Nature Future Conditional

The story behind the story: There is a beep

This week, Futures ventures into a bar — but not just any bar, it is a bar created by Filip Wiltgren for his story There is a beep. When not designing bars for fictional scientists, Filip can be found working as a communications officer at Linköping University. Here, he kindly explains the origins of his latest tale — as ever, it pays to read the story first.

Writing There is a beep

An X, a Y and a Z walk into a bar, but the bar is not important. The bar is never important.

There is a beep came to me in a flash of insight: what if the bar mattered? What if the wrong person walked into the right bar, or the right person walked into the wrong one? And so: “An accountant walks into a bar. No, hold on, that not how this one works.” Those were the story’s original starting words and everyone I showed it to took it as comedy.

For me it was deadly serious. The story of walking into the same space over and over again, not being able to leave, not knowing why it didn’t feel quite right; it’s a horror story. A story of broken dreams, if I might wax poetic, or of a bad job, bad marriage or bad investment if I may not.

It’s pretty easy to come up with pseudo-philosophic gobbledygook to explain how deep and significant a story is, at least if you’re analysing it after the fact. Truth is, the story of the poor neurophysicist walking into that bar and having his hopes shattered, started with nothing more than the vision of red, leather seats and a worried man in a lab coat. Only after finishing it did my conscious mind catch up with what I was actually writing about, and realized its nightmare implications.

I have seen too many shortcuts, especially when dealing with prestige, technology or money, in academia to write There is a beep off as pure science fiction. I only hope that the right person got their comeuppance in the end, and I am grateful to my critique group and alpha readers for their great feedback that made the story finally come together as intended.

The poop joke was, I assure you, entirely accidental.

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