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Wikiwrimo:Time Travel Word Crawl
A Journey Through the (P)ages
This time travel word crawl was written for the Night of Writing Glamorously 2019 in Los Angeles. This event was six hours long, and still did not use all of the below sprints. Please note that some of the activities are very specific to the event itself, so if you're editing this crawl for your own use please be aware of that!
Welcome, Time Agents! My name is Captain Jack Harkness and I’m here to give you your briefing. The higher ups have become interested in the progression of language and communication over time. Your mission - to travel through all of human history and discover as much as you possibly can. In other words, reconnaissance only, agents! And I mean it, not like that incident last week with the Bermuda Triangle!
You have six hours of our time to complete this mission. You may complete this mission solo, or with a partner or trio if you’d like. If you haven’t already, take the time now to meet those at your table and decide if you want to partner up.
All right, agents! Your vortex manipulators are already synced up to the time points, so you’re ready to go. I have faith in every single one of you that you’ll complete this mission - after all, you’re a good looking crew. Good luck and remember - don’t interfere with the time stream!
Let’s get started with a 15 minute sprint as you enter the coordinates into your vortex manipulator and set off on your adventure!
You land in a wild, untamed world, where nature and beasts are dominant, not humans. You’re in a cave, and with your light you begin to see cave paintings of animals. These first signs of communication began appearing about 40,000 years ago all over the world including Western Europe, Indonesia, and Australia. As you examine the cave paintings, see if you can include an animal in your next 15 minute sprint.
For your next stop, you and your partner will split up. You’ll both journey to about 32,000 BCE to discover some of the first proto-writing systems. One of you will travel to Ancient Egypt to examine hieroglyphics, and the other will voyage to Mesopotamia to investigate Sumerian Cuneiform. For the next 15 minute sprint ...
- If you are in Egypt, inspired by the pyramids, feature a large architectural megalith
- If you are in Sumer, inspired by the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, feature a large body of water
The Egyptian partner will catch up with the partner in Mesopotamia, and together you’ll jump forward to 1750 BCE. Here you’ll find the Code of Hammurabi - one of the oldest collections of writing, and one of the first extensive series of written laws. In the next 15 minute sprint, try to incorporate rules or laws of some kind, whether that means discussing their moral or ethical implications, creating them, or the most fun, breaking them.
You’re beginning to get the hang of this vortex manipulator. Next it takes you to 1050 BCE and the creation of alphabets. One partner will travel to the Mediterranean to witness the birth of the Phoenician alphabet, which will become the basis for Hebrew, Arabic, Greek and Latin. The other partner will travel to China, to delve into the logographic script used by the Shang dynasty, which will eventually become modern Chinese and also kanji, a part of the Japanese writing system. For the next 15 minute sprint,
- If you’re in the Mediterranean, incorporate an ancient language into your story
- If you’re in China, feature calligraphy, penmanship, or painting in your story
Since you’re already in the Mediterranean, the two of you decide to take a little detour - despite the stringent warnings of your attractive Captain - and swing by Ancient Greece. You both skip forward to about 500 BCE in Athens, right in the thick of it. Here you find a wealth of materials. There’s the birth of drama like Sophocles’ tragedy Oedipus, there’s epics like Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, and there’s the philosophy genre from Socrates and Plato that’s all the rage. You eagerly take notes during your next 15 minute sprint.
- For drama/tragedy, milk all of the emotions! Extra points if you make yourself cry
- For epics, see if you can include a heroic moment
- For philosophy, have a moment of introspection for one of your characters
Something seems amiss with your vortex manipulator as you try to get back on track … you find yourself very suddenly in India in 400 BCE, examining a text you’re pretty sure wasn’t on the list. The Kama Sutra is a text on love, sexuality, eroticism, and how to live life to the fullest enjoyment. Perhaps the original self-help book, marriage counseling, and romance novel all rolled into one. For the next 15 minute sprint, see if you can focus on any romantic feelings your characters might be having.
Changing some settings on the vortex manipulator, you manage to get back on track. The next task is a difficult one - tracking down the origin of modern sacred texts. It’s hard to pinpoint an exact point in time when they were established, but you do your best. There’s the I Ching, a Chinese divination text whose first version was around 1000 BCE. There’s the Jewish Tanakh, compiled by the General Assembly in 450 BCE. The Synod of Hippo compiled the modern Christian Bible in 393 CE. And even later in 650 CE, several caliphs compile the Islam Quran after Muhammed passes. For the next 15 minute sprint …
- If you investigate the I Ching, include some foreshadowing to what’s coming up later
- If you investigate the Tanakh, have a debate between two characters
- If you investigate the Bible, include a miracle (large or small) in your story
- If you investigate the Quran, have your characters take several pauses through their day to rest and rejuvenate (maybe even 5 times!)
