Thursday, 5 September 2013

I Hunt a Great Story

In my last post, at the very end, I implied that there existed a book that someone had written "in their dreams". I know that I find writing easier than certain others, but I would never claim I could write in my sleep! That's crazy.
But it seems it's true . . . some people write in strange ways.

It reminds me of a post I wrote a while ago called "Strange Authority", in which I listed 5 examples of Unconventional Authorship. This is to say, books written by collaboration, multiple authors, or even by inhuman authors. I remembered how much fun that was, and thought it would be fun to do again. So that's what I'm doing today! Last time I talked about strange authors, today I talk about strange writing styles. Also, since last time the word of the day was authorship,
the Word of the Day is: "PENMANSHIP".

Penmanship /penmənship/ n. 1. The art of handwriting; the use of the pen in writing. 2. A person's style or manner of handwriting: clear penmanship; poor penmanship.

I've dabbled in writing weird stories before. Even on this blog you can read my university experiment, Battle Report: The Trials of Unit I-109. It's my first attempt to write a story narrated by a robot. Unfortunately, that one's very hard to read because of the style, but I truly enjoyed writing it because it was a hell of a challenge, trying to understand the mind of a machine.
That's why I am fascinated by the following authors, because most of them write in a style known as Constrained Writing. It's a simple idea, before writing a story, they set themselves a set of rules or challenges such as: Write a story with no verbs; write each chapter with a different kind of alliteration or even write a poem using nothing but the subject lines of Spam e-mails. In honour of this style of writing, I have titled this post using an anagram for the "Strange Authority" post that inspired it.
So, that's what we're looking at today, five more stories written in unconventional ways. This list is in no particular order, although I will begin with the "dream story" that introduced this post. Here are . . .


"The Dream World of Dion McGregor"

by Dion McGregor

The Story: This is a collection of rambling stories, such as the story of Valeria Trumpet, an electric monster girl with a taste for rusty water; the story of Ms. Smith Ronson's son, a boy born without wrists; also, the story of Vernon and Claire, children invited to Vera Sweltringum's birthday party, but have forgotten to get her a gift & there's even the story of Edwina, a woman whose leg was bitten off by a crocodile, and now she whittles herself a new leg every three weeks so that she can dance. This story is, literally, surreal.

The Penmanship: Somniloquy - this story was written in Dion's dreams. Of course, he didn't write them himself, somniloquy is merely the act of talking in one's sleep, writing in one's sleep would be a different matter entirely. However Mr McGregor, famously, spoke in his sleep at a conversational volume to narrate his dream-adventures. So, his friend and collaborator Michael Barr recorded his ramblings on tape. These were sold as albums and also transcribed into this book.

You Might Want to Try: Dream Diary - The majority of people don't talk in their sleep, but if you want to try out some interesting surreal writing of your own, I recommend you keep a notebook and pen at your bedside. That way, if you dream, you can write down your experience in your own journal of dreams before you have the chance to forget it. I personally find that such writings aren't the best for story ideas, but you might find some inspiration there. Also, I've found that I can't remember most of my dreams (in fact, I would argue that I don't dream at all), but either way a dream diary is a good way to test your writing ability. If you can accurately describe a scene from your wildest dreams, where gravity is optional, quantity is illusion and details are confusion, then writing a scene where two characters talk to another will be a piece of cake.

by Ernest Vincent Wright

The Story: It's a story about a man  from Branton Hills known as John Gadsby, who has grown anxious with his town's low living standards. To combat this, Gadsby founds an "Organization of Youth" inspiring local youth to transform Branton Hills from a stagnant municipality into a bustling, thriving city. By this story's conclusion, many of Gadsby's patrons gain diplomas in honor of such hard work, and John Gadsby gains acclaim as mayor of Branton Hills, and in fact grows town population from two-thousand to sixty-thousand.

The Penmanship: Lipogram - The book is called "Gadsby" but also includes the subtitle: A Story of Over 50,000 Words Without Using the Letter "E". Talk about exactly what it says on the tin. The story, indeed, does not include the letter "e", except for the introduction which explains the novel to the reader, as well as the subtitle.
In that way, it's not as cool as the Novel "A Void" by Georges Perec. A Void, was written in French and translated to English and both instances of the novel avoid the letter e. This has a more interesting story as it is actually about the missing letter (rather than E.V. Wright's, which was only written to "prove he could do it") so you should check it out.
But this is about "Gadsby" rather than "A Void" because Georges Perec already appears on this list and because the original novel is in French, meaning I can't read Perec's lipogram, so much as his translator's.

