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A Right to Kill (A Writing Exercise)



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Lord of Chaos

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Back in college, one of the creative writing-related classes was about flash fiction and other forms of the short story. Anyway, I was digging through some old things and this was an exercise where you wrote a 250 word story, condensed it to 125, and then 75. Truth be told it could have been done with any length but these lengths seemed to work best.

Anyway, the point of the exercise is to study detail and how much you really need. Where does a story fall away and just become fictitious-facts (heh, contradiction) instead of something coherent? Or is it possible to cut something down so far that it still retains all the meaning of a story. Ernest Hemingway once stated that he could write a story in as little as six words and held true on his promise: For sale: baby shoes, never worn.

Anyway, it's an interesting topic, but without further ado, here's my story:

A Right to Kill – 250 Words
I honestly don't know if I meant to do it.
I mean, when thinking about it, what kind of monster does that make me? Sure, we're supposed to defend ourselves but does that necessitate the loss of life? There might have been a way to talk it out with him though; I mean, he was human so there had to be some civility there. The guys that trained me though told me it was better to shoot first and ask questions later. There can't be room for error because error can cost you your life.
So I shot him. The thing is, I don't even remember loading the gun or taking aim with it. Perhaps it was just a gut reaction after weeks of hardcore training. We practiced with live ammunition on a range where even the rookies could get hurt. They literally want to crush the hesitation out of you when they do those kinds of things. After all, war is a brutal machine. There's no person who randomly runs onto the field shouting time out because someone got hurt. No, the only thing that rushes onto the field here are Abrams tanks playing tag with the enemy's body.
The more I look at the blood trailing from the steaming hole in his head, the more I realize that I didn't mean to do it. I mean, why would I take anyone's life? It's not my place to decide these things.
Blam.
...What? He would have shot me first!




A Right to Kill – 125 Words
I honestly don't know if I meant to do it.
What kind of monster does that make me? Sure, we're supposed to defend ourselves. There might have been a way to talk it out with him though. The guys that trained me told me it was better to shoot first.
I shot him. Perhaps it was just a reaction. We practiced on a range where rookies could get hurt. After all, war is a brutal machine. There's no person who runs onto the field shouting time out because someone got hurt.
The more I look at the blood, the more I realize that I didn't mean to do it. I mean, why would I take anyone's life?
Blam.
...What? He would have shot me first!




A Right to Kill – 75 Words
I honestly don't know if I meant to.
We're supposed to defend ourselves. The guys that trained me told me it was better to shoot first.
Perhaps it was just a reaction. We practiced on a range where rookies could get hurt. After all, war is a brutal machine.
The more I look at the blood, the more I realize that I didn't mean to do it. Why would I take anyone's life?
Blam.
...What?

--------------------------------------------


This isn't just a thread for telling what you like about my story here, but just for general discussion -- what makes a story, a length, etc. All that stuff, or whatever thoughts this set of stories brings to mind. One of the most important questions asked in that class, and I'll remember it until I die, was:

"If you take the same story, and cut it in half or lengthen it by half, does it become a completely different story?"

Have fun. ^_^
 

tangerine

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To be fair, Vonnegut also said that a good writer will break all of those rules, except maybe the first.

My point wasn't to stick to the rules; it was that you don't need all of the filler to retain the same story. On that point, though: Vonnegut meant that great writers are able to break the rules and not that it can and will be done at all times.

Well what a silly question, it obviously wouldn't be the same story. Leibniz's Law. :p

I don't think it's so silly. If you look at the differences shown in Lord Of Chaos' versions of his text, all of the things that have been cut-out are redundancies and filler. The meaning remains intact. Leibniz's law would only apply if the question was: does the text remain the same? Since the question doesn't specify what's to be cut-out, though, I suppose it is circumstantial.
 

Lord of Chaos

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tangerine said:
My point wasn't to stick to the rules; it was that you don't need all of the filler to retain the same story. On that point, though: Vonnegut meant that great writers are able to break the rules and not that it can and will be done at all times.

