(Bad) Fiction Writing

To celebrate a whole month(!) of stories I wanted to write something fun. I don't think it's as good as many other stories, but more than all of them this one was for me. I wanted to cram in as many references as possible into it. I managed a whole lot. And with that the month is over. Thirty stories in thirty days. This project was a huge success in my book. First of all, the mere fact that I stuck with it. It was a huge help that I was able to send my daily stories to friends and immediately get some feedback. Second, I have managed to explore so many styles and genres and brought ideas to the page I'd long been carrying with me, but also came up with a lot of new ideas. Apart from being proud of completing the project I'm also really happy with at least half of the stories contained within. But it wasn't all roses. This project also made November stressful for me. I spent a lot of time thinking about the stories I had written and those I still had to write. This has given me much more of a respect for authors, and especially those participating in a proper NaNoWriMo, where the goal is to write 50 thousand words in a month. That's more than double what I managed, even when taking all these journal entries into account! Overall the good definitely outweighs the good by a large margin. In future I want to try my hand at writing again. Because this time was just about putting (virtual) pen to (virtual) paper I have done next to no editing of my pieces. That would be something to explore in a next project. Another thing to try would be to write a longer piece. I found this project incredibly inspiring, enlightening and motivating and I hope that any reader has found something similar.

The whining sound of drills being used on the reinforced door cut through the air. Ike turned it down in the interface of his ear implant. His dad was uploading some mod files to the fabricator which immediately sprung to life and began shaping matter. “Pa, I don't know if we can wait for this fab. The president of Neo-Crete has hired some security personnel from Fenco. They know their stuff.” “Relax,” said Dale seeming either unaware or uncaring of the danger the two were in. Just then the fabricator's completion chime sounded and the cover lifted. It had created a small ring with a gem that shimmered amber red. “Is that a squart gem?” “98% purity,” Dale confirmed, “I had a courier deliver it earlier today.” He put on the ring and tapped it with his index finger. Then he presented it to his son. “It needs your DNA.” Ike tapped it. “Hold onto your mind!” Dale shouted as he turned the ring around his finger. Everything around Ike begins to strobe. Black. White. Black. White. Then it suddenly stops. The world around him still is spinning and he collapses onto all fours and vomits up the sandwiches from earlier. That seemed to help as he now was starting to register the new surroundings. They weren't in his father's lab anymore. He felt a soft ground beneath his hands and knees. They were. . . in some kind of wood? “What. . .?” Ike was confused. Dale was walking around a bit. “I've transferred us to another dimension,” he explained, “we should be safe here. At least from the people from our dimension. I'm not sure what dimension this is, exactly. Oh there's a little bunny with a knapsack. Maybe it can give some information.” Ike watched Dale excitedly jump over some tree stumps and go over to the bunny rabbit. He wiped off his mouth with the back of his hand and tried getting up. The nausea had faded and once he was back on his feet he walked over to his dad. The bunny was already on its way. “What did it say?” “It is a she,” Dale explained, “She said she's called Tabby Longfoot and is exploring this part of the woods herself. She said she saw a hut in that direction with a bear and a pig inside and she said they were doing unspeakable things. And over that way are three women at a tea party that are not saying a word. That all sounds pretty wild to me, want to check out another dimension?” But before Ike could say anything Dale had already turned his ring again. Reality faded, but quickly rebuild itself around them in some new configuration. This time the nausea wasn't so bad as to make Ike throw up again. But it seemed to not go away. The floor underneath his feet seemed to slowly sway side to side. He looked around. It was dark, but the ground was swaying. Ike lifted his audio filters. He heard waves crashing. Were they on a ship? Suddenly, a door opened. The woman in the doorframe dropped a basket of gingerbread cookies and gave a short shriek of surprise, which in turn made Dale and Ike jump as well. “Oh, we've got some stowaways, huh?” she said. Then she turned her head and shouted, “Captain Harriet, first mate Martha, we got some stowaways here!” “You've got it all wrong,” Dale wanted to explain, but was met with a kick to the temple. “Oh, believe me, I've heard it all. And I didn't run away from my carnivorous raptor of a husband to have someone talk back at me.” She turned to Ike. “What about you? You got something to say?” “I'm good,” Ike said. “Good. Wait here,” the woman said and slammed the door. Ike quickly moved over to his father. He grabbed his father's hand and turned the ring. Reality rebuilt itself around them in the shape of a space ship. A female commander was standing in front of Ike. She held an egg in her hand. “Oh, I. . . I was expecting you. Here's the egg you ordered,” and she hesitantly extended her arm towards Ike. “I. . . what? I didn't order an egg.” “Really?” the commander asked with some confusion in her voice. “Aren't you adele_suprFAN78 on Tradr?” Ike bent down to Dale who was slowly coming to. “18k and you can have it. Hey are you listening? It's a good egg.” Ike turned the ring once more.

