When an aspiring podcaster finds his balcony overrun with pigeons he learns that madness doesn’t migrate, some sounds cannot be suppressed,and that isolation can serve as an invocation entity known as The Pigeon King. Read the short story now on Amazon.
Everything The Writer Sets Up Must Payoff
I wanted to write a story about a man who had such an intense aversion to noise pollution that he goes totally insane. I chose pigeons as the source of his torment because they couldn’t be reasoned with and I made the hero a podcaster to make his dilemma all the more maddening.
I figured the hero’s podcast would be something like This American Life, human-interest audio essays, that sort of thing. It just needed to be something that he could record alone, because madness, as you know, is an intimate experience.
I decided to make the subject of his recordings the Japanese shut-ins known as the hikikomori. This would setup the theme of isolation and foreshadow the madness to come.
It wasn’t until much later that it occurred to me that my hero’s critical perception of the hikikomori would factor into the ending.
A few chapters in I’d decided a monster known as the Pigeon King monster would show up in the third act, but I had no clue what it would do when it got there. In a lesser story it would’ve pecked our hero’s eyes out and that would’ve been that, but I decided to go for a twist and have the Pigeon King challenge the premise of our hero’s podcast, bringing everything full circle.
There Are Legal Limits to Your Pop Culture References
So it turns out you can say your hero is an obsessive fan of Harry Potter. It’s okay to name drop famous characters so long as you’re not giving them staring roles, but the more you reference Wizarding World lore the closer you get to that blurry line. Once you quote dialogue from another source you’re over the line completely.
This may not be an issue when you’re posting on fan fiction forums, but it is when you’re selling things on Amazon. Having read the site’s terms and conditions I decided to gut the bulk of my hero’s references.
Hint at the Supernatural Before the 3rdAct
IfThe Pigeon Kingwas a movie I imagine a lot viewers in the audience going, “Wait, what?” during the 3rdact. I mentioned that there’s a monster, one that manifests in a way that defies all physical, and medical, logic. It’s pretty clear in the first chapter that something bizarre is afoot in our hero’s condo, just not thatbizarre.
The most rewarding twists give the audience just enough evidence to sense the possibility of a twist on the horizon while leaving them smacking their forearms saying, “Why didn’t I see that coming?”
Ultimately I think I kept too much of the mystery to myself.
A Clear Genre is More Important than Originality
When you’re pitching to a film producer the last thing you want to hear is, “That sounds complicated.”
That’s producer-speak for this story would be too tough to sell audiences.
I could tell you that The Pigeon Kingis a story about one man’s strugglers with a pigeon infestation, but that sounds more like a Looney Tunes cartoon than a short story.
When I shot a Twilight Zone-esque book trailer for The Pigeon King I made it a point to mention “something supernatural summons these squawking squatters” but I couldn’t commit to calling it a horror story. Sure, there’s a sense of looming dread that leads to a great big supernatural reveal, but most of it is played for laughs.
I like genre blurring stories but they are a tough sell, especially for a relative unknown like myself. If I really wanted to put my best foot forward on Amazon I should’ve lead with my next short Retail Hell, a story about a subterranean superstore that leans a lot harder on horror.
I love The Pigeon Kingas it’s written. It’s just is one of those stories that’s tough to sell to people without spoiling the ending. The next batch of stories I’m putting on Amazon are more premise driven and their genre and tone are more evident by their titles. Continue reading 5 Lessons I Learned Writing The Pigeon King →