Sunday, March 20, 2011

Idea Garage Sale: Chronology

This is cheating, because I wrote this already, years ago. It was unsaleable, but I'm convinced there must be a way to do this right.

Comic book geek works out how time travel would function, and it's not all that hard once you grasp the principle. In fact, it's way too simple, and if ever commonly implemented would have a revolutionary effect on society, because time travel is also infinite space travel. Once you know how, you can get into your time machine and set it down anywhere and anywhen you like for about the same expenditure of energy.

So instead of going public, he experiments on his own, and supports his research by opening the world's best collector-oriented comic book store. The only people in the know are his wife, eventually his daughter, and the kid who sees his time machine materialize in the 1930s, who still lives in the neighborhood. Oh, and the bad guy, who also used to live in the neighborhood, who figures it out, steals the time machine, and finds he can't navigate. Bouncing around the universe and time eventually drives him mad.

But you tell this story in objective chronological order, as it happened according to the conventional calendar, not subjective order, as it was experienced by the characters. The protagonist appears at many different ages in relationship to the other characters and gives them information according to priorities that change depending on what part of the timeline he's from. It is possible for different versions of the time machine to materialize at the same time, so some scenes will overlap. The only way I could think to do that was to have two columns in those parts of the story, but that's hard to read and hell to revise. Each scene is dated and time stamped, with the author having to provide enough information in each to keep the audience on its toes without frustrating them into throwing the book across the room.

The weaknesses of the scenario are more obvious when I write them out in cold blood than they were at the time, when I was in love with the research and the concept. The objective chronological order thing was the big draw for me - I wanted desperately to make it work, and I'm still convinced it could. But it was really, really hard, and this storyline wasn't doing it.

I also now realize that if you're going to use a time machine for something as trivial as profiting from the collectibles market, your story should have a larger comic element than I was capable of at the time.

The practice in research and writing was excellent, anyway, and it pointed me in the direction I should go. I still like the fanboy protagonist and his tough-minded wife, who dealt with the practical and personal fallout of being married to the inventor of time travel with aplomb and resembled Clare of The Time Traveller's Wife not at all. The woman loved her husband a lot, but didn't have a conventionally romantic bone in her body. The character everybody else who saw this mess liked, though, was the kid from the 30s. I had no idea, prior to that time, that I had any skill in characterizing children. I'm still not sure why I should have that knack, unless it's that I remember my childhood more honestly than a lot of people.

Anyway, anybody who can figure out how to make this gimmick work has my blessing. I so want to see how you do it!

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