Rest is a part of the process
Which is to say that when 4pm came around I was still working hard on my story. Working hard in this case meant eating Oreos and watching climbing videos. To me, the hardest part of the creative process is perspective.
Creating a draft requires work to be sure. It takes real effort to put words on the page and to create a message that you feel happy with. However, I find the harder work to be that work between drafts. It's that feeling of writer's block where you first realize that you've encountered a problem that's less amenable to face-smashing than your usual fare.
So, the most important part of my process in creating these bite-sized stories is to rest quickly and wholly. Watch TV, eat a sandwich, go climbing. Anything to break my mind out of whatever rut or furrow it was just in to let me find a new, better track.
As a small aside, I absolutely detest the word "effort". As if effort were some abstract, optional thing. I found 'War Effort' to be a more acceptable and interesting use of the word.
So, my first hypothesis was wrong. It wasn't the war analogy that made things funny.
So I tried again:
Life is a never ending war, and I am preparing for battle. Beams of twilight shine through wooden slats. I sharpen my damascus blade against my mother’s whetstone. Jets of flame spring to life in a neat circle. I don my armor, embroidered with my family’s creed. “Kiss the Cook.” Today I pay homage to my ancestors. I call back to the ancient rites, and trace the paths that my family has for generations. I pray for guidance from those warriors that came before me. Hanger Marauders pound against the walls of my kingdom, threatening to overrun it like they have so many times before. I pull supplies from my war chest. Reinforcements, weapons from the House of Kraft. I build a ring of steel and water and salt. I singe my finger as I join the ring of steel with the ring of flame. The Hanger Marauders splinter the doors to my kingdom. Forgotten slights from the day start to seep back into my mind. My phone feels hot in my pocket. I grit my teeth, remembering my commitment to the war effort. After eight minutes of roiling preparation, training is done. The water and salt are replaced with the strongest weapons known to man - butter and cheese. The whole regiment marched straight from the steel training ring to the front in an unending slurry. It wasn’t glamorous, but they made it, and they won. And I collapsed on the couch, gathering my strength for the next battle.
Alas, sometimes drafts are useful, not because they are good, but because they are bad. I leaned into fantasy, I sliced out the technical Solanum and Allium language.
This draft was bad. Quite strictly worse, I believe, than the second draft was. To make matters worse, the whole notion of moving a pot like a serving tray and burning yourself on the burner was... stupid. Just a very hackneyed way of forcing the action into the story. Transparent, mediocre.
Then I tossed most of it out:
Et Tu Tomat?
Life is an endless war, and I am preparing for battle. I draw my damascus blade against my mother’s whetstone. Jets of flame spring to life underneath a steel vessel filled with salt and water. I don my armor, embroidered with my family’s creed, “Kiss the Cook.” Today I pay homage to my ancestors. I pull supplies from my war chest - Fusilli Mercenaries from the House of Barilla. Mysteries hide in their flaxen curls. I drown them in the brutal training of the vessel’s roiling waters. I grab my allies from Solanum and Allium. Ruby red and straw gold skin glitters in the twilight. I cut them to pieces. Scarlet Solanum innards coat my hands. I blink back hot Allium tears. I anoint their shattered bodies with oil and cast them into the flames. A song of celebration rings out. Their training is complete! Victory is close at hand. I pull the vessel from the flame, and turn toward the public baths. Suddenly, an ambush! My foot slips on a Solanum defector, and the steel vessel tilts. Water spills over the edge, scalding my fingers. My grip goes lax, and the vessel crashes to earth. Countless casualties spill out onto the ground. I collapse. The war is lost. Then, I remember my final trump card: a summoning spell. With effort, I recall the ancient incantation. I trace it into my glowing tablet. A heavenly voice responds. “Thank you for calling Pizza Palace. May I take your order?”
This is the final version that I ended up submitting. It's interesting to see how so little changed between the second and third drafts, and then how much changed when I moved into the final draft.
Satire doesn't punch down. Making fun of someone being bad at cooking isn't satire, it's bullying. This also means it's not funny.
Deep analogies aren't funny. I went way too deep with those kingdom bits and whatnot. High mental energy to keep track of it all.
Keep your key juxtaposition in mind and wail on it. In this case, epic and ordinary is the key tension. That tension evolves from the first line, through cloth armor, then to the Solanum defector as the tomato that ruins your day. Finally, the most exaggerated, accurate juxtaposition I could imagine: delivery as a summoning spell.
It was also in the last revision that I came up with the name:
Et Tu Tomat?
Because the same lessons apply. I was also paranoid about people understanding that I'm talking about a tomato, and the title just makes it a bit more obvious. I am quite confident that it's not correct.
Here's hoping it places well. Next stop: January's short story competition.