It's not that the writing itself has gotten more difficult over time. It's just the finding the initial idea. And that has nothing to do with how much I'll end up writing. Ideas that take a while to land on can lead to longer or shorter pieces, just like ideas that instantly come to me can inspire more or less words. This idea is obviously inspired by the Cyberpunk genre, but also the video games Mirror's Edge and a bit of Death Stranding. As it turned out it's also very reminiscent of the excellent film Sorry We Missed You. What really touched me in that film (and what I tried to replicate here) is how much of a trap the gig economy is. Carry-Anne is free to take any job she wants, but she isn't free to take no job. Her body is telling her to stop, but she can't. And the terrible thing is that it looks like she herself is making the choice to carry on (Yes, her name's a pun).

Carry-Anne made her way up the ladder that her implant had highlighted in blue. Her right arm and leg still hurt from an accident earlier today causing her to climb a bit slower than she was usually able to. The timer at the edge of her field of vision didn't care. It still counted with the same relentlessness it always did. When she reached the top of the ladder she had to climb the stairs of the fire escape. She started out with a bit of limp not to burden her right leg too much. It was costing her too much time. She grit her teeth and started sprinting up the stairs. The cold air filled her lungs and began to sting. At least this took some attention away from the pain she felt in her right leg. When she reached the rooftop she followed the blue navigational hints across and over a fence. She slid down a slight incline onto some lower roofs. The counter did not permit her to catch her breath. She sprinted some more. She recognized this route. A wall run would be coming up just ahead. She thought of the grappling hook in her backpack. Beginners used this to help with wall runs. It takes a lot of pressure of the ankles as you don't need such a close angle. Carry-Anne glanced over at the timer. She was already getting late, she really did not have time to pull out her grappling hook. Instead she pulled off her left glove and placed it between her teeth. When she took the ramp and jumped at the wall she bit down on it hard. Her brain entered slow motion. Her left foot made first contact with the wall. This gap needed five steps, though pros could do it with four. She did the next step and the nerves of her right ankle told her nervous system that this had been a terrible idea. A terrible pain flooded her body. Tears shot into her eyes. She bit down even harder onto the glove. Her right hand felt the wall. Her left foot made contact again and preserved her momentum in defiance of gravity. Think of flying. Think of being anywhere else. Another step with the right foot brought her back to the here and now. Brought her back to a world of pain. The foot slipped a bit. That's not good, she thought. The next step with the left foot did some to make up for it, but she landed on the other side without any momentum. The wall run had in total been just above a second, but the real cost was the momentum she had lost. She started sprinting again, ignoring everything her right foot was trying to tell her. I've got to make this in time. She took the glove back out of her mouth and put it back on. Finally she saw the door up ahead pulsing in blue. One of these lonely doors that you find on rooftops. Dests. That's what couriers call them, short for destination. Usually couriers leave them open for each other so that they can throw themselves against the doors and don't have to stop to deal with handles. Usually, Carry-Anne thought grabbing her right shoulder. But looking at the time she couldn't be safe now either. She did a small prayer and threw her left shoulder against the door. Luckily it flew open and she tumbled down the short flight of stairs. She got up. 7.3 seconds to spare. She knocked at the blue apartment door and slid off the backpack. She knocked again and pulled out the small yellow package. Come on, come on. She heard movement inside. 2.5s. . . 1.2s. . . She heard the lock turn, and pushed open the door with the package. She dropped it into the expecting hand. The door shut again and she collapsed against the wall slowly sliding down to the floor. She peaked over at the timer. -0.3s. The notification below informed her of what she already knew: Target not met, bounty reduced by 80%. Fuck! she exclaimed and hit the floor with a closed fist. Fuck, fuck, fuck! She took two deep breaths, trying to calm herself. Then she got back up and limped up the stairs back onto the roof where she opened the courier app. There was another blitz job just around here. When she took it the timer reset to 2 minutes and a blue line appeared in front of her. She started jogging.

I wanted to revisit the sci-fi genre, because the first time around I had only had one character. I envisioned a whole crew, but it turned out a lot smaller again. It feels a bit cheap to throw around made up words like sim-chamber, squart and holo-screen, but I guess that's one way writers approach this genre? I did write this story under a bit of time pressure, but I feel like it turned out quite dense. It's more open ended than others, but I feel like this works better than some of the “punchline endings” of other stories. The other inspiration was just the word “rain” which made its way into the title in the end. (I title my stories after writing them.) I think that even though the setting is sci-fi this is more of a melancholy slice-of-life piece. That seems to be one of the themes with my writing this month.

