Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Thoughts on "Creeper"

If you haven't read it yet, now is the time. Part One and Part Two.

The idea for this short story was one of those lame "ripped from the headlines" deals about some guy who had made spreadsheets about his online dating and somehow got caught. That, in and of itself, wasn't especially interesting, but the amount of venom that was generated from the usual tolerant suspects intrigued me and I started wondering what the real story was. We'll probably never know, so I made one up.

The danger with this sort of "real life incident" writing is that it almost always sucks the vein rocket. The writer assumes, wrongly, that the unusual nature of the core conceit is enough to carry the story and the end result is a shaggy dog tale with no substance or heart. This is why I generally don't like drawing on "real life," as some people call it, for ideas. Ultimately, it can't do all the work for you, or even some of the work.

A good example of doing it right is "The Possessed" by Dostoevsky. Among other things it deals with a revolutionary being killed by his own group in hopes of bringing about a People Rise Up scenario. That's an interesting real life story, but it's the treatment it gets from the Russian that makes it memorable. In lesser hands that would not have been the case. It's the same way an interesting setting or a clever high concept or you liked it when it was this so you'll like my copy of it can't save poor writing. Character, humor, description...I don't always succeed, but it's always the goal.

The upshot of all this is that the narrator in "Creeper" is given a chance to be a fully realized character instead of a one-line joke that gets stretched for several pages. He's no saint, for sure, but I tried to make his motives understandable and perhaps even sympathetic. I'm trying to go deeper, look at motivations and shared humanity. Does it work? Eh, it's a free short story, who gives a fuck?

But I still think, yes, it does.

My favorite joke to write was Patriot Manufacturing moving from China to Bora Bora and causing investor panic that must be assuaged ("burp and change them" as the narrator puts it). It's absurd, ridiculous, a little insulting to our intelligence and let's be honest, completely believable. That edge where a farce has some real truth to it, that's where a lot of the best humor lies. Maybe that's the one benefit of living in a country that gets more insane by the day: the jokes get a lot easier to write.

What happens to our narrator after the story ends? It's something I've wondered about, I've even considered maybe taking concepts from this and using them in a future novel. I guess the answer is "back to comfortable anonymity after the outrage fades." Indeed, the man in the real life story has been forgotten as newer, more interesting crimes and follies have cropped up. In today's world infamy has become as difficult to obtain and just as fleeting as fame. I don't know what that says about us, but probably nothing good.

DotTeeVee will be back on Sunday, see you all then.

Aaron Zehner's first novel is The Foolchild Invention.

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