I began drafting “The Greatest Show on Earth” in response to a very underwhelming circus performance, which at first led to an inquiry into the nature of spectacle. Interestingly (at least I think it’s interesting), the first draft of the story was written in play/script format, with scene details in italics, and narrative commentary ascribed to a narrator or voice over. I loved the form for this essay, but as the story developed, it became more and more about wonderment, the terrific, the terrible, and less and less about the observer and the observed. The narrator, stage directions, and voiceovers also quickly subsumed the dialogue. As I began to revise the story, I twisted and contorted the storyline to justify the form, but in the end the story won. Still, I love the idea of using the form of a script to advance a narrative, and I’ve been waiting for just the right opportunity to revive it.
I’ve heard it’s a bit of a faux pas to share early drafts of unrevised work (after all, we revise for a reason), but to convention I say “Ha!” So here it is, the opening scene to “The Greatest Show on Earth,” as first conceived:
A mountain vista in the background. This is Skyline Divide Trail on one of the last beautiful days of the fall. The low blueberry shrubs have changed into their late-autumn attire, a brilliant russet garment that transforms the alpine meadows from gold to ruby.
- Voice Over: About Skyline Divide, the Hiking Whatcom County book says, “The hike is steep at first, then eases off in old-growth forest for 1.5 miles before reaching a small opening around 5,200 feet. The path soon crosses the wilderness boundary and meets the meadowy crest of the ridge, at one of those places where your whole body involuntarily just says ‘wow.’”
Four hikers enter, wearing packs.
Jen: So, how was the show?
Gwen: Mm, it was interesting. The drumming was fantastic.
Joshua: The contortionist was . . .
Kris: Pretty amazing?
Gwen: Uh, went on too long. The woman finishes his sentence, one of those irksome things that married people do.
Gwen Weerts has an MA in nonfiction creative writing from Western Washington University. She works as an editor for an optical engineering society, and after spending her days immersed in algorithms, debating the most judicious use of a hyphen in the present lens design textbook, she spends her evenings and weekends writing and speaking in run-on, but grammatically perfect, gibberish to her husband, dog, cat, chickens, garden, and anyone else who who will listen. Her essays have appeared in the quarterly publication Adventures Northwest, and she is working on a collection of stories from her year living and learning in sub-Saharan Africa. Her short story, "The Greatest Show on Earth," can be found in Relief issue 4.1.