You Might Want to Try: For starters, I recommend you try this one out for yourself. It's a lot of fun to write, and it produces a strange feeling when read, that's why I tried it out when I wrote the summary for the story (seriously, check that out!). But it's really difficult, so here's another fun form of "removal" you might try, I just call it:
Missing Element - basically, try writing a story where a HUGE and important element is missing. Some genres have certain tropes or cliches that seem necessary for their execution, but I challenge you to write a story without them.
Why not write a Science Fiction story with absolutely no aliens?
How about a Mystery without any kind of "detective"?
Could you write a genuine Horror story where nobody gets hurt?
Why not attempt a Western without guns or horses?
Is it possible in a Romance for the loving couple to have no physical contact?
For all of these, I believe it's possible, it's just going to take a bit more effort, but if you're up for a challenge of constrained writing I recommend you try something like this.

"Life, A User's Manual"
by Georges Perec

The Story: This is the story of a painter called Bartlebooth who embarks on a world trip painting a portrait of a different vista for every two weeks until he has painted five-hundred paintings. He then sends the paintings back to France, where they are cut up into jigsaw puzzles. When he returns to France, Bartlebooth slowly reconstructs each scene, "glues" them together and sends each painting to the port in which it was painted. Then, after twenty years, each painting is dissolved in a solution that destroys the watercolour leaving only a blank canvas with jigsaw patterns cut into it.

The Penmanship: Oulipo - An abbreviation of the French Ouvroir de Littérature Potentielle, the Oulipo is a group of mostly French authors who attempts to explore literature's boundaries. However, this can be translated to "Oeuvre of Literary Potential" with the word oeuvre meaning "a work of art",  This particular story does so through a very odd method.
This story is told through a frame story of a moment in time within an apartment block consisting of 100 rooms, organized in ten cubes of ten (stacked vertically). Each chapter concerns one of these rooms, and describes its "story", but the way the writer decided the order in which each chapter would describe each room was dictated by the path taken by a knight chess piece during a "knight's tour" of a chessboard.

You Might Want to Try: There are some weird possibilities in this one. Basically, you take any model, and build a novel around its structure. You can write a post-apocalypse story dictated by the Kübler-Ross model; a Hero's Journey inspired by the Images of the Ten Bulls or even a superhero novel born of the Cass Identity Model. If you prefer sticking with the Chess theme of the original text, you could write a story with scenes or characters inspired by the Rook's Graph or Eight Queens Puzzle. However, this is all pretty heavy and theoretical, so if you want to try something else to "structure your story" that is just as guiding but much less difficult, I recommend:
Geofiction - Although the term has fallen out of use, geofiction is the creation of a fictional world of your own design. This is often known as "worldbuilding", but since all stories rely on some kind of worldbuilding, I prefer the term "geofiction" or "conworlding". I'm talking about drawing maps, writing history and creating a population, history and society for a constructed world. If you're having trouble understanding, there's a whole wiki of this kind of thing called "Conworlds" which is worth looking into. Your world doesn't have to be huge, it could be as large as a universe or as small as a town. All you have to do is create a world of your own, and then write a story within this world that will exhibit as much of it as possible.

by Christian Bök

The Story: The word "Eunoia" basically means "a state of good mental health", but I would argue that this story is anything but. The book contains five long poems, one per chapter. Within each and every one, the writer muses on the art of writing; describes the scenes of a banquet, a sinful orgy, a saintly tableau and a nautical voyage & explores language through extensive vocabulary and as little repetition as possible.

The Penmanship: Univocalic - This book does not contain the letter "Y". That's alone is no hard task, however the book also has five chapters each named for a vowel: A, E, I, O U. Within each chapter, the writer limits himself to using words that contain only that vowel and no other.
That's hard as balls, all can grasp that. Even when tested between these wee sentences. I insist I will still this thing I'm within, swift. Lot of work to do for short, so won't go for too long. Uh, but such dull, blunt duty burns up fun.

You Might Want to Try: Like the lipogram, this one's kind of fun, so I reckon you try it out for a little while. But, again, it's really difficult to write. Luckily for you, there are some other options to get this kind of writing. Unluckily, they may also be somewhat difficult to write:
Sound Poetry - this concept alone is really stupid. It's the idea that, rather than words, a poem could be written with nonsense that "sounds" like words and the poem should be about the inherent emotion of those sounds. Like I said, stupid. However, something I was thinking about would be Literate Sound Poetry, which is to say, Sound Poetry that could be understood both phonetically and intellectually. With the simple and accurate application of Phonosemantics; Ideophonetics, Onomatopoetics; Phonaesthetics and Phonesthemics, I think one could easily recreate the emotion of a sound poem, with the legibility of prose. Okay, "easily" is a bit of a stretch, but if no one else gives this a go, I might just try it out myself, since it sounds like fun.

