Author Topic: No Pun to End so Quip-ly...  (Read 21007 times)

Tango Alpha Delta

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on: February 13, 2007, 01:21:13 AM
I've been holding back some of my criticism over the course of this contest in order to avoid hurting feelings.  I don't want to single out any one author or story for certain broad types of nitpicks.  However, now that there are 20 groups posted, I feel it might be safe to point out some of the trends that have begun to take their toll on my patience as a humble reader.  Here is my short list of The Crimes Against Literature:

1)  The Shaggy Dog/Pun-chline stories:  I love a good joke as much as the next reader (probably more than I should -- see subject line), but some of these jokey entries have really crossed the line into "just wasting everyone's time".  This has been addressed politely in several threads, but I have begun to wonder (especially in later groups that should have known better), "If you're going to tell a joke, why tell a bad one badly?"

2) Is it Absurdist, Art, or is it just Crap?  A small number of stories have struck me as purposely bad, as if the author was fishing for abuse, or mocking the authors who took their offerings more seriously.  Reading the first couple of "absurdist" tales made me cringe, but other posters' comments seemed to find value in them.  "Maybe they chose that 'badly written' style for some artistic reason," I told myself.  "Like 'distressing the wallpaper'in a new house."

   Some of the comparisons to Douglas Adams in the comments helped me appreciate them a bit more than on my first pass.  After a while though, the lack of grammar, the sloppy spelling and puncuation, and the complete disregard of all form or plot seemed to be intended to invite negative comments.  A couple of them reminded me more of Norm MacDonald than of Adams.

   However, I have refrained from flaming these authors, primarily because I don't want to offend someone who might be young (my 10-year-old considered submitting) or have some kind of disadvantage (English as second- or third-language, some kind of learning disability, or who knows what).  So, if you submitted a story intended to offend my sensibilities, and to make me grouse about "modern art", then let this paragraph be your congratulations!

3) Second Person.  POV is a tool.  ONE tool, among many.  Someone brave tried it once (several someones in the first few rounds, actually), and someone else commented on how challenging it is - which I took as a polite way of saying "You screwed up your POV".   Unfortunately, it is too late to point out that saying it is challenging does NOT mean that you are being challenged to put every third story for the rest of the contest IN the Second Person!  Unless, of course, you have actually mastered the technique.  I was torn on whether I should mention this at all, because it seemed like so many people tried it... but DAMN, why did so many people try it?   ???

That said, the vast majority of these stories have been enjoyable, and even the worst of the "bad" stories were so short that they haven't cost too much of my life.  ;)  (They were all better than Battlefield Earth, if that makes anyone feel better.) 

And to give some perspective: I don't hold myself to be any kind of oracle of wisdom; these were just my own reactions.  I hold no degrees or credentials, and don't presume to understand where you were coming from.  Sometimes, it's just nice to vent.

Anyone care to add or subtract from the list?

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Rachel Swirsky

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Reply #1 on: February 13, 2007, 01:29:37 AM
Not at this time, but you have earned some quiet kudos -- yes, you have.  :)



hautdesert

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Reply #2 on: February 13, 2007, 01:38:08 AM
I do suspect that for a lot of things, if you don't see a slushpile--and that's what this is, essentially, a slushpile we're all getting the opportunity to read through--you don't realize that certain things have been tried a lot, and the thing that seems fresh to you isn't really.

You can hardly blame someone for not realizing it, if they don't have the stacks of mss in front of them. 

And kids...you know, any kids who have subbed to this contest really deserve a big round of applause.  Keep writing!  Keep subbing!

But, you know, I can't really find it in my heart to disagree with your list.



Heradel

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Reply #3 on: February 13, 2007, 01:46:47 AM
As someone that has a story in the second person, there are two reasons I used it. One was purely because I'd recently read Bright Lights, Big City and wanted to try it out, the second was that we have 300 words, and because I'm trying to focus more on what happened rather than the character (being vague because it's still under voting). So by using the second person I rid myself of the bothersome business of really building the character out, which I didn't have space for. I know there are some very good examples of it being done in this contest, but I couldn't fit it in.

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Rachel Swirsky

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Reply #4 on: February 13, 2007, 01:50:03 AM
Perhaps I misread, but I didnt think the objection was to 2nd person so much as 2nd person standing in for good writing.

I quite like second person when it's done well. I liked "Apocalypso," for instance and "Hoarding Colored Rags."

