Story Behind the Story: He Kindly Stopped For Me

My short story, He Kindly Stopped For Me is now out from Tales of the Talisman. Of all my shorts, I think it’s the one that transformed the most from conception to finish.
The story began life as The Elephant in the Living Room. It was a black-comic story set at a elegant cocktail party where the guests were desperately trying to ignore that Death was walking among them and systematically scything them down. The point was, I think, that we ignore the fact Death can come at any time. Or that rich people realize they can’t buy their way out of Death. Or something.
But within a couple of drafts, I found it wasn’t working for me. The ending conversation with the last survivor and Death seemed very heavy-handed (it’s not, after all, as if I have any deep insight into death that nobody in human history has had before) and the conversations with Death earlier seemed more interesting than the actual killing. And so I jettisoned my premise (which doesn’t happen often) and started over.
This time the story was conversational: Death has shown up at a girl’s night out (his vehicle broke down) and asked to borrow the phone. The women do their best to be nice to him (he is, after all, Death) but they can’t help being a teensy, weensy bit uncomfortable. Okay, a lot uncomfortable (he is, after all, Death).
What I thought was the finished version got an excellent observation from the editor that the four women weren’t different enough. A valid point, I realized (if you get a rejection with criticism, think very carefully before deciding the editor was an idiot. They often aren’t). So I pared it down to two women and rewrote.
Still no sale. And I got another comment from an editor, to the effect that there didn’t seem to be any point——the story just ended without telling readers anything.
Well, yes. Like I said, I have no new insights into Death, and I wasn’t about to offer any old ones. Still, it had been rejected a few times at that point … so I decided to rework it yet again, and make the non-point the point: Nobody learned anything. No higher understanding. No insight into the universe.
Other than to eat dessert first.

4 Comments

Filed under Short Stories, Story behind the story, Writing

4 responses to “Story Behind the Story: He Kindly Stopped For Me

  1. Here’s to the rewrites! I see things I want to change every single time I read a piece I’ve written.
    Congratulations on the publication.

  2. Ha ha! I love that last line. Oh, and congratulations.

  3. frasersherman

    Thanks to both of you.

  4. Pingback: The tide has turned and caught me at full flood! (#SFWApro) | Fraser Sherman's Blog

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