Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Lie to me

It's been a while since I've written here; it's taking a particularly fun exercise I tried out in my Oulipo class to get me back.

Today we played a game I called "Lie to me." Inspired by the byzantine yet convincing fictions Georges Perec creates in Life: A user's manual, I asked my students to spend ten or twelve minutes in crafting the beginnings of a bit of fiction in which they lie their asses off, given the following generic set-up: "You are a _______________ , with a(n) _______________ who hopes to _______________ while in _______________ ." For each blank the students drew cards: the first card gave them a character ("heroin-addicted airline pilot," "one-armed race car driver," etc.), the second accoutred them with an object ("a shard of the cross Jesus hung on," "an ounce of unrefined uranium ore," etc.), the third gave them a purpose ("publish a Pulitzer Prize-winning drama," "escape persecution by political rivals," etc.), and the fourth gave them a location ("Jakarta," "Prague," etc.). I joined in, writing as a homeless classically-trained violinist with a blind Bengal tiger cub who was living in New York and trying to solve the Riemann Hypothesis.

In the spirit of March Madness, the students advanced their stories through quarterfinal and semifinal rounds, ending with a competition between an expert on 17th-century Russian history and a deposed Latin American president. "It's like the darkest ever episode of Dora the Explorer," one of the students said about the latter story, written largely in Spanglish.

Fun times! I'm definitely going to have to try this constraint out again in a future class.

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