Writing that other thing?
Editing New York Sour?
Writing your essay?
I like the feeling after you hand in an essay, and there’s a sweet cool breeze that comes with freedom. You don’t have to do anything! There’s no vicious deadline looming over your head. Nothing vile is going to eat you. The axe will not drop. The lights go out. There is peace. And I can play video games without feeling guilty!
In less than a week, I have to hand in a piece of short fiction. I am in conniptions; I have very little approaching an idea. I am caught between scribbling madly in the hope that some sort of idea will present itself as I go, and sitting with a stiff rictus of panic.
With novels, things just sort of happen. You put characters in a setting and shove a problem in their face. Things happen and if they don’t, if the characters are being unhelpful shits, you kill one of them and see if that inspires some activity. I remember reading in the NaNoWriMo forums some years back – I believe in the “literary fiction” forum – someone describing an old manuscript of theirs. Their characters had been sitting in a bar discussing philosophy, or something, and not doing anything. In desperation, the writer set fire to the bar. The characters left… and found another bar. (As a side note, Nabokov would have no time for that sort of nonsense. He describes his characters as galley slaves.)
But with short stories, you don’t have time for letting characters do whatever they want. You can’t just let the characters wander about until a plot presents itself. You need an idea to construct the thing around. I had an idea with “Sin Eater“, and with “Resurrection Men“. I don’t have an idea now. See, “Sin Eater” could go further, and I hope it will. But Sin Eater’s just an idea, just a… a taste, an appetiser. Resurrection Men can’t really go any further; if it did, I’d kill it. But they’re both constructed about this one thing. “What would happen, right, what would happen if like a necromancer ran into a body-snatcher and he got all pissed off because his corpse had been re-animated, that would be hilarious” or “Hey so back in The Day, people used to eat bread off’ve corpses. They were called SIN EATERS, how fucking badass is that? Oh my god what if, like, they were immortal or something I have to write that.”
So I have a character I think is neat, but nothing to do with him. I based him off a real person I saw one evening, but on reflection, he’s really a lot like Crowley from Good Omens. Partly because he wears sunglasses at night. I love this guy – when I met him I was a bit shocked because here is this dude who is so interesting, I wanted to make up stories about him in my head – but I can put him in any world I want, basically. Well, not pre-automobile societies, but anything else he’d be sweet. He doesn’t even have a name, this guy. But he’s my dude. I have him all tucked inside my notebook for safe-keeping. But without an idea, I have nothing.
So I’m poking around searching for shit. Something interesting. God, maybe I should go and browse wikipedia or something. There’s a thing called Walking Corpse syndrome that I’d like to write about one day, but I can’t tease a story out of it yet. It seems like the sort of thing you make a literary novel or French/German arthouse movie out of.
And after all that, I have to write an essay. And then. Then I’m FREE.