Blowing Up the Short Story

I’ve talked a lot lately about how many recent movies and novels bore me. The reason is that fiction revolves around conflict, people and their problems. Someone wants something and goes through hell to get it. I’m no longer interested in the going through hell part. Maybe I’ve read so much fiction that I’m tired of it, maybe I’m getting older and my tastes are changing, or maybe there is so much intractable conflict in real life that any more in fiction is not entertaining.

I’ve been experimenting with ways to subvert the conflict/climax/resolution form of the short story, lately. Of course, the real trick is to write something the reader will find interesting. Here are some things I’ve tried:

1.       Deus Ex Machina – I wrote a few short stories in which reprehensible people get hit by trains or stomped by giant reptiles. This kind of story is satisfying in a culture where crooked CEOs and racist cops are never brought to justice. The anime “One Punch Man” follows a similar structure.

2.       Non-Human Narrator – Since fiction is about people and their problems, a story about a non-human (without personification) could subvert the fiction form. I wrote a story about an interstellar space probe that woke up and tried to make its motivation different than a human’s.

3.       Absurdity – If the characters’ wants are petty and ridiculous, fiction can become a game and the reader will not take their suffering seriously. A recent example of mine has two students competing with bombs, booby traps, and bioweapons for their school’s perfect attendance award.

4.       Minor Characters – I wrote a story where the point of view shifts from the classic hero to a minor character and becomes an exploration of daily life.

5.       Self-Referential Fiction – I wrote a story featuring a superhero who can turn any situation into a Hollywood plot. Metafiction that reference itself (perhaps the movie “Nocturnal Animal”) also falls in the category.

6.       Surrealism – David Lynch! David Lynch! David Lynch!

I expect to keep playing with this. If you have any ideas on how to subvert the short story firm, please leave a comment.

On Meditation

When I started doing meditation over 30 years ago, I wanted to develop a bulletproof mind, a mind of an invulnerable martial artist, free from worry and anxiety. It didn’t happen because that was never meditation’s purpose. I’m still a neurotic basket case but meditation helped me realize it’s okay to be a neurotic basket case.

Numb in the Bookstore

Something’s wrong. I went to the Harvard Coop Bookstore and nothing interested me. For the past few years, I’ve found it hard to sit through novels, movies, and TV shows that wallow in the frustration and hopelessness all too common in everyday life. Why slog through hundreds of pages of suffering in the hope of merely restoring the status quo and the end of the book? Seems simpler not to take the journey at all.

Despite my disinterest, I liked movies and TV shows such as The Great Beauty, 20th Century Women, Florence Foster Jenkins, War Dogs, What We Do in the Shadows, The Assets, and Narcos. Some of this has to do with protagonists having at least a fighting chance but I have some other ideas for my fiction likes and dislikes in the following list. This is a personal list of my current preferences. Also, as with all rules about fiction, someone could break every rule, do it well, and write something truly outstanding.

Likes Dislikes
Intriguing mystery Formulaic plot
Sense of wonder Too many defeats
Capable characters Dreariness/ hopelessness/ frustration
Goal that’s bigger than the status quo Abuse of authority
Progress toward that goal Overwhelming corruption
Logical sequence of events Stereotypical characters
Characters I’d want as friends Incompetent characters
Smart, open-minded characters Pettiness
Honest emotions Stupidity
Originality/ surprise Betrayals
Insight “inspiring” stories of sickness and handicaps
Humor/ quirkiness  
Peek into a forbidden world  
For comedy have everyday people in the former.