Monday, March 7, 2011

Spookymilk Survivor VIII: Create-a-Challenge Grab Bag

I didn't update this last week because it was the create-a-challenge, and I never have anything very interesting for those. In fact, the one I made this time around is one I would explicitly not want to actually do - it scored appropriately poorly.

This week, though, I was a little more excited. Spooky and Beau chose seven challenges out of those submitted last week (including mine, for reasons that likely involve brevity), and instructed us to pick whichever one struck our fancy.

This was actually the first time during this Survivor that I felt solid inspiration. I ended up choosing Drew's challenge, involving these three seemingly unrelated pictures.

Here's what I came up with:

I suppose I am asleep right now. After all, that is how the Lotus Eater works. The machine keeps you in a kind of lucid sleep limbo as the technicians view static images from your memory on the screen. I am not in control of anything; I am simply a passive observer. I don’t even know what they’re looking for.

They didn’t seem to be interested in the first few images, and passed them by pretty quickly. Soon, they found one that must have at least piqued their curiosity. I’m not sure why. It was a memory from my college days. My brother, his girlfriend, and I were drinking on the roof of my parents’ farmhouse. The image is wrong, though… the ground is covering everything up to the top window. It’s almost as if they zoomed in on what they were interested in, ignoring everything else, or maybe the technology isn’t as perfect as they’d like – it’s hard to say. Either way, they saw what they wanted to see and moved on without much delay.

The second image they stopped on seemed to have caught a bit more of their attention. The company I work for had me take a look at some geological anomalies out by the old fairgrounds. The project seemed routine, so I brought my fiancée and her friend along (I will note that geological phenomena do not capture the interest of the average American woman). I didn’t expect to find anything particularly damning, and I didn’t. I gave my superiors my findings, and they placed a research team on the project. That’s not strange, it happens all the time. What is strange is that this image is wrong, too. The bulge in the ground was nowhere near as pronounced as this one is. Something like this would’ve garnered a lot more attention.

While they might not have had much interest in any of the other images, they’re clearly keen on this last one. They’ve had it up for what feels like hours. I don’t even remember being in a room that looks like this. Knowing how images in this mindspace get altered, I’m trying my best to think of how this one could have been changed. I think I vaguely recognize my fiancée in the middle, and the person on the right could be my brother’s ex-girlfriend, but they never knew each other, and I’ve seen then together. The person on the left is obscured, and doesn’t look familiar, anyway. In fact, the whole memory is so unclear that it doesn’t seem like any information could be gleaned from it at all. I’ve been trying to piece together how these last three images could be connected, and I’ve gotten nothing. Unless…..

Oh, God…

I don’t think that they’re going to be waking me up anytime soon….

And here's what the judges said:

K: What an awesome idea this is. So unexpected, and so clever. It rambles a bit, but that fits the character. 5

B: All right, this is just great storytelling. I so want to know what happens next…no, scratch that. I want to know what happened before. 5
Obviously, I'm pretty pleased with the results this time around. I knew right when I saw the challenge that I wanted to go with the pictures (I'm kind of surprised no one else did, instead opting to go in the rather tired "advice column" direction). The idea of an unnamed narrator being stuck in a sort of limbo of lucid dreaming came right away. The idea of people using a machine to try to extract information from damaged memories came very shortly after. Now the only problem was to write it in a concise manner.

I didn't actually succeed in writing what I had in mind, the middle picture provided me with a problem* - how could I move the story forward without getting overly wordy or even worse, give too much away? This story relied on a vague sense of dread in order to function properly. Revealing too much about the protagonist or what the mysterious people were after - especially before the third act - would undermine everything.

* The second act has always been the hardest to write in any fiction I've ever written. In fact, I'm not actually sure I've ever completed one to my liking.

The third picture was suppose to be the easiest. The picture itself is good, but given the right framing device, could feel ominous. The problem was, how was I going to tie everything together when I didn't even know myself how everything tied together? The answer - don't tell anyone how it ties together - could be viewed as kind of a cop-out. You really don't learn anything about the main character other than the fact that he's just realized something awful and is in very deep trouble by the end of the story. I actually like it better that way. Over analyzing dread removes a lot of the bite to the feeling. A monster in dim light is more frightening than both a monster in full light and a monster in no light.

I actually had a full paragraph opening this as a sort of explanation of what was happening to the narrator, and how the world operated. I excised this and went for the more slimlined version seen in the final version. I like that decision. I've actually thought about writing a full length short story about this scenario, but I'm unsure of whether or not it the feeling that this short piece evoked could possibly be drawn out to that extent. I guess we'll see.

Bottom line, there were nonsubs again this week, so it didn't matter. DARK STORMY KNIGHTS remains triumphant, and Nick Punto is sitting somewhere in St. Louis, eating a plate full of bacon and laughing maniacally.


  1. If it makes you feel better, the second act is the hardest thing to write when anyone writes anything. It's a killer getting from the great opening to the climax. I guess that's why so many people make short films.

    A monster in dim light is more frightening than both a monster in full light and a monster in no light.

    That's why Alien and A Nightmare on Elm Street could never quite be duplicated in their awesomeness, no matter how good a sequel script might be.

  2. I think that all three photos may be from the Franconia Sculpture Park.

  3. Yep. All from Franconia.
    Go to the map. They are, in order, 13, 7, and 8.

  4. You're falling behind again, nibster.