How to Edit Old Story Ideas: The Delete Key Is Not Your Friend

About six years ago, maybe more, I started writing a short story about a retail cashier dealing with the back-to-school rush at her store. Yeah, that was inspired by my own time in hell, er, retail, which was especially awful during back-to-school because the store was flooded with bratty kids trashing the store.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have a problem with kids. I have a problem with parents who refuse the discipline their kids. When I was little, if I pulled something off a shelf in a store, my parents told me to put it back, where it went, and neatly, because it wasn’t fair to leave a mess for someone else. And then they stood there and made sure I did it. Probably one of the few things they were right about, and that’s a very short list.

So, fast forward to when I’m an adult and working in a store, and I discover parents today don’t seem to teach this shit to their kids. Maybe a few do, but the majority that visited my place of employment didn’t. So I had to always put shit back so as not to inconvenience a cashier, but when I grew up and became a cashier, no one returned the fucking favor. Meanwhile, the parents did manage to find time to yell at me about things I had no control over, like the store being out of stock of something they wanted, or prices not being cheap enough, or limits on the really cheaply-priced items because they had ten kids and six erasers at the deep-discount price wouldn’t cut it, and somehow it was all my fucking fault they couldn’t use a condom.

So to make myself feel better, I started a short story in which a bratty little kid at a store gets abducted by aliens while his mom yells at a cashier about something stupid. I never finished it, because I wasn’t really inspired to figure out what happened when the aliens got him up to their spaceship. I always thought it was a great scene and I’d come back to it later and finish it, but for a long time, I didn’t.

I wrote other stuff.  I wrote my first book, Stupid Humans, and I wrote other short stories. I kept thinking I’d use that half-finished story as a scene in something, but I never had an “Ah-ha!” moment where I found the right place for it.

One day, while contemplating the Aliens Abducting Annoying Assholes series I do here on my blog, I started thinking about all the former coworkers, bosses, and annoying customers I’d dealt with at work. Could one of them inspire the next piece of flash fiction?

Then I remembered my half-finished story and decided to find it, which involved digging out my old terabyte hard drive, hooking it up, and combing through hundreds of badly organized files trying to find the damn thing. Naturally, I had no idea what I’d named the file. I found all sorts of stuff, including a couple other unfinished stories I decided to save for future use, and a couple of trunked second drafts of first and second novels I wrote years ago. Definitely didn’t feel like dealing with that.

After about three hours, I managed to find the damn thing. Now, how to finish it? It occurred to me that having the kid abducted wasn’t really fair, since his mom was really the asshole in the story. Also, I had played with the idea of the cashier getting abducted, since I often fantasized about being beamed up into an alien spaceship when forced to toil in that miserable hellhole. If the aliens couldn’t take my damn customers, maybe they could get me off this damn rock?

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But I still didn’t know what the aliens wanted, and I’d already written a story about an alien abduction from a busy store, so I wanted to do something different. I’d always wanted to write a parallel universe story, so I decided to get rid of the aliens entirely, leave the annoying asshole customer at the register, and have the cashier sucked into a parallel universe.

Suddenly, I had lots of ideas. How could things be different in this other universe? What if no one over there ever decided the customer was always right? Ultimately, my short story turned into a next-novel start. I’m currently at about 28,000 words, and enjoying my custom-designed universe. (Who doesn’t want to be in charge of their own universe?)

A couple people in my writing group like to say you should never throw away anything you write, even if you think it’s awful, because you might re-purpose it someday. Me, I never throw anything away because I’m too lazy to find the file on my computer and delete it, but you get the idea. (I’m also too lazy to delete anything in my inbox, so I can pretty much find any email I’ve ever sent or received ever. Laziness is handy.)

All this thinking about parallel universes has made me ponder if there’s another universe where I decided to stick with the alien abduction story. I wonder how it turned out?

The Monument Makers

Note: Today is our next installment of Aliens Abducting Annoying Assholes Anonymous, in which readers send me stories about annoying people they know, and I write a piece of flash fiction in which the annoying person gets abducted by aliens. Next up is an anonymously submitted tale about some construction workers who can’t be fired…by a human.

Instructions for submitting your own annoying asshole for consideration are at the end of this post.

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The Monument Makers

“I don’t understand why this isn’t done already.” Chuck waved his arm around the construction site, past the half-poured foundation and the stacks of two-by-fours just waiting to be used.

“I don’t either.” Will sat down on the nearest pile of two-by-fours and took off his hard hat. “As I’ve mentioned before, Bubba Bob and Jimmy Bob and Billy Bob don’t have a good track record of getting things done. I’ve tried everything I can to motivate them, but I end up doing all the work myself. And this is as much as I could get done in the last eight hours.”

“Well, you’ve just got to work faster.” Chuck slapped his hand on the side of his pickup truck. “And get those three to help you.”

Will blinked. No matter how many times he explained the problem, Chuck never seemed to get it. “How? You won’t let me fire them, so I can’t threaten them with that. They sit around all day either on their phones or shooting the shit with each other. The only solution is to fire them. Building this site is not a one-person job, okay?”

Chuck shook his head. “I told you, we can’t fire them. Bubba Bob and Jimmy Bob are my wife’s brothers, and Billy Bob is her cousin. If I fire them, I won’t be able to go home.”

“Then why don’t you help me build this place?” Will waved at the single wall of frames that had been put up—by him alone. “Once it’s done you’ll have somewhere to sleep.”

Chuck did not look amused. “Why don’t you do your job and act like a real project manager? Manage the people, manage the project, Will. That’s your job, not mine. Now I want this thing done on the original schedule. Remember, I can fire you.”

