Thursday, 9 June 2011

'The Domino Machine', or 'Fletcher's Law'

There was this time I was half-running a creative writing group; that’s to say, we’d all turn up but the teacher wouldn’t. So we’d make things up together and hope he showed the next week. There were ten or so of us. A right old mixed bag it was – young guys with big, earnest fringes; ex-plumbers with the grime of the day job still under their nails, super-chirpy extroverts with glitter pens and brand new jotters, and me.
We invented the Domino Machine one night in Wigan of all places, in a badly insulated temporary classroom held together by chewing gum and graffiti.
It started when a bright young kid in a Verve t-shirt scribbled this on the top of his pad: God picks up the phone. It’s the devil making a prank call. We had a laugh at this, and he playfully suggested how difficult it would be to get that sentence into a story.
We made up some more silly sentences – goofing around, wasting time, thinking about maybe going to the pub. Then this idea emerged – I recall it being mine, but then I can’t be trusted, having one of those memories that’s convinced it’s the source of a constant stream of criminally overlooked successes.
“We generate a whole bunch of these lines” I said, my audience awed by my brilliance the way I remember it, “and we each choose three. One represents the problem; one the conflict; one the resolution. We stitch them together into a whole anthology of mad stories.”
I thought I was a real big shot, though I later learnt this is a pretty standard activity – the stuff of creative writing groups up and down the country; so often the way with my ideas. We generated 33 lines on the first go. Someone suggested we call it the Domino Machine, though I can’t remember why.
What I do recall, though, is unravelling those screwed up strips of paper to see what I’d got. Flattening them out against my notebook. The room was full of laughter. People grinned or groaned or spontaneously shrieked at the stupidity of it all. There was a real joy and pleasure to be had in the collisions that happened when your lines revealed themselves. There was a lot of jovial “Who the hell wrote this one?” and “What does this say?” or “What’s this word mean?” and so on.
I remember well some of the lines people had to work with that night; ‘There’s a bear in your garage’, ‘At the bottom of a well, an object glinting in the dark’; one woman in particular puzzled by ‘A fit lad gives you a wedgie’ (“commonly featured in popular works as a form of low comedy” says Wikipedia.) And I recall too that my story had to open with a preposterous scene in which ‘A block of frozen urine falls from the sky.’ The writer had helpfully added in brackets, ‘It’s from a passing airplane.’
That story wasn’t one of my better efforts. But I remember the Domino Machine with some fondness nevertheless. Media types often refer to Chandler’s Law, coined from Raymond Chandler’s oft-repeated advice; "When in doubt, have a man come through a door with a gun in his hand" – an idea very much in the spirit of the Domino Machine.
And for the record - I’d like us all to think of the frozen urine thing as Fletcher’s Law.

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