How I tackled the synchysis style
A Behind the Scenes post
As you may know, I’ve been running a series called Experiments in Style. Each week I take the very simple story I started with, and rewrite it, or reimagine it, a different way. Last week I published a synchysis version.
Writing the other versions has taken some thought in each case, but the synchesis one was very difficult. Indeed, I did it in two parts, because I gave myself a break of around a week or so after I’d written some of it. I was feeling embarrassed about taking a total of around five hours to finish the exercise. But then I read that Paul Griffiths (see below) took thirteen years, admittedly on a far more challenging quest, so I now don’t feel so bad about it!
Synchysis means changing the word order so that the original message is obscured. (I suppose it could be used as a cypher technique, as long as the person on the receiving end knew how to put the words back in the correct order.) The reason I found it hard was that I wanted the result to make some kind of sense, even if it turned out to be a different story from the one I started with. The result is that the story reads like a dream sequence or if I’d taken drugs. Asproposed in the comments, it was rather “trippy”.
I came across synchysis in Raymond Queneau’s book, Exercises in Style, which I’ve written about. I didn’t care for his version much, although I have to admit that it seems more true to the original and less “trippy” than mine!
Because I was determined that my reworking of the story would still make sense, if only as a dream sequence, I had to be quite methodical in the way I went about it. Otherwise I could have simply rearranged all the words in alphabetical order and published the result. Here’s what the first part of that would have looked like:
That has its merits, but it fails to meet my criterion of actually making sense.
It’s worth saying that the synchysis style is harder to do the longer the piece of text you’re working with. Paul Griffiths made this point when discussing his novel Let Me Tell You. While not the same as synchysis, the novel similarly uses only a limited set of words. In that case, only the words spoken by Ophelia in Hamlet. Griffiths says:
I began with the idea of taking all the words spoken in Hamlet and rearranging them into a new text. However, it didn’t take me very long to realize that while initially I could say almost anything with this stock of words, unless I took huge care in monitoring what I was using, I could easily end up with a highly resistant residue of archaisms and prepositions. See the full article in Lithub.
But enough of this persiflage! This is how I tackled the synchysis version.
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