Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Horrific Butchery Story

Commentary: The process of assigning myself a daily word quota was immensely helpful in jump-starting the novel-writing process, and allowed me to get a full first draft of about 200 book-pages, aka 70,000 words, completed in a matter of months. The one side effect of this strategy is occasional desperation when sufficient inspiration to fill the allotted words for the day fails to strike. Usually I was able to surmount this obstacle without causing any serious damage--with the exception of one particularly frightening day.

It occurred while I was visiting home for Thanksgiving, and still held high and optimistic hopes of reaching 50,000 words by the end of November. But it was much more difficult to find time to write while surrounded by my family and trying to spend ample time with them. Late in the evening on my first or second night there, I sat down to write my daily 2500 words. I was hoping to bang them out in the few remaining hours before midnight. And then, something terrifying happened. I could not think of what to write next.

I spent a long time staring at my computer screen, straining for some glimmer of an idea. Anything. Time ticked by, I was rapidly growing tired, and all I wanted to do was go to bed, yet if I didn't hit my 2500 word quota, my whole schedule would be thrown off and it would become increasingly difficult to reach my 50,000 word goal by November 30th. Eventually impossible, if I continued to procrastinate. So I sat there, grasping for a thread on which to hang my story.

And then it came. Out of nowhere, this rather strange image of an excursion my main character and his best friend took into a butcher shop when they were mischievous children who spent their free afternoons spying on the activities of their bustling city. I could use it to reveal the contrasts in their personalities--the girl as daring and scientifically-minded, the boy as more cautious and sociological. It would allow vivid description of the surroundings and events, which would produce a significant word-output. And mostly, it was an idea I could run with, and I didn't have anything else popping into my mind as an alternative, so I decided to go for it.

The story very rapidly degenerated into a gruesome, bloody, quite frankly revolting horror show which had absolutely no purpose and was a complete stylistic departure from the rest of the novel. There was no way on earth that I could actually include this scene in the story. And yet the words kept pouring out, I couldn't stop them, couldn't think of anything else to write about, and my desperation to meet my daily word quota compelled me onwards.

Then, as suddenly as it had begun, it stopped, as if some strange quirk of an electromagnetic phenomenon had opened a fifteen-minute channel between my brain and that of the illegitimate and unlikely offspring of Edgar Allen Poe and Hannibal Lecter, and then snapped the channel shut once more. As I read over the section I had just written, I was left feeling physically ill. My immediate impulse was to delete the entire section, to save all humanity from the risk of exposure to such nauseating imagery. But my hand was stayed, by the relentless insistence of the internal taskmaster of my word quota.

"Look at all those words!" she whispered. "You can't possibly delete them! You neeeeeed them..." And, to my great shame, I succumbed to her serpentine temptation. Instead of sending those words to the purgatory of my laptop's recycling bin, where they belonged, I left them where they were, consoling myself to the betrayal by assuring myself that I would eventually replace them, assuring this by inserting into the narrative some overt commentary by the characters present at the moment of the flashback regarding the dismaying nature of the story's contents, and the nature of the desperation that had brought it into being. For some reason, this emerged in the form of an obscure reference to my favorite line in Nick Brown's play In The Drawing Room, written for the Infinite Monkeys Festival several years ago--a reference only I could possibly recognize and appreciate.

If you harbor any doubts as to the presence of literary justice in a universe where such a dreadful narrative could be allowed to persist, threatening innocent readers with exposure to its noxious mental poisons, allow me to assure you that I was properly punished for my crimes: First of all, the resultant guilt I felt for my complicity in the story's Frankenstinian creation kept me from writing another word of my novel for the remainder of the month, preventing me from reaching 50,000 words until late December, nearly a month after my initial deadline. In addition, out of fear of crippling my word count, I was forced to leave the horrifying anecdote in question in place until the completion of the first draft, and I felt its presence in my novel, whenever I remembered it, as a barb sunk deep into my soul.

