For part 3 of “things other than ideas that drove my story writing,” I present to you a summer squash wearing a party hat looking for his long lost squeegee.
Part 3: Absurdity
One of my favorite stories published at Flash Fiction Online was “On the Road with Rutger,” by Michael Kelly. Kelly’s character has an absurd obsession with encountering Rutger Hauer on the highway, and Kelly relentlessly rides this absurdity until the very end with a delightfully comedic effect. It’s a great example where treating the absurd as coherent leads to good entertainment.
The secret to these stories is to stay committed to the absurdity from the beginning to the very end, treating it as if it were absolutely realistic. Perhaps even grave.
First you need an absurd premise. In “Day 38: Replacement Car,” the character is bound by the customer contract to replace a broken-down rental car—even to the extent of bringing it to him in the middle of a zombie outbreak.
In “Day 232: An Accounting of Mars,” a bean counter visits a Mars colony for the purpose of cutting costs and justifying every molecule of oxygen. It’s a satirical jab at bean counters—few are more deserving—and I treat every unreasonable demand as if it were real all the way to the inevitable end.
I wrote a similar account with “Day 233: Commercializing Mars.” Although less biting, this has a satirical edge, as well. With the absurd notion that the scientists and engineers must accept and accommodate an incursion of commercial ventures within the space colony, I followed the absurdity to where only our true human nature could take it.
The common denominator among all of these is that there is an abrupt reversal. I don’t know if this is necessary for absurdity to work, but in every case, including “On the Road,” it’s what brought the story to a satisfactory conclusion. (I didn’t pull off the reversal very well in “Replacement Car,” but it’s there.)
You might start writing the story with a reversal in mind or discover it as you write, but the method for getting there is to stay true to the absurdity with unmitigated resolve until it is ripe for the twist.
Sometimes the reversal can be part of the action as in the above stories, but it can also be a change in the subject matter or the way it is handled.
“Day 330: The Interrogation” shows what happens when a clearance investigator is convinced you are hiding something crucial and won’t stop digging until you divulge your deepest sins. Just what is absurd about this story? In this case, the absurdity is slowly revealed, so you’ll have to read to find out.
What is a city transit employee to do when a wizard arrives in the midst of an onslaught of fire lizards threatening to burn, kill, and eat everyone at a train station? Focus on stopping the lizards? Of course not—that’s the wizard’s job. No, the absurd little man will continuously pester the mage to quote Tolkien as he works. Not especially advisable behavior, especially when the wizard is Garbol.
But if you know Garbol, you know that he is in constant battle with the absurdities of the world, and ultimately the best he can hope for are absurdities that entertain. By following this absurdity to its end, I wrote the story that got more reactions from readers than any other during the entire year: “Day 362: Middle Earth in Weinberg Station.”
In conclusion, when meerkats with potato guns storm Trump Tower looking for gold-threaded, monographed towels—start writing and look for the reversal.