Saturday, 4 December 2010

'...she craved Rolos whenever he was around.'

I love reading kooky short stories on random people's blogs... but they are somewhat formulaic. Kooky short stories always start with either an unusually or unusually-common named loner- somehow 'Joan' and 'Cloudberry' have the same impact.

Then the loner has a list of kooky character traits or things they like to do, normally presented in a list of unrelated clauses, making them seem all the more kookier. The writer will often jump directly from a simple sentence introducing the character into the list of kooky traits and activities, but more frequently they will leave out the introducing simple sentence and kick off with a name followed by a quirk. For example: ‘Kate liked woodlice.’

Next, the writer will elaborate on the quirk, possibly adding something cute about the character’s childhood: ‘She’d liked them ever since she was seven years old and one fell onto the collar of the schoolyard bully as he tried to make Kate give him her last Rolo at morning break. Ever since then she’d felt like woodlice the world over were looking out for her and for that reason she was always pleased to see one and never let anyone say a bad word about them. She also never let anyone take her last Rolo, seeing as the woodlice that had come to her rescue on that fateful day had met an unfortunate end with the schoolyard bully’s foot and she didn’t want to think he died in vain.’

After the initial kooky quirk and a little background information that lets us know the protagonist is a Kooky Person, the writer will hit us with more kooky likes and dislikes: ‘As well as looking out for woodlice, Kate liked looking out for spiders and flies. She would often have to step in and stop a murder from happening. Kate thought things were much better alive than dead. Coincidentally, she also thought the band Dead or Alive were much better when Pete Burns still looked like a mammal.’

Now the writer is having fun linking unrelated kooky things together and so, before they can stop themselves, they embark upon a runaway kooky-train ride of quirks and activities: ‘She liked eighties music and eighties fashion but as far as she could remember, she hated the actual eighties. She much preferred the 1700s even if she definitely didn’t remember those. She liked big dresses and powdered faces and she liked drawing on her eyebrows every morning. She liked watching the soaps with wet hair after taking a bath. She liked reading in the garden. She liked sitting at the top of the willow tree and spying on the old couple next door as they kissed in their coral-coloured living room. She liked to drink nettle tea whilst stroking the soft downy hair between her breasts.’

Finally, after the spiral of kookiness gets too obscure even for the kooky short story writer, they move on to the ‘plot’. The most common ‘plot’ can be broken down as follows:
1. Protagonist meets another kooky person.
‘He was a small guy, too small some might say. But Kate didn’t notice his height. She noticed his caramel complexion and his chocolate-brown eyes and what she didn’t notice is how much she craved a packet of Rolos whenever he was around.’
2. They find their kooky quirks compliment each other.
‘ "Sorry, I was trying to catch a spider with it," he explained, sheepishly: “It’s hard to get them and not hurt them, you know?” Kate nodded mutely. She was afraid that if she allowed sound to escape her lips it would be a sincere and embarrassing whoop of glee.'
3. They have a relationship.
‘They spent their days on the pier, eating salty air for dinner and poking fun at the trashy outfits of Northern tourists for delicious, guilt-laden desert.’ (The writer constantly alludes to the couple being hard up because rich people can't be 'kooky', they can only ever be 'eccentric' and eccentric protagonists belong to Murder Mysteries, not Kooky Short Stories.)
4. They break up for no reason.
‘Kate sat on the bed they’d carried up three flights of stairs together and stared at the wall. She could hear him, on the other side, squirting out the last of the raspberry-scented washing up liquid. He was there and she was here and she realised it would always be like that, no matter what they said or did.’

The final sentence alludes to the very first kooky fact and childhood story: ‘Kate watched a woodlice move slowly across the rotting window ledge. She didn’t notice that the window was open.’

The last sentence should make you feel suspicious, like you haven't quite understand the subtext. (In actual fact, it doesn't mean anything, the author just liked that it sounded enigmatic.)

And there you have it, the perfect ‘kooky’ short story. Just remember, once you’ve got the kooky quirks and activities, you’re half way there. And never miss an opportunity to squeeze in a kooky adjective, for example ‘the celandine-printed shoe horn’, ‘rhubarb-scented fabric softener’ or ‘a paper weight that was shaped like the hat Federico Garcia Lorca wore to go and see the Empire State Building when he first arrived in New York.’

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