic novel, Building Stories, allows us to do all of the above. He builds his novel by using a  “modular architecture” structure ( a software term that Tim O’Reilly of O’Reilly Media borrows from the construction/architecture world, meaning the building of independent parts that can be put together in a variety of ways).  

This loose structure allows us to take long, leisurely peeks through the windows, and into the lives of the inhabitants of one apartment building, though several perspectives. 

Even the house itself participates in telling stories about the inhabitants.

Fourteen separate, books, posters, and other pieces make up this unique novel and allow us to construct the story in a variety of ways, depending on the sequence in which we read the “modules.” Shown to the right are just some of the component parts.

This uniquely designed novel allows us to enjoy that instinctive, looking-in-the-window behavior, from the comfort of our own homes.

One caution Building Stories by Chris Ware (like a number of graphic novels) is, indeed, graphic, and not intended for children.

However, if you wanted to share the structure of the book as a model for writing, you could show the entire box, and then share judiciously selected parts of components.)


While the book described above is not appropriate for children, there is a beautiful book, also entitled, Building Stories, by Isabel Hill, which allows children to  engage in  this same wondering  and imagining about the lives being lived and the work going on in specific buildings.

Black and white photographs highlighting unique features on each building are accompanied by brief rhyming verses.  Back matter includes facts and locations of each building.

What do you wonder as you walk by a house?

What stories do you create about the people inside?

Today’s Deeper Writing Possibility

What do you wonder as you walk by or drive by houses, or other buildings?

Write a fictional story about the inhabitants of a house in which you do not know the people.

Write a fictional or true narrative about the inhabitants of home in which you do know the inhabitants—it could be your own or a nearby home.

What is different about the process used to create these two pieces?

As you consider what commands your interest and attention, what do you learn about yourself?

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