Today is the first time in my 40-year career that I’ve had Martin Luther King Day off, the first time my employer said that equality matters. I went to the MLK breakfast in Beverly, MA where a black preacher talked about how he worried police would shoot his son. We ended by singing “We Shall Overcome.” It was corny but still brought tears to my eyes.
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.
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.