Lights come up slowly to full fluorescence on a room, drab and industrial in décor, one wall cracked in several places. Empty chairs are arranged in an uneven circle: after a moment, figures drift in and take their seats. Last to arrive is the THERAPIST, clad head to toe in black, carrying a small clipboard and sporting the sort of smile which makes small children fear what’s good for them.
THERAPIST: Hello everybody! I’d like to start today’s session with—
A thin, nervous figure puts up his hand, clearing his throat repeatedly.
OPENING TITLE SEQUENCE: Excuse me? Please? Begging your pardon?
THERAPIST: [sighing] Yes, Opening Title Sequence?
OPENING TITLE SEQUENCE: [clearing throat weakly once again] It’s just that I usually start the meeting—
THERAPIST: Yes, yes, I know. But you must understand: it’s not actually helping you, to keep doing this. As I’ve said before, you really need to find another way, if you’re going to become relevant again, yeah?
OPENING TITLE SEQUENCE: Next week. I’ll do something different next week.
THERAPIST: All right. Go on, then. But this is the last time, mind. Technically, you shouldn’t even be here. This is a support group for literary narrative devices, not TV.
OPENING TITLE SEQUENCE: [singing ecstatically to sudden cheesy music] Duh-doo-doo-doo-doo / bum-de-dum / be-bop-a-loo-la / it’s the narrative device support group show / dum-de-dum-dum-dum / we’ll tell you what you gotta know / yeah!
OMNISCIENT 3RD PERSON NARRATOR: And there’s telling, not showing, if ever I heard it.
THERAPIST: Thank you, Omniscient 3rd Person Narrator. Might I remind you this is a safe space: we do not comment on our fellow members, no matter how smart we think we are.
OMNISCIENT 3RD PERSON NARRATOR: Sorry. It’s a habit.
THERAPIST: So following on from last week’s role-play, we had some homework to do, where we were to try something new, by stepping into someone else’s shoes. Who wants to go first?
A hand shoots up, closely followed by an entire body, leaping into the air in its eagerness.
THERAPIST: Yes! Prologue From The Future? You’d like to start?
PROLOGUE FROM THE FUTURE: Yes please!
EPILOGUE FOR LOOSE ENDS: Why does she always get to go first?
PROLOGUE FROM THE FUTURE: Um, duuh!
THERAPIST: Now, now. Be nice.
EPILOGUE FOR LOOSE ENDS: It’s not even like she’s even fully obsolete! People still use backward-looking prologues all the time!
PROLOGUE FROM THE FUTURE: Maybe that’s because I’m not super lazy and unimaginative, unlike some devices I could mention?
OMNISCIENT 3RD PERSON NARRATOR: Oh, for Christ’s sake. Who writes this stuff?
THERAPIST: Enough! Prologue From The Future, please continue.
PROLOGUE FROM THE FUTURE: So what I did was, I decided to step into the shoes of an Unreliable Narrator…
CONTINUOUS PAST TENSE: I was wondering who was going to hop on the Unreliable Narrator bandwagon this week.
OMNISCIENT 3RD PERSON NARRATOR: They may be flavour of the month, but it’ll never last.
CONTINUOUS PAST TENSE: I was thinking that myself.
PROLOGUE FROM THE FUTURE: [clears throat before reading loudly and smugly] ‘If only I’d told the truth about the man with the gun, Ermintrude would not have died. But that is assuming that the truth is more than just one version of events, and my part in this is anything but a fiction…’
Discontented murmurs break out amongst the rest of the group.
EPILOGUE FOR LOOSE ENDS: But that’s not fair! She’s still being a prologue from the future!
EPISTOLARY NOVEL: Hello! I hope you know she’s just taking liberties with the exercise and using it to bolster her own profile! Sincerely!
THERAPIST: [holding up one hand] Yes, but you can’t deny that she’s also being unreliable, right?
Further discontented murmurs ripple through the room, reluctantly acknowledging this to be true.
THERAPIST: What can we learn from this? Perhaps that in order to succeed, we must build on our own unique talents, yes? Bearing in mind that we are here to cope with changes in literary fashions, with a view to becoming relevant again?
Grudging assent sounds through the group.
THERAPIST: For instance, let’s go to you, Epistolary Novel. Whose shoes did you step into this week?
EPISTOLARY NOVEL: Dear me. Well, this week, I’m going to be…
Suddenly, GRATUITOUS SUSPENSE leaps up from his seat and starts screaming and flicking the lights on and off.
THERAPIST: Gratuitous Suspense, sit DOWN!
EPISTOLARY NOVEL: …a text message!
CONTINUOUS PAST TENSE: [snorting with derision] Like nobody saw THAT coming.
EPISTOLARY NOVEL: But that’s not all! I have a whole section from a Facebook comment thread too!
EPILOGUE FOR LOOSE ENDS: I thought I’d try being a red herring. Do I get extra credit?
Suddenly a crash sounds: the room shakes and heaves, and the entire group is showered in dust.
THERAPIST: Oh my God! The wall!
OMNISCIENT 3RD PERSON NARRATOR: What’s the problem? Three of them look fine.
THERAPIST: But the one behind you has fallen to pieces! Who broke the fourth wall?
ONE-LINER BOB stands, and looks directly at you. A drumroll sounds, and he says…
ONE-LINER BOB: Badum-tish!