Friday, January 20, 2012

A Story Dare

Officially, I'm currently stuck in this "in between" area of writing. I have one project out with editors, extremely close to release. I have another that I've outlined and research and am ready to write, but I find myself reluctant to get in too deep until the other is finished. Thus, I was just sort of dabbling around, trying not to waste time, when I got into a fruitful conversation with a friend.

We were talking about art and the whole patron system of the Renaissance. You know, when people with money used to throw it at starving artists to support the arts and perhaps get a painting or two out of it. Or a symphony. Point being, I was opining that (apart from treating everything with leeches) "those were the days."

In a way, the Internet is bringing the patron system up to date. It's getting easier and easier for an artist to get online and advertise specific products. People can very easily commission custom artwork (whether it be impressionist art, or a hand-painted My Little Pony) with nothing but a mouse and a credit card. And it supports the artist. It's a win-win.

I told my friend that it would be neat if we could do the same thing with writers. That is, what if your favorite author was open to creating a story just for you and all you had to do was pay them X amount of money? Sort of a commission system for authors, though I think of it more as a retainer. For giggles, I threw out a $5 starting point.

Backstory: My friend and I have an inside joke. He's not very fond of vampire stories, and I've tried like hell to sell him mine. He's a traditional fantasy reader, so he views urban fantasy sort of how "manly" men view a Nora Roberts novel. Because of my clumsy salesmanship, he finally told me that the only way he'd read a vampire novel is if the vampire's power was based on being pantsless. Yes, you read that right: he is only interested in a vampire without pants on. By his reckoning, such a silly premise would make a vampire story worth reading.

So, it makes a bit more sense then, that he responded to my commission idea with: "Heck, I'd commission a story about a pantsless vampire for $5." I took that as a challenge. I said "commission accepted," and off we went. We went back and forth on what would be a good starting point, and settled on: he would give me a blurb, and my job would be to write a short story from that blurb. Pretty simple, right?

Personally, I've found this idea hugely exciting. It's challenging as a writer to try and take someone else's story idea, and make it work. We agreed that the story had to make sense, had to be cohesive and coherent. While the concept may be ridiculous, the execution shouldn't be. I can definitely use humor, but it's not just going to be slapstick hour.

The cool part is that, if it goes well, after I'm done I can offer it through all my various outlets for 99 cents, forever. In my mind, this makes a commission system completely viable. Though, to be clear, it's less of a commission (where the payer might expect to get the sales rights), that it is a dare or challenge. It still seems win-win, though. The payee gets the story they want, I get a fun idea to play with and sell. Chances are, if one person finds something entertaining, there will be others out there, and even if not, it's good practice.

I suppose things could get crazy if I were, like, George RR Martin. I'd imagine the requests would be overwhelmingly plentiful. How to choose, in that case? My idea there would be to take a page from the Piano Man's book. If you've ever been to a piano bar, you know that they play requests based on the size of the tip (when there's a queue, the minimum if no line). So, while I may have plenty of time to squeeze in my one request, I could imagine a situation where a bidding war for an author's time happens. That'd be fun, right? (And to make it fair, the author would return the unused bids.) It's sort of like an Ebay-style, Crowd Sourced Patronage Program.

Anyway, we'll see how it goes, and more specific info to follow. I've written the first 1/3 of the story, and it's been a lot of fun, at least. There's a great, growing market for short stories right now, and they're rather fun and simple to write. I love novels, don't get me wrong, but I'm finding that weaving in a short story is both a different kind of challenge and a bit relaxing. It's a whole lot easier to "pants" a short story than it is a novel, and requires an efficient storytelling that stretches me as a writer.

I've added the dare to my current projects list. I expect to knock out this short story before I get my edits back from my novel. It's a perfect little side project to squeeze in. If all goes well, I think the $5 dare is something I'd like to offer to any of my readers in the future. I'll share the blurb he gave me on Monday and explain a little more about the process to further illustrate this idea, but what do you think, dear reader? Would you pay $5 for a custom short story from your favorite (or just this random) author?


Elizabeth Anne Mitchell said...

I love this idea, Matt. This is exactly how patronage worked; the author I've done a lot of academic work on supported herself and three children this way, writing a biography of a prince's brother (her marketing helped by this brother being King of France), among other things.

As a writer, I find the $5 dare intriguing. After all, it is no different than writing in response to a prompt. You're definitely on to something here.

Matt said...

Right. And it's super easy to contact writers these days. Plus, I love the challenge. We'll see how it goes. I doubt I'm popular enough right now for there to be much interest. But I'm all about sharing ideas. We're all rowing together, after all. :-)

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