This is a look behind the scenes for my story Literary Appetite. If you haven’t read the story yet, please stop here as this article contains spoilers.
I came up with the seed for the Literary Appetite story when I saw an ad for a writing contest calling for ghost and haunting stories. I wasn’t too keen on participating because the publisher demanded exclusive rights, which I’m not willing to give. But I figured I might as well use it as a writing prompt.
The haunted house trope has been done and overdone ad nauseam, so I decided to steer clear of it. I’m not saying it’s not possible to come up with a fresh haunted house story, but I didn’t want to rack my brains over that. So I went for a haunted book. I also resolved to make it a flash fiction story and to stick to 1000 words or less. Writing to a word limit keeps me disciplined and forces me to make every word count. I probably could’ve written a longer story. In fact, the original ending I had in mind, showed Claude being consumed, and the book turning its attention to the reader, inviting (or daring) him/her to lean closer. While that ending might have been an interesting twist, I believe it would’ve watered down the “Claude ending”. I’m not a big fan of double climaxes. I believe a story should bring the reader to a climax, and then step back and let the reader absorb it. Anything added to that is potentially a disservice to the story, the ending, and the reader.
The very first paragraph pretty much explains how I got the idea of the haunted book. The “blurring of the ink” effect is something I experience personally. And of course, all of us can relate to the feeling of not wanting to put a good book down, and the separation anxiety you feel when you finally have to say goodbye to the characters you’ve fallen in love with. So I figured I could capture that feeling and amplify it. After all, that’s what good stories do. They take the familiar where we’re comfortable, and twist it in unfamiliar ways to bring out emotions of excitement, fear, curiosity and surprise.
Claude is a bit of a mixture of people I’ve known to a greater or lesser extent in my life. I believe that for characters to feel real, they need to have foundations in real people. They don’t need to be an exact replica of course, but I always try to look for different qualities in people, which I can then assemble into a coherent whole. Sometimes, if taken too far, the technique can produce comical results — comedians often do this intentionally. The effect I wanted here was obviously different. I wanted someone with whom you could empathize; someone you could feel sorry for. Then I amplified those feelings by having the narrator deride him at every step and mock his timid attempts at getting out of the hopeless rut he is in.
The narrator was the tricky part. I wanted to eventually reveal that he/she (I’ll let you decide on the gender) is inside the book, but I didn’t want to show my hand too soon. Whether I pulled this off successfully, is to be decided by the reader. I also wanted to imply that the narrator had at some point been human and fallen prey to the book, and I tried to mislead the reader as much as possible about the position of the narrator, hinting that he/she might be the owner of the bookstore.
For the ending, I wanted to have something of a bittersweet effect. The book has fed, and Claude’s facial expression hints to the fact that he has been released of his misery, rather than just having been consumed by a voracious book.