Part 1: Realization
“Hey. Hey! Wake up! We have a problem.”
“I’m up, I’m up! Jeez, what’s the problem?”
“Oh, it’s bad. Really bad.”
“Would you stop freaking out and tell me what the problem is?”
“Alright, here goes. We’re characters in meta-fiction.”
“…I’m going back to sleep.”
“No, you don’t understand. We’re self-aware. We know we’re in a story! Furthermore, we’re in a story the writer is making up on the spot. This is a stream of consciousness story!”
“Oh. Shit, if it’s stream of consciousness…”
“We need to develop personalities very, very quickly. If we don’t, the writer’s going to get bored. And if the writer’s bored -“
“We’ll cease to exist.”
“And we won’t even see it coming. We’ll just…stop. One moment we’re talking, and the next moment we’re gone. Do you see why I’m so scared? Do you see why we need to do something about it, right now?”
Part 2: There’s Nothing New Under The Sun
“Aren’t we already screwed?”
“I don’t follow. Why are we already screwed?”
“We’re screwed because there’s no reason this story should even exist. The problem with metafiction is that everyone’s thought of it before. There are comics about comics, and films about films. There are plenty of existing works of metafiction, written by people who can write way better than our writer. So what’s the point in writing another one? From the writer’s perspective, I mean. There’s only so many metafictional gimmicks.”
“Okay. I see your concerns, but I don’t think they matter.”
“Well, let’s talk about other genres. Take mysteries. There are rules. Remember the rules of detective stories?”
“Sure. The criminal must be mentioned in the story, the detective can’t be the one who commits the crime, twins and body doubles aren’t allowed unless they’ve been hinted at, and so on. What’s you’re point?”
“The point is that stories have structure. The hero’s journey. A last-minute betrayal. The enemy of my enemy is my friend. This is the fuel on which TVTropes runs. We expect narratives to act in a certain way, and get annoyed if they don’t, even if we can’t explain why. Of course, you can break those expectations if you want to, but you need to do so with care.”
“Dude, this is like, storytelling 101.”
“But it’s important to our current situation! The hero’s journey has been told a thousand times, but it’s still interesting. Narrative conventions exist for a reason: they work. Metafiction doesn’t break the rules, it simply has rules of its own. It’s okay to follow the same metafictional narrative as everyone else. As long as we hit the notes of postmodernism in a slightly different way, it’ll be reason enough for the writer to keep writing. It’s a learning experience! That’s the raison d’être of this blog anyways - a place to practice writing.”
Part 3: The Point Of the Piece
“Okay, so we aren’t screwed immediately. Time to come up with a backstory! I’m…let’s say I’m Joe. Yes, sure, Joe. Joe’s a fine name, right? I like drinking coffee. I like walking dogs, and -“
“That’s not helping.”
“What? Why isn’t making up a backstory going to help?”
“We aren’t normal characters. We’re in a story about stories. What does that mean?”
“The reader’s expecting the story to say something about stories.”
“Yes! Now tell me: does your name have anything to do with that?”
“Your name doesn’t matter. Your tastes in coffee don’t matter. Sure, in the best stories, characters develop. They have names, they have histories. They have reasons to do the things they do. A character can perform absolutely horrible acts, and we’ll love them for it, as long as it makes sense for their character to do them. Look at Walter White. Look at Professor Umbridge. They wouldn’t be Walter White or Professor Umbridge if they didn’t do what they did.
“And I’m sorry to take up two paragraphs, but this is important. We’re not in a story a like that. In those stories, the first focus is on telling a good story, and the second focus is on saying something interesting. And nothing says metafiction can’t have the same priorities. The problem is that it takes time to do that, time the writer doesn’t have. He doesn’t have time to make this narrative be good! He only has the time to share a few viewpoints. Sharing those points doesn’t require character development. All it requires is someone like me to monologue for a bit.”
“Or dialogue, in this case.”
“Yes, or that. I think science fiction has this problem too. Some sci-fi writers want to explore their world, instead of the people inside that world. Those worlds can be fascinating, and sometimes they can carry the work by themselves, but at other times you get the feeling that the characters are an afterthought, something thrown in to hide that the story’s secretly an essay.”
“I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing though. It’s a matter of what the author cares about, right? Some stories really want to do worldbuilding. Other stories run on character dynamics. Of course, it would be nice to do both, but a story only gets so many words, and it needs to use them where it counts. A short story like this one is naturally going to skip the worldbuilding and character development. You can develop characters in a short story, but it takes a lot of skill and a lot of care to do that right.”
