April 03, 2006

Writing War Stories For Children

A couple weeks ago, I wrote about the amazing mass-written Chinese Gangster Story. It's an episodic adventure story written by competing authors, like a story narrated by a bar full of brawling writers. Before being boingboinged, that story had 1.7 million page views and 21,000 different episodes. I love the idea of having a space that produces a story, rather than a boring old space where you put a produced story.

In tribute to my departing buddy Bryan, here is the beginning of a "New York Pulp Fiction Story," an adventure just waiting for you to write the next installment. These characters and their futures are your Play-Doh. Post your episode in the comments section...

Writing War Stories For Children
A couple years ago, Bryan and me bought a bottle of VCR cleaner on the way to work. Just like high school, we sucked fumes off the nozzle to get high. That godforsaken winter, we wasted three months writing stories about the Army Guys toy soldier franchise and posting them on the Internet. The whole operation was set up in two office cubicles in an East Village bedroom. Some mucky-muck from the Army Guys Corporation had repossessed the apartment from his cocaine-addled son and turned the place into a writing sweatshop to recoup his investment.


We sat there eight hours a day, all by ourselves, pounding out 500-word Army Guys stories at $7 a pop. The Army Guys Corporation provided us with two PowerBooks chained to flimsy desks. There was a new war in Iraq, and they saw the whole thing as a branding opportunity. They wanted an Army Guys story to show up every time somebody Google-ed a war zone.

“What if they fought a war in Guatemala?” I asked him, and huffed a mouthful of VCR cleaner. “Some secret mission, or something? They could send that flamethrower guy, what’s-his-name, Firebug, to torch a cocaine field! I could write something like, ‘Smoke covered the communist revolutionary camp like a funeral shroud,' and then, Hang Glider Chick could come zooming over a hill, chasing some guerilla guys and…”

Bryan stumbled to his feet. He was tall enough to bodyslam me, and I was worried. He’d been too quiet all morning, stroking his beard like a grizzly bear messed up on industrial cleaning solvents.

“No, no, no, dude,” Bryan said, his eyeballs gone gaga from fumes. “I’m gonna write a story about how evil R.A.T.T. foot-soldiers install a brainwashing transmitter on top of some apartment building in Manhattan. They point it at your head and then you hear Neil Diamond songs. Yeah, dude, that’s how they do it. They drill into your brain with the music and they suck all your memories out with a brain straw! You get it? That’s how you’ll know when the R.A.T.T. foot soldiers got you, when you hear Neil Diamond music!”

I swiveled my swivel chair with dizzy glee, and goose bumps zoomed up my arms. “That sounds good, that sounds really, really good,” I said, dragging off the VCR cleaner can so hard that I sounded just like Darth Vader when I sang, “Warm, touching warm. Touching me, TOUCHING YOU…”

And then we both sang Neil Diamond together: “Sweet Caroline, BOM BOM BAAHH! Good times never felt so good!” We sang and we sang, and I could hear the clomp-clomp of R.A.T.T. footsoldier boots on the roof, steering that gigantic radar dish. We were so happy that Bryan dropkicked the radiator. The steam valve exploded, shooting shrapnel and boiling water towards the ceiling.

Within thirty seconds, the room was covered with a hot paste of ceiling filth, melted paint, and steam. I screamed like a little girl. Like a cartoon character, my feet chugged fruitlessly on the slick floor and I fell on my back. Bryan roared like a weight lifter, and ripped his laptop computer off the chain. Then, he scooped me up in his arms, walking through the steam cloud like a saint walking on water—hugging his precious stories, a bottle of VCR cleaner and me in his mighty arms.

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