Monday, 9 January 2012

The Peeping Tom Project

I started a novella inspired by Georges Perec’s Life A User’s Manual a few months ago—a grand statement about the importance of collaborative and fragmented narratives in a virtual world (a statement a decade or two out of date, since we’ve been living in that world since I was a zygote)—but my ambitions crumbled under their own weight. A sub-OuLiPo extravaganza was the plan, to be authored by ten or so different writers. Each writer would play a voyeur observing various shenanigans in a tenement block opposite, the purpose something to do with focusing intently on the minutiae or boring bits of life to achieve a more transcendent narrative (cribbed from David Foster Wallace). This despite the fact each paragraph was plump with unusual or suspect antics: a series of interlocking narratives with manic plots, like what standard fiction is sometimes, so not particularly original.

The novella had its own complex structure where the narrator(s) would describe the actions in each window in groups of four (each group standing for 24hrs). I added a further complication by making each group include a character from a different window in the sequence 1-2-3-4 at all times. So if the order was 2-1-3-4, a character from window 1 would appear in window 2, a character from window 1 would appear in window 2, and so on. Already, you see the utterly unnecessary complications involved, and I’m not sure I understand them myself. The map looked like this:

Story Map

1-2-3-4 → 2-1-3-4 → 3-1-2-4 → 4-1-2-3

1-2-4-3 → 2-1-4-3 → 3-1-4-2 → 4-1-3-2

1-3-2-4 → 2-3-1-4 → 3-2-1-4 → 4-2-1-3

1-3-4-2 → 2-3-4-1 → 3-2-4-1 → 4-2-3-1

1-4-2-3 → 2-4-1-3 → 3-4-1-2 → 4-3-1-2

1-4-3-2 → 2-4-3-1 → 3-4-2-1 → 4-3-2-1

This unfinished piece seemed like a shoo-in for a brief blog series. Hence my plan to stuff this blog with regular excerpts from the permanently unfinished novella. I don’t expect anyone to read this (people reading stories on blogs? don’t be ridiculous!), but it’s either on here or in the wastebasket. I only completed the first four sets up to 4-1-2-3, so that’ll be our new story map. If I upload one window per post, I can generate sixteen posts over a few months. Go me! I hope these posts dont upset my one reader. Love you Joe xxx.


  1. Great idea. I was struck by how inspiring the examples are here. So many story ideas.

    1. Hi Alison! Yes, I wished I could've taken the idea further, but it petered out.