Saturday, 2 March 2013

Story Cubes

One thing of the more unusual things I miss from my school days is writing.  A-level English Literature lessons presented the time and motivation to study a few select books and plays to a ridiculous level of detail, and to then craft meandering and imaginative essays that argued over some minor question of the author's motivations and how their real lives influenced their work.  GCSE English was even more open, with the occasional "stream of consciousness"  lessons thrown in, leaving us to put pen to paper to see what happened.  I'm not sure of the educational value of such random scribbles, but creating them was fun. Ten years on, and my job now consists of writing huge numbers of incredibly terse emails, detailed and (hopefully!) precise programming exercises, and miscellaneous bits of computer code - which should ideally be beautiful, short, and not really expressed in the flowery subset of English that is slowly fading from my brain.

Missing an excuse to ramble, and not really being sure what to ramble about - ideas such as creating even yet more content on known features of obscure programming languages, or decorating blow by blow accounts of particularly exciting games of Carcaassone, just don't seem to stick - I picked up a couple of sets of Rory's Story Cubes.  These are dice (principally aimed at children and/or primary school teachers), where each side has forgone the usual dot-based numeral, and instead has etched into it a glyph depicting a common object, action or place.  The instructions accompanying these blocks of fate suggest rolling nine, in three equal groups. You are to then interpret the trios of cubes as the beginning, middle and end of a story.  The only thing you need bring to the party is an imagination.  So, for this week, a tiny example:
Something to write about...

Two worlds

The incident

Dr. Lawrence looked out the window. The tree stood there, as it always did - rooted to the ground, solid, a constant reminder of nature which Lawrence sought to understand. It's trunk ascended parallel to the research lab wall, leaves glistening in the fading autumn sun and reflecting in the glass windows and doors.  The effect was magical, two separate worlds of sterile cleanliness and disordered chaos colliding, coexisting and completely dependent on each other.  Nature providing the inspiration, the ideas and the puzzles, but, as the Dr couldn't help but reflect upon, man was needed to provide the automated sprinkler system to keep this particular tree alive.

In the corner of the lab, a machine finished its assigned duty of mixing chemicals together, and Lawrence's reverie was abruptly broken by it chirping merrily.  Sighing, he turned from the window to give it attention, but in doing so his hand caught a small glass jar by the window, tipping it over the ledge and freeing it from the world of man.  

The beaker fell, tumbling to earth.  The windows sparkled as the light bounced from glass to glass, for a brief instant it appeared as though a shooting star were falling between the building and the tree - the natural and man made split.  Above a head poked out the window, a flash of panic flew across its face, and then was gone.  Below the unexpected shower of liquid upon the wings of a grazing Crow caused it to caw alarmingly as it flew hurriedly away.


Down on the ground, out of breath from having run the stairs, Lawrence looked for the crash site.  Twinkling in the fading light, he found the shattered glass.  The liquid contents were already gone, absorbed into the Earth.  Grabbing the instruments from his bag, the Dr took soil samples and some specimens of insects.  He had been careless, the contents of the former flask weren't thought to be harmful, but they hadn't been fully tested.  Looking up from the ground, Lawrence saw a butterfly exploring the area.  He tried to capture it, but in vain.  Every attempt at a grab failed, as though it knew what he would do - eventually it flew off high, out of reach, out of sight, and once Lawrence had taken the rest of his specimens back up to the lab for testing, out of mind.


Looking up from the machines, the data printouts, the colored test tubes and the microscopes, Lawrence could only conclude one thing.  The effect of the escaped liquid on the natural world was as expected and understandable as magic.  The sampled bacteria could tell they were being watched and would move to the sides of the petri dishes.  The insects seemed to have a 6th sense about the scalpels coming to examine them, and were proving very difficult to inspect.  Lawrence rushed to his bosses, excited at this accidental, and clumsy discovery.  However as he was half-way through the explanations of his discovery, a creaking sound was heard outside.  

"The tree! It knows what we have done to it!" Lawrence realized too late.  Branches snapped, glass shattered, bark scraped, and the tree descended into the world of man.

Now, this isn't exactly going to win any prizes - but it was fun.  It also makes it very clear how bizarre this type of writing is - with no set plan or agenda (other than to appease the sides of the dice), the content meanders around a bit aimlessly, and then tries to tie itself up at the end.  Next time some further planning is probably needed.