Found Fiction: The Final Word

By The original uploader was Fredrik at English Wikipedia [Public domain, Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By The original uploader was Fredrik at English Wikipedia [Public domain, Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

“Found Fiction” is the name I am giving to old stories I find buried on my hard drive, Google Docs or elsewhere. Many are unfinished and nearly all are in first draft form. I write a lot of stories just sitting down and starting typing, with little or no idea what I am doing. That is a habit I am trying to break , by the way. In any case, some of this Found Fiction is worth sharing — not good enough to polish and try and sell, but perhaps there is a core idea I think worth sharing or I just like the way the prose came out.

 

This story is an End Of The World tale. I have written a lot of these — or at least started them. Because I obsess over what we — mankind — are and why we are here, I think a lot about what would happen if we went away, and how we would react to knowing it in advance. This story is a pretty perfect example of my thoughts on the matter, or at least what i find interesting enough to create a narrative for.

 

Note: this is the draft in its raw form, presented just as I found it. I do not remember when I wrote it.


Editorial: The Final World

 

In this, the last issue of the nation’s longest continuously published newspaper, we have dedicated tens of thousands of words to your stories. Over the last weeks, since confirmation of the impending Minefall Disaster (for which I must apologize, as it was one of our headlines that created the name that stuck), we have talked to you. We have talked to you online and over the phone and in the streets and in your homes. We believed it important to tell your stories at The End, to be preserved forever in a space age, diamond version of microfilm that hopefully one day some future (or even alien) civilization will find and decipher.

But yours were not the only stories we wanted to tell. From the time this issue hits the internet and the newsstand, you will have nearly twelve hours to peruse it. While we wanted you to meet the end with understanding for your fellow reader, we also wanted you to read the words of our greatest thinkers and our most beloved, and even detested, leaders. In these pages you will find the words of celebrity activists and Nobel laureates, presidents and prime ministers, religious leaders and scientific visionaries, even terrorists and despots. This is, after all, the final view of mankind, and here at least, we believe in telling the whole story.

Among all those voices, the mundane and the famous, there is one we know that you all, everyone in the whole world and anyone who might come in the future, will want to hear. We managed to secure an interview with that very person in his final hours last night, so that his words, his explanations and excuses, would also be preserved forever in diamond microfilm.

Some have suggested we not run that interview, that we should not give acknowledgement to the man that ended our entire civilization, perhaps our entire species. We here, however, chose a different option. If it is our jobs as journalists to tell all sides of the story, then we must be compelled to tell his, too, no matter how twisted or vile we might find them. By setting us on this path, by very directly bringing about Armageddon, this man, Tobias Hossler, has become the most significant figure in human history.

While everyone on Earth now knows the name Tobias Hossler, allow me to introduce him for those we presume to one day find this story: he was a genius in both technology and economics who built a multi-billion dollar company from nothing in the heady first decades of the Internet. Unsatisfied with mere bits and bytes, Hossler moved into the real world, first in commerce and research and development, and then into the energy sector and the global commodities trade. Even this was not too big for a man of his vision, and his final project, the one that would turn into all our Final Project, was to mine the Moon for its precious resources, turning the Rare Earth minerals that drive our technological society into Every Day Earth minerals with just a little push out of the lunar gravity well. Most impressively was this: he did it. To all our doom. A full biography of Tobias Hossler can be read on page 7.

What no one realized about Hossler wa that everything he did, every step he took on the ladder of success, was a step toward a most terrifying and nefarious goal. Hossler desired nothing less than the complete eradication of humankind from the face of the Earth, and he hatched a plan that would allow him to achieve it. However ridiculous that sounds, however Hollywood and Comic Book, it is true, and now, today, we all face down Hossler’s success. How he did it is unimportant (though we did detail the process on page 13). The real question is, and has been since it became public, “Why?”

