Friday, July 6, 2012

...nowhere diner...: An Explanation

Today, I'm posting a piece of short fiction titled ...nowhere diner..., which I refer to as a 'short-short'. I wrote this story a few years ago, as a creative writing exercise for myself. My intent was to create a stand-alone scene, with no context as to the events that occur before and after this scene. Going into the writing process, I only knew that I was going to write a character piece, and that the setting was going to be a diner in the middle of nowhere. From there, my own strange, morbid creativity took over, and this story is the result. Like my Kurt Vonnegut experiment, this story may be expanded into a larger narrative one day, but for now it'll stay as it is.

This story, like ...man chained..., illustrates some of the common themes that I like to include in my fiction. Once again, we have an anonymous narrator whose name is unknown. This time around, though, I only made vague references to his history, without fleshing out a full character background. Also, like always, I didn't answer all of the questions that were raised, or offer any sort of pay off at the end. The reader knows what the narrator knows, and the rest is up to your imagination. ...nowhere diner... also highlights my personal dislike of detailed description. Since I primarily write character pieces, I spend most of my time describing personalities, actions, and interactions. If there is a bench in a park, for instance, then I'll tell you there's a bench in a park. I've never set out to be the type of writer J.R.R Tolkien was, spending pages upon pages describing the setting. My hope is that my characterization and dialogue is strong enough that the visual/imagery aspects of the scene fall into place. In this case, we all have an idea of what a typical diner looks like, so I didn't feel the need to describe it.

Anyone who has previously read my fiction, or who is currently following the work that I've been posting, can easily tell that I don't have one set format or structure for my stories. I'm a believer that each story deserves its own style and structure, depending on the type of the story it is and what I'm trying to accomplish with it. With Big Empty, I structured the story traditionally, since the story is a take on classic coming-of-age tales and travelogues. In ...man chained..., I embedded the dialogue in the paragraph, because I wanted each paragraph to represent a day, an inner monologue, or an interaction. With ...nowhere diner..., I used a different kind of dialogue style, ditching quotation marks in favour of a dash to signal someone is speaking. I wanted this story to be as stripped down as possible, and I felt that this style of dialogue represented that.

In my personal short fiction collection, I have a series of stories that are meant to accompany eachother, eventually becoming a short fiction anthology. I signify these stories with the titles, using '...' on either side and taking the title directly from a line in the story. Stories with this sort of title are meant to take place in the same 'universe' and will sometimes have cross-over characters and references to other stories in that universe. So far, I've only posted ...man chained... and ...nowhere diner... from this collection, but I have a few others that I'll post at some point. If you think diner is offensive and weird, maybe I'll post ...fingers... one day to show you just how over-the-top my writing can get.

Although this wasn't a direct homage the way that my Kurt Vonnegut experiment was, ...nowhere diner... was very clearly influenced by Cormac McCarthy. At the time that I gave myself this creative writing exercise, I was reading No Country for Old Men. I had McCarthy's narrative voice fresh in my head, and his style made its way into my own story. The narrator is definitely inspired by Anton Chigurh, the 'villain' in No Country. I have a hard time referring to him as a villain in that story, however, since it's a tale a moral relativism. Chigurh wouldn't consider himself a villain, only a man that is reacting to his surroundings and doing whatever it takes to achieve his goal. I wanted to craft The Narrator in diner in the same way: He's a potentially violent man, who has surely killed in the past, but in this situation, he was innocently eating a sandwich, until trouble found its way to him. The motivation and morality of his actions that follow are entirely up for debate. I like to believe that there is no 'good guy' or 'villain' in this story, it was just an innocent situation that escalated to violence.

My main intent here, which is the technique I was practicing, is to create tension, where the reader has a feeling of impending doom, without being able to predict what will happen next. I also wanted to experiment with writing in the point-of-view of a violent, potentially deranged man, who has the appearance of innocence but can be set off at a moment's notice. I've written morally ambiguous narrators in the past, but I feel like this is the least likeable voice that I've ever written in. It bothers me when writers play it safe and only write as characters they can be proud of. I like reaching into the darkest pits of my creative mind and seeing what's there. Even as I was writing, I didn't know the full extent of The Narrator's violence. I had a feeling that the asshole husband wasn't going to make it, but from there, I let the Narrator take over. What resulted is one of the weirdest, creepiest, most eerie pieces of fiction in my collection. You aren't supposed to necessarily enjoy this story, just have some sort of reaction and I'll be satisfied.

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