The Story Behind the Story: “Void”

Years ago, I lived in a big apartment complex in South Korea that had its own ATM machine. It was an old machine, and for whatever reason, it tended to be very temperamental—sometimes it’d be out of bills, sometimes it’d be unusually slow, and sometimes it just wouldn’t work at all. Oddly, it was almost humanlike in how it would have good days and bad days. Occasionally I’d find myself getting frustrated by its fickleness and defects, but I’d quickly realize how futile—an amusing—it was to be so aggravated by an inanimate thing.

Couple those ATM annoyances—minor as they might have been—with another issue that I think most people have dealt with at some point: the frustration of having to deal with an electronic voice or recording—often in a customer service situation—instead of conversing with a real person. I think there’s this pervasive line of thinking that computer programs offer a more streamlined experience for a frustrated customer and ultimately expedite any given transaction. But what will happen as computers become more personable? How might the automated customer service sector be impacted by computers that have personalities (…think of Siri’s snarkiness being only the beginning)?

            Somewhere in between all that, the idea for this story emerged. It started with a vague idea of what I wanted to write about—a man (the narrator) conversing with an ATM. Those were to be the main characters. And that seemed simple enough for a premise, but then questions arose about the topic of the characters’ conversation and the tone of their discussion and how it would all ultimately be resolved.

I knew that I had to insert conflict somewhere near the beginning to set the whole story in motion. I came up with the idea of the narrator divulging his secret desire to have an affair with the neighbor because an affair was so blatantly an act that only a human could do; the ATM could only relate to such a situation factually and logically rather than emotionally. So, all this instantly put a fjord between the narrator and the ATM. Once that separation was established, it naturally created conflict and it was just fun to fill in the dialogue—one character speaking with such emotion and the other being overly logical.

I quickly realized that writing the narrator’s ongoing argument with the ATM felt much like writing an argument between a couple—say, a husband and wife, or a boyfriend and girlfriend. And since the story is founded on a theme of potential infidelity, I liked that. That’s when the story really started coming to life for me, amid that realization.

Related Posts
Filter by
Post Page
Featured Fiction New Fiction Fiction Craft Why I Write The Story Behind the Story Essays/Articles (all) Most Popular Advice / Suggestions
Sort by

“Void”

The ATM asks whether you would like your money in $10 bills or $50s, but you take a moment to consider whether you
2017-05-11 22:45:23
jab638

18

“Don’t Tell Me What to Think or How to Feel: Avoiding Didacticism”

In my last article, I touched upon the importance of subtlety of theme in effective writing. This can also be
2015-05-15 19:29:08
kcochran

18

“Avoid the Bog: Save Revision for Later”

I spent this past weekend being an academic. While I’ve presented at plenty of writers
2015-01-26 06:20:40
taylor

10

Why I Write: Jim Powell

I’m writing this essay eleven days out of an eleven-day hospital stay with a COPD exacerbation, the third stark r
2019-02-06 11:30:56
jepowell

8

The Story Behind the Story: “The Laundromat”

This story started with Leonard Cohen’s “Chelsea Hotel #2.” I used to commute 70 minutes to work
2019-01-16 12:27:43
mfiander

8

“Why Is a Raven Like a Writing Desk?”

The life of an author can be peculiar. Certain experiences ought to be grand events accompanied by trumpets and
2019-01-02 09:25:06
laine

8

“Writing and the Unconscious: A Personal Exploration of Process and Content”

If dreams are the royal road to the unconscious mind as proposed by Freud, then what are the stories that we write?
2018-12-28 19:34:37
stephanieh

8

“Chekhov’s Rule”

When I first met Walker, he had a job at the tackle shop on the river and a classic early-seventies Chevy Nova,
2018-12-03 11:27:44
chiappone

8

“Lost and Found”

Technology is great.  When it works. When it doesn’t, blood pressure goes up.  Angry words are spoken.  Deno
2018-11-23 08:32:00
dana

8

“A Writer, Not Writing”

Except for a sneeze muffled into the crook of an arm, a sigh here or there, an occasional cough, or the sandy
2018-10-01 17:39:41
edward-dougherty

8

John Burgman

About John Burgman

John Burgman is the author of a book, Why We Climb. His writing has appeared online or in print at Esquire, Portland Review, The Rumpus, and other outlets. Follow him on Twitter: @John_Burgman