Behind The Stories 2: Science Friction

[Ursa-Eligible Stories. My list is posted at]

Science Friction

This one started with a couple paragraphs, and then stopped. I liked the idea of a graduate student having an affair (completely consensual) with his professor, and his perceptions of the world being shaped, as many of our perceptions are, by movies.

But I didn’t know where to take it from there. It seemed an inherently un-serious premise, and thinking about my own experience with movies, I realized that I’d never written anything like a farce, though I enjoyed that format. And this story, with its basis in movie culture and un-serious premise, was a great candidate for a farce.

The formula for a farce is pretty simple. The stakes have to be low, at first (they can grow over the course of the story, as in “What’s Up, Doc,” or they can stay low, as in “Bringing Up Baby”), but meaningful to the characters. And at every juncture, the worst possible thing has to happen.

So what’s the worst thing that can happen to a couple having a furtive tryst in a closet? Why, the professor’s wife showing up, of course. Then our main character goes to ridiculous lengths to hide the affair, out of respect for the professor, and the wife goes to ridiculous lengths to try to discover the affair, and meanwhile we meet the rest of the people in our main character’s life, who are basically a guy who takes sex too seriously, and a guy who takes sex too casually.

Amusing hijnks ensue, in addition to a lot of sex (it was nearly impossible for me to find a 3,000-word segment that I could read in front of a general audience), and the core of an interesting story emerges: what does intimacy mean to our main character. It’s casual, we think at first, but he finds when he comes to care for someone that the sex isn’t as casual as he thought.

That doesn’t mean that things don’t continue to go horribly and amusingly wrong, ending with a terrifically illustrated (by Cirrus Kitfox) scene in which pretty much the whole mess appears to have come crashing down around our main character’s ears.

The little core of the story coming out of the farcical setup surprised and delighted me. I think the farce works well, if not quite as well as I would like. Farces should build up to huge, elaborate sets—perhaps the final scene should have taken place at the elaborate party—and this one didn’t.

But I still like it.

The extra story I added just came to me, and thematically is only related to the main story by being somewhat farcical as well. It relies on a little quirk of nature that many people may not be familiar with, but I assure you it is absolutely true in our world as well as in my fictional one. And it includes more of Grace the fennec, who was a favorite side character from the first story.

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