Write Here, Write Now: Burden of Proof by Scott Hardy
In Season 2 of Write Here, Write Now: A Vocal Podcast, host Erica Wagner interviews winners of the Vocal+ Fiction Awards
It's one of the hottest summers in recorded history and a couple are attempting to navigate their relationship to each other — and to the future of the Earth. In "Burden of Proof," Scott Hardy captures cycles of inner and outer conflict with a dark and biting wit.
What was the impetus for your winning story? Walk us through your initial act of creation.
I've had this story in the back burner for a long time. I spent years trying to quit eating animal products (I finally succeeded) and trying to commute by bicycle and make less waste, etc. And I realized how entrenched our lifestyle addictions are, and how difficult it is to change anything. We've all seen the documentaries, and we're educated enough to understand how we could do better. And yet, it's very hard to change, so we feel guilt, or we make excuses, and we go through these “cycles” of actually trying to change, and we keep failing, resting, then trying again.
The final impetus was the fact that last year, on the west coast of Canada, we had the hottest heat wave ever recorded (it was 40C in Vancouver, 50C in the interior). It's fascinating how something like that makes you care more about the planet, but also it makes you more selfish in the short term, because your priority is to be comfortable. So I wanted to explore that conflict as well.
People hate being preached to about animal ethics or environmental issues, so I thought it'd be great to create a fictional young couple who really cares about these issues, but they're hypocritical and imperfect and a little bit over the top at the same time. The cycle is kind of comical, so I wanted to humanize these characters' struggles but also poke fun at them. Sometimes they go too far, or they're acting on false information, or they're unaware of the side effects of a new action, but at least they're trying, and that's admirable. It's a gentle satire (or self-parody). They're not heroes or villains, just human. I hoped it would be relatable because you're either like that, or you definitely know people like that.
What does it take for a story to grab you? How do you grab your audience?
I'm grabbed by language that's direct and not wasteful or too florid, so that's what I strive for in my writing as well. People will tolerate not understanding a few words here and there, but if they have to pick up a dictionary to understand a sentence (in a language they're fluent in), or re-read it three times, you're doing something wrong. In the era of attention deficit, it's very risky to be too taxing on your readers. If you can tell a story in 1000 words, don't use 3000. Orwell's six rules are pretty good to keep in mind.
Especially when reading authors they don't know online, I think people scan for stories and give most of them up pretty quick, and so the first impressions are paramount. For “Burden of Proof”, I start in the middle of a scene, and it's ridiculous and funny from there. It's about grabbing readers at the beginning and not letting them go until they're done reading, preferably in one sitting. I try to keep things funny and easy to read in every section, and every section fairly short. This story is not plot-driven, so every vignette had to be funny or I risked losing readers halfway.
Who are your favorite writers and why? Do you have any favorite Vocal Creators?
I grew up reading 95% fiction to 5% non fiction, probably because I was getting my science from school, but now it's the opposite. I've been reading a lot of history, and I'm currently making my way through Edward Gibbon's six volume *The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.* It's quite fascinating. I love reading Steven Pinker, Robert Sapolsky, and Robert Wright.
Some of my favorite fiction writers are Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, Emile Zola, Hemingway, Orwell, Alberto Moravia, Milan Kundera, Albert Camus, Jose Saramago, Saul Bellow, Philip Roth. “Why?” is a difficult question. I think I relate to humanistic intellectuals, writers who really dig deep and try to portray the irrational aspects of people, and writers who aren't trying to propagandize some political or moral opinion in their fiction. Instead, they try to understand and portray, rather than judge.
As for Vocal creators, lately I've just been reading the other winners of the Fiction challenges, and I'd say my top 3 favorites are “Exit Wound” by Rachel Pollock, “Mistress of the House of Books” by Matthew Daniels, and “Bull” by Jacqueline Garrahan.
How has sharing your writing in life and on Vocal affected you as a Creator?
I've struggled with perfectionism. This was the first contest I entered in probably over 5 years, so I'm glad I'm one of the winners, because it gave me the confidence to keep writing and keep submitting to other contests and publications.
True perfectionism means you never finish anything, and you never share it, you never publish it, because it's never good enough. In reality, your story is probably pretty good since you've redrafted it about a hundred times, but not as good as it will be at draft number 468, so you keep doing that, and you probably end up hurting the story by changing it so much, distrusting it so much. It's very unhealthy. I'm finally getting to a point where I can let things go in less than 10 drafts. It's always painful because I know I can do better, but it's also extremely liberating to let things go. It takes so much mental bandwidth to keep a hundred unfinished stories in the back burner indefinitely. I think “Burden of Proof” is far from perfect, but there was a deadline, I forced myself to let it go, and I won. You never know!
I also have to say that it's quite lovely for Vocal to acknowledge so many runners-up in the contests, because often there's only one winner, and if your story was still one of the favourites, you'll never hear about it. Getting positive feedback once in a while is really important to keep your confidence from deflating.
What advice do you have for other Creators?
To reiterate the point made above, stop endlessly redrafting and let your story go. Stop looking at your stats and your wallet. I know it's difficult, but it really does much more harm than good. Written stories will almost never go viral overnight like Tiktok videos, so it's extremely unlikely you will have gotten thousands of reads in the past 24 hrs. Check your stats only once in a while.
Keep doing most of the challenges and contests, here and elsewhere. Deadlines are good, getting out of your comfort zone is good, word count limits are good, and the prizes are very generous.
If you really want to be an author, and not just write listicles and silly click-bait stories for money, you have to be brutally honest. Write not only about things you want to write about, but especially the things you don't want to write about. Don't worry about what people you know may think about you when/if they read it.
Everybody's always talking about “rejection” in this industry, but I think the problem you face the most is just silence. You're not rejected, you just don't hear any feedback from anyone ever. Maybe people are loving your stories, they just don't tell you. So you mistake the silence for rejection, and the low stats for rejection. There's a blizzard of data every day competing for people's attention, and so people don't offer feedback willingly. I think it's healthy to reach out to other writers and avid readers and ask them for feedback on your writing, and also do the same for others.
Stay tuned for new episodes of Write Here, Write Now Season 2 launching weekly.
About the Creator
Write Here, Write Now: A Vocal Podcast
Sex, death, relationships, nature, families... If you like to stop, think and consider things a little differently, join host Erica Wagner as she introduces a new Vocal creator’s story each week.
Great interview with great insights and advice! 💫👏🏽
the strong intent throughout the post, and meaningful messages for readers and followers like us, we can gain several useful lessons out of his insights.
A wonderful interview. I could identify with so many of Scott's insights and thoughts.