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A co-constructed story

katlittrell's picture

For our presentation, we organised the class into groups of roughly twelve and asked them to write the sentence "Once upon a time, Jamie was walking down the street when..." . We gave them 30 seconds to continue the story before asking them to pass it to the person on their left, who then had 30 seconds to continue the story and so on and so forth. We then read out two of the stories to demonstrate the ways in which they had diverged from identical beginnings.



Below are four of the 30-40 stories which resulted from the same sentence:


1. Once upon a time, Jamie was walking down the street when she smelled eu de Dog. Gagging, Jamie looked around for the dog but could not find it. The smell grew worse. It was a holy flying dog of the sky, "hate not me smell puny human" it said. And since this was also written in the sky, Jamie fell asleep. She dreamed about dolphins. There were bunnies and buggies in her dream too. Dreams were her one escape from the dog shit.


2. Once upon a time, Jamie was walking down the street when a car came rushing towards her and she died. Which was unfortunate, considering that she was visiting her sick mother. The last thoughts she thought were too big for her flattened body and mind. But at least she didn't have to watch her mother die. In the afterlife, they met up and smoked some heaven(ly) weed. But then, unfortunately, they went to jail, where they met some pretty cool people.


3. Once upon a time, Jamie was walking down the street when a huge car came veering off the road and almost hit her. Bit a small cat jumped in the way and died. Jamie was so filled with remorse that she put the cat in a $10,000 coffin and sang it a bittersweet dirge to celebrate its life. Only when she heard scratching coming from inside did she realise her mistake. She promptly killed the cat, because it was a really expensive coffin and needed to be used.


4. Once upon a time, Jamie was walking down the street when she found a purple cowboy hat. She picked it up and put it on her head. But it didn't fit so she put it in the trash. A small green monster jumped out of the trash and colded her for throwing away such a beautiful item and he told her that she should wear it when trying to meet guys because it was a real turn on. She wanted to go west and ride into the sunset on a fierce black stallion, kicking up dust behind her into the faces of her enemies.


ashley's picture

Presentation: Co-constructed Story

Our final performance for the class consisted of asking individuals to randomly form three groups, after which they were instructed to copy down a sentence starter and fill in the blank. Each person in this group then had a chance to build off of what the previous person had written by rotating the papers around their group. And thus, a co-constructed story was the result. 

Our idea behind the activity was to represent the three types of evolution we have been discussing in class; biological, memetic, and literary evolution. We each took on a specific evolutionary form to discuss in terms of the activity. Mine was that of memetic evolution. I thought the co-constructed story did a great job in portraying an evolution of ideas as it passed from the hands of one individual to the next.

Memes raise the question of: is it possible for your brain to be influenced without your knowing it? We had discussed in class  an example of how pheromones attract men, who tend to see the same female as more attractive when she is fertile than when she is not fertile. In this case, men are unaware that pheromones are influencing their attraction. Thinking of memes of acting in this same way, would the name "Jamie" (which was assigned as the name of the character in the sentence starter) have had an influence over the way in which each of the stories evolved? Could notions of male and female have influenced whether Jamie was perceived as a he/she, without the individual recognizing it?

Through this activity, I also see the notion of memes as parasitic. Someone began their story with one idea and began taking it in one direction, does that then dictate the direction in which everyone else continues on with the story? Did the initial idea that one person had attach itself to others in the group? I think to a certain extent there is not much of an option in this aspect since most participants would attempt to make the story flow in a coherent manner rather than jumping from one idea to something completely unrelated, although these are also options for how each story could unravel. As in example number 4 listed above as one of the sample stories constructed, while there are some details that are unexpected and may not necessarily seem connected, the idea of the cowboy hat was carried out throughout until the end.

bhealy's picture

Literary Evolution

This exercise can help us grapple with the Library of Babel idea, how every possible story already exists, and that it is impossible to create something new. I liked this idea at first but now I'm not so sure... I wonder whether this is true in regards to this activity - haven't we made 30-40 completely different stories that all started at the same point? Don't our own experiences, likes/dislikes affect what we wrote? Perhaps we really can create something new and different!


When you started your first sentence, how did you want or expect your story to turn out? If you could have written the full story, where would you have taken it? 


This ties into our discussion in our section on how the author often loses control of his/her writing once it is in the hands of others. In Adaptation, the idea of control is addressed in a somewhat different way, but the question remains: from the second to the final sentence, how much did your intended story change in the hands of other writers or interpreters?

katlittrell's picture

Kat's Spiel

This exercise was also a metaphorical reflection on biological evolution, in much the same way as the evolution of memes is analogous to biological evolution. From one starting point branches many and divergent offspring. If we were to draw a diagram on the board of the course of the stories we have in front of us, section by section, with each section representing a new generation, or, further, a new species, the diagram would somewhat resemble Darwin's diagram of speciation.


The future of each story relies on what has gone before it - is Jamie established as male or female, young, old, human, alien, animal... Once each option is decided upon, it opens up a new route for the story's evolution. Where does Jamie go, if anywhere? What does he or she or it do, if anything? Or do some of these stories hit dead-ends, as the experiments of evolution or wont to do? Randomness propels not only biological evolution, but also the development of these stories. Each is unique and descend with modification from the previous developments of others.

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