Thursday, March 28, 2013

Alternating Universes, Alternating Stories, and, Yes, Mysteries of the Universe

Alternate universe fiction is a genre that presupposes a universe similar to our own in all but a few significant distances.  The more you consider the implications of alternate universes, the more important you believe the necessity for you to have read some of them, written at least one, and spend some time discussing with students and editorial clients.

All readers enjoy surprise.  As a consequence, each genre provides an appropriate presentation of a turn of events or discovery that the reader is not likely to anticipate. The reader of Alternate Universe fiction enters it with expectations of being transported to a landscape of some surprises which had no being in this universe, surprises that keep the reader off balance, eager to continue with the narrative in order to experience the things and events that come next.

Although the reader enjoys the surprises and continues reading to experience them, the moment these things and events and devices become predictable, the reader sets the book down, perhaps intending to return.  Not to put too obvious a joke on the matter, under such circumstances, you'd be surprised if the reader were to return.  Predictability is not a valued commodity in story.

Until the pieces fell into place where  you were able to see the alternate universe story or novel as a framework for any novel, even those which seem to be most distant in theme and implication, you were fond of your belief that every novel, however far away in theme and implication, was a mystery novel or novel of detection.  This recent Alternate Universe revelation that has come to you, by no means in the desert, does not in any way interfere with the mystery novel being a template for any novel.

More to the point, a novel is both, simultaneously.

This leads you to conflate the notion of surrealism in the visual arts with story.  Surrealism in effect suggests another potential universe where a distorted or anomalous image is the norm, thus the Magritte "portrait" with the large apple.

A lifetime of reading, rereading, and contemplation about what you've read and why certain characters and situations work so well for you have made it easier to approach your own work.  Troubles arose there when you carried too much thought with you into your work, wondering how an effect was achieved, why it worked, how you could bring the same kind of technique to bear in a situation you had under way.

Nice to be able to draw the line in the process where you're so caught up listening to the characters that you don't have time to think about anything else.  You in fact do not have time to think until you've finished a day's work and begin to reread what you've learned from your characters.

The best way of all to surprise yourself as you write is the way of listening to them, the characters,pursuing their goals.  Each of them, you need to remind yourself, is a separate universe, an alternate universe.  Thus the characters are--and should be--apart from you, central to their own universe, governed by the quality that alternates them from your universe, governed in addition by the differences in their own universe.

Where you'd spent past hours contriving outlines and dramatic throughlines, you now find it easier to get into a greater sense of "their" story, "their" universe than you did when you tried to force your notion of the universe on them.

Note to self:  Read your characters' memoirs.  Believe them.  If they do not have memoirs, you must take some time to help them set one down.  But be careful you don't try to impose your universe on theirs.

Example:  Yesterday, in a discussion with ENK, who lives in Hollywood, you directed her to a Sears store in your alternate universe, which is to say that your Sears store was at the southeast corner of Santa Monica Boulevard and Western Avenue.  Not only that, the store was still known as Sears, Roebuck.  In another world, kiddo.  There are now some Sears stores in Glendale and Burbank, but the Sears, Roebuck of your Los Angeles universe is long gone.

The message here is that you have an eye and memory for places and details in your universe.  These are valuable tools for evoking your universe, but you must also remember: Where ever you focus within your universe, that landscape has  undergone and will continue to undergo changes.  Your characters come from their own universe, and you will do well to remember this, because, no matter how much you argue the matter, story begins when two or more characters step on stage, each believing her or his cause to be the just and correct one.

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