The “tandem story” is a device used by many English professors to enhance the flexibility of their student’s writing styles. The students pair off, and the first writes the beginning paragraph of a short fiction story and then e‑mails it to the second, who writes another paragraph, then e‑mails it back to the first, and so on. The exercise ends when both writers agree that a conclusion has been reached.
The results can be amusing;
Carolyn: “At first, Laurie couldn’t decide which kind of tea she wanted. The chamomile, which used to be her favorite for lazy evenings at home, now reminded her too much of Carl, who once said, in happier times, that he liked chamomile. But she felt she must now, at all costs, keep her mind off Carl. His possessiveness was suffocating, and if she thought about him too much her asthma started acting up again. So chamomile was out of the question.”
John: “Meanwhile, Advance Sergeant Carl Harris, leader of the attack squadron now in orbit over Skylon 4, had more important things to think about than the neuroses of an air‑headed asthmatic bimbo named Laurie with whom he had spent one exciting week over a year ago. “A.S. Harris to Geostation 17,” he said into his transgalactic communicator. “Polar orbit established. No sign of resistance so far …” But before he could sign off, a bluish particle beam flashed out of nowhere and blasted a hole through his ship’s cargo bay. The jolt from the direct hit sent him flying out of his seat and across the cockpit.”
Carolyn: “Carl smashed his head against a sharp corner and died almost immediately, but not before he felt one last pang of regret for psychically brutalizing the one woman who had ever had feelings for him. Soon afterwards, Earth stopped its pointless hostilities towards the peaceful farmers of Skylon 4. “Congress Passes Law Permanently Abolishing War and Space Travel,” Laurie read in her newspaper one morning. The news simultaneously excited her and bored her. All that mattered to her was Carl, now that he was gone. She stared out the window, dreaming of her youth, when the days had passed unhurriedly and carefree, with no newspapers to read, no television to distract her from her sense of innocent wonder at all the beautiful things around her. “Why must one lose one’s innocence to become a woman?” she pondered wistfully.”
John: “Little did she know, but she had less than one minute to live. Thousands of miles above the city, the N’th’ulu mothership launched the first of its lithium fusion missiles. The dim‑witted peaceniks who had pushed the Unilateral Aerospace Disarmament Treaty through Congress had left Earth a defenseless target for the hostile alien empires which were determined to destroy the human race. Within two hours after the passage of the treaty, the N’th’ulu ships were on course for Earth, carrying enough firepower to pulverize the entire planet. With no one to stop them, they swiftly initiated their diabolical plan. The lithium fusion missile entered the atmosphere unimpeded. The President, in his top‑secret mobile submarine headquarters on the ocean floor off the coast of Guam, felt the inconceivably massive explosion, which vaporized poor, stupid Laurie and 85 million other Americans. The President slammed his fist on the conference table. “We can’t allow this! I’m going to veto that treaty! Let’s blow ’em out of the sky!””
Carolyn: “Still, despite the hostilities, there were those who were desperately eager to carry on the peace process …… Oh, this is ridiculous. I refuse to continue this mockery of literature. My writing partner is a violent, chauvinistic semi‑literate adolescent.”
John: “Yeah? Well, you’re a self‑centered tedious neurotic whose attempts at writing are the literary equivalent of Valium. “Oh, shall I have chamomile tea? Oh no, I’m an air‑headed bimbo who reads too many Danielle Steele novels! It’ll give me the sniffles!””
John: “Cry baby.”
Carolyn: “YOU NEANDERTHAL!!!”
John: “Aw, go drink some chamomile tea, you weenie. Or better yet, grape Kool‑Aid.”
Professor: “A+ … I really liked this! Good juxtaposition of radically different writing styles.”
Postscript: John and Carolyn were married a year and a half later.