And finally, the chance reference I whimsically made at the conclusion of the narrative has caused me, despite the fact that it is extremely unlikely that anyone else in the world will find the vaguest spark of value in it, to become so attached to it that I am now incapable of allowing the story to simply vanish, because it is only the existence of the story that gives a purpose to the existence of the concluding lines of dialogue. So as I prepare to revise my novel into its second draft, finally giving me the opportunity to strike this source of shame from the midst of my writing, I find myself unable to destroy it completely, and have instead been compelled to post it here in order to preserve it, thus exposing my most private and horrifying shame to the view of the public.

You are thus forewarned, at great length, regarding the following excerpt of writing. I will assure you outright that your life will be better off if you do not read it. However, I view it as part of my penance that my dire warnings will, if anything, most likely fuel the curiosity of anyone who reads them to view the horror they warn against, and that there is a part of me that is glad of this fact, that is so enamored of the last lines that I am eager for the discrediting of my image as a writer that the reading of the story will doubtless initiate just because it will facilitate their exposure. Writing is a supremely twisted pursuit; that's all I have left to say on the matter.

Without further ado, the excerpt:

* * * * * * *

“Code names,” Denis shook his head, handing the paper back to Will, who folded it and slipped it into a pocket of his suit. “And assessments. It’s like you’re a garbage spy, or something.”

“It does kind of remind me of my excursions with Kendra when we were little.” Will had described their missions of concealed observation to Denis in a previous conversation. “Did I ever tell you about the time we got caught by the meat merchant?”

“Not yet.”

“It was horrifying, at the time, although it makes a hilarious story in the retelling. Kendra wanted to know a little more about the way the various animals were put together. I was pretty content in my ignorance, to be honest, but I wasn’t about to admit to Kendra that the thought of watching the limbs get torn off a cow made my stomach slosh in uncomfortable ways, so when she said she had found a back way into the butchery I put on an excited face and followed her along towards the market. We slipped in a doorway intended to receive deliveries, and I do mean slipped, because there was a pool of something quite unpleasant and foul-smelling that sent my feet flying out from under me and straight into Kendra. So then we were both covered in who knows exactly what putrid fluids, and I was ready to turn back, already knowing I’d be facing some pretty pointed inquiries from Father when I got home, but Kendra was committed to seeing the mission through, so we kept on creeping down this dark hallway until we could hear the dull intermittent poundings of a heavy knife.

“We crouched down behind this pile of… remnants… and Kendra is poking around with a stick she found somewhere, trying to identify organs, and I’m just trying to hold her still and keep her quiet so we don’t get caught, and at the same time keep my own churning insides where they belonged. And then the chopping stops, and we hear the meat merchant walking out to the front of the shop to make a sale, and Kendra pops up and walks straight over to the table, where some poor creature is split wide open and half-emptied. And suddenly she’s elbow-deep in it all, tracing the digestive tract or I don’t even know what, happy as anything. And I’m trying to get her to come back so we don’t get caught, but I can’t call too loud or the merchant will hear, so I see her stick on the ground next to me and I hook something long and wet onto the end of it, and wind back to fling it at her, but just at that moment the merchant suddenly reappears in the doorway behind Kendra, and I flinch and misjudge and my dripping payload soars straight into his face. And he roars and grabs out and his fingers close on Kendra’s arm, but she’s so slick from whatever we slipped in back in the doorway that she slides right out from his grasp and we tear back down the hallway and out into the daylight, and ran straight out the city gate half a mile to the river and jumped in, to wash away the evidence of our mischief.”

“What a terribly gruesome story,” Denis said, staring at Will with shocked horror.

“I know. It’s just that we need to get another 1150 words in today, and with no real idea where this story is going beyond a vague sense of conspiracy and kidnapping, it’s kind of like shooting fish with a melon baller, if you know what I mean.”

“No clue,” Denis answered.

“Well, pointless, and pretty messy.”