how a story fails
(first appeared at www.newpoplit.com 8/16/2014)
I thought you might find it interesting to take a little peek behind the curtain and see how things work in the mind of a professional writer. Just remember not to attempt any of the following techniques on your own. I am a veteran of the writing process and even then, I sometimes require the assistance of a spotter.
After reading any of my books the first thing most people ask me is “Is there anything that you don’t print?”
A writer with thinner skin might take offense at such a pointed question but as I mentioned before, I am a veteran of this game. Haters are gonna hate.
But to answer the query anyway, yes. There are certain stories that just aren’t going to make it to the finished line.
To give you an example- and the peek that I promised earlier- I was working on a story about a moth earlier today. The general idea was originally going to be that this moth had been given the task of flying into a person’s mouth. After a quick bit of research into moths, I felt comfortable coming up with a pretext of why it had been given this mission in the first place and the next step was to do a bit of research on kamikazes. Once I had a decent handle on the culture behind these suicidal aviators, it seemed like a pretty simple task to knit the two together in a jocular fashion and end up with a pretty cozy thousand words sure to delight and entertain.
In fact, initially I felt it might be the story that suddenly caught fire on the internet and made me an overnight writing sensation. I was giving the moth some real depth while still being able to throw in some poignant commentary about the courage and stupidity required to sacrifice one’s own life for the greater good. All of it presented with the snarky wit that I would be known for if I was known. Before it was even done I saw myself receiving any number of literary accolades. Of course, I usually feel this way about each of the 400+ stories I’ve had published so I never really give these feelings much credence. The important thing to note is that as I started to jot it down there didn’t seem to be any dark clouds on that particular horizon.
Then another cook entered the kitchen.
I started to think about the scene in Star Wars where Luke Skywalker blows up the Death Star by shooting a torpedo from his X-wing fighter into the tiny exhaust system. In my head I simultaneously imaged a Japanese Luke flying into the mouth of an unwary picnic attendee and a hachimaki-wearing moth bullseying womprats on Tatooine.
Cracks began to appear in the fragile framework holding the premise together.
With only three hundred words to go did I have time to include other Star Wars characters in my story? Would readers understand how these three moving parts could come together?
While the two chefs wrestled with the recipe, another entered the kitchen through the back door.
Literally. You’ll understand in a minute.
I suddenly imagined the picnic taking place at a nudist camp. Instead of the moth being tasked to fly into an open mouth, its merry band of moth friends, including a butterfly it wanted to bang that would end up being its sister, talked it into trying to enter from the other end and abruptly the Death Star became a man’s hairy anus.
I closed my eyes as the story began to crumble under its own weight. Even the anus started to disintegrate in my head like an old mine collapsing in a B movie. Let me tell you, it was not pretty.
I even thought about telling the story backwards.
Please don’t try to bring all these elements together and finish the story in your own head. I tried and it can’t be done, you’ll just hurt yourself. I appreciate that a moth named Skywalker following the Bushido code and flying out of the ass of a human seems like comedy gold but you’ll just have to trust me on this. No can do.
There’s no shame in tapping out. Sometimes a professional writer just has to understand his limitations and walk away with his dignity intact. Even kamikazes came back from missions once in awhile.