Don’t take the monkey bypass
(an essay on writing)


When Alyx and I visited with two old friends last weekend, we all went to the African Lion Safari south of Cambridge, Ontario. It’s a big exotic game farm where the animals roam in huge  enclosures, and humans drive through them. Humans in little tiny mobile pens, animals in big open habitats. This is the way a zoo should be.

At the gate were signs about the Monkey Bypass, which (the signs implied) you should use if you’re squeamish about bad things happening to your car. Intriguing! We asked the attendant for more details. She said that if you drive through the big monkey enclosure, chances are good the monkeys will abuse your car. Jump on it. Pummel it. Smear shit on it. Rip off your aerial and wipers. If you choose to go through the monkey enclosure, chances are good monkeys will trash your car. If you don’t take the Monkey Bypass, you risk damage.

Awesome, I thought. Can’t wait!

Imagine my disappointment when our old friend decided to take the Monkey Bypass. Turns out he didn’t want to expose his rental to monkey wrath. I can’t say I blame him. But I was disappointed.

What a lost opportunity!

Now here’s my point: If you’re writing fiction, you can’t take the Monkey Bypass. Don’t take your characters on the safe route. Don’t let them bypass any kind of danger — emotional, physical, psychological, financial. Don’t keep them from risking everything. You drive your story right into that monkey enclosure and let them trash the fuck out of your characters. Find the biggest, baddest, cleverest, meanest monkey and drive your car right up to that bastard. Provoke it. Taunt it. Honk your horn. Give it hell, and take every piece of hell that monkey gives out.

I read a lot of stories that take the Monkey Bypass, and it’s just simply not good enough. If you’re driving your story through and the monkeys aren’t giving out the shit, you’ve got to find it. Dig it out of your soul. Find that thin edge of drama and wedge it, hard.

The Monkey Bypass takes you somewhere safe and known. That’s not what we’re in fiction for. We’re here to get the shit kicked out of us.