It's worth trying out, but like most ambitious things, it's just hard to do, is all.



tsanders

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Reply #5 on: February 13, 2007, 02:13:22 AM

1)  The Shaggy Dog/Pun-chline stories:  I love a good joke as much as the next reader (probably more than I should -- see subject line), but some of these jokey entries have really crossed the line into "just wasting everyone's time".  This has been addressed politely in several threads, but I have begun to wonder (especially in later groups that should have known better), "If you're going to tell a joke, why tell a bad one badly?"


I have to admit after seeing some people getting upset at seemingly any punchline I'm dreading seeing what folks make of one of my submissions. I have hopes that mine is different for some reasons I won't go into right now (wouldn't want to "out" myself ahead of time) - but I thought it was worth noting that I turned mine in on the last day and I specifically didn't read the contest entries until I had submitted. So I disagree that the "later groups should have known better". From our perspective we've seen weeks of feedback now, but it wasn't all available when the stories were submitted.

I agree that there have been some really clumsy jokes that really detract from the whole story, but I've also seen feedback that amounts to "jokes don't work in flash this short" and I don't agree with that either.



Heradel

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Reply #6 on: February 13, 2007, 02:24:28 AM
I know, but he's asking why so many people used it, and since no Second Person Conspiracy contacted me to tell me to use it, I was trying to explain why I used it and probably why at least a few other people did.
Unfortunately, it is too late to point out that saying it is challenging does NOT mean that you are being challenged to put every third story for the rest of the contest IN the Second Person!  Unless, of course, you have actually mastered the technique.
I'll also note that the current crop of stories probably never saw those, because they were already submitted at that point. It's massive coincidence, not a causal relationship between that comment and so many trying.

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Rachel Swirsky

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Reply #7 on: February 13, 2007, 02:28:17 AM
I took it as a joke. Many editors I know complain about the amount of second person writing that shows up in their slush piles. It's a bit trendy.

For what it's worth, one of my entries is in second person, too.

--

Let's provisionally say that a punchline rests on the same framework as a twist ending. It would therefore be possible for it to work, in much the same way that a twist works; however, like the twists, it's often going to go amiss.

If this hypothesis is true, what makes a punchline work?



Heradel

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Reply #8 on: February 13, 2007, 04:35:47 AM
A punchline works if it's funny and it doesn't make the reader feel cheated. So it either has to be short, or funny throughout so I don't feel cheated at the end.

On another note, is it just me or is there a lot of Human on Android action going on?

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Rachel Swirsky

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Reply #9 on: February 13, 2007, 04:44:22 AM
My lover, Siliconian, says he's noticed that too. He adds, "Beep."

I have evolved some Theories on how punchlines might be able to exist without coming across as cheats. I'll write more when not incoherently slushitised.




GoodDamon

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Reply #10 on: February 13, 2007, 06:29:58 AM
To this frothy mix of slush goodness, I would like to add a few more -- as tad so adroitly puts it -- Crimes Against Literature:

* Twist As Plot - The entire reason writers create these stories is to trick the reader. In fact, no plot exists beyond the twist. The protagonist turns out to have been an alien/robot/dog, and the only reason the reader doesn't know that until the end is that the writer withheld that otherwise essential information. "Boo! Fooled ya! You thought this was a human talking, but it's not!" This is very different from a genuine mystery story, because in those, every piece of information the reader needs to accurately follow the plot is revealed when the reader needs it.

* The Adam / Eve Parable - The Bible is chalk-full of material that can be adapted for lovely science fiction. Unfortunately, all the easy stuff -- prophets, creation, and most importantly the first man and woman -- have all been done to death. That's not to say they can't be done well, but this vein is pretty tapped out. If you think you're doing something new with Adam & Eve, think about it again. And then again. Then write something else. Maybe the weird stuff you find in Numbers about giants in the land of Hebron, only on a space station. Bet you haven't seen that before.

* "Old People Can Sound Young, Fo' Shizzle" Syndrome - No, you can't. Rather, you can if you've spent time with the subculture, or know people in it who are willing to share and/or help correct your terribly misguided use of the slang, or you're willing to follow a group of them around for a while to learn their colloquialisms. Which, incidentally, will have long since changed into something else entirely by the time your story sees print, making it seem terribly dated. Frankly, you're better off avoiding the issue entirely, by skipping out on all but the most universal slang. "Cool" is cool, but "hep" is most definitely not hep.