There is no one better suited to answer that question than Hossler himself:

In his cell, the day before he was to be taken to the receive his lethal injection, I personally sat down with Tobias Hossler. We talked about a great many things, but it was only mere minutes before his death, that Hossler told me the answer to that question.

He said, “I don’t think it was any one thing that did it. But, even so, I remember this day in early 2011. I was in India, promoting our Asian Initiative, and a news story broke about the gang rape and murder of two fourteen year old girls on a train to Delhi. The thing was, it did not break in India. There, it wasn’t news, because it happened so often. It was all over CNN and the other American cable stations. The thing was, I realized it was only on the news there because the girls were white. They were British kids that got on the wrong train after a field trip.”

I asked him if he was destroying the world because two white girls got raped and murdered on a train in India. He scoffed at me. “Don’t be ridiculous. Like I said, that is just a thing I remember. It sort of cemented the realization of how bad we really are. Us. Our species, I mean. All of us. Not just in the abstract, but each and every one of us. Everyone, some time, thinks and maybe even does horrible things to one another. It is our nature. It is inescapable.”

Tobias Hossler says many more things about human nature, the human capacity for evil and whether the ultimate murder is somehow justified in the complete interview on page 25. I know there are some of you, many of you probably, who don’t want to sift through his diatribe and justifications. I don’t blame you. Sitting through it when it was coming out of his mouth was almost too much to bear.

I asked Tobias Hossler why he believed the bad in humans was so bad that it outweighed the good in us. He answered with this:

“At my heart, I’m a mathematician. I do the numbers. I actively considered all the joy and love and beauty in a given life. I realized that these things were precious because they were rare. If they were routine, they would not be worth cherishing and remembering. Once I realized that, realizing the corollary, that the vast majority of life was not full of love and joy and beauty, and much of it was filled with the opposites, was easy. No matter what we did, not matter how ‘good’ we made the world, we could not make it worthwhile. I thought about that and thought about it until it was keeping me up at night and driving me crazy.”

He smiles wryly here, like he knows what I wanted to point out. I resisted the urge and let him continue.

“In the end, the math wins. There is, and always will be, more pain and anguish and ugliness than joy and beauty. The net gain would always be bad. So I decided to solve the problem.” He laughed here, a genuine amused laugh, cold and terrible given the circumstances of the interview. “I had already started work on my lunar mines. It would be a small matter to keep the world in the dark and set a huge chunk of lunar rock into an Earth crossing orbit that could extinguish most high life forms, including, very probably, every human being on the planet.”

Tobias Hossler died precisely eight minutes after that. He chose to stop talking. We shook hands and I left his cell. I watched him up until the moment they took him from his cell to the death chamber. As far as I could see, he never once broke down and cried or prayed for mercy or any of the other common behaviors exhibited by the doomed.

It was part of my job to watch Hossler die. I can not say in good conscious that a part of me, the angry part that feels robbed of not just my future but the future of the entire human race, did not enjoy watching him die. But another part of me, deep in the recesses of my mind, sort of agreed with him. Yes, we would be dead and gone, and the world would lose much for that. But at the same time, no two little girls will ever be held down and brutalized, then murdered, by a group of strangers ever again.

As I hit “send” to get this editorial in on time to meet press time, I have somewhere around 13 hours to live. My wife and kids are in the living room, just a few doors down from this study, burning through every Pixar movie ever made. My brother and his wife are gone: they committed suicide with about 200 other people a week or so back. My parents died years ago. All over the world, friends of mine — and when you are a journalist and then editor for a paper like this one, you make a lot of friends in a lot of places — are preparing themselves however they see fit to meet their End, and perhaps their Maker.

Just like you all.

In these last moments, I suppose all I ask is this: prove Tobias Hossler wrong. Be good to one another.

Good bye, and thank you.

