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"Thank you for coming. We wanted to talk to you about your submission. We have some notes. Is that all right?"
"I mean, sure. I'm still at the beginning of my career. I can only stand to improve."
"Now... we like the story. We do. Lots of drama. Lots of diverse and interesting characters. Only... it's kind of busy, isn't it?"
"Sorry. Busy how?"
"Look. You've got raging wildfires over a third of the country. You've got authoritarian racism. You've got a global pandemic. And you've got a power struggle on top of all that."
"Oh, yeah. I wanted it to be epic."
"Still. It's a lot easier for a reader to process just one of those plots at a time, rather than put them all together. One story about a pandemic. One story about riots for social justice. One story about a power struggle. You see what I mean?"
"I do. It's just, I don't think it's the same story if I strip it. It's supposed to be about a people at their breaking point. Just think of the payoff from resolving all that tension at once."
"Okay, let's table that, because that brings us to another thing. The climax. There's so much going on here."
"Oh, yeah, I wanted it all to come to a head there, all the society's conflict center stage for all the power at stake."
"I get that. But I'm not sure it's realistic to have the election so close."
"How so?"
"Your main villain character. He built concentration camps where he abducted children and used forced sterilization on some of the women, right?"
"Yes. I wanted to establish the extremism of his character right away."
"Okay. And he also supports police brutality. And he's friends with dictators. And Klansmen and Nazis keep marching for him, which is a bit on the nose."
"Well, yeah, I wrote all that."
"And most recently, he lied about a plague so that the plague got worse than it had to."
"Yeah. I wanted to show his deep levels of corruption, so his defeat will feel all the better for the readers."
"He even caught the plague himself, which... is rather obvious, and we do prefer some surprises."
"I don't know. I thought of it as the natural consequences of his own choices. Very Greek tragedy hubris. Pride goeth and all."
"These are all tangential to the point. I'm sorry, but nobody would ever vote for a man like that. Not in America, anyway."
"I think they would. I've met a lot of people."
"Well, that's the crux of the problem. Your villain has no depth. He's a shallow caricature."
"I can see how you'd say that, but I prefer to think of it as a study in compensatory narcissism. In reality, narcissists are shallow."
"Even then. Your villain is cartoonishly evil. Nobody would buy that such a man can exist in the real world. Maybe a Dark Lord in a fantasy, but not in a more mundane setting. Before we accept your manuscript, we have to insist that you give the villain some layers."
"I'm sorry, but if I do that, it's not the story that I want to tell."
"Well, then, we're sorry to say that we have to reject 2020. It's far too unrealistic."
The End
This story was first published on Monday, June 14th, 2021

Author Comments

I'll often pepper my stories with scenes inspired by real events, either from my own life or from history. Editors then tell me that these scenes are unrealistic.

[I had a writing teacher who called this phenomenon "the Bananas in Africa problem." -Jonathan]

- Sean Vivier
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