Joe and the King

"Be careful Joe," she said, "The King is the craftiest ring-writer this side of Yakima."

"I know, I know," Joe replied, irritated. He knew the king's reputation. In the writing arena, few could contend with his prowess.

Just then Joe's writing partner Carl pushed through the crowd to give him a few pearls of last minute wisdom. "Don't engage him with plot. I've seen him weave complications a fifth year philosophy student couldn't figure out." Carl meant well, but another distraction was the last thing Joe needed at the moment.

The writing arena itself was styled like a boxing ring from the old days. Two storytellers entered the ring and sat at old-fashioned typewriters at either corner. Along the periphery of the ring sat "The Editor," a complicated electro-mechanical device constructed with the sole purpose of evaluating the narrative structure of each contestant's output.

Every sentence completed landed an invisible electric blow to the writer's opponent; the severity of the blow dependent on the editor's impartial calculation.

Many first time writer-contestants made the mistake of trying to emulate Orwell by prancing around with short, direct sentences. Sure, it's easy to craft a good short sentence, but it relies on context to deliver narrative impact. And context takes time to build.

There's a saying around the sparring table: "only Orwell can do Orwell."

Others went full-on Bulwer-Lytton. These amateurs were usually knocked out by their opponents before they were able to complete their first sentence fragment.

Good lit-boxers found a groove that worked for them. Joe specialized in "long, short, short" with a quizzical roundhouse. And that's how he started out his bout with The King.

Joe's first paragraph was a solid one, introducing character and situation with a single vignette from a seemingly unimportant character's point of view. A few short sentences later and he had crafted the scene perfectly, and he landed the blow before the king could type out his first adjectival clause.

Score one for Joe.

The King was an old pro and hardly noticed Joe's opening salvo.

The battle went on... Joe versus The King; sentence after sentence, line after line. The running narrative of both contestants being streamed live to social media. Joe was spinning a yarn about redemption and confidence in a post-cyberpunk dystopia. The King followed his muse down the narrative path towards gothic horror.

Five rounds into the bout, the odds-makers started looking nervous. No one expected Joe to last this long. After ten rounds, the judge-mechanics started staring at the editor with worried looks. the machine could go on indefinitely, in theory. But after fifteen rounds small puffs of smoke began to emerge from the machine's cogs and wheels.

The end came quickly -- The King jabbed at Joe with masterfully constructed plot twist. No one in the crowd saw it coming. But it was premature and confused the editor. Joe took the opportunity to drop in a sanguine reminiscence of his main character's childhood.

Maybe four or five humans who read it understood the emotional impact of the juxtaposition of childish innocence with the renewed hope that comes from ignoring experience. In later years the move would be called "Joe's Blake." but it was just enough to topple the weary king.

Everyone in the arena that night got their money's worth. The King fell unconscious, sprawled upon the mat, his fingers seconds away from landing a solid punch.

The ref held Joe's sore hand high, declaring the winner, "AND THE WINNER... BY KNOCK OUT AND DECISION... JOE BUSH OF SUMPTER OREGON!"

No one hear Joe correct the ref... "Call me Ghost... Ghost-Writer."