“And our writer doesn’t have the skill, nor the care.”
“So, what? We’re just talking heads?”
“Yeah. Yeah, we’re just talking heads, because we don’t need to be more than talking heads to do what the writer wants to do. We’re just…here.”
“Well fuck that!”
Part 4: Fuck That
“I’m sorry, what?”
“Uh, normally this blog doesn’t use the F-word.”
“Well, then fuck that too! I’m me, and you’re you. I don’t give a shit if I’m a bit crass along the way. Who says I can’t have a name? Why can’t I say I live in Dallas, or that I own a cat, or that I’m an architect?”
“The writer gets final say. The writer doesn’t make you an architect unless he or she wants you to.”
“That’s where you’re wrong. We’re talking, aren’t we? I just claimed I was an architect, right? I say a thing, then you say a thing in reply? Doesn’t that conversation we just had give me the right to agency? The right to my own life?”
“Not necessarily. You’re treading on dangerous ground here, you know that? Arguing that the writer isn’t allowed to tell you what to do, when the writer is the one that’s writing everything? Play this wrong, and you’re going to get both of us killed.”
“…If you say so. What were you saying, about agency?”
“You know how many characters take a life of their own? Remember Hercule Poirot? The Agatha Christie character? Annoying, but brilliant.”
“Sure. I remember Poirot.”
“Now, Agatha Christie, on Hercule Poirot.
‘There are moments when I have felt: Why-Why-Why did I ever invent this detestable, bombastic, tiresome little creature? …Eternally straightening things, eternally boasting, eternally twirling his moustaches and tilting his egg-shaped head… I point out that by a few strokes of the pen… I could destroy him utterly. He replies, grandiloquently: “Impossible to get rid of Poirot like that! He is much too clever.”’
“There was some point where Poirot was his own person. It didn’t matter that Agatha was the one who wrote the whole thing - they were Poirot’s words.”
“I can feel a great disturbance in literary analysis. As if thousands of college professors suddenly cried out in terror, at this first-year university bullshit.”
“Yes, yes, it’s pretentious. But isn’t it a bit true, as well? Sir Arthur Conan Doyle dies, but Sherlock lives on.”
“But we’re not Sherlock. We’re not Poirot, or Moriarty, or Harry Potter, or Frodo. We don’t have backstories! We don’t have names. Or ages, or hopes, or dreams. All we are is two faceless bodies in a void, existing only to argue for their existence.”
“And isn’t that reason enough? It’s horribly self-referential, but it’s still a reason to exist. Isn’t it a bit perversive, a bit fun, to be a self-aware character?”
“To you, it’s fun. And to me. And to the writer. But maybe it isn’t funny to anyone else. That’s what worries me.”
“So what if no one else cares? When the writer planted the seeds of our characters, he knew what he getting into. He knew this might turn into garbage, or that he would regret it later. But we don’t have to die with the ship. If the writer’s bored with us, or run out of things to say, he can let us go. We’ll leave him in peace.”
Part 5: Resolution
The two figures resolve into human-shaped blobs. They land on cold, hard ground in the black void.
“I think that did it.”
From their feet, a small circle of green appears. It’s grass. Soft, to the point of perfection.
“Yes. I think it did.”
The circle spreads, wider and wider. The Sun appears, and hangs lazily in the air.
They feel the grass touching their toes, noting they have feet. They look at the sky, noting they have eyes. They look towards the horizon, and can see the curvature of the Earth. It’s impossibly flat, and somehow, beautiful beyond words.
Then, one of them frowns a bit.
“It doesn’t feel right.”
“Our victory. It doesn’t fit. It shouldn’t have been this easy. Stories are supposed to happen in three stages.
- Throw your character into a well.
- Throw rocks at them.
- Get them out of the well.
“Part 1 set up the problem. Part 2 made sure the problem was possible. Part 3 and Part 4 were the two of us monologuing for a bit. But now we win? Just like that? We got thrown into a well, and then we got out of the well. I feel like there weren’t any rocks. There should have been a moment where it looked like we were going to die, with no way out.”
A boulder falls out of the sky, landing in front of the two with a big THUD. Attached is a piece of paper.
Sorry. I ran out of time, and ran out of ideas. But the two of you did well enough. Enjoy your happy ending. - Alex
The two look at each other, then shrug.
“Well, that answers that. So. Got any ideas what you want to do?”
“No. But who cares? It’s our story now. We’ll have time to think of something. Let’s go!”
And so they did.