Lucky me, Will thought as Chuck got back in his pickup and drove off in a cloud of dust.

“Guys, come on,” he yelled in the general direction of the middle-name-Bobs, as he thought of them. “Lunch break is over. We need to get back to work.”

“Yeah, in a minute.” Bubba Bob waved dismissively at him, then turned back to the other two and said something Will couldn’t hear. They all dissolved into laughter, Bubba Bob’s beer belly jiggling as he guffawed at whatever brilliant joke he’d just told.

Will trudged back over to the nearest pile of two-by-fours and picked one up. Might as well go back to working on the frame himself.

As he turned back toward the foundation, he blinked in surprise. There was another cloud of dust, which was odd, because he hadn’t heard another vehicle pull up.

This time, when the dust settled, he realized why—it wasn’t a vehicle, at least not one he’d ever seen on the road before. Instead, a saucer-shaped object floated about six feet above the ground.

Will dropped the two-by-four and rubbed his eyes, hoping the whole thing was some sort of stress-induced mirage. He turned and looked over his shoulder at the middle-name-Bobs, but they were still laughing and looking in the other direction, toward the highway. None of them looked over at Will or the apparent visitor to the site.

He turned back around and stared at the saucer. What looked like a trap door popped open, and a plank about three feet wide extended and lowered to the ground. Out walked a little gray alien, just like he’d seen in all those movies and TV shows. It had big, black eyes, a pinched-looking ridge that might have been a nose, and a small, round mouth.

“Hello,” it said. “I am Grog, and my translator allows me to speak your language.”

“Hello, uh, Grog.” Will rubbed his head. Maybe he was unconscious and dreaming this. Could a two-by-four have fallen on his head or something? It wasn’t like the middle-name-Bobs would have noticed or cared.

“We mean you no harm,” Grog said. “My people have decided this is the best place to build our new capital on your world.”

“Uh…right on top of our new apartment complex?”

Grog looked at the single wall frame. “That can be corrected. We need lots of space to spread out.”

“Um, have you, like, consulted our government? I think they may have some rules about illegal immigration.” Maybe he should have voted for that moron who wanted to build the wall after all. Then again, what good would a wall do when these people had spaceships? They could fly right over it.

“Our studies of your planet show none of your governments can outmatch us in weapons and technology,” Grog said. “Your leaders are consulting with the U.N. now, but their attempts to shoot down our ships have all failed. Our shields protect us.

“Now, we’re going to need your best construction team to build our new capital. We will provide the virtually indestructible materials, but your team must build it. We don’t have time.”

A light bulb went off in Will’s head. “Of course. Well, those three guys—” he pointed at the middle-name-Bobs. “—are the best people on my team. I hate to lose them, but I realize the important of building your capital. Also, there’s my boss, Chuck. I’ll give him a call. He really needs to be here to supervise your project.”

“Thank you.” Grog twisted its lips into what might have been a smile. “I think we’re going to like this planet.”

“I’m sure you’ll enjoy it.” Will pulled out his cell phone and found Chuck’s number. “Just as soon as you get your capital built. Say, could I have a look around your spaceship while my team over there gets started?”

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All you have to do is share this post (here on my blog or on social media when I share it) and I will write you a piece of flash fiction about aliens abducting the annoying asshole of your choice. You do not have to publicly explain who you want as an abductee in a story or why they’re an asshole and need to be abducted by aliens. You can PM me or use the contact form here:

Aliens Abducting Annoying Assholes

I have this thing I do to relieve stress when I have to put up with annoying people—and I had to put up with a lot of annoying people, on a daily basis, when I worked in retail. So I do this thing where I write a story about the annoying asshole getting abducted by aliens, typically in a really embarrassing fashion. (Names are changed to protect the guilty.)

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I’ve written about two former bosses, and countless customers. (Some of the crazy customers also inspired other types of stories, including the world for my first novel, Stupid Humans.) I’ve had a few people tell me they hope they never piss me off because they don’t want to wind up in one of my alien abduction stories.

So today I was thinking about how I could use my talents to get more Facebook likes grow my blog following to the double digits help make the world a better place. I’m not the warm and fuzzy type who’s going to start making inspirational memes with rainbows and waterfalls and happy crappy quotes about having a positive attitude and other bullshit. In fact, you’re more likely to find me making fun of that shit. Also, unfortunately, I have not yet been able to tweak my tinfoil hat to the right frequency to contact any real aliens and enlist their help with the asshole exile process, so that’s a no-go.

But I can make the world a better place by helping others relieve stress the same way I do—by putting the people who annoy them most into an alien abduction story. After all, relieving the stress of dealing with assholes by writing about them has helped me avoid the worse stress of assault charges and being fired for telling off a customer, so I’m assuming it can do the same for other people.

So here’s the quadruple-A plan (the alcoholics get the double-A and the car service gets the triple-A, but no one has the quadruple A, right?): Aliens Abducting Annoying Assholes. All you have to do is share this post (here on my blog or on social media when I share it) and I will write you a piece of flash fiction about aliens abducting the annoying asshole of your choice. You do not have to publicly explain who you want as an abductee in a story or why they’re an asshole and need to be abducted by aliens. You can PM me or use the contact form here:

Simple explain, as briefly as possible, who the abductee is and why you want them to be abducted by aliens. I will change the annoying asshole’s name, and you will not be mentioned when I post my piece of flash fiction, but you will recognize the character when you read about him/her. Each piece of flash fiction will go up on my blog, and your annoying asshole will be none the wiser.

I am not anticipating a large response, but in the unlikely event that I have one, I may not be able to get to every request. If that is the case, I will go in order of requests received.