Composing the Short Form

I got up before the chickens Saturday morning and started writing my next short story.  It’s temporarily called “Glitch”, but that could change. The idea for the story occurred to me a few weeks ago and I sent some feelers out to my friends on IM. Their responses were very positive. So I started to take the story from concept to execution.  I thought I would take you through some of the decisions I make and show you how I compose a short story.

*** Spoiler alert ****

If you would rather not know how this story was written and would like to just read it when its finished, please look away now.

Still here?  Good.

Here is my original idea as I expressed it in an IM chat:

“Just had an idea for another short story. An android kidnaps a programmer and demands that he fix a glitch in the android’s programming.  The glitch the android wants fixed, is his new found ability to kill.  You can guess how it will end. lol”

I had to first figure out if this android existed in my Galaxy Collision universe or if it would be a stand alone story. That was easy, it would be set on Ocherva and involve the mysterious Eighty-eight. So that decision led me to thinking about Eighty-eight and how he fit into the whole cannon of work set in that universe. That will be the topic of another post, I’m sure.

The next thing I had to figure out was when in the time line of the Silicant and Ranger stories this particular story was set. Since the crux of the story was about Eighty-eight trying to figure out how he suddenly has the ability to kill, I figured that the story would have to be one of the earliest stories set on Ocherva, if not the very first.

The decision of whether to write in first or third person was not an easy one. But since I have set no precedence for first person stories featuring this android, I decided to keep it to third person. This decision allowed me to use the point of view of the human programmer and not just the android.

The hardest thing to do with this particular tale was work out the back-story. I had to imagine how Eighty-eight got to the remote, frontier moon and I had to know what things happened to him to make him the way he is as the reader knows him later in the time line. So much of the back-story for this character is unknown and mysterious and I wanted to maintain that mystery as much as possible while opening up a tiny window into its past to learn why it is the way it is.

From the beginning the story was conceived as a horror genre tale.  I mean, you have a kidnapping and you have a possible death by a cold blooded android, what could be scarier?  But as I started to craft the story, I began to realize that it’s scary from both the kidnapped programmer’s perspective and the android’s perspective.  I would tell two stories inside a single short.  I would show what happened to the android upon first arriving on the moon.  It would build sympathy for the android at the same time I would show the point of view of the programmer who is afraid of androids from an early age, yet works on their inner programming.

With all of this in mind, I started to write.  I opened the tale with Eighty-eight being turned on while half-buried in a sand dune. Whoever turned it on, flew away into the sky and never made themselves known.  This maintains that mysterious origin and provides an interesting visual of sand blowing over the face of the android. I intend to use this same imagery at the end, but it won’t be the android who is buried in the sand.  The use of imagery in my writing is a direct result of me having started out as a film maker.  I usually think in visual terms when initially imagining my stories.

The android rises out of the sand and starts walking towards the setting suns. Then we cut to the scared programmer who has been kidnapped and lashed to a chair in front of a computer. We get a sense of his fear and confusion.  This introduces us to the second scenario in the story as quickly as we were introduced to the first.  Now back to the android in the desert as it comes upon a ranch.  A particularly harsh rancher is abusing his android workers by beating on them with a metal baton, hollering explicatives at them and otherwise being a tyrant. He sees the android approaching and comes out to get it.  The first sense of dread comes to the android as it is captured.

I continue to weave back and forth between these two stories as the story progresses. More to follow in Part Two.

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