A: Where were we?
B: We were troubleshooting your first story. It’s about growing up, and how that requires losing your solipsism and cluelessness in the crossfire of reality. And you said that the ending would be about not knowing, and learning that you have to live with that.
A: Yeah. I wonder if that’s a shitty ending. Another one of Emma Coats’ rules is that you should throw out the first thing that comes to mind, and the second and third, so that you eventually surprise yourself.
B: What are the other possible endings?
A: I guess one obvious one would be ending with a lot of pain and suffering, and just confronting the bleak meaninglessness of everything. I’m feeling a little guilty talking about this because I know that it’s a bad idea before I even floated it.
B: Whatever. Next idea?
A: Another one that would be interesting would be to end with literal euphoria– an overwhelming sense of gratitude and joy at the possibilities of life. I intellectually can sort of see how that might be, and I find myself thinking that would be better than the “learn to live with not knowing” thing, because it does feel like that’s been sorta overdone in recent times. I find myself thinking of Haruki Murakami’s Norwegian Wood, and how it ends with the protagonist making a phone call “in the place that is no place” or something like that. Very zen and uncertain and flux.
B: You’re losing me.
A: Sorry. I guess all I need to know or say is that… the idea of ending with “learn to live with not knowing” doesn’t feel like a great ending. It doesn’t feel like I’d have “gotten” anywhere. I’m already sort of there, I already sort of grasp it. I suppose if I could drive myself into a wall with it really hard and have it blow up in my face, and find some sort of beauty in that, that would be great. But I’m not so confident in my abilities to achieve that in a single short story. Or at all, with my present writing skills.
B: Okay, let’s simplify. So you feel that ending with some sort of euphoria would be better than “being comfortable not knowing”.
A: Yeah. I imagine that the “not knowing” part would have to be baked into the euphoria anyway. Better to focus on the euphoria then.
B: Very well. But do you have any more ideas?
A: I suppose another one might end with, service to others is the answer. But that feels a little cheesy and I’m not feeling that very much right now.
B: Any others?
A: No, I think that’s it. I think going from blissful ignorance to uncertainty to joy is a nice, straightforward and yet challenging trajectory that I’d like to explore.
B: So can you start on the story now?
A: Uhh… I’m still missing some things, I think.
B: Such as?
A: Where should the story be set? I don’t want it to be overly specific. I suppose it should be in something that seems like present-day, or the near future. I’d probably like to incorporate present technology into it, because I think things like social media and the Internet are very important, powerful things and we ought to examine those things in fiction. Those are things that aren’t being adequately captured, I feel. Nobody’s really doing justice to them.
B: Okay, so your character has access to modern technology. It’s not fantasy, it’s not sci-fi.
B: What else? What’s left?
A: So now I need to know what the conflict is going to be. Is it just going to be one man alone in his room? I guess that could work. I don’t really want to introduce multiple characters, because that makes things more complicated. I should just do one person really, really well.
B: So get cracking?
A: I wonder though, what should I do about backstory? What are this character’s specifications? What is his family situation? What are his finances like, what were his childhood dreams, you know?
B: I think those are things that you can afford to figure out along the way. You’re not publishing a novel, you’re just writing short stories.
A: Yeah, good point.
B: So, what’s the story?
A: Well, I know the starting conditions and I know where I want the guy to go. But I haven’t thought about what the conflict is. I think that’s what’s missing. There needs to be some sort of stress, some sort of frustration, some sort of difficulty for the person to have to overcome in order for the story to be interesting.
B: So what do you think is an interesting conflict?
A: I don’t think I have the luxury of trying to pick a conflict like I’m choosing something to eat or wear. Instead I have to recognize the conflict that’s already on my mind, and find a way to express that.
B: What’s the conflict on your mind?
A: I don’t want to be cheesy, but I guess I should start cheesy and then try to make it less cheesy. But I’m thinking some sort of eternal conflict, the struggle to make something out of life against the bleakness of death. The attempt to find joy and beauty and meaning against the inexorable passage of time. Those are the real villains. Death. Time. Ignorance. Entropy. Indifference.
B: Those are big things.
A: Yeah, so I guess I need to make them smaller. I’ve really been thinking about the passage of time a lot. I was reading an earlier vomit and I enjoy this little point I made about how when a person is gone from your life, even for a little while, you’re sort of lobotomized a little bit. Because you develop an entire language together, made up not just of words but of shared experiences, shared motifs, inside jokes. And when that person is gone, you can’t exactly just share those things with other people instead. You have to find different things altogether.
B: That’s pretty nice. I mean, it’s bittersweet.
A: Yeah, maybe I’ll write about that.