My bad, I assumed something different from what you meant. Apologies, didn't mean to sound like an asshole.

tangerine said:
I don't think it's so silly. If you look at the differences shown in Lord Of Chaos' versions of his text, all of the things that have been cut-out are redundancies and filler. The meaning remains intact. Leibniz's law would only apply if the question was: does the text remain the same? Since the question doesn't specify what's to be cut-out, though, I suppose it is circumstantial.

^ This.
 

darkisaac

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I don't think it's so silly. If you look at the differences shown in Lord Of Chaos' versions of his text, all of the things that have been cut-out are redundancies and filler. The meaning remains intact. Leibniz's law would only apply if the question was: does the text remain the same? Since the question doesn't specify what's to be cut-out, though, I suppose it is circumstantial.

Well the "silly" comment was just a joke on my part. I dont believe the question to be silly, in fact it is a meaningful inquiry which has sparked much debate in metaphysics and philosophy of mind - not this question specifically, but the more general concepts it touches upon, such as the relation of an object to its properties, the concept of the self, identity, etc.

Now in response to your point, you say the only differences in the stories are in the text, and you say it as if it was a trivial matter, but consider, what is the story if not that which is described in the text?

Filler or not, the omission of those sections of text create a fundamental difference, both qualitative and quantitative, in the different versions of the story. The 250 word story conveys information that the 75 word story lacks; therefore they have a difference in properties, and Leibniz's law applies.

Imagine I give you a story:

Story A

"Mike went out to the store, bought some milk, came back home, and showered. His mother scolded him for leaving without permission and grounded him for a week. He was infuriated and stormed into his room with tears in his eyes. Ever since his father had left, his mom seemed constantly angry."

Great, now let's omit the useless parts of this story:

Story B

"Mike went out, and when he came back home his mother scolded him for leaving without permission and grounded him for a week. He was infuriated and stormed into his room with tears in his eyes. Ever since his father had left, his mom seemed constantly angry."

Ok, well as you can see, the purchase of the milk and the showering were not integral to the story, they were "filler" as you would say. However, there is a strict metaphysical difference between these two stories. If I were to ask you, "where did Mike go?" or "what did Mike buy? you would only be able to answer if you had read story A, because story B lacks that particular bit of information.

If this is not a difference in the most fundamental sense, then I don't know what is. It is evident that although the main idea/theme of Story A and Story B might be the same, this in itself does not guarantee that A and B are the same. Story A has properties that Story B lacks, so by Leibniz's law, they are not identical.

Of course, for the sake of pragmatism we say thing like "Oh it's the same story, just a shorter version", and that's perfectly fine - as long as we recognize that this is an idiom of our common, everyday language, and that it is not a literal fact.

This is no different than when we recognize that we are not speaking literally when we say things like "He kicked the bucket" or "I'm so hungry I could eat a horse" or "spending time".

On another note:

Just wanted to point out that you guys have brought up, whether intentionally or not, a heated debate in metaphysics, about the relation of an object to its properties. Tangerine, the argument you make has actually been outlined before by philosophers such as Aristotle and Descartes.

Basically your intuition that Lord of Chaos' story is the same throughout all three versions and that the only thing that changes are superficial aspects of the story is known as substance theory - you believe (whether you are aware of it or not) that there is a substance, free of properties, that makes up Lord of Chaos' "story", and that despite cosmetic changes (i.e. word length, word choice, information conveyed, etc.) to it, the story remains the same throughout.

This is actually the world view that all of us adopt intuitively - for example, if we see a red cup, and someone paints it yellow, we don't think to say that it's a different cup, we just say that it has changed superficially, but that at it's core, it remains the same cup as before. Note that this is how we see all objects, including ourselves (hence why this problem ties into philosophy of mind).

However the problem lies in this concept of "substance", because a substance by definition cannot have properties - it is that which makes up the core of the object, so that if you strip something of all its properties, you are left with the substance. However, this idea is incoherent, because what is a thing but the sum of its properties?

To not have properties would mean to not exist. A thing cannot 'be' without being 'something', some-thing, meaning to have some defining nature, i.e. properties. So the concept of substance is logically contradictory.

Bah, whatever, I'm going too deeply into this, the point is, all three stories are ontologically different. So if you cut a story in half or lengthen it then it is not the same story anymore, literally speaking (Although for our pragmatic, everyday purposes we might say that it is the same story). Leibniz's Law ftw :3
 
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