Write Oulipo N+7

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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