Ragnar's Saga

The Story Behind the Story

When the Machines Arrive

Posted by Christopher Hivner on August 21, 2012 at 10:00 PM

I love a good apocalyptic story. So many have been written and movies made though that it’s hard to come up with anything original. When I started writing “When the Machines Arrive” I didn’t know that was the direction I was going. I saw in my head people leaving their homes to listen to music borne on the wind, seeming to come from no one fixed place. Underneath the music were subliminal messages sent to control everyone’s behavior.

At first, that was all I had. I wrote it up and eventually had the idea of alien machines over-running Earth destroying everything in their path. My original idea was conceived as a piece of flash fiction, 500-700 words long, but when I was finished it didn’t work for me. I spent a lot of time re-reading, editing, and re-thinking, trying to figure out why the story wasn’t satisfying.

The longer it stayed in my head the clearer I saw the plot and finally realized I hadn’t really told the story properly. I had written something general and descriptive but what it needed were characters to live through the events. I worked out who my two main characters were and started writing again. Ancillary people were created on the fly as I delved into the psychology of what the experience would do to people.

When it came time to describe the machines I used the cover of clouds because of a personal fascination with them and a weird fear I had as a kid of them falling from the sky to crush me. I used to lie in the grass and pick out shapes in the clouds. I also used to imagine these gigantic shapes suddenly falling from the sky, coming straight for me and I had nowhere to run. No idea where that fear came from, but to this day I still look up sometimes to see a giant cotton ball falling towards me.

“When the Machines Arrive” is around 5000 words which at the time I wrote it was one of my longer stories. There was more depth to my characters in this story too. I loved the story when I finished it and still consider it one of my best. It was rejected a few times, the main complaint being that there was no explanation given for what the machines were or where they came from. I thought about trying to explain them but felt it would lessen the impact of the story. I couldn’t see any concoction of mine making it better so I let it stand as a mystery.

It was eventually accepted and printed in a nice small press magazine called Mindmares. And the editor loved that I didn’t try to explain everything.



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