Damon Kaswell: Reader, writer, and arithmetic-er


Rachel Swirsky

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Reply #11 on: February 13, 2007, 06:33:23 AM
Don't rain on my fo'shizzle.



GoodDamon

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Reply #12 on: February 13, 2007, 07:20:24 AM
Don't rain on my fo'shizzle.

I'm not even sure how I'd do that.

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sirana

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Reply #13 on: February 13, 2007, 09:53:15 AM
hmmph... I disagree with the whole Here-is-a-list-of-things-you-shouldn't-do idea. I don't think any one of the things that TAD or Damon listed are problems in itself.

Yeah, we had a lot of Shaggydog stories and yeah, a lot of them didn't work. But I think that should be a criticism of the execution or the particular (bad) pun, not the concept itself. It can be done beautifully when you have a fitting and genuinly funny punchline.

I think a Twist-as-Plot story can work really well, especially in a contest with under 300 words, if the twist is unexpected and it works.

And while the Adam/Eve Parable has been done often in literature I don't think that should discourage anyone from trying again. Just because there have been a bazillion stories about love doesn't mean you can't write a bazillion-and-first one.

I didn't notice many stories that used all that much slang (and I like totally digged the one that did).

The criticism with the Second Person POV seemed more directed at the fact that there were a lot of stories that used it and I can understand that. It doesn't seem fair to hold that against the stories, though. Every story deserves to be judged on its own merits or shortcomings.

And I don't think there has been any story submitted that was badly written on purpose. There have been some that had glaring spelling errors or grammatical errors and I have an issue with that. But I think this can be attributed to sloppy proofreading and not on someone actively trying to write a bad story.
« Last Edit: February 13, 2007, 10:13:50 AM by sirana »



Tango Alpha Delta

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Reply #14 on: February 13, 2007, 11:07:00 AM
I know, but he's asking why so many people used it, and since no Second Person Conspiracy contacted me to tell me to use it, I was trying to explain why I used it and probably why at least a few other people did.
Unfortunately, it is too late to point out that saying it is challenging does NOT mean that you are being challenged to put every third story for the rest of the contest IN the Second Person!  Unless, of course, you have actually mastered the technique.
I'll also note that the current crop of stories probably never saw those, because they were already submitted at that point. It's massive coincidence, not a causal relationship between that comment and so many trying.

"The Second Person Conspiracy" -- now THAT would be a great story idea!  ;)

"You know in your heart that it's wrong, but they have your family.  They will be hurt if you don't use this POV in your next story.  What choice do you have?  You smile as you consider an alternative.  The Conspiracy did not reckon with your ninja-like skills with the wireless keyboard..."

I am not saying that Second Person should never be used again, nor is any of this intended as a list of "things you should never do again"... rather, these were the trends I saw developing in the course of our contest, and I thought it worth pointing out (hopefully without making any particular writer feel like something the cat dragged in).  There are always exceptions, especially to General Rules proposed by a pompous Chair Force warrior such as myself!

Massive coincidence or not, though, I've begun to approach the newer stories with a certain amount of leery suspicion.  If they have a feature, such as the POV, that jumps out at me in the first few lines, I have to take an extra minute to remind myself to give it a fair reading.  And if they end with a real groaner of a punchline, that's just the nail in the coffin...

...which is good, in a zombie story!

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Swamp

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Reply #15 on: February 13, 2007, 05:51:58 PM
I think the most value I have gain out of being involved in this contest is my participation as a voter.  And this discussion just proves it.  Reading all of these stories has given me great perspective on what it is like for those who slog through slush day in and day out.  It is no wonder that they are jaded and cynical and sometimes grumpy.  But they are also hopeful for a diamond in the rough and enjoy a good story when it comes along.

I better keep this in mind when I go to offer my stories up as slush fodder.

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GoodDamon

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Reply #16 on: February 13, 2007, 06:47:33 PM
hmmph... I disagree with the whole Here-is-a-list-of-things-you-shouldn't-do idea. I don't think any one of the things that TAD or Damon listed are problems in itself.

Absolutely true. If you can tell a good shaggy dog story, or a good Adam & Eve parable, or a good story with a startling twist, great! But these are the stories almost all beginning writers try their hands at, because they're easy while possessing a thin veneer of cleverness.

Think of this more as a list of things you shouldn't do unless you can get away with it.

