Friday, December 11, 2015


There is only one way to build an Airbus, there is no poetic licence allowed.

Engineers all over Europe use a 'simplified English' specially conceived for the aeronautic industry which removes every possible ambiguity from their minds and hands.

Forget a rivet and the results are potentially catastrophic. There is no space for interpretation, no leeway for inference.

One word means one thing.

I was reminded of this while reflecting on a post of Kevin Hodgson entitled: "A single word can change a story. (perhaps)."  In it, he talks of a writing experiment based on the #25wordstory format.

The story is here:

His stated aim was:

"to infer another story, behind the ornament being put away, and also, to shorten each sentence to make the story more and more compact by the end."

It wasn't the story in itself which caught my eye at first. It was the folllowing sentence:

"And what, I wondered, would happen to that story — still so very short — if I changed that last word to something else."

Kevin goes on to experiment with the addition of the word: 'Laughed' or the alternative 'Cried.'

Short Fiction Ornament String

Words play off against each other like notes of music, I remark later.

It was not this that I really read.

I was already elsewhere.

I was impatient.

I had seen the climbing frame, dropped all bags and rushed off to explore.

That story had become a playground.


How many interpretations were possible from Kevin's story I wondered?

How might our reading of the same words produce different meanings?

What were the constraints in his text as written and how were they engineered?

I tapped on Audiocopy and did a series of recordings.

The first recording seems to reveal the intimacy of Kevin's writing. There is an apparent melancholy, and age to the person, or at least a depth of nostalgia. She is apparently alone, there is ritual in her actions, there is a precious fragility in the ornament.

The story recalls to me my mother, at Christmas, alone, tucking away little brass angels from a candle blown angel wheel.

The story, short that it is, opens up possibilities for me of identification, for imagination.

Three minutes later, the tone has changed.

The reader is apparently unsympathetic to the woman and her ritual.

There is mockery in that voice. The story suddenly seems less intimate, more critical. Perhaps we can imagine that it is part of a larger comic collection of incidents.  What was once preciously hidden is open to ridicule. I am beginning to add ornament to the recording in the way of a photo.

The photo has become a black box.  If the mockery has disappeared, the voice appears as neutral narrator. I no longer feel that the box is open. The story is a series of words, there is no depth.

Suddenly the ornament, 'that ornament' has become disassociated from the memory.

She has 'tucked that ornament away' in a drawer? What now is 'the memory'? Why is not in the same place as the ornament? The change of stress on the words has changed the story, I feel less drawn to the question of why the woman might laugh.

What on earth is 'the memory'? How might one put a 'memory' in a box? What is she trying to forget?

Poetic licence - I ignore the punctuation, which in no way suggests that there are two people speaking, to invent another person in the scene. The woman is no longer alone with a narrator, she is being bossed around by a Monty Pythonesque civil servant: 'Put the memory in a box out of view.'

She is rescued by a more neutral, even sympathetic narrator.

Suddenly I feel empathy for the woman, how on earth did she get into a relationship with that prat? sounds like we're hearing the Wind in the Willows or some Jeeves story. Now I am getting irritated by that narrator imposing a reading onto a text which it didn't deserve. On top of that, what on earth has the image uploaded to Soundcloud got to do with the story or the tone of the story?

Laziness, I mutter to myself.

Here we are back to breath, back to melancholy, back to sadness.

All is as it was...until a last, sinister, laugh.

What has she done? What was that ornament? Who has she murdered?

We have gone from melacholy to macabre with a laugh.

Memory box.

I am finding it hard to remember these different emotions, different characters, so I stitch the readings together in iMovie, find the only video footage that I have which I feel is indistinct enough give space enough to these different voices and publish on Youtube.

Music box.

I then wonder how might music affect the atmosphere, the tone, the meaning of a single reading.  I drop a sound file into Garageband. I go and run my fingers over Thumbjam, choose what I feel is appropriate instrument and assemble voice with music.

Cello perhaps? Bassoon? I am not sure, but the music appears to open up the text to a new theatrical dimension. What has the writing become now? I feel that I want to know the other movements to which this piece is part.  There is darkness in this assemblage....

A string ensemble... a change of atmosphere, a change of decor, of epoque perhaps, baroque maybe? Suddenly, the woman and her box appear as a period piece, crinolines, candle light, and consumption...

Goodness, where on earth are we now? Electro, echo, reverb, what has the writing become now? Are the words backgrounded? Are the words just beats in a strange dance? There is an underlying rythym to those words...

Rhythm (from Greek ῥυθμός, rhythmos, "any regular recurring motion, symmetry" (Liddell and Scott 1996)) generally means a "movement marked by the regulated succession of strong and weak elements, or of opposite or different conditions" (Anon. 1971, 2537).

Ritual becomes mechanistic, I only care for motion, any person appears lost to machine.

I almost want to erase the words so that they become sampled beats.

I suddenly remember Stromae.

There is nothing precious in that box, however you look at it.

It is that emptiness which moves us.

Alors on dance.

Box sets..

I find a box.

I find a collage box in Accapella.

Am I enriching the story?

Am I changing the story?

Has the story become something else? I am not altogether sure.

I insert it here for reflection.

I save the video from Accapella to my camera roll and see how I can change it again with PicPlayPost. The story become secondary perhaps to collage. Are we less concerned now by the meaning and more concerned by the graphic effect? What has become of the words? I don't know. I insert it here for reflection.

It feels like that I have finished with the ornament. I have put it in a box, to move on...

We need words as boxes for resonance.

Writing is closer to music than I imagined.

That sounds right.

I make it a mental note.

What of laughed?

A final thought occurs to me.

What of that word that Kevin added?

What of 'laughed'?

I laugh.

There is nothing in the box.

Faced with emptiness we might as well laugh.

Whose ornament are we?

Who is laughing now?



  1. Good lord ... your exploration is teeming with insights, reflections and possibiilities ... and I am fascinated and appreciative of how you lay out your thinking at every step along the way, Simon. I need to spend time with this. More time, in fact, then I spent writing the tweet stories, which is an interesting observation on how agency goes to the reader in this case, and now I move from writer-to-reader myself.

    1. As writer you have opened, it appears, Pandora's box.
      First there was the word...
      Good Lord.

  2. ok finally back to comment :). What an experiment . I'd heard your "laughed" variation on soundcloud before I saw this post and it had already gotten me thinking again (I'd thought about it when I read aloud your post) about what makes the meaning. I've been thinking about sound, music and voice then today I played with facial expressions to make one version of "laughed" to mean something different every time. Do you know that the version that you called sinister can have a funny or surprised meaning? :)

    May be some words will have as many meanings as there are combinations of elements, feelings, expectations, intentions, experiences....