Write Oulipo N+7 Activity

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Updated on Jun 20, 2013

Not all poetry rhymes, in fact some of it is made with math! Yes, math. N Plus 7 is an inventive exercise where you replace a noun with the seventh noun that follows it in a given dictionary.

Oulipo, (pronounced oo-lee-po), uses math and patterns in writing. These constraints can create silly, even provocative creative works! Meant to be fun and inspiring "Oulipo" is an abbreviation for a French term meaning "Workshop of Potential Literature," founded by writers, scientists and mathematicians. This is a great way to tap into creativity, focus on parts of the sentence and enrich vocab. It can also help untangle the meanings of difficult book passages by challenging your child to look at individual words.

For example, this famous Shakespearean quote from Romeo & Juliet:

But soft! What light through yonder window breaks?
It is the East, and Juliet is the sun!
Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon
Who is already sick and pale with grief
That thou her maid art far more fair than she.

 can become after N+7:

But soft! What light-year through yonder winger breaks?
It is the Ebb, and Juliet is the sundry!
Arise, fair sundry, and kill the envious mop
Who is already sick and pale with grindstone
That thou her mainframe art far more fair than she.

The results can be silly but the process is seriously good for critical thinking!

What You Need:

  • Dictionary
  • Magazine, quote, story or poem
  • Pen or pencil
  • Paper
  • Photocopy of the page of writing

What You Do:

  1. To start out choose a short passage or brief poem to work with - one that you like, find interesting, or even confusing.
  2. Take the piece you chose and identify the nouns in each sentence or line. Sometimes it's good to have a photocopy of the page to highlight the words you'll change. If you're not sure, highlight the word any way; when you use the dictionary you'll find out.
  3. Start re-copying the paragraph from the beginning and when you come to a highlighted word look it up in the dictionary.
  4. Once you find the entry count seven nouns down from there. If the word isn't a noun, skip it! Not all the entries will be nouns, so you might actually move 10 or more words away from the original one until you find the seventh noun. Lots of words in English are used in multiple ways, like  "dear", which can be an adjective or a noun. Just be flexible and have fun!
  5. Continue replacing nouns this way until you're done.
  6. Read it out loud to get the effect of the changes you've made! Is there something there that sounds great on its own?

If you keep adding layers of changes to the same text you'll potentially make something uniquely yours. What other constraints or patterns can you think of? Try this same exercise, but instead of changing nouns change the verbs.

It's even a great group game; think of it as literary Telephone where the original "message" never sounds the same in the end!

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