Tuesday, May 20, 2014

700 Words About 500 Words

If I’ve learned anything while writing this blog, these three stand out.
  1. I get easily distracted and don't always stick to the (apparent) point.
  2. I don't always have a topic about which to write.
  3. I'm just slightly long-winded.

The first is inevitable. As my good friend Mike McIntee says of his blog, “The Wahoo Gazette: where the first draft is the only draft.” (By the way, you’re welcome for the link, Mike). You may have noticed this is all pretty free-form and off the top of my head, so I tend to free-associate, which will lead, of necessity, to tangents, blind alleys, and woolgathering.

Mike McIntee. You'd never guess he'd been a cop.

The second is problematic. While I had a goal of 100 words a day, no matter how inconsequential, there are plenty of days when I don’t have 100 words of material. I mean, I could give you a detailed description of what we did at rehearsal, but I prefer to keep that in the room. (“The Farnsworth Invention” at Palo Alto Players, June 12-29. Tickets available here.) I could tell you what I did at work, but well … And as much as my long-suffering wife loves my traffic stories, I realize they have limited appeal.

 Coming soon to a theatre near you -- especially if you live in Palo Alto.

I mean, outside of rehearsal – which was actually pretty good – the most exciting thing that happened to me today was my going to three – count ‘em, three – supermarkets in search of Gardein Beefless Sliders. I’m not strictly a fan of the meatless burgers, but I got a hankerin’ for them on the way home, and went on a quest. (Surprisingly to me, the Safeway in Palo Alto has a severely limited selection of frozen vegetarian options.) (See what I mean about the lack of thrills?) But, seriously, try these; they’re really tasty and four of them are only 600 calories.

Delicious and nutritious.

So, it’s the third option I’m dealing with tonight. As part of a job I’m in the process of applying for, they want me to tell them a story. I could use something I’ve written before, but given that my output of fiction is, shall we say, “limited” (as in non-existent), I’ve had to devise something on the fly. I could give them a play I’ve written, but that would exceed the limit they’ve given me of 500 words.

500 words? Hell, as I did, what?, 700+ on getting a haircut? How am I supposed to devise a plot with a setup, a middle, and a denouement in 500 friggin’ words?

And, yet, somehow I did. In fact, I came in at 499.

Now, I’m not saying it’s the best thing I’ve ever written. It did give me a chance to revisit my old friend Harry Houdini, the hard-boiled escapologist and ghost-breaker, and did let me end with a dumb punchline. To tell the truth, I was actually pretty proud of how I got to the punchline. I started out by thinking “what the hell am I going to write about?” I then though, “Ooh! I could (500 words right there! And I’m barely getting started. See?) excerpt something from the Houdini Plays, but it’s not really ‘fiction,’ is it? So, why not write a new Houdini story? But what about?”

I decided to look around the room and write about the first thing that hits my eye. I saw the poster for a show I’d done a while back, and set the challenge for myself. I soon arrived at the aforementioned dumb punchline, and the rest was a marvel of editing. I lost some of the nuance and characterization for which I renowned, but jeez, it’s not like a story about Houdini and polter-donuts is going to be Tolstoi-like in its subtle examination of the human condition, is it?

Slightly more than 500 words.

Depending on how it’s received, I may or may not post it here – or course, if I do, I can damn well guarantee I’m going to pad it out to a proper length and give it the breathing room it so richly deserves. I realize that no one here has even read the Houdini Plays, let alone seen them (I don’t even know if my long-suffering wife has read them), so it’ll be your first introduction to my version of Harry.

More to come …

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