Craft Notes: The B of The Bang
A short dip into inspiration, tools, sources & methods.
This post refers to this narrative experiment, so if you haven’t seen it already, start there.
A magician never reveals their tricks, but I am not a magician, I’m a writer. So, on the off chance that it might be useful or interesting to anyone, here’s what I was reading and playing around with that led to this Literary Experiment.
TL;DR - this high-speed read was bought to you by the Oulipo School of Writers, George Saunders’ Story Club, Linford Christie, Wright Thompson, Wieden + Kennedy London, Spreeder/QuickTime/Substack.
Whilst writing this I thought quite a bit about interactive writing.
I went through a phase a while back where I was trying to read as much as possible as quickly as I could, and experimented with speed-readers for a bit before I realised that a) they give you eye-strain if used for any sustained period of time, and that b) I would prefer to read deeply than quickly.
Rather than succumbing to the late-capitalist habit of trying to maximise the productivity of everything, I switched towards trying to learn more and take notes from what I read. However, whilst speed-readers aren’t great for long stints of deep reading, I started to think they might be good for short stories if you could find the right narrative for a form that streams words onto your eyeballs at 400 words or more a minute.
(I’m not sure anyone would want to read a whole novel like this, or at least I wouldn’t).
I’ve also been reading and playing around with short stories as the perfect literary format for a modern attention economy where everything competes with TikTok. I read A Swim in The Pond in The Rain by George Saunders and joined his Story Club here on Substack, and this story was in part an attempt to deliver on George’s maxim that “a story is finished when it is done escalating”.
In The Penguin Book of Oulipo, I read about the curious French writers who created formal and mathematical constraints on their writing to power new types of story and verbal play. It occurred to me that these writers would have seen the internet as a playground, and that perhaps doing something in that spirit might be fun.
I also encountered, a while back, the Brazilian School of Concrete Poetry started in the 1950s, where the shape of a verse and its formal arrangement gives new meaning to the words and rhythm of the text.
Inspiration for the technique came from this piece of typographic wizardry courtesy of Wieden + Kennedy London, and it’s also been used by Apple in those compressed recaps of their Keynote videos they do every year. I lack the technical ability to a) vary the pace of the text (neither tech I tried this with allows you to) or to craft sound design synced to the text, which in this case would be a nice but probably unnecessary touch.
The title of the story was, as far as I’m aware, a phrase coined by British Olympic 100 metre Champion, World Record Holder and all-round sporting hero Linford Christie, who used to say that he liked to leave the blocks on ‘The B of The Bang’.
Thematic inspiration was drawn from “The Cost of These Dreams” by Wright Thompson, and various pieces of sports journalism I’ve read about the cost of sporting obsession over the years. I think the nugget around the selfishness of sprinters was in a profile of Margot Wells, the former Scottish sprint champion and coach who’s worked with a lot of rugby players, and who trained her husband Alan Wells to an Olympic 100 metre gold in 1980.
The detail about taking half a wank before a sprint is a distortion of a real-life memory from when I was a boy: a rugby player several years above me at school1 used to go into the toilets and do it before every match to get angry. (I accept no responsibility for anyone attempting to use this in the bedroom, the boardroom, or the boxing ring).
“I am not a man, I am dynamite”
is stolen from Friedrich Nietzsche, who is also a massive fan of my Substack.
“There is more to life than increasing its speed”
is pinched from Mahatma Gandhi, who was not available for comment on this auspicious honour at the time of publication.
“Life is what happens between the bang and the finish line. The rest is waiting.” is a bastardisation of
‘To be on the wire is life. The rest is waiting’
from high-wire artist Karl Wallenda, who apparently said it on going back up onto the wire after his troupe’s fatal Detroit accident.
After consuming this soup of inputs, I wrote an initial burst of this short story in a single night, and then rewrote it about 30 times for flow once I started testing it in speed-readers.
I made the speed-reading stream using Spreeder, and recorded it after some fiddling using QuickTime screen capture.
I have published it here on Substack (using their handy new video beta), Discord, Twitter and Instagram Reels.
This probably isn’t the last one of these I’ll make, so let me know any feedback or issues you had with it.
How did you find the experience of reading this? Are you writing or playing around with these things? What have you learned? If you’re experimenting or writing in a similar or related fashion, I’d love to hear about it.
As always, thanks for reading.
Please note: I am not a fan of auto-fic, and this is not a thinly-disguised version of me.