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The Questions I Regret Not Asking


Does this story need robots? Does it need subterranean sludge mutants? How about an invasion of intuitive, violent, and fickle space aliens shaped like elbow pasta? Should all your story's characters be named Betty? Should every character be named Amber, Trixie, Denise, Argon, Sharky Whoremeister, Claude Debussy, or Mumbles? Should your narrator be extraneous? Should you steal brazenly from Jane Austen? Should you cut this story, a decent thesaurus, and a Heinrich Von Kleist novella into pieces with a pair of scissors, throw them all out the window, let the scraps sit in your backyard for a few months, go out and collect what remains, tape them all back together randomly, and transcribe the results? Should this be told from the point of view of a body of water? Or from the point of view of its own first adjective? Should you let your parents, your favorite superhero, and the one who broke your heart duke it out on the surface of the moon? Does this story need Visigoths, giant squid, a bank robbery, a hand stabbing, King Frederick of Denmark, the angry ghost of Victoria Woodhull, a squad of zombie cops, a cantankerous mimeograph machine, a skeptical podiatrist named Floyd Band coming down off a meth binge, two blond waitresses named George, a bathtub glazed with lard, a Republican governor glazed with shoe polish, an eighteen-wheeler carrying ten thousand mercury thermometers going ninety-five miles an hour into downtown Hackensack at dawn, and a hammer? Should you cut the main character? How about every third word? Would the story be improved if it was set in southern Hungary in the time of the Neanderthals? Would it be improved with a little cumin? Would it benefit from the elimination of all prepositions? Or the removal of all punctuation? Does this story need its own laws of physics? Do your metaphors need to be spanked? Whose verbs are these? What's at stake for the furniture? Should your believability be less likeable? Should your gerunds never cease needing to vomit or cry? Should all Latinates be switched to Anglo-Saxon synonyms, and vice versa? Should this story be written entirely in the imperative? Or entirely in the future perfect? Or entirely in a series of subordinate clauses separated only with em dashes? Do your articles need a drink? Does your climax need a nap? Should your resolution sleep the dreamless sleep of robots?

Thomas Hopkins enjoys living by his own rules, then breaking all the rules, then glueing all the rule bits back together. He and his wife live in Kingston, New York.