Yet another follow-up entry. At least I can actually report some progress this time.
My end-of-the-world story, The Boy Who Cried Apocalypse, has been taking over my creative process lately. It has captured my attention, so I decided to end my stalled 60-day manuscript project to focus on it. Maybe if I get it done and out of my mind, I can revisit the story I am supposed to be working on.
I am making quite a bit of progress in it, however. I’ve decided to do something entirely different with the way I’m writing it. As mentioned in my previous entry for this story, this narrative is far more descriptive and visual than most of my other stories. My writing voice tends to be very conversational and dialogue-driven. This one, however, focuses almost entirely on a single character—not a whole lot of dialogue there. Some inner monologue, sure—but not much dialogue.
This one is also a departure for me in that the story is coming together as I write it. I have very little planned as far as this one goes. I have a destination in mind, but I have no clue what will happen on the journey there.
For some added inspiration, I rented a History Channel documentary entitled Life After People. It depicts what Earth would be like if mankind suddenly disappeared—something that fits my story marvelously. After watching the program, I altered a few parts of the story to make it more scientifically accurate—something I like to strive for in my stories. I’m not the kind of writer who wants to say, “It’s a story, suspend your disbelief.” I want to make it as real as possible. For this story, I wanted to address how the young boy could possibly survive for the two years before the story actually begins. Where did his food come from? Did he have access to a source of water? What did he do during those days? These are the things I think about when I’m reading a story, so naturally I have to address them when I am writing my own. I can suspend disbelief just like anyone else, but when you have to make huge leaps of logic just to enjoy something, I have a harder time actually enjoying it.
However . . . while I have a hard time willfully suspending disbelief for glaring mistakes or omissions, I have no problem playing by the rules. This was something I discovered recently while Michelle and I were talking about Life After People. She said that she couldn’t get past the premise of the show, even though she did say it sounded interesting. The documentary asks you to assume that all human life on the planet has disappeared in an instant; family pets are left without owners, buildings are left without maintenance, and so on. I said, “Sure. Sounds interesting. Let’s see what would happen.” She said, “How could everyone just disappear like that?” I explained that those were just the rules of the show, and you had to accept them to enjoy it. She explained that it just didn’t make any sense—that mankind would never just instantly disappear, so the show had no real point; it was making predictions and projections based on an impossible premise and presenting them as fact. We dropped the subject, though probably several minutes after we should have. I blame my own argumentative nature.
But the discussion did bring to mind how important “the rules” are to me.
When starting a new story, it’s always best to pay close attention to the rules set by the author. For example, I am currently reading World War Z by Max Brooks. In it, the rules are set early on. A war between humans and zombies has taken place, and the book chronicles the stories of people all over the world who were affected by it. I know for a fact that there has yet to be a world-consuming zombie war.
Well, I’m pretty sure, anyway.
However, for the purpose of the story, I can accept that there has. I have no problem with that. When treading into the author’s sandbox, you learn that you have much more fun when you play by his rules.
To me, a good story is like an invitation into the writer’s world. When you stumble across a piece of fiction that speaks to you, you feel like you’re part of an exclusive club. You enter his world, and you “get it.” It just makes you feel good to be part of the audience that a story was obviously written for. It makes you think that the author wrote the story especially for you. And, in a way, he did.
Back to my story. Interestingly enough (particularly for an apocalyptic story), it has unintentionally taken on a Biblical slant. This was not planned in the slightest. In the story, I never explain what happened to the world—only that it is in shambles and that all the people who once inhabited it have disappeared. I believe the phrase I use in the story is “stolen by a thief in the night.” Anyone who went to Sunday School at least a few times—particularly in the Bible Belt where we like to use scare tactics—will likely get the reference. If not, I still thinks it makes for some nice wordplay.
But there is a question that remains: which apocalyptic future am I portraying? Is it a world ravaged by war, followed by a nuclear winter? A decaying world where humanity was wiped out by some kind of virus? Or maybe something even more epic, ripped right out of the Book of Revelation? There are numerous possibilities. Once the story is out there, I would love to hear what everyone thinks . . . because I’m not telling.
As fun as it might be, I don’t want to get too much into the “apocalypse” part of the story; that’s not what it’s about. It’s about the boy. It’s about survival. It’s about having a mission and seeing it through to the very end.
Here’s another excerpt:
As he walked, he thought back to that first day. He remembered that first smell of salt in the air, and the gray in the sky that covered the sun like a bed sheet stretched over his bedroom light. He visualized the charred skeletons of the buildings in his hometown, the broken bricks and beams spilling out into the empty streets. He was younger then—fragile and naïve. He had not yet learned how to survive on his own, but that would come with time. It is amazing what you are capable of when you find that you have no other option.
A brisk breeze blew an ashy chill through the air, and the boy pulled his coat tight against his body with his free hand. He found himself thinking back to the day he stole that same thick, heavy, dark green coat from a broken department store mannequin, laughing at the guilt he felt at the time. If he remembered right, he even apologized to it. Out loud.
Soon, he would realize that there was no one left to steal from—no one left to apologize to. Any and all things left behind were simply tools at his disposal. While this provided a small measure of comfort, it also caused a great deal of sadness.
[I didn’t want to believe that I was alone.]
When the temperature began dropping, he procured more items from various sources—mostly from partially-collapsed department stores and shops. He added several pairs of thermal underwear to his inventory, along with denim trousers and a pair of work boots that had only recently begun to fall apart. He also took a hiker’s backpack to hold his growing supply of trappings.
As he continued walking along the interstate ruins, the constant hunger in his stomach grew deeper, snapping him out of his reminiscent reverie. The boy knew he had to stop and eat before he could go any further. He walked over to the shoulder of the interstate toward one of the cars only partially covered with ash, a faded red four-door sedan of some kind. The boy did not know much about cars.
He pried open the back door on the driver’s side with a crowbar from his backpack. Inside the car was the familiar smell of salt mixed with stale, unused air—and little else. He sat down in the back seat, taking the pack off his shoulders and stashing it down in the floorboard. After shutting the car door, he slid across the cracked leather interior to the other side so he could stretch out his legs while he ate. As for the food and where it came from, that is another story.
[I wasn’t always on the road, you know.]
This is the longest excerpt I’ve posted of any story so far. Anyone who knows me knows how extremely protective I am of stories I write. It’s a wonder I even want to see them published one day. Such a thought is both exciting and terrifying at the same time. Nonetheless, that is the goal.
I hope to be done with this story soon. After all, I have many more to tell.