Sunday, December 07, 2008

The Author's Notes

First, I present a few statistics about the Ten/Thirty Project, because everybody loves statistics:

Total number of short stories: 10
Total number of short stories written during November: 8
Total number of short stories pulled from archives: 2 (one of which was rewritten)

Total number of words: 17,227 (About 34% of the expected NaNoWriMo output, which implies that I'd need to write the equivalent of 30 short stories — about one per day — in order to match the novelists.)
Average number of words per story: 1,722

Shortest story: Progenitor (807 words)
Longest story: Dinner for Two (3,375 words)

First named character introduced: Priscilla, from Just Think of the Children. (Yes, I wrote four stories before I got around to actually naming a character.)
Largest cast of main and supporting characters: Forecast. (Five total — Ben Waller, and each of the four elementals.)

And now, some individual notes on each of the works. I was taking on a couple of new roles at work during November, so I spent a good portion of my time in the office taking training from my contacts in the United States. This meant that I usually arrived home rather late on weekdays (close to midnight more often than not), which translated into some late writing time for these stories. As a result, you'll notice that the post times are usually set for the wee hours of the morning.

The late writing sessions also meant that I didn't have much time to establish plots beforehand, or even to resolve a good number of loose threads. I spent many hours writing in white heat this way, and often had to wrap up a story at three or four in the morning without benefit of a truly satisfactory conclusion. Sometimes I would read through a work the next day and be surprised at what turned out.

Ground Floor, Please
This piece was directly inspired by the bank of elevators resident in my office building, all of whom display odd facets of behavior. The resident elevator company is real as well; the only major deviation that I made up (apart from the guy who talks to elevators) was the nature of those elevators to served different floors... which was taken from another office building that I've visited.

This is also the first time I've written a short story from the given point of view. It feels a lot like a written letter, to be honest — in fact, with a bit of tweaking, it can easily become an honest letter to a building administrator. I felt that it would be best to include some (unseen) interaction into the story, however, because this would reflect audience disbelief. Assuming that I wrote this correctly, the readers' level of disbelief should move from incredulity to amusement to acceptance as it goes on.

I was surprised to find that this base plot had been considered before, because I certainly haven't read anything that even looks vaguely like this one. On the other hand, it's not exactly the sort of story idea that gets taken seriously.

I can't for the life of me remember why I chose to shelve this story. I know that I liked it a couple of days after I first wrote it (despite the somewhat indifferent reader reaction), but I don't remember why I never had this published in some form. Maybe I was busy at the time.

I think that I wrote this story in the middle of my "dating" phase, and that it came about as a result of the observation that most of the women I went out with had some sort of affinity for chocolate. I have no great love for chocolate myself, but I did give quite a bit of the stuff away. Ironically, this request for affection never seemed to work as well as expected — I could only assume that every single one of those nice young women was associated or fixated on a presumably more handsome young man at the time. Eventually I equated the prospect of chocolate with these invisible young men who were always beating me out of a potential relationship... and thus the story was born.

The Monk and the Tiger
I always wanted to try my hand at writing a fable-type story. The problem was that all the good moral lessons are taken, and it shows here.

I suspect that one of the primary inspirations for the story involved a South Asian project team that I was handling at the time; over the course of a week's worth of meetings, I became amazed at how truly unflappable they were — I could demand changes that would threaten their project schedule, and they would make them quickly without even so much as a word of complaint. (The fact that these were important security changes may have had something to do with it.) I'm fairly certain that the master's character in this story reflects how truly calm they were as a group.

Just Think of the Children
I once mentioned that one way to create stories was to take two elements that were completely unrelated to each other, and build a plotline based on their unlikely combination. In this case, the two disparate ideas just happened to be "Sushi restaurant", and "Santa Claus".

The immediate problem, however, was that while I could conceive of Santa Claus sitting at a misono table munching on a plate of unagi sashimi, I didn't think that that would constitute a story by itself. Eventually I concluded that the story didn't lie in the fact that Kris Kringle was eating sushi; it was in the fact that he was going to a Japanese restaurant for some reason. Maybe he was meeting up with a couple of friends. Maybe they were professional colleagues in the industry. Maybe they had some serious matters to discuss...

Ultimately, this gave rise to the characters of Leon the Boogeyman and Priscilla the Tooth Fairy, two characters unconnected to the traditional holidays because I wanted Santa's appearance to provide the twist at the end. I imagine that they would fight like that in real life, although I wouldn't expect Santa Claus to be an arbiter of sorts. No, that role would probably go to the Valentines' Day Cupid, who just happened to be on vacation leave at the time.

Suicidal Tendencies
I wouldn't be surprised if this was judged my worst work of the month, because I don't think of it as really story-worthy.

Some years ago, I attempted a NaNoWriMo-type experiment where I would write installments of a fifty-thousand word novel via blog posts. The result was Self-Termination Protocol, a work that went as far as 3,714 words before I got too busy to continue writing it further. I haven't touched it for a while, but I still read through the chapters every now and then and wonder if I can pull it off in the future. On a recent read, I found myself fixated on the following excerpt:

There was a knock at the door.

