The Community Story Machine: Getting Started

Note: we start on Wednesday! Please don’t submit before I put the official starting post up, okay?

I had an idea, and it kept scurrying around my brain like a mouse. Just when I thought it was going to leave me alone it would start scurrying again.

Far be it from me to override the wishes of the mouse, so here it is. I’m going to start something, and see where it goes.

There are many bloggers out there who run weekly memes. The writerly ones often have to post some piece of work every week. This is hard on most people. You tend to be a shy lot, and less than eager to throw your work out there into the black hole we call the internet where it may be chewed to bits by mean people with grudges and chips on shoulders and all that. Notice I’m not naming names here. Nope, not me.

So here’s an idea that won’t involve you writing anything but which should be fun.


1. Pick up the book you were last reading. Fiction, history, essays, a plumbing how-to book. Anything that is written in chunks of prose. Poetry: yes. Phone book: no.

2. Turn to page 78.

3. Count down to line 14.

4. On line 14, look for the beginning of a sentence. If no new sentence starts on line 14, I go to the next line, and repeat if necessary.

5. You can’t pick and choose sentences. Every week a different page number and line number will determine what sentence comes out of the book you’re reading. When you find the sentence on (for example) page 78, line 14, you use it. No matter how short or long, boring or odd. It doesn’t have to be in English, even. Though if the majority of contributions are in other languages, it will be a challenge. I don’t plan to censor the contributions, but if things seem to be getting out of hand, I’ll raise the topic for discussion.*

6. The final step: I take all the sentences from the comments and string them together in the post for general consumption. If a lot of people participate I may ask for help with this.

The result will be something like a prose poem. The longer, the more interesting. I’ll start the ball rolling on Wednesday by submitting my own contribution (and the week’s page and line numbers). For example, my Wednesday post might look like this:

Punctuality is required at mealtimes.

(Source: P78.14 of The Guide to Lodging in Italy’s Monasteries, Eileen Barish

I got the idea for this from a meme that was popular about two years ago, but I’ve adapted it to my purposes. This should be quick and easy to do, not to mention fun.

If it would be useful or easier, I’m happy to also provide a Mr. Linky box for those who prefer to participate on their own weblogs.

Finally, to encourage people to get on board: a random drawing will net some one of you a $25 Amazon gift certificate.

*I will reserve the right to reject any contributions which seem obviously skewed toward angering or insulting any individual or group.