Because most of what I write for my job is eventually read aloud—sometimes by actors or voice talent, other times just by myself in presentations—I think a lot about the rhythm and sound of the writing. I read everything out loud as I work on it. Particularly for this piece, getting the sound, pace and rhythm right was almost as important as the words themselves. Everything needed to work together to conjure the energy for a desperate chase into the unknown.
This piece came from a nightmare I can’t remember. I woke with just a sense of looming dread receding into the darkness. It was weird and primal and more terrifying because it didn’t have a face or a coherent narrative, just a sensation that something terrible had happened.
I wanted to capture that feeling. I wanted a mood that was black on black, like the dark silhouetted trees of the woods against a black sky, that post-dream state where the mind struggles to make sense of the shapes the eyes are seeing.
I love southern gothic. I love Cormac McCarthy and Flannery O’Connor and Faulkner, Jesmyn Ward and Tom Franklin. I’m inspired by the ability of these writers to mix beauty with despair, evoke terror or grace from the everyday grotesque. Also the way they sculpt stories out of the land, from dirt and branch and moon and the smell of winter. I wanted to turn the dark unknown of the gothic woods into a villain, and have a protagonist who has no choice but to run headlong into it.
But more than the mood and the landscape, I knew that the pace would be the most important element. I wanted the story to read like a chase. I start it with a confused commotion—a slam and some screaming—then try to keep a breathless, rabbit-heart desperation throughout. I wanted to inflict on the reader the same sense of exhaustion and confusion Shin is feeling as he chases something he can’t comprehend. The sound of bare feet slapping on mud, the whoosh of dark tree branches whipping past, the thwack of bug or bat ricocheting off his face, cold air burning his lungs; the only things he knows for sure are the things in contact with his body—everything else is a mystery.
I tried to give the whole piece the onomatopoeia of a chase by stringing these images together with random thoughts and memories, like an endless tangle of kudzu. I used the word “and” over 200 times—10% of the total word count. The run is mimicked with literal run-on sentences.
When I workshopped the story, several readers thought I overdid it. Someone said, “I think you need shorter sentences. I run out of breath reading it.” I figured I was on the right track.
JIM BOSILJEVAC splits his time between Austin, Texas and the Bay Area. He’s an advertising creative director and copywriter by trade, spending most of his time trying to create compelling stories for products. He also teaches classes on scriptwriting, storytelling and creative thinking.
His short stories have been recognized by the University of Chicago and Glimmer Train. This is his first published story.