I was stuck in a short story I was working on; so much so that I decided I needed to leave it for a while, give it a break. But it was the same with everything I had on the go. I’d open a file, stare at a story and the story would stare back, but that was it. I was stuck.
A change, I decided, was in order. I needed something new to work on, just for an afternoon, but I didn’t have any ideas for new projects either. Having been recently introduced to the concept of random plot generators I thought, I’ll have some fun, fool around, and then get back to work. So I found a website with a random plot generator and this is what it gave me: “The theme of this story: allegorical action. The main character: focused pedlar. The start of the story: reconciliation. The end of the story: revelation.”
Allegorical action didn’t interest me but reconciliation and revelation are loaded words, rich with connotations. The pedlar came easily—I’m fascinated by vagrant lifestyles and their hardships, and a suffering character always intrigues me. For reconciliation I grabbed the first thought that came to hand: the pedlar had an estranged son.
I began to write as the pedlar walked up to his son’s hut; a snake happened to slither past, just minding its own business and not intending to be part of any story at all. Then father met son and the pedlar began to speak backwards.
I was shocked.
Stories, I know, come from our subconscious, which always knows what it’s doing, but I often wish it would let the rest of my brain in on the process.
I wrote through to the end of their dialogue but then, because I really didn’t know what I was doing, the story stopped. I had had my fun and went back to my other projects. But there was something about the pedlar that intrigued me, something that kept me thinking about him and mulling over his story. He was a character I wanted to spend more time with.
So, after many months, I pulled the story out again and this time sat down in earnest to find out why the pedlar was looking for his son, why he was cursed, and why snakes kept turning up when I kept trying to get rid of them. The result is “Shadow of Turning.”
"Shadow of Turning" by Joan Savage is available now in issue 14 of Orson Scott Card's InterGalactic Medicine Show