Fun da mentals : Rhetorical Devices for Electronic Literature

Passing Your Constraints:  Generative and random texts

Fun da mentals : Rhetorical Devices for Electronic Literature


Experiment: On Your Own
Exchange: Share Your Creations

Student works {None yet} Share your work


We want to make sense of nonsense; we strive for meaning. Usually, if a sentence uses the correct syntax, you will accept it and try to understand the deeper meaning. The Jabberwocky has been translated into so many languages simply because its structure is intact: 'Twas _{weather or time}__ and the __{adjective}___{plural noun}__ did ___{verb}." is a familiar rythym to it--a slightly old fashioned, poetic entry--perhaps "Twas evening and the peaceful doves did coo." We can substitute pretty much any word in this structure and the mind will make what sense of it it can.

There are a variety of ways to use random elements in elit. One of these is to create a universe or a set of words that can be put together randomly. These can be generative--where the computer pieces together a set of author-defined words or can be a series of constantly replaced words or the user can choose what words to fit in the blank space.


These generated works can have a broad base of possibilities (think about Borges' description of a few monkeys typing for eternity--they are generating works on their 24 letter typewriters) or a narrow range (the exercise below has only a few possibilities as it is constrained to a few pairs of words).

Other works incorporate random links into an already composed elit piece. These random links add to the mood of the piece.

  • Exercise: Passing Your Constraints

    1) Generating random words

    There are two sentences in this work, each curved around each other to evoke a question/response or call/response image. Each of these sentences has three blanks, filled in by content word sets. These blanks can also be links, so that when one content word is clicked on, its paired content word appears in the opposite sentence—and the content word clicked on remains the same. Create a generator: a work that either scrolls the word sets in the sentence or that chooses a random word from the word sets or where the user can drag words from the word sets to the sentences.

    Who do the _1 noun__ touch after their __2 noun___ have passed __3 prepositional phrase____?

    The __4 noun_ of the _5 noun___ leads me _6 prepositional phrase__

    Content word sets

    1 and 4 {bombs, silence}, {stones, dancing}, {branches, shadows}, {deer, sighing}, {children, colors}

    2 and 5 {paths, undergrowth}, {hatreds, acid rain}, {lives, ripened fields}, {loves, mine fields}, {shadows, forests}

    3 and 6 {behind them, home}, {by, down into your soul’s depths}, {before them, where the children still play}, {between them, in your embrace}, {beyond them, away from the tortures in my soul}

    Sample readings from the generator:

    Who do the stones touch after their lives have passed beyond them? / The dancing of the ripened fields leads me in your embrace.
    Who do the deer touch after their paths have passed by? / The sighing of the undergrowth leads me down into your soul's depths.

    Experiment: On Your Own

    Try some writing exercises on your own to generate a world of text, images, or sound that can come together in random ways.


    Cut outs

    1. Take a magazine and cut out pieces of text and images.
    2. Glue the cut outs onto a hard cover backing so they are easier to grab.
    3. Put these in a paper bag and select several--without looking.
    4. Spread these across a table. (How does the context change the meaning of these pieces?)
    5. Take another few pieces and add them to your arrangement.
    Fill in the blanks
    This is somewhat like the Mad Libs, only you provide both the sentence and the blanks.
    1. Write a series of sentences on a large piece of paper and cut out each noun (e.g., ____ threw the ____ over the wall.).
    2. Glue the blanked out sentences and the nouns to a hard cover backing so they are easier to handle.
    3. Put the nouns face side down and shuffle them.
    4. Put each noun into one of the blanks--face down.
    5. Turn over the nouns.

    Random links

    Use an exercise you have generated elsewhere.

    If this is on paper, put it up as a dart board. During a "reading," throw darts at the board and read the entry.

    If this is electronic, develop a random link factor and incorporate it into your work. Then read your work using only this random factor.

    Team sport

    Deck of cards
    You can also make a deck of cards for solitaire, but playing this game with others is more challenging.

    1. Take a regular deck of cards and glue texts, pictures, etc. on the front (or the back).
    2. Deal the cards -- solitaire will work, but it is more fun with a couple of players.
    3. Arrange the cards that you have.
    4. Rearrange the other player's cards, and let them rearrange yours.


    With more players, this will take longer, but you will have a richer selection of materials.
    1. Write one sentence for every player on a separate piece of paper (if there are 3 players, write 3 sentences, etc.)
    2. Cut out or draw a picture for every player.
    3. Glue these to a hard cover backing to preserve them.
    4. Hand one sentence and one picture to each player (so if there are 3 players, then you will have 6 elements to work with).
    5. Arrange your content in different orders.
    6. You can add sounds as well-choose which sound would go with what piece or choose a music loop that would play for the entire piece.

    Exchange: Share Your Creations

    Share your work in person
    Place all of your materials face down and have your reader pick up pieces to read and paste together a text. You might think about placement--what should be next to what.

    Share your work online
    There are many ways to present your randomly generated text. You can video tape a reading; however, readings don't really show the range of possibilities inherent in your randomly generated world. It is better to use a software. These suggestions assume you know the software--if you don't, partner with someone who does.

    We'd love to show your work--either send it or send a URL for your work here to be a part of this site.

    Fun da mentals: Links / Images / Sounds / Multiple voices / Node paths / Spatial placement/ Collage and layering / Fonts / Secrets / Random / Glossary / Tools / Teacher's Guide