Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Making of "Mail Order Bride"

As the summer goes on, my work on the short stories of "In-Futura" continues. Specifically, I've been focused on finishing the final three stories in Part II: Longing. The first of the new additions is a chilling, personal horror story called "Mail Order Bride".

"Mail Order Bride" was inspired by two related ideas and trends. The first is the idea of "homophily" which literally means "love of the same or self". It's when like attracts like - when we are attracted to someone because they are similar to ourselves. The other trend is that of online dating sites and matchmaking services, which help their users find and filter their potential matches according to their exact specifications. What if I took these ideas to the next level? Would it be beneficial to those looking for love - or scary?

Here is the synopsis:

In the future... a new and mysterious online dating service called uMatch, Inc. claims to set up its customers with an offer that seems too good to be true: their perfect match, guaranteed. This sounded like music to the ears of Larry Livingston, a lonely, middle-aged man who longs for a woman who aligns with his specific tastes and preferences. At first, he is thrilled with the new arrival, but he soon begins to have a creeping suspicion about his precious "Mail Order Bride".

Below are three interesting challenges that I encountered while making "Mail Order Bride" a reality:

(1) A Different Kind of Storytelling

"Mail Order Bride" was a challenge because the story was written in a style that I had flirted with before (in "The Children of Mulberry Lane") but never fully attempted: storytelling through personal letters. The reader learns about the main character and the events preceding and following the delivery of his mail order bride through correspondence written from Larry Livingston to uMatch, Inc.

Rather than following a 1st-person present narrative, all of the narration is reflective, describing events that have already happened. This offered many advantages. For one, since the events in the story are relayed by the protoganist, they are edited and only the key details are present, increasing the pacing.

This style also offered a challenge as well, because the events being described have already happened, I had to be particularly descriptive and maintain a sense of urgecy throughout the character's letters - making the reader feel like they are right there, experiencing each scene.

(2) Writing Horror

The second challenge was attempting to write a story within a genre I'd yet to try: horror. Most of my work tends to lean towards adventure stories, but the care and detail that must go into a horror story is a whole other beast! I attempted to inject the story with two main aspects of horror.

The first is a slow and steady build-up of fear - culminating in a terrifying and head-spinning climax. The story begins very sedately, with the love-lorn Larry Livingston writing to uMatch, Inc., inquiring about their perplexing offer of love. As the story moves forward, he reaches the pinnacle of happiness, before slowly and steadily tumbling towards a canyon of fear. By the end, both he and, hopefully, the reader, have been on an emotional rollercoaster.

The second aspect is playing with the reader's mind by not revealing the "terrifying truth" until the very end. Clues, ideas, and suppositions are spread throughout the story - some by the protagonist himself - and are meant to plant increasingly horrifying thoughts in the reader's mind. If you pay attention, you may just be able to figure out the horrible truth before Larry does...

(3) The Single-character Story

The final challenge of writing "Mail Order Bride" is that it is very much a single-character story. Written via personal letters from Larry Livingston, his reflections, actions, and suppositions are the core drivers of the story. While his mail order bride serves as a key change in the events of his life, the story is very much about his life.

The only way to keep things interesting, then, is to have an interesting character. Through his letters, the reader is invited into his mind and builds an intimate relationship with his heart and his soul - as well as his longing. As the story goes on, his ruminations turn to those of fear, and instantly the reader begins to feel that, too. How Larry changes and develops throughout his relationship with his mail order bride helps to keep the narrative interesting.

The other way to turn a single-character story to one's advantage is to create a character with a yearning, or longing, that every reader can identify with. Larry's quest for love and his longing to meet his perfect companion, or soul mate, is a feeling that we can all relate to. We feel for him as he laments his lack of luck in love and get excited for him when he first meets his bride. The reader must feel a connection with the main character if a story like this is to succeed!

"Mail Order Bride" is currently submitted for publication - wish me luck!