Friday, June 20, 2008

I swear it wasn't me

Finished up the word count for this week in less than an hour this morning. (I had a head start from wringing a good chunk of writing time out of Sunday.) Better yet, I didn't finish up at a dead end--I have a couple of scenes already floating around in my head for next week, although the muse is still puzzling over a couple of connections and trying to figure out what this one character isn't telling us. The man has a secret, but he's not talking just yet. The muse will get through to him sooner or later. As long as she's working him over, and not me.

In the interest of finding more to talk about today than just "6,000 words, yay," I poked around in my bibliography for a few minutes. This story, as it often does, poked back. I hate it. I'm proud of it, in the sense that it's a reasonably well-written piece of flash fic, and in the sense that I got a lot of "OMG" feedback when I posted it to the critique group I was in at the time, as well as a similar response from the editor at ShadowKeep. (Now defunct, I believe.) But as a mother and a soft-hearted soul who wants some kind of a happy ending, I hated how it insisted on turning out.

I remember how the story came about--several years ago, our neighbors got a puppy. They kept it outside. It whined and whimpered and barked and howled NONSTOP, all hours of the day and night. Now, I love animals. I am, as mentioned above, a soft-hearted soul. I did not blame the dog for its behavior--usually when an animal is behaving badly, there's an owner to hold accountable. But I was driven to seriously contemplate ways in which I might manage to murder this puppy. Murder. Puppy. Me. When I realized the depths to which I'd fallen, I felt vaguely disgusted with myself. But of course, the muse was right there going, "You could use this. Remember it."

Fast forward a few years, and I'd joined a horror writing critique group. (There's a topic for another day--my views on critique groups.) So I was doing the flash fic thing, and doing the horror thing, and the murdering puppies theme emerges. I flipped it around so that the dog was the annoyed person and the people were the offending noisemakers, and then the muse took it away from me.

I tried to write an ending in which the dog just licks the boy's face and the boy hugs him. I tried to write an ending in which the dog growls at the boy but then just walks away. I tried, I tried, I tried SO HARD to save that child.

The muse wouldn't let me. No ending I wrote felt right except the one I finally caved in to. I hated it then, I still hate it now, and mostly I hate that it was the only ending that really worked. And I hate the muse for making me write it, even when she pats me on the back and assures me I did the right thing.

The muse is a pretty tough bitch, sometimes.


Anonymous said...

Muses are awfully smug when they're right, aren't they?

It reminds me a bit of what Stephen King said after writing Cujo. I'd have to go digging through Danse Macabre to find it, but Tad's death at the end of the book really, really bothered him to write. Yet, it was the right ending.

The kid lives in the movie version, but partly because audiences don't take too well to endings that aren't happy, but also, if I'm remembering right, because King hated the book's ending.

Lori Erickson said...

I remember King commenting on how the best thing a writer can do for a story is to rip their greatest fears from their guts and put them in the story. I suppose, in effect, that's what bugged me so much about writing this story. Pet Sematary and Cujo are on my short list of books that I admire but that I will never, ever read a second time. Maybe that's part of what inspired me to write my story--I thought I'd do a retake on the kid vs. the monster, and the monster would turn out to be not so bad, and the kid would be OK. Enter muse, and that whole innocent whim went straight into the toilet.

In retrospect, I wonder if writing that story is what put me off from the horror genre as a whole for a few years. There are elements of horror in some of my stories, but I hedge that "use your greatest fears" advice an awful lot. Hmm. Something I need to learn in here somewhere, maybe.


Sweet One said...

I also did a "retake" on a theme in a horror story where a kid died. I set out to have the kid live, and in my story, livehe does.

What is the "muse", and why did he/she/it force you to kill the kid off?