Short Story

What Can We Steal From Thad Kenner’s “My Wife Doesn’t Get Just How Good I Am at Call of Duty”?

Title of Work and its Form: “My Wife Doesn’t Get Just How Good I Am at Call of Duty,” short story
Author: Thad Kenner
Date of Work: 2014
Where the Work Can Be Found:  The piece made its debut on Monkeybicycle in January 2014.  You can read the story here.

Bonus: Here is a piece Mr. Kenner published online at Hobart.

Element of Craft We’re Stealing: Titling

I usually begin each of these essays with a summary of the work in question.  This time, I want to talk about the title.  I was just looking through the ol’ Great Writers Steal Twitter feed when I saw this:

After reading that tweet, I simply had no choice but to click on Monkeybicycle‘s link.  I haven’t read Mr. Kenner’s story yet, but I want to point out why I think his title is cool and effective:

  1. The title establishes a character.  I’ve read the title, so I’ve really already started reading the guy’s story.
  2. The title establishes conflict.  There’s some Call of Duty-inspired marital strife going on.  I don’t happen to play the game, but I know this happens.
  3. The title establishes POV.  It’s in the first person.  I already feel close to this guy, just by reading the title.
  4. The title is a little bit “odd.”  I dunno…when I try to think of a title, I usually end up with a significant word or phrase from the story.  Or the name of the pivotal character.  Or something else that is boring.  Mr. Kenner’s title is “different.”
  5. The title relates to something that a lot of people like.  Like I said, I’ve never played Call of Duty and I don’t have an XBox, but I do know that lots of people do play the game.  I’m hoping that gamers who don’t ordinarily read short stories will click on the story (and read it) based upon the title.

Okay, now that I’ve described what brought me to the story in the first place, I’m going to actually read the story.  BRB.  K?  OMFGWTFBBQ?  A/S/L?

Okay.  I read the story.  (It didn’t take long.)  Fortunately, I enjoyed it a great deal.  It would be a bit embarrassing if I went to the trouble of writing the first half of the essay and ended up hating the story in question.  “My Wife Doesn’t Get Just How Good I Am at Call of Duty” is a piece of flash fiction in which the narrator describes how the relationship with his wife has changed during his extended time between “freelance” gigs.  The wife is at work every day and he is at home playing Call of Duty.  In the past, husband and wife would be supportive of the others’ pursuits.  This time, however, the wife just doesn’t appreciate her husband’s Call of Duty skills.

The prose is fun and the details seem accurate to me.  I don’t know if Mr. Kenner plays Call of Duty, but the screen names seem pretty typical.  I’m sure we all enjoyed that the story relates to the eternal conflict: partners trying to relate to each other and attempting to preserve domestic tranquility.

What do I think we can steal from the actual story?  I don’t know about you, but I really try to be a good person and not to hurt anyone.  Life is hard enough; I don’t want to contribute unfairly to anyone else’s happiness.  We live in a time in which there are many competing worldviews and the Internet brings them to us EVERY DAY.  WE CANNOT GET AWAY FROM THEM.  Most people must be a little bit like me: I try to reconsider my positions when I’m presented with a solid argument by a social scholar.  Here’s the problem: if ideology comes before story when I’m reading or writing, it’s no good.  When someone flips their metaphorical chair around and says, “Hey, I’m gonna tell you a story,” the narrative and characters must come first.  I can’t be thinking about this -ism or that -ism when I’m trying to feel the narrator’s joy or pain.

Social commentary doesn’t seem to have been Mr. Kenner’s primary goal, so I pushed ideological concerns out of my mind as I enjoyed the story.  Now that I’m done, here are some of the questions that I’m not letting myself consider:

  • The wife has a job and the narrator doesn’t.  Is he fulfilling his responsibility in the relationship?
  • Would we ask the same question if the genders were reversed?  And should we?
  • The first person narrator never specifies his or her own gender.  Is it being heternormative to simply assume that the narrator is male?  After all, I couldn’t care less if two women get married.
  • Some Call of Duty players say hurtful words to each other through their microphones.  Are there better ways to express what they’re feeling?  Should we try to condition aggression out of people?  Out of men?  Is it even possible?
  • There are countless women out there who enjoy the game.  Why can’t the wife play Call of Duty?

I could go on for quite some time, but I don’t think that is what Mr. Kenner would like.  He wrote a really short, really fun story that left me feeling a bit sad for the narrator.  My reading of the piece indicates that there’s a storm brewing between husband and wife.  They seem to love each other, but may be growing apart.

The Twilight Zone was conceived out of Rod Serling’s desire to tell socially relevant stories without all the hassle he received when confronting racism and other problems without the benefit of the scrim of science fiction or fantasy.  Those who were against integration in 1959, for example, were less likely to understand that Serling was arguing for equality because the story took place on Mars instead of on terra firma.

Have we all spent countless hours thinking about the powerful ideologies that Serling was espousing through his show?  Sure.  But Serling (and Matheson and all of the other writers) put storytelling over their desire to tell others what’s wrong with crazy people in this crazy world.

What Should We Steal?

  • Refuse to settle for a boring title.  I have one terrible story I called “The Choice.”  Really?  “The Choice?”  Why didn’t I just call it “Random Noun?”
  • Ensure that your story is more important than your message.  How will anyone interact with your grand idea about humanity if the story seems like a lecture?

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