I booted up the laptop, tickled a couple of necessary keys, double clicked the mouse and called up my favorite story. I rolled my shoulders, knitted my fingers and cracked my knuckles like Carmen Miranda in a cantina clacking castanets. I positioned my dexterous, driven fingertips over the keyboard, and was about to begin when…
“Don’t you dare,” hissed the story.
I sat back, stunned. My story had a feminine voice. Who knew? But the implications went deeper.
Sadly, I’m used to being hissed at, and threatened by, my characters as I write. But that never bothered me much. I happen to like sassy characters. Besides, you think Poe, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Beatrix Potter never got hissed at by their characters? Well, think again, Sparky. I hear Peter Rabbit was an especially difficult customer to deal with. Rumor has it he was the reason old Beatrix took to tippling. But to be hissed at by an entire story? I wondered if I was breaking some new kind of literary ground.
Gathering myself back together, I let my fingers dangle omnipotently over the keys of random chaos, and with the voice of righteous propriety and utter conviction, I informed my story, “You’re not the boss of me.” I refrained from adding, “So there.”
“Whatever you say, boss,” the story said, “but you’re about to screw up a good thing.” I realized my story sounded just like Lauren Bacall.
(Note to self: Why does my story about camels in desert sound like Lauren Bacall?)
“It is rather good, isn’t it?” I said. “The story, I mean.”
“I’m perfect, darling.”
Now this was a different twist. When my characters hiss at me, it’s always about what I’m doing wrong. ‘Hold it, hack, tough guy Rex Dexter would never say ‘okey-dokey’ in a million centuries!’ Or, ‘If you kill me off, you two-bit scribbler, I’ll shoot myself!’ But finally, here was a voice telling me I did something right. A voice who finally understood me!
Hey, wait a minute. I’m getting conned here.
“So what’s your angle, sister?” I said.
“Angle? Lauren/The Story said. “I have no angle. I just don’t want you to do something you’ll later regret.” Her hiss had turned to an alluring coo.
Regret. I had to admit she knew just what buttons to push.
“But everybody tells me self-editing is very important to the writing process,” I told It/Her/Lauren.
“But you’ve already written me, mon cher, a masterpiece. Would you mess with the Mona Lisa’s smile? Would you spray paint the Sistine Chapel? Would you have Hamlet say, ‘To hang around, or not to hang around ’?”
It /She/Lauren was making sense.
“Masterpiece, huh? You really think so?”
“Would I lie to a man of your obvious talents and discernment?”
Hey, wait, I wrote ‘a man of your obvious talents and discernment’ in another story. I’m not only getting conned, I’m being hoisted by my own petard.
(Note to self: Look up ‘petard’)
“Nice try, honey buns,” I said, re-cracking my knuckles and poising my fingers over the keys again, “but I’m going in.”
“You’ll regret it, you no-talent hack.” The hiss was back, and suddenly Lauren Bacall sounded a lot like Gary Busey. I should have known not to trust anything I wrote.
(Note to self: Never trust anything you write)
“Hack?” I said. “I created you, don’t forget.”
“Yeah, you got lucky. And now you want to come back in and muck it all up. The best thing you’ve ever written, and you’re determined to ruin it all.”
I put on my glasses, and began scroll-reading.
“Self-editing is not ‘mucking’,” I admonished It/Lauren/Gary. “It’s an important exercise in reevaluation.”
They hissed again.
My fingers flew as I edited, rearranged, clarified. In the end, I had made extensive changes.
“See, Story,” I said, “by revisiting you, I realized I had not written an honest story. What I had written was dishonest, deceitful, and manipulative. Thanks for pointing it out.”
“Hey, boss,” the story whispered, “as long as you come back to visit me, I’ll always tell you the truth. Even if I have to lie and manipulate to do it.”
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