Category Archives: Kim May

Kim May

My What?

So…when someone asks you what your “special sauce” is it’s hard to know exactly what to say. Do they want my katsu sauce recipe? Do they want the password to the secret underground culinary fight club? Are they coming on to me? Who knows.

I bet he knows.

But if the question is what makes my stories sound like me…well that’s a difficult question to answer. I’d like to think that my nerdy and off the wall humor is my signature thing but not all of my stories are humorous — my poetry definitely isn’t. Plus I’m not the only author who tells those kinds of jokes so I still couldn’t claim that it’s mine and only mine.

So what is my signature bit? Well…the best way I can think to describe it is to say that it’s like Doctor Who. Every Doctor has their own thing. Sometimes it’s as simple as a signature outfit, sometimes it’s a catchphrase like allonsy or Geronimo, and sometimes it’s jokes about eyebrows that can be used as bottle openers. While other times it’s a story line that makes you think. It’s that last one that I think if anything is my “special sauce” it’s that. When I write my stories, whether it’s a novel or a short story, I try to put in something that’s going to make the reader think and ask themselves if they would have done the same in that situation…followed by a pithy break the tension. Just kidding. I do it two pages later…and only on Saturday nights.

But of course this is all conjecture since only Mr. Shooty McBangbang knows what the question really is.

Deedle di ti dee…….Two Endings!


(Is the song stuck in your head yet?)

Whether it’s a sad ending, a happy ending (no, not that kind), or even a cliffhanger, endings can be hard to write. I know when I’m finishing a first draft I always wonder if there’s a thread I forgot to tie off or if there was enough denouement. Doubts like these can get the better of you. One doubt that doesn’t often pop into a writer’s mind is if the story needs two endings.

That’s pretty much what happened when I wrote Schrodinger’s Bar.

Schrodinger’s Bar is a short story I wrote for the Fiction River: Tavern Tales anthology. It’s about an alien refugee that finds a job at a very unusual dive bar. What makes this story really unique is that it has two endings that happen simultaneously. That’s right. Just when the reader thinks the story is over, not only do they get a second conclusion, it’s one that happens at the exact same time as the first instead of being another option.

Yes, it’s a very tricky thing to pull off. So how did I do it? I had a very good editor. No, seriously. It was all her idea and she walked me through it. Yeah, I know. That doesn’t really help you but I did learn how in the process.

Here’s the thing, gimmicks like this rarely work. Instead of it being a cool literary device it often comes off as cheesy or even lame. The only reason this one isn’t cheesy or boring is because of the title. Since the story — and specifically the dive bar — is a clever play on Schrodinger’s theory it gives me the allowance to do this. In fact, as my editor told me, this story really needed a gimmick like this to be good. Doing it with one ending would have been a missed opportunity.

But I hear you ask, “what if your story doesn’t have a quantum superposition but you still want to do two endings?” Well, that still has a prerequisite of sorts. Lets revisit the video I posted from Clue. Clue has three endings, each funnier and just as plausible as the others. Each of the possible solutions to the “who done it?” works because during the film, each suspect is without an alibi. It’s never highlighted during the film but if you watch closely you’ll see that it’s true. So if you want to pull off multiple endings, you need to do the same sort of prep work. Set up the scene, make sure you’ll have the plausibility you’ll need for each variation in each ending and at the final climactic moment, that’s when you start the divergence. In Schrodinger’s Bar that moment is when Myla has to decide to stay or go. In Clue, it’s the moment Wadsworth decides to reveal who the killer is and how they did it. The divergent endings all start at that same moment and progress to their individual conclusions. However the story as a whole needs to end before it becomes a Groundhog Day- like phenomena. You can certainly loop them around and around like that if you want it just takes more prep work.

Like I said. Tricky. Once you get it to work though, it’s really darn cool!

 

If you’d like to read Schrodinger’s Bar, you can purchase the anthology in print and digital here.

And you can find out more about Kim May here.

It’s Dangerous to go Alone!

