Chair Force Engineer

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

The Write Stuff?

People always ask me what I'm going to do after I am emancipated from the Air Force. I'm still not sure, but I want to try being a writer (the kind of writer that gets paid in money, not the blogger who gets a charge from every time that somebody in the blogosphere gives him kudos.)

In pursuit of that goal, I recently submitted a short story for a contest. At the outset, it seemed like an easy task. By the end of the process, I wound up with a lot more respect for professional writers (not that I lacked it to begin with,) and a lot of self-doubt as to whether I'm meant for dramatic writing.

The story started with a simple premise and a limit of 6,000 words. With that upper bound, I had to narrate a lot of events in the story rather than hinting at them through dialog and subtle clues. The high concept was that of a man who has made a lot of mistakes in his life, but tries to make things right and finds redemption through sacrifice. Shortly after I started typing, the characters quickly turned into a way to espouse the things I'm feeling right now. The protagonist became more like myself, the antagonist morphed into my program's chief engineer, and the nefarious corporation that weaves throughout the story assumed the traits of the Air Force.

I finished the story with a sense that it was a burden lifted from my shoulders. A few friends read it and liked it. Then I ran it past an avid sci-fi reader who told me that it was all too cliche. Most importantly, she made me realize that I created personalities for the main characters, then turned everything on its head for the conclusion. Can we really expect the cold-hearted antagonist to have an epiphany at the end? I hastily rewrote some of the dialog and much of the ending. The protagonist's sacrifice was now motivated by spite, and the edge was taken off the antagonist to make his conversion more believable.

Am I happy with the story? Not really. It has a mechanical quality to it, and the most human scene was cut from the original ending because it bordered on cheesiness. The story that developed from my original concept had a lot more untapped potential to explore themes like "how much should a man give of himself to a cause he doesn't believe in?"

I'm left with the conclusion that my half-baked story was the result of being something I was forced to write. Maybe things will go smoother with a story that wants to write itself. My goal is to write and publish a satire of the military acquisition bureaucracy. Now that's a story that demands to spring forth to life across my computer monitor. It also gives me a canvas for humorous writing. I can't guarantee that my humor will work, but my drama obviously didn't.