Print Story Plotted Course
By Kellnerin (Fri Sep 07, 2007 at 03:41:59 PM EST) (all tags)
If one-sided electronic epistolary fiction focusing entirely on driving directions isn't a dead genre, it probably should be.

I THINK THIS IS the first time I wrote an entire draft story for a WFC before ditching it; usually I reach a point of no return after which I commit to submitting the thing no matter how badly it turns out. My first attempt was rambling piece that -- given that it was about the open road -- went nowhere. My problem was really with the "open road" part; anyone who reads my diaries knows that I'm about the commute, about the repeated loop of routine, not about the wide horizon. Anyway, after I decided to scrap the first try, I cast about for plan B.

The inspiration came at around the same time as I dropped the first idea for my entry -- a few weeks ago when I visited the anatox household for brunch and writing. I'd received emailed directions from ana, who had them ready in a handy text file for when I asked.

I arrived on Sunday, and I told ana, "Your directions certainly reward reading ahead of time. I particularly like the part," I explained to aethucyn, "where it says 'You'll come to an intersection where you have a choice of turning left to go on [redacted highway] north, or right to go on [redacted] south. Go straight.'"

"Does that not perfectly describe the situation?" asked ana.

"True, it does."

There were other particularly ana-esque turns of phrase in the document, and one bit that referred to making a turn "in the usual Massachusetts rotary fashion," which was clearly written either by a non-New England native, and/or for an audience of such.

Anyway, it got me thinking of how something so mundane as directions to someone's house can be expressive of that person's personality, how the landmarks and details that you remember to point out change over time, and how sometimes the way you choose to describe things changes depending on who you're talking to.

I think my favorite part of the story is the "Yogurt and Lobster Shack" that's later replaced by a pizza place. Can't imagine why it didn't last, although I actually picture it as a sort of institution in town that's been around for as long as anyone can remember, until the day it's driven out by chain restaurants, mini-malls, and high rents.

In the end, though, I think it's more of a concept than a story. And even if it could have been done well, I rushed things and did a half-assed job of the execution. I found it was actually quite hard to make up directions out of thin air, or even to write them in a voice that differs very much from how I actually write directions. The date lines in particular were a lazy touch, where I didn't think it made enough sense without some sort of timeline info, but didn't go as far as to write full email headers, which would have been the natural way to solve the problem.

Anyway, I'm not sure if the story needed more context in addition to the emails, or if I just needed to explore the medium more thoroughly. The idea was to leave the story, such as it was, almost entirely in the gaps between what you see, but I probably left a few too many questions. Instead I ended up with something that looked like a bad episode of a SciFi show where the heroes get stuck in a time loop until they finally figure out how to get out (the desire not to seem too repetitive probably resulted in leaving even more gaps than if I'd thought about it more carefully).

IF I WERE TO MAKE one relatively small change, it'd be to add a message something like this, dated maybe ca. May 2007:


Thanks so much for letting me stay over on such short notice -- I just don't think I can go back there tonight. Can you remind me how to get to your place? I remember as far as the ice cream stand with the cow pattern on the side, but I'm not sure of the details after that.


This hypothetical excerpt is, of course, even more half-assed than the rest of the story, but maybe it helps fill at least part of what's missing.

IF I'D TRIED to write a third story, after I'd committed the abuse of Photoshop that was my cover design, I think I'd have titled it "One Lane Bridge." I included that in the cover because there's a bridge I cross every day on my commute that has been under construction for some months, during which time it's been reduced to one lane, and traffic must alternate the direction in which it's allowed to flow. I'm not sure exactly what the story would have been about, but I'm rather enamored of the title.

I'm not sure, actually, that my cover shouldn't have been my actual entry, but maybe that's a different *FC altogether.

< WFC postmortem | BBC White season: 'Rivers of Blood' >
Plotted Course | 10 comments (10 topical, 0 hidden)
I laughed, by ana (4.00 / 1) #1 Fri Sep 07, 2007 at 03:57:58 PM EST
right out loud, upon first reading your story, if only because of how similar in voice and tone your directions were to mine.

And you're right that I wrote those directions when I was relatively new to the area, and for a friend visiting from Out West, who might well have been unfamiliar with the idea of a rotary, let alone the slightly bizarre variation on the theme that I was describing there.

This is certainly a creative way to tell a story, leaving most of the actual plot as an exercise for the reader.

I'd like to read One Lane Bridge ifwhen you're done writing it. There's a very cute stone arched railway bridge over a street in our town, that allows only one lane of traffic to pass under. Sometimes I go out of my way to use that street, just because of the underpass.