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Yeah, we had a lot of Shaggydog stories and yeah, a lot of them didn't work. But I think that should be a criticism of the execution or the particular (bad) pun, not the concept itself. It can be done beautifully when you have a fitting and genuinly funny punchline.

Again, I agree. But it's very, very hard to have a good shaggy dog story, and very, very easy to have a bad one. So if I read a shaggy dog story, it's most likely going to be a bad one.

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I think a Twist-as-Plot story can work really well, especially in a contest with under 300 words, if the twist is unexpected and it works.

Here, I have to disagree. I don't think hiding something integral to the story from the reader, such as the species or gender of the protagonist, is ever a good idea. I can't think of a single time I've read something and thought, "boy, I'm glad I didn't know she was an alien until the last line even with the close first-person POV." Instead, it feels like a cheat.

I would like to emphasize that this is a very different beastie than a mystery story. Mysteries hide important details from the reader, but not for the sole purpose of surprising the reader later. Those details are hidden from the protagonist as well, which allows the reader to empathize with the protagonist as s/he discovers the clues needed to solve the mystery.

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And while the Adam/Eve Parable has been done often in literature I don't think that should discourage anyone from trying again. Just because there have been a bazillion stories about love doesn't mean you can't write a bazillion-and-first one.

Again, absolutely true, but like the shaggy dog, it's a crutch for beginning writers, so you're not very likely to find good Adam & Eve stories.

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I didn't notice many stories that used all that much slang (and I like totally digged the one that did).

Thankfully, that hasn't been a huge problem in this contest. :) But believe me, you don't want me pretending I can write from the perspective of a teenage girl from the Mexican barrios.

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The criticism with the Second Person POV seemed more directed at the fact that there were a lot of stories that used it and I can understand that. It doesn't seem fair to hold that against the stories, though. Every story deserves to be judged on its own merits or shortcomings.

Again, it's something that's easy to do badly and hard to do well. But if you can get away with it, go for it.

Damon Kaswell: Reader, writer, and arithmetic-er


ClintMemo

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Reply #17 on: February 13, 2007, 07:32:36 PM

"The Second Person Conspiracy" -- now THAT would be a great story idea!  ;)

Let's cross boards/genres and have a "six word second person POV story conspiracy"

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sirana

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Reply #18 on: February 13, 2007, 07:34:22 PM
:) But believe me, you don't want me pretending I can write from the perspective of a teenage girl from the Mexican barrios.

now you got me interested ;)



GoodDamon

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Reply #19 on: February 14, 2007, 06:21:36 PM
now you got me interested ;)

Heh. I promise I'll write it if I find someone like that who wants to be turned into a character in a science fiction story.

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amyr

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Reply #20 on: February 16, 2007, 04:45:27 PM
But is there any truly new material? I mean really, aren't we all just re-inventing the wheel? Putting a fresh voice to something that has gone before?

And what if someone did write, say, an Adam and Eve story with a plot twist for the contest? Would it automatically get panned on principal? Or would it have a chance if the author wrote it well, not in second person, and without it coming off as a joke?


No venom intended with this post, just getting myself geared up for inevitable rejection it seems I am to expect.



Holden

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Reply #21 on: February 16, 2007, 05:04:07 PM
"That which has been is that which will be, and that which has been done is that which will be done. So there is nothing new under the sun." - Ecclesiates 1:9



Rachel Swirsky

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Reply #22 on: February 16, 2007, 05:09:28 PM
The Adam and Eve story would have to come across as fresh. Other people have been generous, but I'll basically say, I don't think it can be done.

(Bearing in mind that "the Adam and Eve twist" is where it turns out, at the end, that hey! These are the progenitors of humankind! And hey, they're Adam and Eve!)

Twist endings are either "surprising yet inevitable," in which case they aren't terribly twisty, or they're a "gotcha!" You can't cry "gotcha!" with something that's been done 1,000 times before. Well, you can, but one shouldn't be shocked when the reply is, "Augh. That's been done 1,000 times before."

And there may only be limited plots, but there are infinite characters.



GoodDamon

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Reply #23 on: February 16, 2007, 05:50:05 PM
But is there any truly new material? I mean really, aren't we all just re-inventing the wheel? Putting a fresh voice to something that has gone before?

Yes and no. One might say the "heart" at the center of all stories has been done before. The hero's quest, the try-fail cycle, the fairy-tale plot coupons, etc. But the devil -- and the fun -- is in the details.

