Monday, February 19, 2007

I think I'd like to do something

like a George Saunders story, but different. Saunders is fond of the milquetoast character in an absurd corporate environment. I love the environments Saunders evokes, but I'm sick of the milquetoast. So maybe a story from the point of view of an outsider who happens upon one of these corporate wastelands, or maybe from a real go-getter with middle to upper management written all over him. Or maybe cast a political campaign in the light Saunders casts on whatever business he's dealing with.

I've got three ideas:

1) An interactive text. Not really a hypertext, because I think linking away from the page you're on trashes the narrative flow. Maybe like underlined words or phrases, and when the mouse cursor nears them something happens. A picture gets displayed, an audio clip plays, lines of text rearrange themselves.

2) An oral history of the protagonist, or someone near him. Oh, or maybe this. The milquetoast's story from the perspective of his more industrious coworkers, from the man sleeping with the milquetoast's wife, from the reliable sentry, etc. Maybe even rewrite an alternate story from a different perspective, one that Saunders never gives us. Or a collection of different perspectives.

3) A mashup. Maybe fabricated audio clips from the CEO, real clips from real life corporate or political Americans talking about their own personal corporate responsibilities or constituents, photos of the protagonist, etc. Although I think this approach would lose the feel of a Saunders-style work, in which so much of the meaning resides in the irony of the language. So 1) and 2) make more sense I think.

4) A text-based game. Like a text-based adventure game, the hitchhiker's guide for example. Hmm, this approach seems well-suited to the milquetoast character actually. Like:

You see a red lever. Do you pull it?

If you pull it, you discover that your wife's rash is actually carpet burn. She's been sleeping with Simon from Sales. Simon has a college degree, you remember. When you confront her, she is indifferent to your anger.

If you don't, you discover that actually it's Ron from Loading/Unloading and that "tupping" might be the appropriate Shakespearean verb. You faint from righteous indignation. Fortunately, lying down averts the bulldozer moving toward your house.

I could run with idea 4), but the one-liner format would make cheap jokes hard to resist. As I just showed. Still, the way these games offer the illusion of agency but actually deny it by constraining your choices might be well suited to the typical Saunders character.


Tom Kealey said...


I like the main idea best: George Saunders' situation and setting, but with a more active character. The thing about Saunders' characters is that they let things happen to them, rather than making things happen (this is part of his point about their setting and the impact it has on them). I love the idea of a real go-getter in a political environment. So many roadblocks and frustrations for he/she to get around.

I also like the test-based idea, with roll-overs and audio clips. Yes, staying on the page is important. There are various forms of creativity with the other form ideas, but is there voice and story? I'm not sure.

In any case, that's my two cents. I'm excited about this idea. If you don't do it, I will.

Tessa Banks said...

So I don't have a lot of background on the George Saunders' situation, but I think based on your different possiblities for characters this idea sounds great. I wonder if you could have one of each type of character: an outsider and a go-getter. maybe having both intersect would be interesting.

On the form I think all of your ideas sound great so it's hard for me too pick. I love the idea of the game and think that would be really cool and inventive if you could create that. I also love the interactive text. I like the idea of scrolling over for extra and not having to click. Very cool. I can't wait to see what you choose to do. Good luck!

Adam Johnson said...


I agree that the danger of hypertext is that the narrator keeps asking the reader to leave the character and narrative to get extra information. You’re smart to lean more toward keeping the reader on the page.

I like the possibility of option number four, in which the second person makes the reader a little like the character, deciding how to move through the plot, but since plot is really a series of decisions that reveal character, the readers/viewers would also be determining what they wish to know about the character and even who they want that character to be.

You may know the short story “Orientation” by Dan Orozco in which the second person “You” is the milquetoast character is the reader/viewer, and the creepy narrator reveals the deep secrets of everyone in the office building. It amounts to a dark oral history of the employees of a corporation’s maze of cubicles. Here’s an mp3 of the story, which is short and cool and could be inspiring:

Chadé said...


I also like the idea of moving away from the milquetoast character, forcing him to play a more active role in the world around him. I agree with the sentiment of most folks that hypertext on the same page. I think this idea could reflect his corporate life in addition to providing a medium for his story. Hey, killing two birds with one stone.

I also agree with Adam. "Orientation" uses second person to effectively show the narrator's hilariously and horrifically bizarre workplace. But, if you have a more active protagonist, it might be harder to push him to the background so maybe another character (maybe even a milquetoast) could have his/her own oral history that speaks only about the protagonist. Most of all, you idea seems to be mostly character-oriented so I'd like to see that part come out the most. Cool Cool Cool.