The following is part of a “shared storytelling event” over at I Saw Lightning Fall , Advents Ghosts 2022. We were tasked to write a scary story of exactly 100 words in length. I don’t know how much this counts as a “story” but this is my attempt at an entry. As far as “scary” your mileage may vary.
An Inside Job
1659, the General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony deems it a criminal offense to publicly celebrate Christmas.
January 6th 2045, the Freedom party gains control of all three branches of government, repeals the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, and declares Christmas a secular holiday, banning it on the basis it’s never mentioned in the Bible.
December 25, 2047 Cynthia Bowman is arrested for having houseplant greater than 48 inches of height indoors in the twelfth month of the calendar year and adorning said shrubbery with a star.
The best way to create a compelling plot is to create a compelling character with a goal to achieve, and then make him do the last thing on Earth he wants to do to achieve that goal. *
* I am going through some old papers, many of them from when I was trying to turn myself into a writer. I came across this quote on plot that I think is fantastic. I have no idea where it’s from, so please let me know if you are aware of the source.
Cory Doctorow has an excellent article today on fiction, specifically science fiction, and the need for less cynical scenarios of the future and more hopeful stories about what people do in times of crisis.
This is something that I’d started to think about with my own reading and writing. Do I really want to put more cynical dystopian things into my life and out in the world? Things are already bad enough out there. We are already living with the most cynical political situation of my lifetime.
Here is the quote from Doctorow that really drew me in:
This is the thought experiment of a thousand sci-fi stories: When the chips are down, will your neighbors be your enemies or your saviors? When the ship sinks, should you take the lifeboat and row and row and row, because if you stop to fill the empty seats, someone’s gonna put a gun to your head, throw you in the sea, and give your seat to their pals? I’ve committed this sin myself. Right at the start of the first novel in my Little Brother series, a character gets stabbed in a crowded subway by someone who is apparently just knifing people at random in a crowd. That’s never explained, and no one has ever asked me about it. It’s just people being awful.
But according to Denning, this isn’t just fiction—it is the stuff we’ve fueled our intuition pumps with. The problem is, it’s wrong. It makes for good stories, but those stories don’t reflect the truth of the world as I see it. Humanity is, on balance, good. We have done remarkable things. The fact that we remain here today, after so many disasters in our species’ history, is a reminder that we are a species of self-rescuing princesses—characters who save one another in crisis, rather than turning on ourselves.
I really recommend you all read this article. I really do believe we could benefit as a society with new and different stories. Well written ones that give us some hope and a different way to look at our neighbors.
Sci-fi doesn’t just imagine the future, it imagines human nature. We need to take that responsibility seriously.