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Stories That Are Also Stories

First, some apologetic housekeeping: I promised you all a review of The Dreams of Ruin, the apocalyptic high level OSR science-fantasy adventure supplement by my friend Geoff Grabowski, and I’ll have it soon (probably over the weekend). Between finals (yes, this old man is back in school), responsibilities as a youth baseball coach, and actual paying writing, I have been very behind on the blog. I’d have liked to make the review *this* post but truth be told this is one of my meandering thought posts, while the DoR review deserves much more thought. Thanks for your patience.

Mad Max: Fury Road is amazeballs. Go see it, immediately, even if Douchey McDoucherstein tells you not to because it might injure your manhood.  I won’t belabor either of those points — how awesome the film is, or how stupid Mens Rights Activists are — but instead want to touch on something that came up in internet forum discussion regarding the movie:

 

To keep a long story short, some folks were trying to square the precise timeline of the Mad Max films, from the original through The Road Warrior, Thunderdome and Fury Road. Two issues were giving certain forumites the fits: Tom Hardy’s relative youth compared to Mel Gibson in the role of Max, and the apparent deepening the chaos and tribalism of the milieu. In combination, these elements created an issue for some, namely that how can Max, who was a cop before the Fall, be so young in a world that has obviously been tribal long enough for the Warboys and Imperator Furiosa to grow up in Immortan Joe’s clutches? Some theories were tossed around, from Max’s home actually existing after the Fall but in a state of relative order at the time of Mad Max, too Max having been mutated by radiation to be immortal. There is even a fan theory floating around suggesting that max is in fact… well, I’ll let you go check it out if you want. it’s interesting and plausible, but not especially likely, I don’t think. Note: it’s also spoilery.

 

I prefer a different theory, that I consider to be both elegant and have big implications not just for Mad Max but a number of other franchises as well:

 

Max is, in essence, an Arthurian Myth, a composite hero from the “dark ages” immediately following the Fall. The films do not recount events that actually occurred in the setting, but rather they represent myth told around the campfires by the elders of the tribes coming out of that Dark Age into a new era of civilization. The films are narrated by survivors who witnessed the events as children or youths, likely the oldest members of the tribe. Who would be left alive to counter the claim that they were there? Maybe they were, but maybe the “true” events happened generation before even those elders. Like Arthurian myths, the stories told in the Mad Max films follow a distinct pattern: Max stumbles into the plight of the people; he is resistant to help but eventually concedes; he fights and not only helps defeat the bad guys but delivers the tribe to safety; he rides off into the sunset, never to be seen again. Tales like these would serve as the foundational stories of the tribes as they emerged out of the darkness and made the transition to actual civilization. And if the Mad Max films serve as stories for those tribes, it explains Max’s “action movie” endurance and skill, and if these stories spread from tribe to tribe over time, it explains why some of the tales seem to occur very shortly after the fall and others, like Fury Road, deep in the dark age when tyrants like Immortan Joe can have fathered a whole generation of mutant child soldiers.

 

Of course, the above is all fan wankery intended to explain away the very real world impact of creator George Miller’s changing views, the differences in budgets and special effects capabilities, and the fact of recasting Max after so long. Even so, it is suggestive of an aspect of storytelling we do no often see and I think has legs, creatively speaking: some stories — that is, narratives that we produce on paper or on the screen — are themselves stories in the worlds of those stories. Certainly it is an idea that has been used before intentionally, mostly as a way to embrace the unreliable narrator, but I am suggesting that is works as both an intentional narrative tool and as a way for fans and future writers to engage wroks, especially franchises.

