In Roald Dahl’s short story The Great Automatic Grammatizator, Adolphe Knipe is a computer scientist who wants to be a writer. With the reluctant support of his boss, Knipe invents a machine that produces short stories, then is improved to write novels – each novel taking about fifteen minutes to create. In the following scene where the boss, Mr. Bohlen, who has been won over by all the money they are making manufacturing short stories, ‘writes’ his first novel: in this passage Knipe assists Bohlen in configuring the machine with the appropriate parameters to produce the desired story:
With one finger Mr. Bohlen carefully presses the necessary pre-selector buttons:
Master button – satirical
Subject – racial problem
Style – classical
Characters – six men, four women, one infant
Length – fifteen chapters
At the same time he had his eye particularly upon three organ tops marked power, mystery, profundity.
‘Are you ready, sir?’
‘Yes, yes I’m ready.’
They pull the lever, the machine runs, and a few minutes later out pops a stack of paper that is the pre-programmed novel. The story (Dahl’s, not Mr. Bohlen’s) is good on a number of topics: the lives of writers, on the process of writing, about the publishing industry, the threat of consolidation and monopoly, and the role of technology in creativity. Knipe soon corners the market on nearly all fiction, in part by shaking down existing authors, offering to write stories under their name if they sign a contract with Knipe. In particular he goes after the mediocore writers, because there are so many of them, and they sell so well.
I recently finished a book by a highly regarded author, but it seemed to me the book was more product of a machine gone wrong, with bugs in it, as we say in software, rather than written by a person. The story was terrible, unreadable, really, and I couldn’t understand all the praise, the Amazon five star reviews, and so on. So, as we’ve all done before, while standing in front of some piece of modern art, I thought ‘I can write better than that.’ But then I thought, I don’t need to – I just need a bit of code and a bunch of words. Indeed, the nature of the book I had read lent itself more to the writing of snippets and phrases, rather than something coherent such as sentences, paragraphs, and chapters. With that thought I got to work, although not quite like Knipe.
Below is version 0.73 of Elder’s Write-O-Matic: just click on the ‘be writerly’ button. All words have been taken from the book in question. Give it a spin.
I haven’t had a chance to integrate the adverbs (wait for version 0.79), but as you can see them in the fourth column, they’re rather bizarre.