What if there was a limit to how many words you could speak each day?
How would that affect our relationships with others? Would we find new ways to communicate? Would we discover all the ways that already exist?
This is the premise of my newest story “Speechless,” published in Dandelion Revolution Press‘s latest anthology Every Breath Alight. I’ve always believed that the best short story ideas stem from these two words: What if…
For example, here are some of the story concepts featured in Every Breath Alight:
- What if there was a retelling of The Little Mermaid and in this version, Ariel is the villain? (“Chant de la Mer” by Hayley E. Frerichs)
- What if climate change really does render our world toxic to live in? (“The Salon” by Jessica Kaplan)
- What if you met someone who held the power to alter your past thoughts and memories? (“The Weaver” by Archita Mittra)
See what I mean?
But, alas, I cannot take credit for the idea of my story, “Speechless.” No, this story idea was born on the maroon tiled floor of the movie theater concession stand, amongst buttery popcorn and upset customers late for their film showing. It was here at the movie theater that I worked during my college summer and winter breaks, and here that I learned the power of conversation. My eight-hour shifts would turn into eight-hour conversations. Questions and jokes and stories and impressions–everything was fair game. And it was here, circa 2013(ish), that one of my coworkers turned to me and posed the question, “What if there was a limit to how many words you could speak each day?”
It was like he had turned around with a wrapped gift and handed it to me. Here you go, Paige. A perfect story concept. You’re welcome.
The problem that would plague me for the next SEVEN YEARS was that I had a story concept but I didn’t have a story plot. Questions floated around in my head for years, aimlessly, annoyingly.
How could I make this work?
Would it involve any talking?
What would the setting be?
What would the ending be?
And, for that matter… the beginning and middle????
Imagine being a writer with the perfect story concept and yet no clue how to make it work.
A G O N Y.
Until, one day in July 2020, at the height of my COVID writer’s block, I put pen to paper. For years I was in love with the idea of the story, but I wasn’t seeing it in a larger context. Why would the characters have a word limit?
When the concept was first presented to me, I immediately thought of fantastical and dystopian worlds unrelated to our own. But once I began to write, I envisioned the leaders of this world and why they’d want to impose word limits on their citizens. I took inspiration from real societies in today’s world that are super strict on their citizens, some going so far as to eliminate social media and internet. We saw it then in China, we see it today in Iran, we’ve seen for over 50 years in North Korea. And yes, we’ve seen it in America. It really isn’t hard to envision the leaders of a repressive world and why they’d see the need to create a word limit; millions are living in a slightly different version of this reality today.
Writing the first draft felt exhilarating. It is a letter to the larger world, yes, but it also a tale of a girl who wanted nothing more than to talk to a boy.
I envisioned this young teenage girl, shy and aching for connection. I envisioned my own young adult self who spent so much of her time at a minimum wage job, partaking in silly conversations every shift. What a gift that was.
If you read my story, I hope you’ll understand why I chose for most of it to take place not in some blockbuster, dramatic setting…but rather a simple, small convenience store.
I’m incredibly proud of this story and all it represents. If you love short stories featuring dynamic women characters, Every Breath Alight might be perfect for you! “In this third anthology from Dandelion Revolution Press, a breathtaking collection of fourteen stories tells tales of women who find their voices—and aren’t afraid to use them.”
I want to thank all those who helped me get this story out into the world:
To my coworkers at the movie theater, who probably have no idea how much they shaped me or my stories.
To my writing group (my writing family!!) who read this first draft and gave me INCREDIBLE suggestions to make the world more complex and vivid.
To my Dandelion Revolution Press co-founders and editors, for obvious reasons. ❤