Well, for today, I thought that I’d do something slightly different and talk about the “making of” a short story which appeared here earlier in the year. This is mostly because the creative processes that went into this story ended up being slightly different to what I had expected, and an explanation could possibly be interesting.
As a bit of background, this story was the third story in a series of stories that I’d been writing about the 1990s. Unlike the previous two short story series I’d written (eg: horror stories for Halloween 2016 and Sci-Fi stories for Christmas that year), coming up with story ideas about the 1990s was proving to be more challenging than I had expected.
So, when it came to writing the third story in the series, I had very few ideas. My first thought was to write a story about how horror fiction changed in the 1990s, which would have involved a journalist meeting a 1980s splatterpunk author in a pub and talking about how the genre had changed during the 1990s. I actually wrote part of this story. Here’s a “never seen before” extract from it:
“As the piercing opening riff of Iron Maiden’s self-titled song sliced it’s way through the gloom of the pub, I spotted John Morte. He wasn’t easy to miss. It isn’t everyday that you get to interview a horror legend, let alone one who has set a shot of vodka on fire just to light his roll-up. It was good to see that he hadn’t lost his flair for the dramatic.”
But, something just felt off about the story. Not only was the “John Morte” character a bit too much of a cliché, but there wasn’t really anything distinctly “90s” about the story. If anything, it seemed more like a story that was set in the 1980s than anything else. So, after a few paragraphs, I abandoned it.
But, I couldn’t think of any better ideas. So, I distracted myself with other things until I realised what had drawn me to the idea of writing about a horror author. I wanted to write about a larger-than-life “rockstar” character, but wasn’t sure how to do this. Much later, I was feeling tired and I still didn’t have a clue about what I’d write. Then I suddenly remembered watching a DVD of an old Bill Hicks show from the 1990s a few years ago.
Stand-up comedy, especially American stand-up comedy, was a big thing during the 1990s. This was the decade when stand-up comedy was the closest thing to being a rockstar that someone could be without learning an instrument. In retrospect, the idea seemed obvious, but I had to take a step back and wait for my mind to make the connections.
When I came up with this idea, I was elated. Since I could just write about a comedian performing, the whole story would be dialogue. It seemed like a quick and easy way to write a medium-high quality story. Of course, the reality was somewhat more difficult.
A few words into the opening sentence, I suddenly realised that I actually had to write a stand-up comedy routine. Not only that, I also had to write it in the style of an American comedian. But, despite this, the idea seemed too interesting to abandon, so I kept at it.
Although it might look easy, writing even vaguely passable stand-up comedy is anything but easy! I wrote and then deleted more jokes (or more versions of the same jokes) than I can remember. Not only did I have to come up with something that was funny and sounded vaguely “authentic”, but I also had another problem.
Most of the best American stand-up comics from the 1990s (eg: Bill Hicks, George Carlin etc..) were brilliantly outspoken. From what I gather, you didn’t go to one of their shows if you were narrow-minded or easily shocked. Many of their DVDs still have an “18” certificate over here. This blog, on the other hand, tends to be more “PG-13” (to use an American phrase).
So, I had to come up with comedic dialogue that was funny, sounded like it could have been said by a 1990s-era American comedian and which wasn’t too shocking. Whilst some elements of this were fairly easy, some were a bit more challenging.
The first thing to do was simply to use the word “fricking” for emphasis instead of the more obvious word choice. This also had the advantage of making the comedian sound more American, because this euphemism tends to be used a lot more in American TV shows etc…
But, for the most part, I had to carefully choose the content of the jokes. In other words, I had to look at the edgy, irreverent and outspoken attitudes of 1990s American stand-up comedians and apply these attitudes to slightly less controversial or risqué subject matter. In the end, I went for a joke about pop music and a joke about the tabloid press here in Britain.
The second joke was chosen because it was a subject that I could write about a lot. One of the funny things about American stand-up comedians from the 1990s is that they’d usually make amusing comments about Britain in recordings of their performances over here. Since I’m British, it wasn’t too hard to come up with some slightly more observational humour about this country.
Ideally, I thought that the story would be best with three jokes. But, when it came to thinking of the third joke, I found that I was extremely tired and uninspired. I’d spent longer writing a mere 500 words of comedic dialogue than I’d spent writing stories twice that length. So, after a lot of thought and a few failed attempts at writing a third joke, I bodged it.
Basically, instead of telling an actual joke – I just wrote a description of a few parts of the joke and left the rest to the imagination. Yes, this was ridiculously lazy, but – more importantly – it allowed me to actually finish the story without falling behind schedule. Never underestimate the importance of actually finishing a story.
Likewise, the final sentence “The curtain fell.” was originally going to be the beginning of a much longer description, but I cut it short for energy/enthusiasm reasons. I suppose it mirrors the abrupt ending of an actual comedy show or something.
So, that’s how I got over writer’s block and wrote a very short story that looked a lot easier to write than it actually was.
Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