This Week in Short Fiction


The gamer story. Regardless of its iteration—D&D, Commodore 64, Nintendo, X Box, LARP—there is the hero, and there is the rest of the gang, subjugated as sidekicks and underlings. The gamer story has a long tradition of tropes and structures, arcs and character elements, at the center of which has always been the hero telling the story and in world more like ours, the person role-playing that hero. But this week in their always entertaining and innovating, Recommended Reading series, Electric Literature brings the gamer story to a new level.

The story in question is “Hero Absorbs Major Damage,” by Charles Yu, which originally appeared in his 2012 collection, Sorry Please Thank You. Electric Literature partnered with Genius, an interactive interface that allows users to “annotate the world,” anything from rap lyrics to Shakespeare (to this excerpt from See How Small, Scott Blackwood’s new novel). In this case, Yu used Genius to annotate a whole new perspective into his story. Now we also see this adventure through the eyes of Fjoork, formerly just the elf who decided to blindly follow the Hero along on his journey according to said Hero. Suddenly, Fjoork comes to life in all his snarky bitterness. Suddenly, we know too the struggles and desires alike of this mercenary elf.

Not surprising, the annotations add a new level of humor to the story. For example, there’s the moment where the POV shifts in the game, and the Hero realizes he’s the Hero. Or so he told us before: “Me. As in the Hero.” Now, you click on this yellow annotated bit of text and you can hear Fjoork’s take on the Hero’s transcendental moment:

Then one day, the dude decided that he would henceforth be known as “The Hero” which pretty much came out of nowhere. It was a really weird moment, almost like the dude—excuse me, The Hero—was listening to his own internal soundtrack, and then he looked around at the rest of the group and said, “Follow me,” and sort of flicked his good hair back, and the group said, sure, okay, let’s go and The Hero was sort of waiting for something more and everyone knew it but no one wanted to say it and it was kind of awkward for a long minute and finally the elf said fine, whatever, “We Shall Follow You,” and The Hero seemed happy with that and said let us go forth. Ugh.

Given the not-so-long-ago dawning realization in literature that perhaps more than one person can—and ought—to tell a story in order to get at a more complex understanding of truth and reality, the Genius annotations offer a new way to expand the medium of storytelling. They also offer a way to simultaneously tell a story. From the same spot on the page, you have two voices now, where before we only had one. It’s not hard to imagine other annotations in other colors for other characters. If we have questions about Trin and her actual feelings for the hero, those could one day be added in as well. In that way, the Genius annotations seem like a wide-open field day for fan fiction.

While you do have the option to only click through Fjoork’s yellow annotations, completely bypassing the Hero’s rendering altogether, in this iteration of the annotations, Fjoork’s story still comes across as a mere pop-up window, a story in response to the Hero’s story, and ultimately a story that takes a little more to get to and that could be ignored altogether. This makes the medium a bit separate and not quite equal at this point. Still, it’s an innovative move forward, and definitely a fun experience. In fact, Fjoork’s perspective expands the story in such interesting ways, by the time you get to the end, it’s difficult to imagine reading this story without his voice.


Were she still alive, Flannery O’Connor would have turned 90 on Wednesday. In commemoration, some of our favorite quips, both in real life and in story, from the short story master and grand peacock keeper.

From Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose

  • “In fiction, two plus two is always more than four.”
  • “Necessity is the mother of other things besides invention.”


From “The River”

  • “It occurred to him that he was lucky this time that they had found Mrs. Connin who would take you away for the day instead of an ordinary sitter who only sat where you lived or went to the park. You found out more when you left where you lived. He had found out already this morning that he had been made by a carpenter named Jesus Christ.”


From “Good Country People”

  • “When Hulga stumped into the kitchen in the morning (she could walk without making the awful noise but she made it—Mrs. Hopewell was certain—because it was ugly-sounding), she glanced at them and didn’t speak.”
  • “True genius can get an idea across even to an inferior mind. She imagined that she took his remorse in hand and changed it into a deeper understanding of life. She took all his shame away and turned it into something useful.”
  • “The kiss, which had more pressure than feeling behind it, produced that extra surge of adrenalin in the girl that enables one to carry a packed trunk out of a burning house, but in her, the power went at once to the brain. Even before he released her, her mind, clear and detached and ironic anyway, was regarding him from a great distance, with amusement but with pity. She had never been kissed before and she was pleased to discover that it was an unexceptional experience and all a matter of the mind’s control. Some people might enjoy drain water if they were told it was vodka.”
  • “Without the leg she felt entirely dependent on him. Her brain seemed to have stopped thinking altogether and to be about some other function that it was not very good at. Different expressions raced back and forth over her face. Every now and then the boy, his eyes like two steel spikes, would glance behind him where the leg stood. Finally she pushed him off and said, ‘Put it back on me now.’”


From “The Life You Save May Be Your Own”

  • “The old woman watched him with her arms folded across her chest as if she were the owner of the sun, and the daughter watched, her head thrust forward and her fat helpless hands hanging at the wrists. She had long pink-gold hair and eyes as blue as a peacock’s neck.”
  • “There were times when Mr. Shiftlet preferred not to be alone. He felt too that a man with a car had a responsibility to others and he kept his eye out for a hitchhiker. Occasionally he saw a sign that warned: “Drive carefully. The life you save may be your own.”


Jill Schepmann's stories have been read on NPR and have appeared in Parcel and Midwestern Gothic, among others. She worked as a fiction and nonfiction editor at Nashville Review while getting her MFA at Vanderbilt. She lives in San Francisco and tweets @jillypants. More from this author →