 

As an example, consider the Prequel Trilogy for Star Wars. Ignoring whatever flaws one may consider those films to have as actual entertainment, they definitely change the nature the universe of the original Star Wars films. This can be explained as casting the Original Trilogy as a sort of post-apocalyptic setting, where everything gets square and textured (compared to the Prequels’ glossy appearance), but I think there is a better explanation: the Prequel Trilogy is actually the story that Obi Wan tells Luke on Degobah (as a ghost) to keep Luke focused on the mission to kill Vader. After Vader outs himself as Anakin, Luke had a crisis of faith  and Obi Wan knew that he needed to hear a story that both jived with what Vader told him but also maintained the narrative that Obi Wan, Yoda and the Rebellion had already sold. It explains why someone so vile as to murder “younglings” could “still have good in him” — in other words, Anakin never murdered the younglings (the Emperor likely did) and Luke could sense that, which allowed him to draw out the last vestiges of good in Vader. Many of the other aspects of the Prequels were likely fabricated or embellished by Obi Wan as well, because at the time Luke was still a hot headed youth who needed to hear those kinds of stories. By the start of Jedi, Luke had grown beyond the need for those “childish things” and was beginning to doubt what he had been told by both Obi Wan and Yoda. Luke may have never learned the truth, but the reality of the lies dawn on him when he visits Yoda for the last time.

 

Again, more fan wankery, but you see my point. Some stories work very well as stories within stories and actually make the properties better. It is a narrative tool we, as writers, can use intentionally and one that we, as fans, can play with to help us get more out of our favorite franchises.

Some thoughts on rejection.

First of all — sorry for the delay of the promised Magical Monday and Wicked Wednesday entries using the random method i outlines last time. I got hung up on the impending announcement of the 32 Round 1 winners of Paizo’s RPG Superstar 2015 contest. I decided to enter this year and was wringing my hands over it. When I did not pass the round, i got hit with the rejection blues, which prompted this post about rejection and my response to it.

 

I would like to say I am a thick skinned writer, happy to wallpaper my den with rejection letters until I finally sell that story. The truth is I am not. Every rejection letter hurts and takes an axe to my confidence. I have been writing stories  in one form or another literally since I learned to write, and before that I was telling those stories. It is something I feel I am good at. It comes naturally and I derive a kind of pleasure from it that is unlike any other I know. When i sit back after having immersed myself in a piece of prose for hours, I feel somehow elevated, exalted even. And because I am an extrovert and an exhibitionist, I want to not only share those things with other people, I want to receive praise for them. In other words, I want people to read what I write, love it and tell me so.

 

But because I place so high a premium on that approval I set myself up for disappointment and even pain when I present my work to be judged. I used to want to go the self publishing route (made easy these days with Kindles and the like) in order to bypass the “gatekeepers.” “Why should I get a form letter rejection,” i asked myself and anyone within earshot, “just because the slush reader had a fight with his wife that morning?” The reality is, though, that I toyed with self publishing as a way to avoid rejection at the hands of an editor. Rejection without any context or explanation, such as those form letters, is even worse because my imagination (the same thing that got me into this mess in the first place) runs wild with the worst possible explanations for my failure.

 

With the RPG Superstar contest, it was an especially difficult rejection because the one kind of writing I have done professionally is writing for role-playing games. I honestly expected to do well, if not take the whole thing, because I know games and gaming and gamers. Or, at least, I thought I did until about 5 PM EST last night when my name was not on the “winners” list. Rejection always undermines my confidence in my writing ability, but this struck even deeper into my identity. What if I was not just a bad writer, but a bad gamer as well?

 

Intellectually, I get it: even if what I wrote was my best work (and it really wasn’t; I threw it together relatively quickly close to deadline) there were hundreds if not thousands of entries. More to the point, rejection happens. My brain gets that. But my guts and my heart hate that fact and it makes me feel like deleting every manuscript I have and never stringing more than three words together on paper ever again. Usually, it is weeks or even months before I try again after I get two or three stories rejected. And, of course, it is exacerbated when I read some terribly written tripe that some editor bought and published or I see that Moan For Bigfoot made its author thousands of dollars.

