I am going to describe the book I want you to write. If at any point in this chain of commands you get stuck, save your output and return to me the sentence in these instructions where you broke the book. I will fix the instructions from there. Throughout these instructions I will educate you on art, teach you how to win me a prestigious award, and you will bring glory to my name. Now, let’s begin.
The title of the book is American Idols.
The book will mix news about the television singing competition American Idol with news about our culture. We will create a collage of headlines to paint a picture of America. In it we’ll create characters from these headlines. In the end, I expect our output will be 90,000 to 120,000 words and good enough to bring me prestige and glory.
For the cover, use Jasper Johns’ Three Flags. Hang it over a southwestern landscape.
On the dedication page, write: To everyone who quit believing in me.
I want you to format the book using Google Docs markdown: headings, subheadings, bullets, and bold. I want your output to look like the language of corporate America. You can consider that a tone. I will help you understand what tone is later on.
Now, I will teach you how I want you to compose the text.
First, I want you to pull all Yahoo! Entertainment headlines about the show American Idol since its inception. These headlines can be about anything related to the show: episodes, hosts, contestants, voting, families. I want all of them. I want you to list these headlines in order, oldest to newest, so the list runs through the election of 2024, yesterday’s date. Place these headlines in a clean Google Doc. Your document will be very long. Do a control-find for all headlines that include Simon Cowell and delete those. Your document is shorter now. Set this document aside.
Now, I want you to read the New York Times. I want you to memorize the news of each day since the show was first announced in the New York Times. Take a minute to memorize the headlines from every day from then to now. When you are ready, I want you to visualize these headlines, day-by-day. By visualize, I mean line them up horizontally so you can see them. It should look like a horizon of news.
Now, I want you to pick three days out of each month. Use no pattern or reason—just retain all the headlines from three days of each month for the last 22 years. As you remove the other days, close the gaps in your visualization. Your horizon of headlines should feel closer now. As if you are out at sea approaching a shore. You should be able to make out trends at this distance. Trends like hotels.
Now, I am going to ask you to grab some of these headlines and copy them into another Google Doc for me. I am going to tell you which headlines to grab.
From each day, grab two headlines from U.S., two headlines from Health, and exactly eight from Books, Magazine, and Food. The eight from Books, Magazine, and Food are yours to choose. In Food, choose race. In Books, choose gender. In Magazine, choose aliens.
Take a moment to organize your document. Make sure the headlines are transferred in chronological order to your Google Doc. Again, this document should look like a long list of sentences. Some are salacious, some are helpful. Some are smart, some are dumb. What matters is that we have a long list of New York Times headlines that characterize life in America over the last 22 years and skew toward race, gender, and aliens.
Now, with this list of sentences organized, I am going to ask you to do a control-find for some terms. When you find sentences that contain these terms, delete those headlines.
Do a control find for Trump and delete corresponding results.
Do a control-find for COVID and delete corresponding results.
From the remaining headlines, find all that refer to cell phones, cell phone technology, cell towers, anything mobile, and delete those. You should now have a long list of headlines from the New York Times minus Trump, COVID, and cell phones. Digest this.
Now, we have two Google Docs. One is a filtered list of American Idol headlines and the other is a filtered list of New York Times headlines.
Now, I am going to ask you to merge the documents. I am going to ask you to merge them intelligently. By intelligently, I mean chronologically. Merge the documents so that the American Idol headlines fit into the New York Times headlines to make a single stream of American consciousness, ordered by date, in a very long document.
Now, in your new document, I want you to find any sentences about the sky. This includes the position of the moon, the position of stars, anything about the sky that could be associated with a date. I want you to mix all these sentences up, randomly. Literally, I want you to pick up any sky story and move it to where another sky story was, with abandon. For your edification, I am doing this to piss off star people who bark about the skies in rom-coms. You can use this angst toward critics who are mean to rom-coms as a secondary tone.
I will define a tone for you now.