The old man isn’t whistling dixie. It is dangerous to go alone. When protagonists quest alone that’s when a spooky crack-addict fox tries to pull your head off in the labyrinth, or a weeping angel tries to send you back in time, or worse….you may be forced to hunt for a second, slightly smaller shrubbery so the Knights Who Say Ni can have that cool two level effect. But in order to avoid spending the entire second act searching for a bush, your character can’t be like Link. Your character needs more than a sword for their adventure. (unless the sword being proffered is Nightblood. That would be sweet!) Your character needs friends that are willing to accompany them.

I don’t think it’s enough just to have a friend cheering the hero/heroine on while they alone vanquish foes. It’s also not enough for the friends to simply guard the hero/heroine’s back. Shared burden, means shared risk and shared trauma. If they fight at the hero/heroine’s back, and come out unscathed it’s not going to be genuine. Sure, depending on the character they may fare better or worse than the hero/heroine but there is still going to be a mental and/or physical toll. That toll, and the recovery from, is what brings the hero/heroine and their companions closer together which in turn makes the journey worthwhile to many readers.

Now, there’s two different ways this can happen and both ironically are found in The Fellowship of the Ring. The first way is Frodo’s Band of Brothers. Frodo, Merry, Pippin, and Sam were pretty tight when circumstances forced Frodo to leave the Shire. But rather then let Frodo go on that very long walk by himself, they join him, sharing the adventure and the many dangers. Even when those dangers separate the hobbits, the danger they did survive together, as well as the dangers they faced apart in pursuit of their common goal, didn’t harm their friendship. Heck, Frodo would have been a goner several times over if it weren’t for Sam. The nice thing about this route is that there’s a baseline relationship to help or hinder all of them along the way. Unlike the other route which is…

The Fellowship — specifically, the non-hobbit members. None of them knew Frodo and company before the Council of Elrond and vice versa. They didn’t know if any of them were traitors, or would succumb to the power of the ring, or would abandon the group. They had to take a chance to serve the greater good and at least try to save the world. It’s not much to base a fledgling relationship on and as expected those fledgling relationships were tried. Some flourished, most in fact, and some died (but we all saw that last one coming, right?). My point being, that they went from zero to FUBAR in a very short time and that amount of strain can only make or break a relationship.

Both of these can be really tricky to pull off but the end result, an unbreakable bond, is usually worth it.

Do It Again With Feeling

As an actor those are words you never want to hear because it means you’re not doing your job, you’re not performing the scene with enough emotion to make it feel real to the audience. As a writer we’re susceptible to the same mistake. Except it’s not necessarily our characters that might not feel real. It can just as easily be the conflict itself.

I realize that it may sound strange for a story’s conflict to be the thing that makes it real and interesting. It’s the reason we turn the page. We have to know if Harry Potter defeats the villain of the month! But if the conflict itself is only half of the equation. The other half — the half that makes it feel real and creates the tension — is how the conflict affects the characters internally.

Every action has an opposite and equal reaction is just as true in physics as it is in fiction. In a fight scene, when the villain throws a punch at the hero, if the hero doesn’t react, either by dodging or being knocked back by the blow when it connects, it’s not believable. Likewise if the young heartthrob dumps the heroine for no good reason. If the heroine doesn’t run away crying or punches them in the face (my personal favorite) then the whole scene falls flat. Without the reaction it’s like it didn’t happen at all. And the reaction doesn’t have to be physical. I’ll use the same examples again to illustrate what I mean. When the not-so-happy couple breaks up, their emotional reaction is just as important as the physical one that follows. Is the heroine angry? Is she in disbelief? Is her heart broken? Is the heartthrob sad? Are they defensive? Impatient? In shock that they’re about to get punched? It’s the same thing in the fight scene. Is combatant A frightened of their opponent or are they confident that they’ll win?

All of this detail isn’t just to fill out the scene and make it breathe. It also increases the tension in your story. All of that description and reaction takes time and that’s time in a critical moment of the story where your readers are waiting for big punch. All the while you’re bringing them deeper into the character’s mind. That punch isn’t being thrown at a stranger, it’s being thrown at them.

It continually amazes me how adding depth can solve so many problems at once. I almost want to call it the Swiss Army knife of writing. Granted, like any tool it helps having some experience using it. I mean you can’t cut cheese with a corkscrew…though it would be fun to watch someone try. Adding the wrong emotion or reaction will do more damage then good. But avoiding that pitfall is a subject for another day.