I’ve never done this before: today, I’m writing about one of my own stories.
This is a story that I wrote during StoryADay May 2017.
I’m sharing it in today’s Reading Room post to demonstrate what you can do with a writing prompt that seems to suggest you must write a particular type of story.
Subverting The Expected
The prompt (you can find it here) was about walking into an office and finding a note on the desk. The prompt strongly suggested a contemporary setting, and a murder mystery or a thriller.
But the worst thing a writer can do is bore their reader.
So I took that idea and, because I like to write speculative, futuristic fiction, I thought about a character whose ‘office’ was a little unusual. In this case, her office is a space station. More than that, it’s the first ever orbiting space hotel.
Adding A Twist
Now, with the note on the desk, and an orbiting space station, I was definitely in danger of writing a standard space-horror story (“Don’t die!”). But the second half of the note (“See you Monday”) suggested not just a light-heartedness I could play with, but some intrigue.
Why is this character not going to see them until Monday?
How do you NOT see someone in the small confines of a space station? What was separating them?
That’s how I came up with the idea of my character as the lone caretaker.
Now, Phil Giunta, who provided the prompt, cleverly injected that note of tension into the opening lines, to intrigue the reader.
But a moment of intrigue isn’t enough. I had to pick up that thread and keep spinning it. I had to pull the reader in with my character.
So I let the reader meet her: all bravado and a little poetry, and hopefully a little vulnerability. And then I talk about her past, her life, and what she’s doing there.
Instead of a space-horror-thriller, I wrote a character story. And as I solve the mystery of the note, I introduce a new question to keep the reader hooked: what is she doing there?
Character stories are a little thin if nothing happens, so I allow her to retell an event that happened to her mother, to provide a little action.
But it is always serving to build up the reader’s understanding of the character.
From The Specific To The Universal
Towards the end of the story I started to examine how Gaia’s reaction to being alone in space differs from most people’s (and by now the reader understands why).
This pulls the reader into the story. Would they have this, more universal reaction, or would they be like Gaia?
Ending on a Question
The story doesn’t end on a literal question, but it does leave Gaia and the reader gazing into the future. Will she really be the first to sign up for the next class of mission? Will she be allowed to go? What would that be like?
My hope was to plant a question in the reader’s mind, to make them wonder, “What would that be like? Could I do that?” I want them to spend a moment imagining a future so far from the one they’re working towards for themselves, that it expands their horizons a little.
I know, I know, that’s deep thinking for a short little story with not much gravity (ho ho), but my hope is that this little character moment takes the reader out of their everyday life and makes them optimistic about the future, or at least curious.
Because I believe curiosity is the first and necessary step towards doing great things.
I didn’t know what the theme of this story would be when I started. I was just solving a puzzle:
How can I take this opening and write a story that is a little unexpected?
But after I had written it, I realized I was writing about what global celebrity does to a person (especially a young person). This longing for privacy takes Gaia to extremes. My hope is that the reader spends some time thinking about what that kind of celebrity might do for them, and whether it’s worth chasing.
I’d love it if you left a comment afterwards. What did you think about while you were reading it? Did it feel complete? Did you empathize with Gaia? Could you live alone in space?