The Story Behind the Story: Leave the World to Darkness (#SFWApro)

get-attachmentThe anthology Love, Time, Space, Magic (cover by Elizabeth Hirst, all rights to current holder) is just out (on Createspace now and Smashwords soon), with my story Leave the World to Darkness included (I even got a back cover blurb, woo-hoo!)

I don’t remember the title of the book on shadows that triggered my ideas, but I remember the point: shadows are stronger in the age of electric light than they’ve ever been. In firelight or candle light, shadows are flickering indeterminate things. In electric light, a shadow is fixed, sharply defined, stable.

As soon as I read that, a voice whispered in my head, “And that’s just the way someone wanted it.” Because what could make shadow magic more powerful?

My first version of the story had a researcher explaining to her boyfriend that Edison was rumored to be some kind of black magician behind his public facade, that he’d used electric light to make shadows more powerful. And then at the end—it turns out she’s right, and the shadows kill her, OMG!

This is a traditional SF structure: Person tells wildly implausible theory. Theory turns out to be true. Bad, probably fatal things result. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work very well unless the theory is absolutely brilliant (I think Henry Kuttner’s “Don’t Look Now” qualifies) and even then, I think most people can see the ending twist coming. Who’s going to devote all that exposition to something that doesn’t turn out to be true?

So I began rewriting, building up the shadow cult, adding characters, adding more plot (researcher is lost in the shadow world. Can boyfriend get her back?). Along the way Edison became a good guy, fighting against the shadow wizards.

Still didn’t work. I began doing some flashback to Edison in the past and that helped. Doing research on Edison (nothing too deep) added some details, and also the title. Like many people of his day, Edison loved James Grey’s “Elegy Written in a County Churchyard” so I adapted one of the lines (“Leave the world to darkness and to me.”) for the title (I think my working title was “I Have a Little Shadow That Goes In and Out With Me”)

Finally, for reason I can’t know recall, I dropped the present day researcher and switched to a 1930s setting. My protagonist became Aggie Baxter, a reporter stuck with the sob sister beat (heart-tugging human interest stuff) and burning to do something bigger. Tagging along is her very wealthy boyfriend Rod Ducourt (of the Delaware Ducourts). Ahead is a whole boatload of trouble …

I love Aggie, and I love the 1930s (at least as a fictional setting) and everything seemed to click at last. Of course after sending it out and getting feedback, I had more changes to make. I cut the opening with Edison so that Aggie and Rod lead off the story. I also made Rod a little stronger: Aggie was still taking point, but rereading it I realized I wanted it clear that Rod will back her up, no matter how much danger or craziness she leads him into.

And when I saw the announcements for the anthology (thanks, Ralan!) I realized that the rewriting had made this into a love story, so why not give it a shot?

And obviously it worked.

I’ll have guest blogs from a couple of my fellow authors posted over the next week, and one by editor Liz Hirst herself.


Filed under Short Stories, Story behind the story, Writing

4 responses to “The Story Behind the Story: Leave the World to Darkness (#SFWApro)

  1. Pingback: They mentioned me! (#SFWApro) | Fraser Sherman's Blog

  2. Pingback: The twist is the story (#SFWApro) | Fraser Sherman's Blog

  3. Pingback: Fiction writing again, whee! (#SFWApro) | Fraser Sherman's Blog

  4. Pingback: The First Law of Evil Magic | Fraser Sherman's Blog

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