Power up your flaming yo-yos already! --StackyMcRacky

I knew by Kellnerin (2.00 / 0) #4 Fri Sep 07, 2007 at 04:48:42 PM EST
that you'd immediately understand the story's genesis, and thus are probably the only one who appreciated the meta-humor that didn't actually make it into the story itself. But I think the similarities in tone come from the fact that there's just a mode common to driving directions in general, with only slight variations that reflect each individual's quirks. It is hard to capture that unique perspective within the constraints of the form.

I remember getting to that intersection with the not-rotary, and thinking, "dude, it's just an island, what's the big deal?"

As for "One Lane Bridge," I'll find a story to go with it. November's not so far off, but I think that this year I'd have as much trouble producing fiction as I did for this WFC -- unless I write the great American Web Application Development Novel or something (yet another languishing genre).

"Late to the party" is the new "ahead of the curve" -- CRwM

[ Parent ]
Call the genre paramedics by Scrymarch (4.00 / 1) #2 Fri Sep 07, 2007 at 04:05:45 PM EST
I for one really liked this story. Don't let electronic navigational epistolarianism die here! It has so much to live for!

I really do love oblique approaches like this. The only frustrating thing is that I'm usually really bad at solving these sort of problem stories, but with this one I followed the plotline immediately and pretty naturally. Perhaps by breaking it up into emails I had a tiny mental break to try and piece things together. It may also be that at work piecing together a history of something via a half-complete email trail is a skill that comes up with a fair bit of regularity. More context would have made it a bit obvious or boring.

I also thought the emails themselves were well observed; they sounded right. It's a great story.

The Political Science Department of the University of Woolloomooloo

Thanks by Kellnerin (4.00 / 1) #5 Fri Sep 07, 2007 at 04:57:26 PM EST
As I self-reviewed, I think there's a balance with this kind of story that I maybe approached but didn't quite hit. It worked for some people, not for others. I probably should stick to the parameters I set for myself rather than just use the emails as a device in a more conventional story, but I expect I could have nudged this into slightly firmer territory without completely killing it.

Anyway, despite my slightly snarky review, I was amused to see your terzanelle. Perhaps you'll do your part to save the electronic navigational epistolary story one day?

"Late to the party" is the new "ahead of the curve" -- CRwM

[ Parent ]
Maybe : ) by Scrymarch (4.00 / 1) #7 Fri Sep 07, 2007 at 05:05:00 PM EST
I'm glad you were amused; once I'd thought of a wfc poem, no other form seemed possible ...

The Political Science Department of the University of Woolloomooloo

[ Parent ]
I thought it was a great idea. by blixco (4.00 / 1) #3 Fri Sep 07, 2007 at 04:27:55 PM EST
And well executed.  The one thing out there that should be precise and clean often turns into a psychology study.
"You bring the weasel, I'll bring the whiskey." - kellnerin
It was fun to think about by Kellnerin (4.00 / 1) #6 Fri Sep 07, 2007 at 05:00:37 PM EST
I didn't have time to be as precise as I would have liked, but perhaps that's just as well. It's hard to engineer something that feels organic, and that was kind of the point.

"Late to the party" is the new "ahead of the curve" -- CRwM
[ Parent ]
Your routine by johnny (4.00 / 2) #8 Sat Sep 08, 2007 at 06:12:18 PM EST
My problem was really with the "open road" part; anyone who reads my diaries knows that I'm about the commute, about the repeated loop of routine, not about the wide horizon.

Succinctly put, as usual. Brava. I do read your diaries, and anybody who reads my comments on them knows I'm about the Kellnerin worship. I so admire your talents as a miniaturist.

Beatrix Potter, James Cornell, Emily Dickinson; Kellnerin. I think the standard is yours, sweetheart.

Leave the open road to those to whom it is congenial.

... this is dreamworld after all... it isn't? Shit.

aw, by Kellnerin (2.00 / 0) #9 Sun Sep 09, 2007 at 03:54:05 AM EST
as they say, shucks.

I think, once in a while, it's worth trying to do something that isn't your thing, just to see whether there's something else hiding in the toolbox, or whether it's best to stick with the hammer that feels so comfortable.

I think the best line from that link is "yes, THAT Vilmos Zsigmond" -- and now I have some movies I need to catch up on.

"Late to the party" is the new "ahead of the curve" -- CRwM

[ Parent ]
By the way and for the record by johnny (2.00 / 0) #10 Mon Sep 10, 2007 at 04:59:22 PM EST
I meant Joseph Cornell.  I expect you knew that but were too gracious to point it out.

I missed the recent show in Salem, and now it's in San Francisco.  I spend half my damn life flying out there, but no trip is on the horizon and I'm trying to conjure up some way to get out there before the show closes.
... this is dreamworld after all... it isn't? Shit.

[ Parent ]
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