Welcome to the Oulipo-Lab!
Calling all writers! We are looking for experimenters to work in our lab. We don’t, however, test with chemicals or dissect frogs. We use words. Language. Inspired by the Oulipo group of French writers and mathematicians founded in 1960, our mission is to bring poetic constraints and techniques to a wider audience. To show that playing with the written (or typed) word can be fun, inventive, and oftentimes surprising.
There is a guide for some of the more popular Oulipian techniques further down. Each issue will also feature explanations and how-to guides for the most popular techniques, in the hope that this will encourage more writers to submit for future issues. We are not looking just for works strictly inspired by Oulipo. We accept anything that follows specific rules or formal constraints. Interesting variations on the Oulipo techniques outlined are also welcome. We encourage you to submit an explanation of the technique(s) you have used or your writing process, but if you wish to keep it a mystery then we have no problem with that either.
The spirit of Oulipo is playful and dynamic, so your work does not have to be polished or pretty. The important thing is to have fun and an open mind to be surprised by the results.
Oulipian and other techniques
Here is a quick how-to guide for a selection of Oulipo techniques for any writers who would like a prompt to start writing. For a full list of all Oulipo techniques, check out https://www.oulipo.net/fr/contraintes (just remember to translate the page into English).
These are just a guide. You can follow them exactly, but we also welcome and encourage variation on each technique. Think outside the box in order to change its parameters!
Although this is the Oulipo technique that requires the minimal amount of creative effort, it is often the one that yields the most hilarious and surprising results. It can be done by anyone - as long as you have a dictionary - even if you don't consider yourself a writer (though of course you are!). You can use online dictionaries and even online N+7 generators, but there's something special in holding a dictionary in your hands and the thill of discovery as you flick through its pages. The smaller the dictionary, the more variety in noun replacements you will get, as they are less likely to have derivates of certain words e.g. 'land', 'land-crab', 'landfill', 'landlady', 'landline'.
Method: Choose a text; it can be a famous piece of fiction, or any kind of non-fiction (political speeches, adverts, emails, etc.). Or start writing a piece of non-fiction: a blog entry, a 'To do' list, a letter or message to someone, etc. Find the first noun in it. Get a dictionary and find the noun that is 7 places ahead of it. Replace the previous noun with the new 7 ahead one. Repeat for all the nouns in the text.
This attitude, by way of excess, replaces the naming worms you would ordinarily say that would usually make sentimentality.
(attitude = attempt, excess = example, worms = words, sentimentality = sense)