The Story Department
Congratulations upon being accepted into the imperial Story Department! The place where dreams are manufactured. As a writer of our fine division you will join the ranks of such greats as Virgil, Shakespeare and Tolkein, with none of the exposure to your readers! Whilst history may never remember your work, your paycheque certainly will! We look forward to many decades of co-operation and productivity from you! Welcome to the family.
I couldn’t stop reading the letter as I awaited my supervisor. I had never been so excited. During my youth in educational detail, I had been warned that the Story Department was a fool’s dream, no one gets to be a writer, writers don’t exist in the confederation of galaxies.
But if they didn’t exist, where do the stories come from? They don’t tell you the name of the writer in books or movies anymore, but surely they must came from somewhere! When i’d read the letter I’d been ecstatic, the Story Department was real! Writers were real! It was like a dream of my own!
I’m greeted by a thin man with sunken eyes, offering a handshake. I beamed at him. He stares like I’m see-through.
“Follow me sir,” he says in a monotone. “I trust you’ve heard of the Story Department.”
“I wasn’t sure if they were just rumours.”
“It’s no rumour. The only story we don’t tell, is the one about the Department itself. It is the one story you are never to write.” The man sounded like he’d given this speech many times.
“We have a synthetic assistant who can answer any questions you may have. If they malfunction, find someone.”
“Yes sir, and where can I find you?”
“You won’t see me again,” he sighs. “You may never see another writer again, in fact. There aren’t many of us, and we’re stretched thin, we find office space where we can, it changes when it needs to, but the work is always the same.” The man checked his watch, his expression unchanging.
He collects himself before stopping next to a door, identical to the many others that stretched down the hall.
“If you try to run, they’ll find you, and put you back. You’re a writer now, you’ll always be a writer.” He sounded strange, beginning to walk away, before he had finished speaking.
The man made me uneasy, perhaps he was new to management, or perhaps he was ill. Regardless I stepped into my office, outfitted with a desk and workstation.
“Good morning sir. Please take a seat so that we may begin,” an artificial voice chirped out from a speaker in the wall.
I did as I was bid, ignoring the fact that it was late afternoon, sitting down and beginning to make myself comfortable.
“Once again, the Story Department would like to congratulate you upon your allocation to our division of writers. It is the task of this unit to acclimatise you to your duties, and assist you in them.”
I nodded, not sure if the unit could hear or see me.
“Write,” it suggested tunelessly
“Um, what…was there something specific you were looking for?”
“That is irrelevant. You have been given your task. Write.”
“Isn’t there some sort of induction program you’re supposed to run?”
“There is not. Do you require guidance?”
I was uncertain. “Yes?”
“Affirmative. Narratives have been recycled for thousands of years of human civilisation. The same process of necessity of meaning, and cannibalism of past concepts runs through the lifeblood of storytelling. The department is a natural evolution, and logical extension of this process. The worlds demand stories, they do not care what the stories are, what is provided will be processed, rewritten, edited, translated, marketed, and distributed electronically. They need only be written. Fraud does not exist inside the walls of the Story Department. Every story has already been written to begin their journey. Originality is a myth. You have been given your task. Write.”
I stared about the room for a few moments more, trying to take in what I had been told, it was a lot to process at once. Computers could do anything nowadays, advanced enough to calculate complex concepts and emotional data. The going theory was that all stories were written by machines these days. I’d dreamed the writers of the department were assisted by programs, but not rewritten.
“Write,” it insisted again in exactly the same tone.
“Well, I have a few ideas, but I think they need development, I’m rewriting a novel right now.”
“Rewriting shall be processed for you. Write.”
“If it’s not rewritten by me, then what’s the point??” I asked, beginning to get frustrated
“That is irrelevant. Write.”
“No it’s not, if all I do is write first drafts all day, none of them will be any good!”
“Quality of writing has been proven to be negligible to our consumer base, quality is unnecessary. No one will criticise your writing, because no one will know your name. No one reader will even read your work a second time. There are more consumers in the confederation worlds than you can possibly imagine. You are a storyteller, not a perfectionist. As a writer you have a duty to fulfil to the confederation, to satisfy the insatiable need for stories. In your lifetime the demand will not be met, the demand will never be met. We always require more. You have been selected to write, not to think. You have been given your task. Write.”
I slumped backward, staring forward at the screen in front of me. The blinking line at the top left of the blank page taunted me.
I had been excited to do something differently from all the stories I’d seen. The films and books that were churned out year upon year with the same marketable plotlines and twists. Now I knew why they all seemed similar, subversion couldn't survive the editing process of the machines.
“Write,” the voice chirped again.
“If quality is so irrelevant,” I began. “Why isn’t writing processed by the computers, like you?”
“The Story Department wishes to support the writing community. Not to eliminate it. It is our passion and our pleasure to support the arts. You have been given your task. Write.”
I sit motionless, staring into space, thinking about all the stories I’d dreamed of telling, the adventures, the horrors, the romances, the ironies, everything I’d ever imagined.
I remembered my supervisor’s words you’re a writer now, you’ll always be a writer. The supervisor I’d never see again.
I may not be able to tell beautiful stories that said something worth saying, but it was still a living. I'd taken the first step, and it was the furthest I'd ever go.
“Write,” the voice chirped a final time.
And I did.