Serge ignored it, concentrating on his reflection and wondering if it was even worth the effort to pick up a toothbrush and clean his enamel whites. Nobody ever called on him this early in the morning, and if it was a business matter, the Force would probably have buzzed him over the neural-net instead.

There was another knock at the door.

Serge held the toothbrush between two dirty fingers, long enough to chuck it into the automatic waste dispenser. The flat steel cylinder made a humming sound as it chewed up what was left of his dental hygiene.

The idea of destroying your own toothbrush tickled me (I mean, what significance would dental hygiene have to a dying man?), and I wanted to see if I could pull off that same style again. This story for the Ten/Thirty project reflects that sentiment as a result. Unfortunately, I didn't have much material left by the time I hit three in the morning, so I just closed up the sutures and published it as it was. Maybe I'll find a way to fix it up later on.

I wanted a flash fiction entry for Ten/Thirty month, and I really wanted to see what I could do with a one-hundred-word limit. Unfortunately, the stories have a tendency to get away from me quite easily nowadays, and while this work ended up shorter than the others, it's still far longer than the one hundred words that I had planned for it.

If there's anything that I'm proud of for this story, it's the fact that it never names the identity of the speaker despite leaving some very obvious clues. Ironically, it uses the stereotype rather than the actual literary reference in order to identify him... which sometimes makes me wonder if I should have written about Igor instead.

This is the oldest of any short story that I've posted on this blog, and as I mentioned in the post itself, it was originally written as a script for a short comic that never got made. I was originally asked to contribute such a thing to a publication that never materialized, and in my search for ideas, I found myself trapped in a car under heavy rain in the middle of traffic one day. This got me wondering how a man would try to manipulate the weather, which gave me the first part of the story. Then I got to wondering what kind of man would want to manipulate the weather, and what kind of purpose it would fulfill. The obvious answers, of course, were "a weatherman", and "accurate weather reports".

As a comic script would have been too long to fit on this blog, I set about reformatting the work as a "proper" short story. I expected the process to take me about thirty minutes; it instead took me over two hours to do so, which meant that I might as well have rewritten the silly thing from scratch.

The Temporal Connection
This started as a second attempt at flash fiction, only for me to abandon the idea once it became evident that this would need a huge degree of subtlety in order to work. I could have brought in any number of strange changes that would indicate the shift in reality, but I only chose to show two of them: the sudden metamorphosis of each of the two characters. I suspected that putting in too many details would have ruined the surprise; part of this story's charm probably lies in Morgan's sudden temporal sex-change operation, which gave me a laugh at the end.

This is one of the few stories I write that has its inspiration in another creative work. In this case, it's The Wager, from Winston Rowntree's dark-humored "Subnormality" webcomic. I doff my hat to Rowntree's creativity here, and can only assume that he's as half-mad as the rest of us.

Observer's Sight
I wrote this story with a rather unique approach: I used a random six-card pull from the standard Talecraft deck, and cobbled together a plotlike scenario from there. I found myself forced to write something that would fulfill the conditions of both the Fantasy and the Mystery genre, with characters that would reflect a Reclusive Genius and a Competent Man, involving Blood and a Lock of Hair. (The hair ended up being a bit of a stretch.)

Fortunately, these elements were rather easy to combine, particularly Keldar and Bruni's comprehensive dual approach. The only problem I encountered was that it was difficult to compress a full-blown mystery into less than three thousand words; I'm actually happy that I didn't go overboard with this one.

Dinner for Two
Two of my rejected ideas from the month involved a minotaur and a gorgon, for some reason. I first wanted to write a story about Astarion (the original minotaur from Greek mythology), in which we learn the nature of his life in the labyrinth and his hatred of humanity (as well as his deep-seated mommy issues). Afterwards, I considered doing a similar approach from Medusa's point of view, in which we learn her sensual affinity towards stone and her mute desire for acceptance among the living world.

After spending a bit of time with both, I shelved both ideas because their stories would inevitably involve a lot of whining and self-pity. I wanted to make them sympathetic, but I didn't want to risk people hating them even more than was necessary. This, however, brought about the curious idea of giving them some sort of happy ending. And the first thing that came to mind was, "what if they went out on a date or something?" (Yes, my mind really does work this way.)

The best part, of course, involved all the little details about how a minotaur and a gorgon would interact with the modern world. A minotaur would be considered well-hung, for example, and a gorgon would have to wear a mask to prevent her from turning everything else to stone. I could work in all the little textual in-jokes that I could imagine, and on top of that, I could intersperse this with our mundane surroundings and have the audience just stare at the unlikely pair for the duration of their date. When the text started reading as though it had a good flow to it, I knew that I had something interesting on my hands.

My only regret, of course, is that I didn't have enough time to work their respective natures of existence into the ending; you expect it to have something to do with the fact that he's a minotaur and she's a gorgon, after all. That said, I have a hard enough time trying to imagine what the remainder of their evening will be like, and I leave that as an exercise to the reader.


Thus ends the Ten/Thirty project, and thus begins my return to "normal" blogging. This was a very interesting exercise (regardless of how late the nights got, or how bad the stories turned out), and I'll actually consider doing this again next year. I don't know how or why I would do it again, but ten more stories is too interesting a prospect to miss...

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