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25 November 2009 @ 08:30 pm
Please Sir, can I have some more?  

This week a story I wrote with the deliberately provocative title Murray the Sex Machine” was published online by sentientonline.net, a relatively new Australian SF/Gaming/Philosophy/Fiction site. They have some interesting interviews with Australian authors, some science articles and now some of the greatest fiction ever written in the English language about sex machines called Murray. You should check it out.

At the end of this month their inaugural short story competition closes, so in the new year there should be a flood of short stories posted with a speculative (horror, fantasy, science fiction) bent.

Rereading the story and seeing a comment about it on reddit – “Cool story. Wish it was longer” – got me thinking about the way I end my stories. The published version of Murray the Sex Machine clocks in at something like 1,060 words. Not a lengthy story by any measure beyond high school student estimation (We have to read a story that’s how long? I have to write 300 words? Mister, you’re killing me!). I have a definite tendency to write short short stories. I think the batch of short stories I wrote this year would have an average length somewhere in the vicinity of 1,200 to 1,300 words.

When I get past the 1,000 word mark I tend to start looking for the punchy ending that will cap off the story in a satisfying way. I don’t always get there in a first draft, often ending with a punchy but not completely satisfying ending or something that falls a little flat on both counts. There’s usually a last line that I’m happy with though, something that suggests more story that can unfold in the mind of the reader or reveals a layer to the story that enhances it.

But sometimes, looking back on a story or sharing it with readers, I find that I’ve truncated the story. I’ve blown the doors off and dive-rolled out into a field of landmines before the juggernaut has reached the gates of the walled city and had a chance to breach the defences. I’ve killed the cabin crew and passengers but parachuted out of the plane with the pilots still alive. I’ve had an amusing misunderstanding with a beautiful but feisty colleague and on the way to interrupt her impulsive wedding with her new cheating scumbag boyfriend I’ve had the cold realisation that I’m going to have to kill him in a duel and in doing so will lose the love of my life forever, then… stopped.

Sometimes the echoing possibilities of a realisation, a line, a barbed hook in the stomach is a great way to end a story.

Other times you really want to see the cheating boyfriend gutted. You want to see his darkly handsome yet cruel and aloof face crumpled in disappointment and smeared into the wedding cake then slammed unceremoniously into the rose petals and delicate lace of the ornate table arrangements of his extravagant outdoor wedding. You want to see the demented, misguided hero digging his own grave with the bones of his enemy. Seeing the lightbulb go on above the hero’s head isn’t enough. You need to see the idea and its consequences burning through the world of the story in vivid, explicit detail.

So now I can add to the list of questions I ask myself when I finish a first draft – am I really finished? Is there room for a little more?

Adrexiaadrexia on November 25th, 2009 08:19 am (UTC)
I liked it as it was. Sometimes short and to the point is good too. Especially when there are those of use with low attention spans who shy away from too much scrolling. ;)
Stephanie Peggstephanie_pegg on November 25th, 2009 06:55 pm (UTC)
For that particular story it worked well with revealing the twist and stopping. Nice story.