"Report on Probability A"
by Brian Aldiss

The Story: The majority of this novel is the "report" mentioned in the title, which is a heavily detailed report on the activity within the suburban home of Mr & Mrs Mary, Mr Mary being a writer. The couple is being watched by a secretary known as 'S', a chauffeur known as 'C' and a gardener known as 'G'. This distresses the couple somewhat, having their activities so scrutinized. These people interact through a housekeeper, or at the café across the road, often talking about a strike at a local factory.
This report itself is also being scrutinized and speculated upon by two people known as Domoladossa and Midlakemela. There are other stories of aliens watching the couple through a photograph that is actually a portal to another world, who in turn are watched by a group of men using a robotic fly, who in turn are being watched by two men and a boy who believe they have found a time machine and other strange stories.

The Penmanship: Anti-novel - This book both intrigues and disgusts me. The idea is an interesting one, an experimental work of fiction that deliberately avoids the familiar conventions of the novel. I believe that writing should have no rules, to allow for all manner of reading, so this is a cool idea. However, at the same time I believe that reading does have rules, unwritten though they be. To be a good read, written works must be legible, understandable and engaging. This book achieves the first (arguably, perhaps, the second), but it fails to have a real story.
This reminds me of the "anti-film" (such as "Sleep" by Andy Warhol) which is a film designed to not be watched, which is one of the stupidest ideas I've ever heard. The anti-novel is more about tearing down literature's convention than the conventions of its perusal, so it's not as stupid as the anti-film, however this book seems to achieve both.

You Might Want to Try: Anti-novelette - The main problem with the anti-novel is that it's not always entirely engaging, and that it can be a bit hard to stay focussed, since the story itself often doesn't stay focussed. So, size is one thing to consider. A novellette (or novella) is much shorter than a novel, and I feel is more appropriate for this kind of experimental deconstruction of literature. To do this yourself, you just need to break down what you know about a novel: Character, setting, plot, structure and moral. You take these and you invert, subvert and, basically, play around with them. Question what a novel is and write a text that expresses this epiphany. If that's a bit hard, why not try a different, simplified form of Experimental Literature?
Write a story that doesn't follow a linear path or a story wherein the events occur backwards or in reverse. Perhaps you could write a story that is about writing or a story that is about itself. You could even write a story to defy and question genre, or perhaps create genre. Any of these and more! Deconstruct, break down and then rebuild the concept of stories, and if people enjoy reading it then you will have created something truly great.

Anyhow, that's all from me. It seems like some of these books can be found on or other such online booksellers, if you're inclined to read them yourself. Otherwise, I hope you enjoyed this, because writing this post took a long time a lot out of me. It's like writing one of those assignments for highschool. I've looked at the word "literature" so many times that I want to scream, and I won't have the stomach to look at this post again for a very long time, for fear that the mere sight of it will make me feel like I do now. That's not to say this wasn't fun, it was just very labour-intensive.
I don't know what I'll write for my next blog post, I just hope that it will be easier to write than this.

Until next time, I'm the Absurd Word Nerd, and I'm going to go sit down and quietly read something that's probably going to blow my mind.


  1. What an interesting post. "The Dream World of Dion McGregor" sounds particularly interesting. I'm fascinated by dreams and I do write them down on occasion when 1. I remember them and 2. they seem interesting enough for story purposes. The book I'm currently writing has a couple elements that I dreamed about and one of them will actually play a large part in the sequel I'll write next. It's exciting when stuff that bubbles up from the subconscious actually makes sense in the waking world.

    Anyway, before I start rambling, just wanted to say thanks for taking the time to write this post. I can see how it would be labor intensive. But you've given me lots to think about and even some writing exercises that could be fun (or maddening) to do at some point.

    1. This is "before" you start rambling? Hey, I don't mind, I'm a rambler myself, I'm just saying . . .

      It's great to see a fellow writer, working on their next best story. I'd wish you luck, but writing's not really about luck; instead I just say "keep on trucking" and feel free to drop me a line if you want some advice or help with writing.


Feel free to make suggestions, ask questions & comment . . .
I would love to read your words.