Notes Of A Storyteller: Don’t Get Too Pretentious

Every writer has a high horse they like to get on, and mine is good literature. If you frequent this blog, you know how much I like to talk about literature as an exploration of the human condition. It’s something I try to live out when I write my fiction.

And now, like many human endeavors, it has backfired.

Would you like see an excerpt from my short story? Actually, make that “former excerpt”. I’m throwing this part out the window. I was trying to write a story about a hypocritical general who likes to talk about knighthood. He meets a dragon and gets his comeuppance. I decided to be clever and be as subtle with this story as possible, without actually thinking about what those words meant or how interesting of a story the result would actually be.

This is what happened. (Warning: harsh language alert)

A sudden smile broke out on his lips. Here he was, in front of a beast that he had read about all of his life. He puffed out his chest, now that he had a second to compose himself. This would be a nice way to die.

“Take me on, you fucking lizard!” snarled the general. “I’ll dive right under you and cut your balls off!”

The dragon tilted its head to the side, as if it was examining the general very closely.

“You can’t hear a damn word I’m saying, can you?” said the general. “Let’s do this! I’m right here waiting for you! This is how it went down with the little prick you toasted already, wasn’t it? God, I can’t even remember his name.”

Melanie watched in disbelief as her father walked towards the dragon slowly, brandishing his knife. He strutted like a bad actor, brandishing his knife as if it was a rapier.

“I’ve read about you assholes,” he said. “Oh, I know all about you. Trying to grab my daughter’s ass back there? I don’t like that. You’d better fly away now. You can’t take me. I’m a knight! That’s right! A knight of chivalry and courage; I’ve stepped out of the storybook too, and I’ve brought the ending with me. I’m gonna carve your guts out.”

The dragon sniffed.

“Don’t believe me? Try me. You don’t know how badly I want to thank you. You’ve given me something to do with this weapon; I’ve been bored as hell since Iraq.”

The dragon sniffed again.

“Goddammit!” screamed the general, “What are you standing there for? Fight me! Come on!”

Are you cringing yet? One friend who read this passage told me I had just copycatted the Great Santini, and I think they were trying to be charitable as they could. I tried to be literary and deep, but I didn’t try to tell a good story. The resdult was that when I tried to be original, I wrote something cliche.

Don’t write something cliche. And don’t mimic Direct TV commercials like that unless you have a very good reason for it. Whatever you do, talk to your critics before you start writing a story, especially if it’s an ambitious concept. When you come up with an idea for a story, think about it for a minute. Make sure that it makes sense. Don’t be too pretentious with your fiction.

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