Not Enough There There

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2020-12-10 07:00:00-05:00 No comments

Of all the ideas I've whomped up that seemed worth a story, I've shelved many of them and never checked them back out again. The ones that got shelved hardest were stories where everything about them that was interesting to me seemed impossible to communicate to others — and so, in the end, didn't actually turn out to be that interesting to begin with.

One such story, I've taken down from the shelf many times, only to throw it back up there, because no matter how I turned it, it never turned into much of anything. It involved a person who at some point in their life is possessed (no better way to put it) by the idea that all fiction is evil, that art does not reveal anything about the human condition but only obscures it, that our entertainments and our aesthetics are nothing but attempts to avoid life instead of confront it. At first they find relatively harmless ways to express the idea, like taking books from the "leave-a-book" bin at the library and burning them. Then buying them from the store and destroying them. Then stealing media from other people and destroying them. Then setting fire to a publishing house. And so on down the spiral, until bwhoom.

Right there, you have the problem: I couldn't find a way to dig into what was in his head except by what amounted to the depiction of a pathology. That by itself did not feel very interesting to me; once I'd shown it in action a few times, what else was there to say? Bad leads to worse? I lacked for a real dynamic except to show him growing worse and worse. Even attempts to broaden the scope of the story psychically didn't work: giving him followers, for instance, or making him into a follower of something else while just using them for his own destructive ends.

I kept coming back to the same problem: there isn't anything here but madness, and that by itself was not enough to justify a story. Madness, or maybe just an immaturity so total it passes for madness. Maybe that's interesting to a clinician, but it seemed like pretty grainy gruel for fiction. I suspect I was partly inspired by the way some movies can just show us such things and let us connect the dots (e.g., Takeshi Kitano's Violent Cop), but I couldn't find a way to make that work on the page as effectively.

What was it about the idea that kept me trying to unpack it, though? Not the concept itself, but something it pointed to: the idea that in our lives, there are things that people are willing to throw themselves away for, maybe because they seem incomprehensible to others. Not because of anything in the idea itself, but what it represents: an opportunity for us to consummate ourselves in something violent and unforgettable that manifests as a rebuke to the world. We've long associated such things with terrorism, but now the idea has spread beyond that.

In the end, most of what was really interesting about the idea got recycled into something else, anyway: Welcome To The Fold. For the best, I suspect, because I wrote that book two years before 2016, and everything about it that I originally felt was absurd now seems barely ahead of the facts.

Tags: Welcome to the Fold creativity fiction ideas