 

Then I remember that the difference between those shit authors finding some success and me, well, not is not based on talent, it is based on perseverance. Bigfoot lady (or fellow) wrote that crap and stood behind it and put it out there. What’s more, she (or he) was not accepted by thousands but rejected by the millions that did not buy it — but found success anyway, despite all that rejection. Those other authors, those ones that could not build a plot with a set of Legos, they sold that story or novel because they stuck with it. Maybe they sent that story to one hundred editors until they caught one off guard and under deadline. Maybe they sent one hundred stories to that one editor who finally bought one out of compassion. In either case, perseverance sold that story.

 

So, catharsis complete, it is time to get back to work.

 

Oh, and here is my “losing” RPG Superstar 2015 entry in all its failure-y glory:

 

[b]Armor, Living Sand[/b]

 

Aura faint transmutation; CL 9th; Weight 40 lbs.; Price 20,000 gp

 

DESCRIPTION

When first encountered, this strange “armor” appears as nothing more than a ball of sparkling, wet sand the size of a child’s ball. When touched by a sentient creature it shudders as if alive and if one of its command words (see below) is uttered, it  stretches and flows to cover the creature’s torso and limbs.

 

The “sand” is actually a colony of infinitesimal animated objects. They move freely or lock into place, depending on their need, so that the whole mass or portions can be supple or rigid. In this way, the Living Sand Armor is able to emulate light, medium or heavy armor.

 

Each armor type of which the living sand can take form requires a separate command word. Speaking the command is a standard action and in no case can the armor change form more than one per round. In each of its forms, the armor has the following statistics:

 

Light Armor: Armor Bonus+5, Max Dex +4, Check Penalty -1

Medium Armor: Armor Bonus +7, Max Dex+3, Check Penalty -3

Heavy Armor: Armor Bonus+10, Max Dex +1, Check Penalty -5

The wearer’s speed is affected as normal for armor of the given type.

 

There is a mild psionic component to the living sand, causing the armor to take on a style and shape unique to the wearer. The material originated in Numeria but has long since spread throughout the Inner Sea.

 

Living Sand Armor is particularly sought after by barbarians and rangers.

 

CONSTRUCTION REQUIREMENTS

Craft Magic Arms and Armor, Craft Construct, animate object Cost 10,000 gp

 

New Year, New Focus

bring it

 

The tail end of 2014 was a thin one for this blog. Between end of semester class stress, the holidays and a little bout with writer’s block, I did not make many posts. As 2015 opens, I intend to get back in the groove and dedicate the time and energy necessary to keep things lively here in my tiny little corner of the internet.

 

First and foremost, I will be continuing to make 5th Edition Dungeons and Dragons a major part of this blog. Both Magical Mondays and Wicked Wednesdays will continue. Much of the work I do on that front will be based on developing content for The Valley of Tombs, my “massive multiplayer table top RPG” that should see plenty of play in 2015. Most notably, I have  six four hour slots set up at TotalCon in Mansfield, MA this February 19-22. With 24 hours of play and potentially 48 unique players, I want to have lots of content on hand. In addition I am going to be occasionally be developing content for the Valley Obsidian Portal Page, which I hope to use to build interest for the game.

 

While D&D is certainly a passion of mine and a big part of this blog, I will continue to provide the occasional unsolicited rant, non-review or opinionated screed of any geeky thing that strikes my fancy. Sometimes I will even make a cogent point or two. We live in a time when geeky subjects have gone mainstream and larger cultural issues collide with niche interests, whether it is the intersection of feminism and video games or questions regarding the less palatable views of genre titans like Lovecraft. As nerds, geeks and dweebs, we are all affected by these issues in some way or another, and they are worth talking about.

 

Finally, 2015 will be a year of refocusing on my own fiction writing. I don’t know how much of that will show up here. I don’t intend to make this blog a showcase of my fiction like I had in the past, but I will certainly be talking about it and whatever process in which I engage. I plan on writing one novel this year, but I have a lot of world building ahead of me before I can even hope to start writing. I may give self publishing short stories a try, and if I do I’ll surely be fretting about that process here.