Zeela went into the sim-chamber and slammed the door behind her. Then she turned on a rain simulation. Virtual drops of water fell from the ceiling. The wall panels disguised themselves as a vast landscape veiled in darkness by the thick clouds overhead. The occasional lightning strike lit up the fields and surrounding trees. Zeela turned down her suit's temperature to realistic levels. She did not like that the preset kept the feeling of room temperature consistent. Being in the rain should feel cold. At least that's what she thought. She lay down in the mud and stared at the clouds. “She'll cool off soon enough,” said Lani and started collecting the tools from the floor that Zeela had thrown about, “Let's just take out the squart ourselves. You still support me in that decision, right?” He didn't wait for Chip's response and started loosening the bolts that held the squart in place. After a while Chip calmed down a bit and tried to say something in between sniffles. “What's that Chip? You got to speak up,” yelled Lani who by now had climbed up on the big pipe to reach the bolts on top of the squart. “I said,” repeated Chip a bit louder now, “that maybe we shouldn't sell the squart if Zeela is so against it. What if she's right and it can be used as a weapon?” “Oh, come on Chip! Don't take her side now.” Lani jumped down onto the grating. “Anything can be used as a weapon nowadays. You can hit someone over the head with this wrench or fly this whole ship into a station.” Lani put a hand onto Chip's shoulder. “We could really use the extra cash.” Zeela awoke with a cold. She was angry with herself for having fallen asleep in the sim-chamber again. She tuned off the rain and switched to a bathhouse where she rinsed her suit of the virtual mud that now stuck to her back. Then she made her way over to the medbay to get rid of the cold. She immediately felt better when the machine had given her the shot, but then a warning popped up on the holo-screen that the med-resources were running low. That would cost quite a bit to refill. Maybe Lani and Chip were right to sell the squart.

The only thing worse than a bus ride is a car ride with the family. I've been all four of these characters and none of them are enjoying this. And it's not that these characters are all horrible, it's the car ride that's bringing it out in them. An unofficial challenge I've set myself is that I don't want to recycle names in my stories. I haven't checked, but I'm quite sure that every character has a unique name. In this story I sidestepped this challenge by not giving the characters any names, which led to a different challenge. It felt weird to refer to the driver as “the driver” so they don't get a big presence. I also had to explicitly gender “the big one” as I had to refer to him a lot. I would've liked to keep them all a bit more ambiguous as they are supposed to be canvases to project your own road trip family onto. Yes, the green thing the big one had spied was his Hulk action figure. He's not very creative.

The kids on the backseat were getting loud again. “Honey, can you please do something to keep them occupied?” As if she hadn't thought of that herself. Their high pitched screaming and arguing was causing her a headache. She raised her voice, “Okay you two. Let's play a game.” “What kind of game?” asked the big one. “Wha ka of gam?” parroted the little one. “Let's play the silent game. Whoever can keep quiet the longest wins.” “That's not a real game!” protested the big one. The little one agreed, “no real gam!” and started kicking the back of her seat. She became agitated. “Cut that out, no kicking!” The little one did not stop. Instead the big one joined in, kicking the back of the driver's seat. They both started giggling. “Listen to your mother! I'm driving! This is dangerous!” The kicking continued. “Do I have to drive on the side of the road and stop?” An empty threat as they were in the middle of a freeway. He couldn't do anything. She couldn't either. She felt ill. She had never really done well in cars, but being in here for coming up to four hours now with these two devils in the back was too much. “Please, you two. Let's play I spy...“ The kicking stopped. “I go first,” said the big one, “I spy with my little eye. . .” He drew out the last vowel while looking around the car until he landed on something, “something green.” “Fortnite!” screamed the little one. “It's not Fortnite.” “Fortnite!” the little one insisted. “IT'S NOT FORTNITE!” the big one screamed. “Ouch!” the little one let out and began crying. She turned around and saw the big one hitting the little one with a Hulk action figure. She reached back, trying to take it from him, but it wasn't easy as he was flailing his arms in his rage. As she gripped him she could feel the sandwiches from earlier sliding back up her throat as she threw up. “Ew, mama did frop-frop” said the little one between sniffles. “Honey, this is a rental! Why didn't you say something?”

Again, this was a mashup of two ideas from my list: “Heist” and “Ghost Story”. I'm surprised how fun this idea turned out. It's a bit easy to introduce and “solve” characters one after the other. I think it would be cool to have a longer story where all characters are set up in the beginning and we follow them through the execution of a more complex plan. Once I had the rules of every ghost having a cause of death, an expertise, and some unfinished business it was quite easy to go step-by-step through the heist. And of course every good heist needs a twist threatening to jeopardize the plan. The most difficult part was finding a way to resolve the twist. The easiest thing would have been for Vincent's disappearance to solve the problem he'd introduced, but that felt too cheap. That's why Dolores is there. I thought it would be fun for all the ghosts to be gone at the end. That's why the police chief also finds peace even after his second death. I'm not sure how elegant it is, but I guess it works.