Some Background for “Saucer” (and a Contest!)

The short story Saucer is the centrepiece of Living and Dying, and it’s also the oldest piece of writing in the collection. I thought I’d give everyone some background on the writing of the story and its minor evolutions over time.

Scroll to the end of the post for a chance to win a print copy of Fifty-Word Stories: Volume One!

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Image by Rachel Davies.In 2004 I was attending my first year of university and dabbling in a lot of different courses. I took psychology, sociology, economics, statistics, political science, english, creative writing, and more. The creative writing class I took gave me an opportunity to explore my interest in writing fiction.

I wrote a lot of things back then. I did short stories and poetry and even took a stab at some longer-form writing. In fact, I have about 30,000 words of assorted fantasy on my hard drive that I struggled for years to connect into a novel in some meaningful way. (I’ve long since given up on that project: there’s just so much poor writing!)

While a lot of what I wrote back then still exists in different forms on my various hard drives, very little of it, I find, is really any good. I was a teenager back then, and I wrote like one. I was too self-indulgent. Too overwrought. I thought my words should change people’s worlds. I felt like the things I wrote had to open people’s eyes, or shatter their illusions, or redeem their frailties. Basically, I wrote far too many sentences like that last one. And when I wasn’t writing like a teenager, I was writing like a four-year-old, tossing around purposeless paragraphs of nonsense because it tickled my fancy.

But at some point during that period, I wrote Saucer. Saucer was different. For whatever reason, Saucer was a concept that stuck with me long after I’d first written its central scene. It had something more subtle to it, something worth communicating, something that was more than just a teenage emotion wrapped in poorly folded words and tied with a clichéd little red “moral.”

I tried, at various times, to pin down exactly what this “thing worth communicating” was. I wanted to find a way to build on that theme and really turn it into something big and special. At one point I outlined a plot that would have resulted in a Saucer novella, probably somewhere in the 15,000 word range. The plot would have seen Moses escape from his cell and meet up with a resistance group, while the tiny crack in his skull that he received from his self-abuse–which he never fully allows to heal–serves to continually remind him that he is fighting against the numbness and casual comfort of a life without either pain or freedom. (Or something along those lines, anyways.)

That idea, like so many of my other grand literary plans, never came to be. I eventually wrote the brief scenes at the beginning and end of the story and left it at that, and I think that was for the best, because really, this story stands on its own. It communicates what it’s meant to communicate, and it does it at an appropriate pace, without having to push its message in the reader’s face repeatedly over time.

That’s ultimately the point of short fiction. Novels tend to be built on big concepts and complex or far-reaching events. They rely much more on being gripping and entertaining. But short fiction is built on communicating a message or an emotion, and doing so in whatever length or complexity is required, and not a scene more, not a paragraph more, not a sentence more, not a word more.

Of course, messages and emotions are always interpreted differently by different people. That’s a key part of their beauty.

If you haven’t read Saucer, or the rest of Living and Dying, yet, go get it for whatever price you want!

CONTEST ALERT

Take action between now and midnight PST on Sunday, June 12, and you could win a print copy of Fifty-Word Stories: Volume One.

I’d love to hear how some readers have interpreted Saucer. I’m not tied up in any ideas of a “right” or “wrong” way to interpret the story, so feel free to share your thoughts, and maybe we can get some discussion going.

Every person who comments on this post (with a legitimate, non-spam comment) will receive one entry into the draw for the copy of my book.

There are also other ways to get additional entries into the draw. One way is to Like my new Page on Facebook. Every person who has Liked that page will have their name put in the draw. The last method is to share the FiftyWordStories website on Twitter using the hashtag #50wordstories. So that’s a maximum of three entries in the draw per person.

I will be picking the winner’s name out of a hat on Monday, June 13.

(Note: If the winner lives outside of North America, they’ll have to cover the difference between the North American and outside-of-North-America shipping.)

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