 

Happy New Year and thanks, as usual, for reading.

Little Stories

For some months, I have been having trouble with Writer’s Block, especially when trying to write fiction. But here’s the thing: as soon as I decided to refocus this blog on 5th Edition D&D, I have written over 8,000 words — I know, that is not a lot compared to many of you, but compared to the 0,000 I was writing before, it sure is. A small portion of that has been my Guardians of the Galaxy review, but the majority has been writing game related articles. At first I was surprised,a nd then I was concerned: am I incapable of writing fiction? Have I exhausted my ability to create stories? Don’t get me wrong: I love game writing. I cut my professional writing teeth on game writing, for White Wolf Publishing’s Exalted and for Sword & Sorcery Studios’ Gamma World d20. But real life intervened and it has been a very long time since I have done any professional game writing. And, if I am being honest, I do not foresee a career in writing game material at $.04 per word.

 

Then, something occurred to me: the little articles I have been writing here for D&D 5E are stories. More specifically, they are made up of many little stories. I am not a game designer — they do math and play test things and generally make games work correctly. I am a game writer — I come up with some wacky stuff that makes for a fun experience around a table with a bunch of your friends. When I write about Fantastic Fountains, Vicious Monster Variants, or Pommel Stones of Power, what I am really doing to creating a handful of small stories in each of those articles and asking you, the reader and game player, to jump into that story. I could limit my Vicious Variants to a couple of sentences adjusting the monsters’ game statistics — after all, the stated goal is simply to provide more utility from those creatures while awaiting the arrival of the official D&D 5E Monster Manual — but instead each one gets a couple hundred words. Why? Because tabletop role playing games like D&D are themselves stories, series of linked tales that comprise one grand epic (which may or may not end with the “heroes” in the stomach of a hungry troll).

 

Realizing this has been helpful. I know that I am not stuck in the ghetto of game writing instead of writing actual stories. I am writing stories, and it is a short step from here back into the world of prose fiction. And, just as importantly, there’s nothing wrong with being here in the first place: game writing isn’t a lesser form, and even if the pay isn’t as good, well, no one is paying for my fiction at this point either. ;)

 

Thanks for reading, and if you are enjoying what I do, don’t forget to Share and Like.

The Process, Part Two

Last time (scroll down to see it) I introduced you to my process by outlining it in general terms. Now, with an idea in mind, I want to explore it in a more specific way.

The Idea is always the starting place, even if the final product does not quite resemble it. In this case, it’s a simple, even silly, supposition about both milieu (post apocalyptic bunker survival) and cliched plot line (It’s people!”). But I often find it helpful to spell it out, mostly because little details will emerge, unbidden, when I write the dust jacket version. For example, even though the Idea came to me during a run (often the case) the details of the names (“Sleeper Stations” and “Sandmen”) only appeared as I wrote the short-form plot.

For those that missed it, here is that passage from the previous post:

In response to the impending Apocalypse, so-called Sleeper Stations are established, where millions are placed into hibernation until it is time to emerge and retake the world. In addition to the Sleeping, a population of Sandmen is assigned to watch over the Sleepers. Four generations later, a weary administrative class is trying to maintain a sparse yet utopian society while watching outside for signs of civilization. Throughout it all, the Sandmen class is forced o suffer hard labor and disgusting working conditions. Despite all the difficulty, the population is well fed. It is the protagonist that asks the question, where does the meat come from?

In many cases, that would be enough for me to start writing. However, I think I want to unpack this idea a little bit and see if I can find the story inside the idea. See, I believe that ideas, great ideas even, are cheap, a dime a dozen. Anyone can have not just one million dollar idea, but a million dollar idea every day. But turning that great idea into something — here, a story — is where the work comes in. Too often, I settle on the flash fiction or slightly longer short-short because it allows me to get to the meat of an idea and the basic structure of the story without the wait or the drudgery. The fundamental problem with this goes back to the ubiquity of ideas: since they are so easy, chances are someone else has already had it, so the difficulty lies in presentation. This is doubly true if you are intentionally choosing or settling on something common and/or cliched.

