5 Lessons I Learned Writing Retail Hell

It’s said that there are many hells. Each specifically tailored to fit the damnation of the souls in question. Then it stands to reason there’s a subterranean superstore where rude people are put to work. Welcome to Retail Hell, a short story now available on Amazon.

Oppressive Situations Limit Character Development

When we meet Barbara she’s berating both a clerk behind a checkout counter and a call center representative. She’s a familiar Ebenezer Scrooge type character. She’s put through an ordeal. She has an aneurism and wakes up for her first shift in the literal Retail Hell. Just like Scrooge she’s taught empathy through supernatural means, but her journey doesn’t necessarily end with her gifting turkeys on Christmas morning.

My hell is so oppressive it leaves Barbara’s character with few places to go, other than with the flow.

I believe every story should have a change of some kind. Usually that change involves a character learning a lesson, being humbled then empowered, and rising to a challenge as a better person. BUT… Sometimes it’s the audience’s expectations of the hero that need to change. We go in thinking a toxic braggadocios brute is going to have a sense of modesty impressed upon them, and he does, but it doesn’t take. In those situations it’s the audience that goes through the change.

Poll People to See Just How Universal Your Idea Is

I pitched Retail Hellto everyone I knew who’d worked in retail and the consensus was that there was definitely an audience for this.

I’d say, “It’s Dante’s Infernoin a Target, or Hellraiserin a Walmart, orBill and Ted’s Bogus Journeyin a CostCo, you know something like that.”

And they’d say they couldn’t wait to check it out, but I should’ve asked them what their worst customer service encounter had been. When writing Retail HellI drew from my own war stories, but it turned out my friends were hording a treasure trove of horrific checkout counter encounters.

Horror Comedies are a Balancing Act

The first draft of Retail Hellleaned heavy on the humor, but was light on the gore. All the pop culture references, retail inside jokes, and quippy one-liners were there, but none of the industrial torture devices, corpse-strewn atmosphere, and chimerical customers were.

My second draft piled on too many of horror elements. Upon reading it I found the humor had limited levity and at times seemed outright inappropriate.

So I kept fine tuning until I got the balancing act right.

Cut the Flashbacks, Let the Character Develop in the Moment

I tried to use flashbacks to showcase Barbra’s privileged lifestyle of high fashion, exotic travel, and fine wine. I wanted to show several instances of Barbra receiving impeccable service and still berating whoever happened to have the misfortune of being before.

This way I felt her time in Retail Hell would seem deserved.

The problem was whenever the action left the inferno the reader had too much room to breathe. I was letting them feel safe for longer than intended. Worse still the diversions weren’t making Barbra any more three-dimensional. So I cut them all.

You Don’t Need to Rebuild a Mythology From Scratch

I’ve always been annoyed by how many monsters horror writers borrow from their predecessors. I get the appeal of making an established creature your own, but so many writers steal one element too many.

Sure if you’re writing about vampires you ought to know the rules that govern them, but stealing plot points, locations, and characters from Bram Stoker is just greedy.

The more writers borrow the more their monsters seem to box them into a corner, leaving them no room to add to the monster’s lore. The writer’s contribution to that monster’s mythology is inconsequential.

I never wanted that to happen to me so when I took something I overcompensated with originality. When I started writing about hell I wasn’t too keen on relying on any of the realm’s established branding. I wanted to put out the flames, break up the orgy of agony, and pry the horn off of every entity.

Slowly I realized that the addition of the retail theme was what the story needed to make it original.

So yeah, my hell is a subterranean landscape pocked with craters with implements of torture around every corner… What differentiates it from the others is that it’s filled with fad products, rude customers, and the only song that ever plays is All I Want for Christmas is You by Mariah Carey. Dante, Milton, and Clive Barker hammered hell into the brand it is today. Retail Helljust builds upon their floor plan.

Retail Hell is a fiendish work of satanic satire. I hope you get a laugh and a shiver out of it.


Retail Hell is now available on Amazon!

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