Thievery: All-Night Cartoon Party
Thievery is a series of blog posts about my story inspirations.
‘All-Night Cartoon Party’, published at Wigleaf.
I spent two years on an MLitt in Creative Writing at Glasgow University. About 90% of what I learned appeared to be a complete waste of time. One class was about OuLiPo, a French movement that seeks to constrain writing in order to be more creative. OuLiPo practitioners use exercises like prose sestinas (using the word repetition of the sestina form in a prose piece), writing a story without using the letter E, or the “snowball” technique (the first line is one word long, the second line has two words, etc.)
In class, we all produced ‘opposite’ stories – write a story, then for each word write the opposite. ‘Some people are grumpy’ would become ‘none ghosts aren’t cheerful’. The interest in the exercise was that most words don’t have a clear opposite. What is the opposite of ‘people’? I chose ghosts but it could be angels, or corpses, or monsters. It was a fun exercise, but I really couldn’t see the point. The things we produced were nonsensical, pointless; who’d ever want to read these?
It’s only now, a year after I graduated, that I see the point of these things. They force you to not be yourself for a while, to not fall into the same themes and tropes and word-patterns that you always do. When I first started the MLitt there was nothing that I ‘always did’, because I hadn’t written much. Now that I’ve cranked out some more words, I often need to stop and think: have I said this before? And that is where OuLiPo comes in.
‘All-Night Cartoon Party’ is a prose sestina (if you want to figure out the word pattern, please feel free!). I love writing prose sestinas. I love that I start out trying to write one story, and then realise that the words won’t allow me to, and so it has to turn into a different story. I like that I’m guided by the words. I like the sense of losing control, of being forced to make unexpected decisions. When I’m finished, I sometimes don’t recognise the story I’ve written. It seems so un-me. But sometimes it’s good for us to wear a mask for a while.
(Note: I really did go to a Halloween party dressed as Betty Boop.)