In Bear v Shark, Chris Bachelder conveys his story through a series of vignettes. Despite being short, each of Bachelder’s chapters are designed to convey information to the reader. In chapter five, for example, he writes “The old televisions had an off switch” (Bachelder 22). This seemingly simple sentence conveys two important facts: We are in the future, and televisions are always switched on. A western reader would associate this image with George Orwell’s 1984, leading to the realisation that the story describes a dystopian future. In Error 500 I have attempted to emulate Buchelder’s example. The repetition of the line “500 Error – Website is Temporarily Unavailable” immediately informs the reader that the story describes an event major enough to affect the entire internet, while presenting the story as a series of vignettes forces the reader to consider individual themes. Unlike Bachelder, however, I have chosen not to present my vignettes chronologically. I have, instead followed Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven example of non-linear time. This induces empathy within the reader, with continuity being provided by character interaction.
In her compilation of essays, The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History, Elizabeth Kolbert gives a presentation of facts, followed by a personal account of her experiences in the field. In this way, Kolbert serves as a bridge between the scientist and the reader, allowing the reader to emotionally engage with the information being portrayed. I have attempted to utilise the same technique in Part 13 of Error 500, where I am writing about a topic which may otherwise have come across as dry and jaded.
I have chosen to conclude my story with a short poem entitled How to Kill a Soul in Ten Easy Steps. This was a deliberate decision on my part, inspired by Joy Harjo’s How to Write a Poem in a Time of War. The language Harjo uses is beautiful and emotive. Some passages are designed to inspire emotion in the reader:
Soldiers crawl the city,
The river, the town, the village,
The bedroom, our kitchen. They eat everything.
Or burn it.
They kill what they cannot take. They rape. What they cannot kill they take.
Rumors fall like rain.
Like bombs. (Harjo)
Other passages are so vivid individual words become almost immaterial, serving instead as a visual medium:
These memories were left here with the trees:
The torn pocket of your daughter’s hand-sewn dress,
The sash, the lace.
The baby’s delicately beaded moccasin still connected to the foot,
A young man’s note of promise to his beloved —
No! This is not the best place to begin. (Harjo)
I certainly don’t consider myself to be on the same level as Harjo, but I have tried to use language as a visual medium, as she does, to engage my readers emotionally even beyond the confines of my story.500 Error was also influenced in a minor way by the movie Children of Men (which inspired me to envision a world with no children), the short film After 19: Tales of the Outbreak (I was profoundly affected by the scenes of an empty world and the emotional impact of old posters and graffiti), and, to a lesser extent, the works of William Shakespeare (his frequent use of self-reflexive devices is the inspiration behind my use of diary entries and emails).
Categories: Fiction Friday