You fidget with your vortex manipulator, which seems to be making odd noises. “Come on, you dumb thing …” Banging it gets a result, but you’re not sure whether that’s good or bad as you’re whizzed away to the other side of the world to the Inca Empire in the Andes of South America, around 1300 CE. You’re starting to think this detour might be completely useless, since they don’t seem to have any form of written communication, when you notice the quipus. These are intricate lengths of rope and fringe with dozens and dozens of knots tied into them, and they work both as accounting tools and a memory mechanism for storytellers. In the spirit of quipus we have friendship bracelets to give away that were actually made in Peru and Ecuador.
The next stop is very exciting - the invention of the printing press in Germany by Johannes Gutenburg in 1439. This made it much cheaper, easier, and more efficient to create and distribute books and revolutionized communication. For the next 15 minute sprint, have your characters encounter a newspaper, book, magazine or other kinds of written material.
Like sacred texts, the next stop is a tricky one, concerning the standardization of language. Since written language, people have been trying to consolidate and standardize knowledge and language with encyclopedias and dictionaries. But there’s one particular example that catches your interest. In 1443, King Sejong introduces a new phonetic alphabet for Korean called Hangul, which is carefully and intentionally crafted to be easier to learn than the former Chinese characters, to increase literacy. Which worked! In the spirit of standardization, see if you can find a commonality in your stories with everyone at your table - and see how specific you can get!
Ah, poetry. A perfectly ineffable form to pin down. But there are two examples that you’re sent to investigate. The iambic pentameter of Shakespeare so renowned even to this day, and the form of the hokku in Japan around the same time in the early 1600s, which was a precursor to the ever popular haiku. For the next 15 minute sprint ...
- If you’re visiting Shakespeare, make up a new word and include it multiple times during your sprint
- If you’re visiting Japan, spend some time describing nature in your setting
What is the first novel? It’s hard to even define what a novel is, but most agree that it’s a fictional story told with character perspective. Historians and literature buffs argue ceaselessly, but there are two examples that rise above the others. Miguel Cervantes’ Don Quixote, fully published in 1615, is largely decorated with this title. But some argue that even 500 years before, Murasaki Shikibu’s The Tale of Genji qualified. For the next 15 minute sprint ...
- If you’re visiting Spain, put a windmill in your story
- If you’re visiting Japan, time to introduce some political intrigue
Here we are! We’ve arrived in the 1800s, the Industrial Revolution, the advent of technologies of all kinds that will change the way we communicate forever. The telegraph and Morse code was developed, enabling people for the first time to communicate instantly across great distances. The commercial typewriter was invented. Many developments greatly increased the spread of literacy and reading, including the first fully free public library in Campfield Manchester, publishers starting to distribute cheaper paperback books, and the development of the Braille system, all of which led to increased readership. For the next 15 minute sprint, give your characters a technology that will make their lives easier - or perhaps further complicate them.
Suddenly, as you go to leave the 1800s, your vortex manipulator goes haywire! Sparks fly and the normally smooth transportation is jerky and wild. You find yourself in the middle of a corn field somewhere between the 1800s and your next destination in the 1990s - but you don’t know when or where you are. And then the vortex manipulator gets worse, shooting out lasers - you didn’t even know it could do that! It spins you in frantic circles, shooting out huge beams and crushing down stalks of corn. When it finally stops and you’re able to catch your breath, you quickly dial in the next coordinates and vanish, hoping Captain Jack doesn’t find out. What you don’t know yet, and you’ll find out back at HQ later, is that the pattern you left behind would soon be called a crop circle, and would mystify people for decades. Everyone has to get up out of their seats so Captain Jack can’t find them! You can swap seats seat, stretch, go to the bar, or donate to NaNoWriMo Los Angeles!
Breathing heavily, you find yourself in a small coffee shop in Edinburgh, Scotland in the early 1990s. You see a blond woman with a child in a stroller, and she’s writing away furiously on napkins. You try to surreptitiously look over her shoulder, and can only make out two words, a name - “Harry Potter”. The renaissance of the YA genre, the second coming of fantasy novels, the inspiration for an entire generation to start reading … the legend. During the next 15 minute sprint, use the word magic somewhere in your story.
You fast forward only a few years, and find yourself in the heart of San Francisco in 1999. 21 haggard looking friends are writing frantically. One of them asks, “Hey Chris, how many words again by the end of November?” and another, presumably Chris, says “50,000”. That’s right, folks, the very first legendary National Novel Writing Month is underway before your very eyes. First, I need you to guesstimate your average for 15 minute sprints tonight. I’ll give you a minute to write that down somewhere. During this next 15 minute sprint, I want you to beat that average.
Your next and last stop is somewhere in the 2010s, probably the strangest place you’ve been to so far. Widespread use of the internet has completely changed communication, infiltrating spoken language with words like “lol” or “brb” or “obvs”. Writing has taken on strange forms like “listicles”. Humans seem to have circled back to using images to communicate with emoticons, emojis and gifs. Will language ever be the same again? As you’ve seen throughout your journey, probably not. Sprint the last 15 minutes to make your way home!
Welcome home, Time Agents. I can tell it’s been a long journey. And I trust you didn’t take any deviations, right? Thanks for taking on this mission, the higher-ups will be glad to hear what you’ve got to report. I’m sure you did well - you’re a success in my eyes!