Come to the Dark Side, We Have Stories

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I’m writing this blog post with 48 hours of no sleep (yay, insomnia!) and three days of not talking to anyone other than my cat. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.

Back in mid-February I came across a Twitter account called Pine Barrens (aka @QuietPineTrees) which consists entirely of 1-tweet stories, or Twitterature. Example:

“These readings can’t be real,” she scoffed. “Alien ships this large and numerous would be visible.” She looked to the sky. And the stars. ~ @QuietPineTrees, 7 March 2016

I’ve seen Twitter used as a medium for storytelling before, most notably by Joanne Harris, but I’d never seen this kind of micro fiction and I loved it. It embodies so much that I try to achieve in my own writing: painting detailed pictures concisely, allowing the reader’s imaginations to do so much of the work, creating a sense of wonder out of everyday things.

So I decided to follow suit – plagiarism being the most sincere form of flattery – and have since been posting one story in 140 characters every day. It’s a great exercise, not only to work on concise renditions of visions, but also to boil down the seeds of a story into a single elevator pitch and see if they still work. It allows me to briefly toy with a new story idea every day, and several of them have ended up on my ‘to write’ list.

It has also highlighted something about my own writing, and that is my tendency for darkness. Now, the idea that I write tragedies (pyrrhic victories at best) isn’t news to me. Indeed, it’s a source of long-standing teasing between myself and Dr. Nick, who’s roleplay character I once caused to bring about the fall of Rome because he crit-failed a prayer to Athena in a tabletop campaign I was GMing. (I think he’s still a little traumatised from that one.) But I hadn’t quite realised just how deep the tendency went until my aunt dropped me an email the other day to say that she’d been reading my tweets and, whilst she was enjoying the stories, was I okay?

Oops. Storytelling’s probably not meant to worry the relatives.

I’ve tried to write happy endings in the past, but I really struggle with it. It’s not that I don’t like them – in fact, I ONLY like reading stories with happy endings. But when I’m properly into a project the characters and events feel real to me. They have to, otherwise how can I immerse anyone else? And happy endings… well, they never feel believable. I just don’t buy it. It’s kind of the same approach as a lot of Russian literature, actually. If the characters achieve happiness, that’s only because you haven’t followed the consequences all the way through yet. I’m looking at you, Anna Karenina.

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An early addiction to Greek mythology may have been a contributing factor.

Some days, I think this says something deep and meaningful about my maturing outlook on life. Some days, I ascribe it to depression. But neither of those is really fair. The first novel I ever completed (age approx. 14, and still very much an optimist) ended with the planet exploding. (It was called Son of the Circle Stars, an astro-physically unlikely romp about a Prophesied One trying to unite two warring cultures through the power of magic. I carefully printed it out one page at a time and made a cover from cardboard and wrapping paper.)

I’m rambling. What’s my point? I think it is that sometimes the stories we tell reveal aspects of the author’s psyche. We write what we know, and all that jazz. But depression doesn’t drive my stories – my stories are an escape from depression. And I am still, somewhat doggedly, an optimist. So sometimes the stories end badly just because that’s how the story goes.

And because there’s beauty in darkness too.

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