Office of Horrors: How to truly scare your co-workers4 min read
Happy System Administrators’ Day! What a joy to have you here in the office! It’s a tough job dealing with peoples’ complaints and broken equipment all day. So why not go home, relax, curl up on the sofa and crack open a book about people working in an office dealing all day with complaints and broken equipment…
Hang on. What?
Why does the office novel exist? Why do we want to read about people doing the same things we’re doing? It’s like the most boring kind of reality TV.
Maybe some of the fascination is that the setting is so recognisable. You could easily be the hero of this story. Janice (your colleague with the annoying cough) could be the hero of this story. Is the appeal simply validation that your seemingly boring 9-5 life might be novel-worthy?
Most office novels don’t ever get around to talking about the work being carried out by the characters (police and legal fiction aside). In fact most of Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris is about the different ways the characters get through their days doing the bare minimum.
Instead office novels focus on the relationships of colleagues; mostly the black comedy scrabble for promotion or the torrid affair. But as well as these we have the micro-focus office novel. Stealing post it notes from a neighbour’s cubicle and trying to hide them well enough that another neighbour doesn’t steal them from you. Using those post it notes to write passive aggressive notes on your cheese sandwich in the fridge (which you’re sure Derek from Accounting has been pilfering). Seeing how many jargon words you can fit into the first page of your report. Undermining someone else’s pivot table.
Half way through a micro-focus office novel you realise either something utterly bewildering is going to happen (killer robot virus colleagues or zombie giraffe apocalypse) or utterly nothing is going to happen. And the second option is scarier, because then what are you doing with your life?
So in your choice between zombie giraffe apocalypse or existential crisis, which do you choose to write?
We already know the office setting is recognisable. Setting a horror in it lures your reader into a world they know, before you let Pandora and her box run riot. But your existential crisis novel is a slow burn horror. Something to build meeting memo by soul-destroying meeting memo.
Go ahead. Write the office horror. Make it scarier than your average annual review.
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