With all that in mind, where is the story in the idea? For me, the first component past plot I need is character. Specifically, I need to identify in my mind my viewpoint character in order to successfully navigate a nascent story structure. Because this idea is in a new, unfamiliar world for the reader and involves a degree of (morbid) discovery, I want someone new and young and easily presented with the kind of information the reader needs to know. Given what I established above about the setting, it is obvious that the character should be a new Sandman, just assigned to his station watching over the Sleepers and/or watching the outside world for signs of civilization. Since I am terrible at choosing names, I am going to call him John for the time being.

Even as I wrote the above, a question formed in my mind: should John be a Sleeper who was woken for the purpose of becoming a Sandman? In the answer to that question can be found a number of deeper choices about the setting. Is this how Sandmen are chosen? If so, why? Are they sterile? Subject to high rates of birth defects? Maybe only men (or women) are allowed to be Sandmen. It also twists the “Soylent Green” ending to a new level: if John was a Sleeper, then that means he has been eating people *just like him* by the time the truth comes out. If John was not a Sleeper and was instead born and raised among the Sandmen, then this is the only life he knows. What’s more, he would likely not see the Sleepers as fully human. At best, they might be an abstract hope; at worst, they would be a burden, especially if life among the Sandmen is difficult. How, then, would he react when the truth comes out?

 

In addition to John, a secondary “viewpoint” character, or at least one that could transmit some information to the reader, came to mind: a wanderer invited into the Sleeper Station. If the supposition is that the Sleeper Station must watch for the appropriate time to wake its population, then either the Sandmen must go out and explore (perhaps remotely, though that idea does distance the Sandmen from the potential action and immediacy of such an element) or they must allow wanderers to enter (but, perhaps, never leave). I have a “pre-existing” wanderer in mind, should I decide to go this route, because I have a sort of Conan/Jon Carter homage character called Cyrus from some time back when I decided I wanted to write a Howardian episodic body of work in a Post-Apocalyptic setting. Such a character could not only help drive the action, since otherwise John will need a powerful motivation to dig too deep into the origins of his protein sustenance, but serve as a gatekeeper to a potential wider world of this post apocalyptic setting.

 

Of course, an antagonist is also necessary, and the obvious choice is an administrator or head chef or some other character who holds the knowledge that the Sandmen are butchering and eating the Sleepers. Because it is obvious, however, part of me thinks to go a completely different direction. This, too, is a key component of my process. Given decades of comic books, cartoons, television and mass-market sci-fi, I recognize that many of my first blush ideas are cliches, so I often try to identify those tendencies and actively work against them. or, at least, I try to subvert the cliche in such a way that it provides ballast to an otherwise too-heavy story.

 

Aside from the various characters a story needs, a strong setting is a must. Even for a one off short story, the setting needs to make some sort of internal sense as well as feed the plot in a naturalistic fashion. With this idea, that means building a setting in which it makes sense that the Sandmen would be feeding on the Sleepers. In my mind, two possibilities appear. In the first, the Sleeper Station is unsustainable. Perhaps the worst aspects of the Apocalypse lingered too long and the protein vats, hydroponic farms and waste-to-food recyclotrons are giving out and the Sandmen are stretching the life of the Station by reluctantly delving into the last “store” of protein they have: the Sleepers. They keep it a secret because they know it would cause a revolt and the Station would collapse and that would be the end of them all. The other option is that the Sandmen in charge have seen the world of the Post Apocalypse and for whatever reason — perhaps they have become fundamentalists or perhaps they refuse to cede the power they hold over the rest of the Sandmen — and refuse to join it. They are happy to continue to hide beneath the surface, but have tired of the hardships of living on gruel and recycled feces and have somehow convinced themselves it is their right to eat the Sleepers. In the former example, there is a moral ambiguity that might be interesting to explore. In the latter example, there is a stark villainy that can be equally compelling (especially if you have a sword and sorcery/ray-gun style hero on the loose looking to lop off a few heads).