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And what if someone did write, say, an Adam and Eve story with a plot twist for the contest? Would it automatically get panned on principal? Or would it have a chance if the author wrote it well, not in second person, and without it coming off as a joke?

I'm sorry, but I've read that story a hundred times now. It's been done to death, because it's an attractive idea for new writers. If you want to surprise readers with an Adam and Eve story, you literally can't have the "and they were really the progenitors of the human race" twist at the end.

(Wow, I just refreshed my other window and saw that palimpsest wrote "These are the progenitors of humankind!" Out of my head, you!)

Anyway, here's my take on what you could do with Adam and Eve stories that would be fresh and interesting: Start the story there. Explore the lives and difficulties of the first people on the planet. Adam doesn't want children, but Eve insists, and eventually seduces him. They realize, too late, they'll have to inbreed them when they're old enough, and pray that there's enough genetic variance for the offspring to be viable and spread. They have to struggle for survival with the last of their damaged alien technology. And so on...

To be brutally honest, most Adam and Eve stories end at the twist because it's easier to end there. Start there, and you have to actually explore your characters, give them a real plot and conflicts, and come to a conclusion that isn't already preordained.

Damon Kaswell: Reader, writer, and arithmetic-er


SFEley

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Reply #24 on: February 16, 2007, 06:32:20 PM
Anyway, here's my take on what you could do with Adam and Eve stories that would be fresh and interesting: Start the story there. Explore the lives and difficulties of the first people on the planet. Adam doesn't want children, but Eve insists, and eventually seduces him. They realize, too late, they'll have to inbreed them when they're old enough, and pray that there's enough genetic variance for the offspring to be viable and spread. They have to struggle for survival with the last of their damaged alien technology. And so on...

That's great.  One could work many more angles into that.  What if Adam and Eve can't stand each other?  Adam cheated on Eve (or Eve's friend, or otherwise pissed her off) before they were stuck on this planet.  Or maybe they cheated with each other against their prior spouses, and they have guilt about that and realized it was dumb and they're not attracted to each other after all, but they have to figure out how to live together forever anyway.

This one's trite, but maybe Adam's gay or impotent, and beginning the human race is a physical challenge for him.  (This could be a story for a Cecilia Tan anthology, if the solution is "Eve gets creative.")  >8->

What if Eve was already pregnant when they crash-landed?  Or they crash-landed with her kids?  Adam has to deal with being the father of a human race that isn't wholly (or perhaps at all) his.

You could also take it the other way: is there a story in what happened before they were Adam and Eve?  I can envision this master race, planning this diaspora of fertile couples throughout the galaxy.  You could do it serious or comic.  These eager young teens at Progenitor Academy, learning how to colonize barren worlds, then finding out who they're matched with when they get to the spaceships...


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To be brutally honest, most Adam and Eve stories end at the twist because it's easier to end there. Start there, and you have to actually explore your characters, give them a real plot and conflicts, and come to a conclusion that isn't already preordained.

True.  All of the ideas I can think of necessarily require "untwisting" the story: you don't make it a gimmick at the end, you make it the story.  That way the reader's prepared to travel with you the whole way.

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Heradel

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Reply #25 on: February 17, 2007, 06:03:51 AM
It had grown from some sick twisted marketer's mind. It started slowly, going from one person to two, three, five, eight, thirteen, twenty-one, thirty-four. It soon obtained critical mass and exploded across the mental spectra of the city, fragments infecting populations in London and Los Angeles and all points beyond.

Most had thought that it was simply one of those natural things that swept through the mind-space like a plague.

Few suspected the truth.

His name was Collus Polanski, and he was had a card which said he was crazy. But he thought the doctor was trying to kill him, so he didn't believe it.

His apartment was plastered in words, words, words, maps, photos. No one else saw what he saw. Shaky sharpie lines highlighted text, dragged it over to points on a map of Manhattan. Photos of billboards were tacked onto the map. Scribble-y handwriting covered the few spaces that were empty of evidence.

At 4:25 on a Sunday morning Collus stepped back and looked back at his work.

It was done.

He had found the Genesis point.

An up and coming advertising executive had pitched a slogan that was overheard by the wrong ears.

The wrong ears spread it around, and it had started.

He had proof. It existed. It had started with "It's not about me or they or I or even us anymore. It's about You."

The Second Person Conspiracy existed!

Now he could prove to the doctors that he wasn't a... He wasn't... He groped around for the card. He read it slowly, his lips forming Paranoid Schizophrenic.

Oh, he though. Damn.

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