The Call of the Wendig has sounded, and I must follow.
Here we all are, doing what needs to be done. Some of us in the midst of taking care of some business that has been needing to be taken care of for the longest time. Suddenly, and without warning, another school shooting happened on Valentines Day 2018. As of that day, the number of school shootings stands at 17. That’s two away from meeting the record from last year.
Chuck Wendig’s felt it. I’ve felt it. Anyone with a pulse and a conscious has felt it. It’s really hard to concentrate on doing anything creative when another unexplained act of extreme violence takes the lives of 17 children. It’s also rather chilling to think that in 2018 we have to use the modifier another when speaking about an atrocity like a school shooting. Like we regard it as a casual inconvenience along the lines of Five o’clock Traffic. Chuck has posed to us a challenge because there are things to be said. There are more voices that need to be heard. There needs to be a healing.
The theme of this latest challenge, to the surprise of absolutely no one, is “A World Without Guns”. I have spent a few days with this going through my head. I don’t think I’m any closer to visualizing it than I was the week before. Maybe this is why he made this challenge. Maybe this is why I need to accept it.
How Did We Get Here?
Okay, let’s clear the deck and start rearranging the furniture. There’s a lot of stuff to unpack, and it would help if I kinda knew where I was going. First of all, what type of world are we talking about? Second, there is a consideration of story length. Third, what is the theme? What is the message I’m trying to convey? Once again, I’m treating the smaller things with great importance. I’m doing it again because it matters. This one effing matters.
1. What Is The Shade of the Sky in Your World?
There is probably no way to get through this without blatantly committing the worst examples of Impostor Syndrome. I’ve researched all the examples I can think of, all the classics, all the new voices. Sooner or later, they all start sounding familiar. Bradbury leaps to mind. Vonnegut could probably do this in his sleep. For this, I think I want to go a little darker, and this means I have to ask myself one thing before I jump in with both feet: What Would Stephen King Do?
First, is this a world where guns have been outlawed? Well, if that’s the case, then it kinda isn’t necessarily a world without guns. If you ban something, anything, make that thing even more desirable because it is forbidden, they just don’t go away. They go underground. You would have the deepest and darkest of black markets where the world’s weapons would still be for sale, but only to the people who will go to great lengths to get there. I think this world would exist without stretching the imagination too much, and so I think I’ll stick in this one.
The other possibility is that they were never invented to begin with. We could live in a world where we never evolved passed the Dark Ages. This could mean literally, where dragons exist alongside WiFi technology. Or it could mean figuratively where our attitudes haven’t changed much since then; we still fear the unknown, witchcraft is very much a thing and surgery is still done with leeches. The former seems like a decent idea for another time, but the latter would be better suited, if only for a spice, an accent, for this scenario. It’s modern day, but people are still completely, willfully, dangerously ignorant. Flat Earthers and Anti-vaxxers come to mind.
2. That’s A Rather Personal Question, Isn’t It Sir?
How long is it? This is a very real issue that needs to be addressed. The challenge is for 1500 words, no one is going to fault for going a smidge over. The point is that it needs to stay short. The basis of writing Flash Fiction is to tell the story, sell the story, get to the point as quickly as possible in the space that you have. 1500 words is pretty much max capacity for Flash Fiction. The answer to this question should be exactly that, and it should be something that I stick to, but is there another way around it?
As of this point, I’m well over my daily session target of 500 words. Not bragging, but I knocked them out within an hour, and I’m not slowing down either. I feel this play needs to be performed in 4 acts. Realistically, I could smoosh everything down to Flash Fiction size, but my compulsion to go big is speaking louder, so how do I curb this?
- Keep it short: Limit to one scene. Limit to two characters AT THE MOST. Begin close to the end.
- Use one theme ONLY
- Use one plotline ONLY
- Keep it tight: save only the essential items of a back story. Get rid of fluff words, and unnecessary dialog.
Keep in mind that Flash Fiction is essential if for nothing else than practice. It’s something that tightens the spring for a longer story. That’s why this is a challenge, it’s going against everything that I want to do.
3. What Are You Saying?
The premise of this story is a world without guns. But does that necessarily correlate to a world without violence? From an outsider’s perspective, gun culture, particularly an American brand of gun culture, seems to be not too far away from a sort of Feudalism. Maybe the term “living in the dark ages” as a little more apropos these days. Within the framework of what I need to write, there is now a world completely devoid of guns, but evil still remains. Nobody shoots up a school anymore, but people still fear the unknown. People still segregate, diminish, hate. It’s the notion of accepting a Utopian society were it not for the people who still feel the “need for a gun”. They need some magic weapon to make all the things they consider bad to disappear. Take away the guns, but leave the fear and ignorance. What happens then?
I envision a world in the final throes of a democracy. A world where enlightenment has been going on for so long that it feels like it’s been tarnished by its own brilliance. How would this story be told? How would I write it? What am I trying to say? Throw all the guns away, if it will make you happy. You still won’t erase ignorance and greed. You still won’t save people from themselves. It is 2018, and we have learned and will learn, nothing.
But, let’s put all that on the back burner and focus on something in particular. I have yet to establish a theme, and instead, I’m focusing on a broader picture.
What am I trying to say?
Yes, violence is bad, life and liberty are good and all that is very useful if you’re teaching children. But this is a story, not a homily. Gun violence is out of control and they should all be banned and blahblahblah I’m putting myself to sleep on this.
No one will listen if I went down the Ban All Guns road. At the same time, the point wouldn’t be made if I glorified violence either. I’d be riding that fine line between preaching to the choir or screaming in the wind. Instead of coasting on a broad generalization and starting an argument that goes nowhere, maybe try and disassemble the whole morality of it, lay the whole issue out on a blanket as if I were taking apart a motor, and find one thing about this topic that is important enough to write a story about.
Let’s step away from the guns themselves for a moment. It’s window dressing and only represents a small part of the argument. Not to diminish their existence and the destruction that they bring, I get that part. What specifically about the gun culture that riles me? Is it the deaths? Sure. Is it that we are the only country in the “civilized” world that assassinates children on a regular basis without really doing anything about it? Absolutely. It’s all those things, but the biggest issue I have, the thing that makes my blood boil, has nothing to do with the actual weapons of war. It has to do with the hypocrisy around it.
A tragedy happens, and the normal thing to do, outside of the natural mourning period, would be to take steps to figure out what happened to make sure that it never happens again. Regulations are put in place. Media blitzes swamp the landscape. People talk about it. Seatbelts. Drunk driving. Smoking is bad for you. Speed limits. The ineffective “If You See Something, Say Something” campaign. All of these were the result of people taking action after a tragedy, and all of these are all commonplace now. We wear seat belts. Drunk driving is a no-no. Smoking is no longer socially acceptable.
Someone shoots up a school, which *winces* happens on a fairly regular basis these days, and the people, the people we count on, the people we elected to hear us and understand us and do something when our lives are in danger, are strangely quiet about it. In the case of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students, they’ve been seeing something and saying something for a while now. In fact, they’ve been quite active on this. The tragedy here is that no one bothered to listen or take them seriously because… pfft… kids… amirite?
It’s not just the weapons themselves, it’s the ignorance and the arrogance and the hypocrisy and the twisted logic surrounding it that I find the most horrifying.
This is where my story lies. This is where I’ll start.