As you know, if you’re following/backing my Kickstarter fundraiser for the publication of my next book, I’ve made some good progress on that project in the last 24 hours. I wrote the first draft of the first of the essays I’ll be including, and I began work on an idea for a new time-related short story. Actually, in the last 12 hours (since I first came up with the idea for the new story), I’ve written somewhat over 1200 words of notes, outline, and information toward the development of that story. I spent the last 3 hours trying to figure out how to start writing it, actually – it’s difficult to know where to begin, in a story with a lot of convoluted & iterative time travel, without a good idea of the entire sweep of the story.
As you may know (I don’t know whether I’ve mentioned it here), I’m not a fan, in general, of the “it was all a dream” story structure. For example, regardless of anything else it may have going for it, I consider Donnie Darko a piece of shit because it cancels out everything interesting that would have happened in it, if not for the time-altering resolution. I recently watched and complained online about several episodes of Stargate where “it was all a dream.” In one episode, we start in the future, follow the characters, the intrigue, the investigation, then the dramatic action sequence, the result of which is … nothing you just watched happened, because they sent a note back in time preventing it. In another episode we watch what seems like interesting character development, interesting action, and enigma-unravelling intrigue, but when they unravel it, it turns out the team was actually kidnapped, and everything we just watched never happened, it was just a dream the alien captors projected into their minds. There were three episodes in a row that did the same thing.
I don’t like it. I don’t like spending hour after hour watching or reading about events that, within the story’s own created rules/timeline/consistency, never happened. I don’t mind that it’s fiction. I know that fiction never happened. I don’t even mind something like fan-fiction, which I know isn’t canon & the events of which didn’t “actually” occur in the timeline of the original story. So I suppose it may be a subtle, difficult-to-define line. I suppose it has more to do with a particular structural technique within the story, rather than the basic concept of a story that “never happened.”
So … knowing how much I dislike “it was all a dream” stories, it was -momentarily- troublesome to me when I realized that there was an aspect of this sort of structure in the new story I’ve been developing.
Then I remembered what a “terrible” writer I am: My plan for the story is (and has been since I came up with it) to not tell the parts of the story that were cancelled out by time travel (except as first-hand accounts by witnesses from the alternate futures). I’ve been mapping out the (currently three) iterations of an epic space opera involving human colonization of the solar system, invasion by aliens, and humans’ various (and increasingly advanced) attempts to defend itself, making use of a modicum of time travel as a last-resort measure, over and over, and that’s why I have so many pages of notes already. I’m confident that I could, if I didn’t write the story in such a way that cut out all the action, adventure, romance, et cetera -if I wrote in a more traditional way, and if I wrote “publishable” fiction- this could easily be a book length story by itself. Quite possibly an epic space opera, longer than any of my other individual books.
Instead, I’m going to write it from a different sort of perspective. I’m going to try to explore the effects and implications of time travel (and love), rather than to try to write an exciting and engaging yarn of adventures through space and time. I’m also going to try to address part of the idea that people are trying to wrap their minds around when they utter something like “if time travel was possible, wouldn’t we have seen time travelers already?” I’m going to do it by showing all the parts that weren’t “just a dream” and I’m going to leave out all the parts that were.
When I first began explaining the story to my wife, this afternoon, I said that it seemed I was about to write yet another story where nothing happens; where none of the action takes place on the page, where it’s just a bunch of people talking about things that happened, and about what they’d like to do next. Seems to be a big part of my writing style, I suppose.