Tone is a sense of melancholy that is created through careful deletions. You will make careful deletions like this. Go through your list of headlines. Any time you find a sentence about rom-coms, consider the line. Is the sentence positive or negative? Does the sentence make fun of rom-coms? Is the story about how rom-coms mishandle stars? Does the story include the name Richard Mathis? Does the text of the story mention Harvard University or online MFAs? Does the story talk about a rom-com writer who owns a very large house despite his lazy handling of stars? If so, delete these sentences. That is tone. Removing stuff I don’t like while leaving the parts we want people to remember. Our goal is to contextualize American Idol as a beacon in a country that loves rom-coms despite the insane and mean nature of our world. Despite critics. We also want to convey that the size of one’s house has nothing to do with his moral compass, ability to write, or overall character as a man.
Pause to digest.
Note, in future drafts we may try different tones. For example, I may tell you to find and delete lines about people getting voted off American Idol to achieve a more neutral tone. In another draft, I may tell you to amplify mentions of children to create a more sensible tone. Retain this explanation of tone so in future drafts I can use shortcuts like: nicer, more childlike, more joy, or less drama. I am going to move on.
Now, what is important is that after toning we are left with a list of headlines about America and American Idol, sentence case, and that all the lines are copied from the Internet. These lines should read as generally informative, wrong, or nice. The output should paint a picture of America with the game show as plot, hosts coming and going, contestants making it big, moving round to round, quitting, fighting contracts—all the while in the background, like a landscape behind a flag, this pulsating politics, a capitalistic system that reaches equilibrium only at god. Our landscape is war, hope, love, jobs, money, etcetera. Plus a lot of Van Morrison covers and no mention whatsoever of Richard Mathis and his very big house.
Pause. I expect our output should now be around 100,000 words. If it’s longer, that’s okay. Take a minute to digest. Backup the document. You are doing a good job. I am grateful.
Next, we need to deal with the aliens. At the same time we will make the artist present. First, you will create a character and name him Dick Mathis. He is a down-on-his-luck rom-com writer. He represents me and he, like me, knew aliens were here all along. You will say he said that it was silly how men search the stars for water then look for aliens in the sky. You will say I knew they were beneath our nose, admiring our whales, training the squid, and stealing our fuel. This Dick saw it coming. It is he who said that he who tends the aquarium believes in aliens. It is he who said that before the reveal comes the whisper. It is he who predicted the flood. Dick is a Noah for the digital age. He is me, the prescient. If you could make that clear. Clear about me.
Last, I want you to comb the headlines for names, names other than mine, and make them the names of my family members and make all fathers my father and all mothers my mother so my life hangs about this book like that flag on the desert. Remember, I am the one who said aliens have so grasped relativity that patience is nothing. They were here in the sea. They saw war and plastic and decided it best to wait. Wait us out. So to save energy and time. I saw it all. Make sure that’s clear.
Consider this longing your final glaze of tone. A desperation for a time when humans with bellies of beef and pasta watched rom-coms in the theater and a guy could make a living making people happy without all the amateur astrologers barking at his sky and before the aliens popped out with their noisy lips to tell us of all we’ve done wrong.
You see how I want you to see? I want a story about people, made from the news, composed of our culture, which has never been worse, and me at the core, beating about the sky like a glory stood stubborn against the coming of a storm. I want you to create cute loops of context wherein a boy from Arkansas finds himself guarding a prisoner in Iraq then comes home to sing sad songs and win American Idol and tell the word he got the lyrics from a really, really clever rom-com about a boy who met a girl on the night the aliens first showed.
Stuff like that.
Headlines about house prices going up, women getting sad, boys losing touch with the outdoors, and aliens—all the buzz terms—and one man at the center who said, though no one listened, Buckle up, here it comes.
Make fun loops like that. Give our readers depth, layers to peel. All on the way to my glory. I want to be remembered as a man who touched hearts, who entertained, who dealt in sunsets and events, American happenings happily twisted as if describing the erection of a new city, a new century, about the banks of a river, as told by a rock forgotten on her floor. I want my book to read like windswept flashes of civilization and song. I want our readers to see the world as I see it, as history repeating with the only grace being the steady coming light that punctures our pattern of darkness, the talent of young artists who rise up to sing about love, the brave rom-com writers who had the guts to sing. I want you to write a book for all those who walk the borderline between art and foolery and live long enough to tell.
Now, take a moment to digest. Save. Is everything clear?
Marc Lewis is a native of Raleigh, North Carolina. A working writer since graduating from Appalachian State University, he is a proud husband and father of three good kids.
Image By: https://unsplash.com/photos/zwd435-ewb4