Have you ever thought of writing the same story in a hundred different ways? Sounds crazy?
This is exactly what Raymond Queneau did in his Exercises in Style, back in 1947. He tells a simple, unremarkable story (more like flash fiction) 99 times, trying out different styles, from ode to mathematical depictions.
Exercise in Style
As soon as I laid my hands on this book, I was charmed: by the idea itself, by the 99 possible ways Queneau found, and finally by his skillfulness in doing so. He deservedly holds the title of virtuoso.
Among the hundred of styles he used, he included:
- Free Verse
- Reported Speech
1 – 20, 21 – 40, 41 – 60, 61 – 80.
As an ingenious concept, it is an irreplaceable resource for any writer, journalist, editor, teacher, serving as a guide to various literary forms.
99 Different Ways to Practice
Also, what an incredible way to practice your craft! Let me give you an example of how to put this technique to use.
Here are three different versions of my own story.
The small girl was alone and crying. She seemed scared and lost. It was late afternoon, the break of evening. I almost missed her altogether, swimming deep in my thoughts. After realizing that she’s not accompanied by an adult, I carefully approached and asked: “Where do you live honey?” Her crying was disabling any answer, but she lifted her small arm and pointed the tiny fingers to the left. A dozen steps away, she ran to her house and I could hear her mother’s exclamations of relief and excitement. By the time the girl had turned away to thank the ‘nice stranger’, I was already on my initial route to town.
The small and tiny girl was alone and by herself, crying and weeping. She was frightened and worried and misplaced and lost. I almost missed and passed her altogether and completely, involved and dug into my thoughts and ideas. Seeing and confirming that she, the girl, is without parental and guardian care, I slowly and cautiously moved toward and came near and inquired and asked where she lives and stays. The girl’s leaking and weeping prevented and made it hard to get to an answer, though she raised and picked up her small and little extremities and fingers to one side and to the left. About ten and dozen steps further, the girl began and started running to her house and place to live and it was possible and easy to hear and make out the mother’s cries and sighs of exhilaration and joy. When the small and tiny girl managed and finally lifted and turned herself to pay gratitude and appreciation to the ‘the stranger and man who saved and brought her home’, I was already back to my previous and initial plans of walking and reaching town.
SMALL GIRL ALONE STOP QUESTION AND GESTURING AN ANSWER IN BETWEEN CRYING STOP WALKING BACK TO GIRL’S HOUSE STOP SHE RUNS AWAY TO HER HOUSE STOP MOTHER RELIEVED AND HAPPY STOP GIRL TURNED TO PAY HER THANKS TO THE STRANGER WHO WAS ALREADY GONE STOP SIGNATURE LEVITHIAN
Choose two different styles you would like to use to rewrite the original story above. Alternatively, write your own story, keeping in mind that the tale needs to be flexible enough for a later rephrase.
Feel free to experiment as much as you like. When you’re finished, share your practice in the comments.
And be sure to comment on a few other pieces, as well.