Wednesday, February 14, 2007

As We Know It

Joel is a twenty-eight year old travel agent in a sleepy midwestern city. There are plenty of people, but no one seems to do anything. That is, until an emergency broadcast comes through on the radio that the world is ending. In a month. There will be nothing. Joel knows the world isn't going to end, but that doesn't help him stop his little sister Reagan from stocking her bedroom i with a world's-end supply of food. She stocks it with so many emergency supplies that she has to move her bed into Joel's room, precluding his semi-non-existent, but still slightly-stewing love life. All of a sudden, given the apocalyptic news, half the people in Joel and Reagan's sleepy town decide to pack up and take the one last trip they'd always been wanting to take. Joel ends up working hours upon hours a day booking one-way flights; trying to convince people to make better, cheaper choices; and calming his hysterical sister who spends her days either sitting in his office or calling him from the apartment with the latest update from the radio. Joel never turns on his radio at work. Even when his customers ask him to. The ones who don't/can't leave form support groups, counsel each other, start building basement shelters, form a commune of sorts.

As the city becomes emptier, Reagan starts begging Joel to put them on a flight. Everyone else is doing it. Does he want them to just get left behind? Joel knows the world's not going to end. People start to see him as an outsider. They stop trusting him. Reagan doesn't call him as much anymore. She doesn't spend much time at home. Finally, Joel starts playing along with Reagan: stockpiling food with her, helping build the shelter, going to the meetings. He starts mentally preparing for the end of the world. He imagines living underground. He assesses who of the remaining women would be the best mate. He starts stockpiling soap and shampoo, along with the food. The radio broadcasts keep coming, more and more urgent, projecting the same time of doom: three weeks, two weeks, one week, 5 days, 4...." Joel becomes a believer. He fears the end of the world like everyone else. The end of the story brings some kind of non-world ending resolution. Perhaps the people in the town are disappointed by the lack of the end of the world, and the people who had left start coming back and disrupting the balance. Perhaps the world does end (but that seems to obvious and somehow unsatisfying). Perhaps they find out the source of the signal, and it's all a big fluke, but they want to know why someone would do something like that. I don't know where this story should. But I do like the idea of the world ending. And what to do about it.

The three possible forms my story could take:
1. Interview madness. This could be an oral history of Joel and Reagan together, disagreeing with one another, telling the story from different angles at the same time. This could be like that Katrina project that tells many different stories from many different people re: the same event (but that was a bit hard to navigate). It could be a couple who didn't stay in the town telling it like a funny anecdote at the dinner table: "Remember that time when we honestly thought the world was going to end. What were we thinking?? (laugh laugh laugh)"

2. It could also be an interesting hyperlink site with all the different places people decided to travel to and the things they did there. Little stories from their point of view given their life history and why they wanted to go to those particular places. It could be a map fo the world with little stars/dots where different people went and when you scrolled over those places a short summary of the people would pop up and you could click on it for more information. The story of the town would be on the map too. But, this would be a "closed" map, such that you could only have access to certain people's stories after you had read other people's stories. Then things might start fitting together in some brilliant and sneaky way.

3. This could be Joel's autobiography/biography as a graphic novel. It could be made far more gradiose than his life actually is. Like, Joel Flier and the End of the World! The moral could be all about him deciding to believe. It could be some metaphor for religion or self=confidence or something deeply and pungently thematic. His sister will inevitably play a guiding role. Although she seems hysterical, she actually has the right idea. Her light will guide him. Or something like that. I think graphic novels are so haltingly beautiful, but they seem so labor-intensive and daunting. Nevertheless, this idea could possibly be cool.

Thanks for reading, y'all. I'll see you in two weeks.


Adam Johnson said...


Sorry I don't know how to get that cool accent on your "e" so know that I sounded it as I typed. I dig your story idea, and I love that it's open-ended, that you're still open to discovering possibilities and endings, all of which might vary with the medium you choose to render the story.

The premise is certainly cool, and as you said, it seems, because of the storylike narrative arc inherent in what you've described, that a graphic novel or comic might work great. It's a lot of labor, true, but images are really economical, and could condense much of this story into manageable panels.

One other thought is a hypertext story. One of the difficulties in writing an apocalypse-scale story (and I've written one) is that everybody is effected by the developments, and writers are often forced, just for the sake of apocalyptic scale, to summarize and generalize groups of people, which depersonalizes them. With hypertext, the narrative could follow Joel closely, and get a sense of scale by having a link to every name or person he meets in the story, and that link would lead to a paragraph of what happened to them (either their demise in the apocalypse or how their lives changed from preparing for an apocalypse that didn't arrive.) That way the story is personal on a character level and particularized on a social level, as if there were a little oral history for everyone he met in the run up to the apocalypse threat. The idea that there might be a mini story and resolution for every cab driver or ticket purchaser that crossed Joel’s is irresistible to this reader.

Tom Kealey said...

I dig the story too, especially the brother/sister angle. If it's going to be an end of the world, without an explanation of why the world is ending, story, then you'll have to convince the reader with a very strong opening.

I guess my eye is on all of these people who take trips. Where do they go? What do they do? I wonder if you can make post cards that they send to Joel.

It's an interesting concept: The world doesn't end, though the world as they know it does. Joel loses some of his inner values, though he gains a sense of community. Others have experiences they would never have otherwise. I think this is the key to the story for me.

Tessa Banks said...

Hey Chade,

I think this story idea sounds really fun. I like the contrast of having one person being level headed about it and then eventually having the pressure get to him. I also agree with Tom that the brother sister thing is good.

I love that the world doesn't really end after all of them cast out Joel for being so unconforming. I can't wait to see how they react, if they do at all, towards Joel after the world doens't end. Very good stuff.

I think my favorite form for you is the graphic novel, maybe I'm biased because I'm obesessed with that form but I think it would be really cool to frame the story into panels. My second choice is the oral history because I feel like the emotion and frustration that would come through in the voices would be very effective. I can't wait to see what you choose!

Sam Tanzer said...


(option + e adam)

I like ideas 1) and 3). For idea 1), I think it might be interesting if there character's tones were light, laugh laugh what were we thinking, but the tone of the piece was darker. Like if the characters unintentionally let something slip. The world doesn't have to end, but something changed. Maybe the characters aren't even aware of it? Maybe they are but they're not comfortable talking about it? It just doesn't feel like a purely light-hearted story to me. In terms of scope, I think this would be pretty doable.

Otherwise, the graphic novel sounds great. I worry about the time commitment. I don't have any idea how long it would take, but the story seems like it would need on the order of 20+ panels. It's interesting to think about the different tones suited to the graphic novel and the oral history.

Idea 2) is interesting, but at least on the ELO website people had trouble weaving the narrative into the town. I don't know if little snippets of text can really substitute with narrative development, but it would be very cool if you pulled it off.