Sunday, May 20, 2012

Idea Garage Sale: Schroedinger's Note

This one's from my husband, Damon. So you see it's not just writers who do this!

We both just read The Future of Us, by Jay Asher and Carolyn Macker, and he was thinking. You have one of those high school notes where the writer gives the recipient a multiple choice question and the recipient ticks one blank and passes the note back. The question is a typical high school one - go to homecoming with me yes/no, free for lunch yes/no, like the same person as me yes/no - but the answer has repercussions.

This note is in a box. Until the box is opened, both answers are ticked. The person whose job it is to open the box can't bear to do so, and will be living the repercussions of both answers alternately until the box is opened.

An advantage of making this a high school story is that certain events are locked in - the homecoming dance will occur on schedule, the protagonist is already committed to certain extracurriculars and classes, the parents' job and marital milestones and difficulties will not be changed by the protagonist's behavior - so that it's a simple matter to examine the different emotional repercussions of each answer and the ripple effect of each within the peer group within a locked-in framework. Sooner or later, though, a situation will arise in which the way a major decision is made, one that follows logically from the original note, and from that point the future is locked in - the protagonist can't have it both ways anymore. To be fully effective, both futures should have notable upsides and downsides and the decision should be a lot harder than the question posed by the original note.

The problem here is that the logical person to open the box is not the person on whom the decision depends, but the person who asked the question in the first place. Which is all kinds of messed up - by asking the question, he's deflected the decision onto someone else and having done that, he can't very well take the power away. You could change it so that the object in the box is a wish object, but this removes the core of the idea, the thing that makes it interesting. So that's no good.

I suggested that the protagonist could be so cripplingly indecisive that he makes all his urgent decisions based on a coin flip or dice toss, in which case you've got not a box, but a dice cup clamped down on top of the fateful roll; and as long as Indeterminate Teen doesn't lift the cup, both futures are happening. This spectacularly dysfunctional character quirk then becomes a major element in the story, though, and dictates the character arc.

One thing that occurs to me now is that the note could be intercepted by some third party with a stake in the communication, but it's hard to imagine what that stake could be or how it could justify holding onto the note.

Maybe this is soluble, but between us, we haven't cracked it yet.

1 comment:

  1. This gimmick will make a swell story when someone figures out how to use it.