Writers’ Room, October 1, 2020

Writers: It’s too far. We can’t give the head bull elephant the elephant plague.

Supreme Being: What do you mean it’s too far? Do you seriously think there’s an option of what happens next? This is a fable. Fable structure is set, it’s not up to us at this point.

Writers: But the elephant plague . . . we didn’t really intend to go that route.

Supreme Being: Look, in a fable you’ve got five literary elements to work with: Animals with human characteristics; a specific setting or situation; a problem caused by a character’s weakness, selfishness, or dishonesty; a resolution; and a moral lesson.

Writers: But the elephant plague: that seems like a mean thing for You to strike him with.

Supreme Being: I’m not striking him with anything! It’s a fable! You’ve got a mean, lying, selfish bull elephant who clomps through an infested herd on a population-dense savannah while constantly whacking at the surrounding animals who are weaker than him or already sick. What exactly did you imagine might be the next element in the plot structure of this totally-established literary genre?

Writers: We just don’t want to come across as callous. It seems “wrong.”

Supreme Being: This was never about right and wrong. It’s about a set of circumstances and the entirely logical outcome of those circumstances. Yes, there will be an ending to which readers attach their own particular morals and values, but that’s on them. I’m so sick of everyone being all like, “Oo, the Supreme Being’s going to show them! He’ll strike them down!” First of all, I’m non-binary, which I keep trying to explain, and secondly, I’m the Supreme Being; I’m inherently good! Why would I want to hurt anybody? That’s not consistent with my character. And you’re all writers!! This is a fucking writers’ room, and you can’t grasp internal consistency of characterization? This isn’t about me, okay? Do I have to remind you that we built “free will” into this thing during the worldbuilding phase? I try to teach, and I try to help, but when everyone fucks that up there are consequences. It’s not personal. I wish with all my Supreme Being heart that the elephants would’ve handled this better, but they just didn’t, and now their leader is sick. It’s sad. I’m sad. But this is a fable, and this is how fables go. It’s not about punishment, it’s about logical sequencing and thematic coherence.

Writers: Do you think he should get the elephant plague really bad?

Supreme Being: I don’t think there’s any “should” about it. I don’t really know. The bull elephant has certainly engaged in behaviors that suggest he could develop a bad case of it, and some of his bull elephant physical attributes predispose him to a bad case of it, but the elephant plague is unpredictable. What’s not unpredictable is the plot progression of a fable, so get over yourselves, stop internalizing and personalizing this, and get back to work. Remember what I’ve told you about fables: they’re not meant to threaten, and they’re not revenge fantasies; they’re meant to instruct.

Writers: But where do we go from here? What happens next?

Supreme Being: I don’t know. It’s up to the elephants.

English professor and humor writer based in Green Bay. McSweeney’s, Points in Case, HuffPost, Slackjaw, Little Old Lady Comedy, Human Parts, others.

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