05 July 2023

Old Memorials, New Choices


They come in two kinds.

The official ones look like typical road signs but instead of telling you when you can park they say something like IN MEMORY OF SO-AND-SO.  PLEASE DON'T DRINK AND DRIVE.

We used to make a trip every winter on a rural road where there were four or five of those official memorials.  Seems like there was an alcohol problem there.

The private ones are more impressive.  There's usually a poster with a photo of the loved one.  There may be balloons, teddy bears, pinwheels, religious paraphernalia.  The message is the same.

Downtown here a private display sat for years, leaning against the fence of a business's parking lot.  It was continuously refreshed.  I used to wonder how the owner of the store felt about this memento mori.

One day it occurred to me: That could be a source of conflict and conflict is the main ingredient in fiction. So could I write a story about it?

Let's raise the stakes: Say that the business is a liquor store.  What would the owner think about this warning against his product?

It seemed like a pretty solid premise but I couldn't make any progress.  My main character refused to solidify.  All I knew was that he was a grumpy small businessman.  He just wouldn't develop. 

So I tried a trick.  I have written here before about the improv comedy game called New Choice.  The idea is that two actors make up a scene and at any point the third player call yell "New Choice!" and whoever spoke last has to come up with something different to say. 

In that earlier column I had suggested this as a solution for dealing with cliches in your plot.  My problem this time wasn't a cliche but I figured it was worth a shot.  So what could I change?

How about if I made the store owner a woman?

And boom, what a difference that made.

It felt like my true protagonist had been waiting in the wings, arms folded and foot tapping impatiently, waiting for me to kick the imposter off the stage and let her make her grand entrance.  I found that I knew her name, her backstory, even her speech patterns.

The result was a story called "Memorial" which appeared in Issue #95 of Black Cat Magazine.  

By the way, the photos  were taken in Greece.  In the USA we would assume these were "little libraries" but over there they are something else.  Our guide said they are created by families and mark the spot where a loved one died - or miraculously didn't.  They range in size from a domestic mailbox to almost as large as a bus shelter.  I haven't written any stories about them.



  1. Congratulations on your story- you got a handsome cover for the issue, too!

  2. Loved the story. And I well remember the memorials in Greece - some are whole chapels!

  3. I confess Little Library was my first thought. Now I'm curious how a proprietress changed the equation.


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