 

Finally, I need a resolution in mind. I know, I skipped an outline and a rough draft and all those bits that they teach you in your creative writing classes. Those I either embrace, or don’t. In fact, I find that the more hard preparation I do, like outlines and treatments and very rough drafts, the less likely that I will actually get to the process of writing the story for real. I have a sneaking suspicion that the act of completing a story gives me a kind of endorphin rush analogous to the “runners high or “post coital bliss” and so if I “finish” the story in the pre-writing phase, my need to actually write it diminishes. In this case, though, I want to actively avoid that but at least have a basic idea of how this story ends. Of course, the specifics of the ending must rely on the answers to the many questions I have just posed, but ultimately there are only two choices for an end to this story: either John accepts, however grudgingly, the cannibalistic practice of the Sandmen, or he rejects it. That choice will inform many of the very small but ever-so-important details of the text itself.

 

All the above shows the kind of questions I present to myself as I tackle a story idea. This is the most conscious part of the process for me. As soon as I finally sit down to write, all that questioning has magically coalesced into a story and I am less writing it as I am uncovering it, like a sculptor chipping away at the marble to find the statue that has always been hidden within.

 

For next time, I will begin writing and present it with some “color commentary,” as it were — which choices I made and why, for example.

 

Thanks for your eyeballs!

The Process, Part One

Over the next few posts, I want to talk about my writing process. The system by which an idea becomes a story is often obscure even to myself, and I think going through that process here might be illuminating (to me and perhaps even to both of you). If nothing else, it should be worthwhile as an exercise in ordering my thoughts on the subject.

Generally speaking, I write in sudden fits. That is, an idea strikes — whether new, old or suggested by others — and I delve immediately into the process of creating prose. I often ruminate on a story idea while out on a run, though not always, but in either case what meets paper is usually immediate, unpracticed and visceral. For very short works, I start and finish in one sitting. The result is sometimes sublime, sometimes terrible, and most often mediocre.

Long and/or more complex works are usually the result of extended brainstorming sessions. I might think about a story idea for a week or a year before it finally coalesces or I feel ready to write it. In these cases I am much more likely to have written outlines an notes, have fiddled with very rough early drafts, and/or explored the idea in different media. However, it still happens that the writing is done in a marathon of frantic typing, even if stretched over a few days or even a month. It seems that measured, precise writing is not my strong suit.

That’s the usual way I do it, from a hind sight perspective. The mere fact that I am looking at it now, in the midst of the process, is likely only to bias the experiment. Since I am not a physicist and there is no cat in the box, that’s an acceptable outcome. I am not trying to prove my process so much as explore it, perhaps ultimately better understand it and thereby better it.

The first thing I need to begin is an idea. One came to me while I was running earlier today, and while it is a little obvious and potentially cliched, I like it well enough that in absence of a better idea, it will do to get the ball rolling. In the next segment, I will unpack the idea and explain how I would go about breaking it down into an actual story. In the meantime, allow me to leave you with the story idea as it sits fully formed in my mind:

In response to the impending Apocalypse, so-called Sleeper Stations are established, where millions are placed into hibernation until it is time to emerge and retake the world. In addition to the Sleeping, a population of Sandmen is assigned to watch over the Sleepers. Four generations later, a weary administrative class is trying to maintain a sparse yet utopian society while watching outside for signs of civilization. Throughout it all, the Sandmen class is forced o suffer hard labor and disgusting working conditions. Despite all the difficulty, the population is well fed. It is the protagonist that asks the question, where does the meat come from?

See you next time where I discuss the importance of picking the right plot, choosing the right point of view character, and determining the stakes. Thanks again for reading and don’t be shy about sharing.