Writing at Hasting’s Hardback Café, October, 2015
In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Your Days are Numbered.”
I received this writing prompt from The Daily Post on November 8: “What’s the date today? Write it down, remove all dashes and slashes, and write a post that mentions that number.”
I started to write a glib response about numerology, but then a bell went off in the back of my mind.
While I don’t believe in numerology, I do like to toy with things like this in my writing for the enjoyment of people who do. Having been a graduate student at one time, I know how grad students and other literati like to analyze a text to the nth degree, searching for hidden but profound meaning in every nuanced word or misplaced comma. I seldom do this with the intent of relaying some arcane theme (people will interpret stories however best fits their worldview anyway), but just so the literati will have some fun analyzing and arguing about the story. For me, this is part of the fun of writing. But the more practical side of me also sees it as a way to build up a readership.
One way for a story to become known is via word of mouth. They will discuss the book if they find it interesting or they find something in it to argue about with their colleagues in the English Department or with friends at work or with like-minded enthusiasts at the local book club. So I give them something to debate.
Mostly, the understated connections I use are meaningless. For example, I have been working on a sci-fi short story in which I wanted to mention a sidearm astronauts 200 years from now might carry, but I did not want to use a type of space weapon that has become a cliché in the sci-fi world like a Star Trek phaser or a Star Wars blaster or a Flash Gordon ray gun. I named it the Hawking S-505 Black Particle sidearm. Hawking, obviously, for Stephen Hawking, who I am sure will have tons of scientific stuff named for him in the future including spaceports and starships. “Black Particle” as a form of dark energy relating to dark matter, which is cutting edge science these days, but will probably be trite in two centuries. S-550: the “S” is for sidearm; 550 is a US highway that runs through the town where I live currently. If I need a number, such as a serial number, I often use an old phone number or my birthdate or some other useless bit of trivia. As the original post from The Daily Post suggested, I might use a form of today’s date or some other date with meaning in my life. If the subject relates to magic(k), I might consult a book on numerology and choose/compose something appropriate. For example, in one horror story I have been writing for a long time, the protagonist walks through a tunnel under a dilapidated castle, where black magick was once practiced. The sides of the tunnel are covered in symbols and numbers including the number “4”, which symbolizes evil in some traditions.
For the names of characters, I frequently glance at the bookshelf to the right of my easy chair, where I write on my laptop, and combine the names of two authors to produce a name that has the right “sound” for the character or I might combine names from history or art or some other field. For example, I see I have one book by Bill Moyers and another by George Plimpton. I might name a character Bill Plimpton. In another sci-fi work (yet to be published) I needed the names for a nine man reconnaissance team to go aboard a derelict starship. I went to Google Translate and took the word for “warrior” from nine languages ranging from Gaelic to Swahili, so none would be immediately recognizable as a word for warrior (at least in the US), yet the names would express the cultural diversity of the crew.
Anyway, for me that is part of the fun of writing. How do you have fun with your writing?