Some trouble with the time travel story

•May 18, 2013 • Leave a Comment

So I have been writing the time travel story that I outlined in my previous post. I’ve hit a bit of a snag. I want the protagonists (and the storytellers) to be two young brothers. But how do I briefly give the rundown on the time period when they live, especially if they are too young to really have a grasp on current events? I wrote a few paragraphs trying different approaches. Here they are.

The first is a paper headline:

EXCLUSIVE! European diplomats storm out of peace talks! War now seems inevitable! USA and Russia coordinate armed forces against the Mexico-China alliance! European forces mass along Bulgarian-Turkish border! Time portals to be restricted for official use only!

The second is a conversation between the protagonists’ father and a bartender:

“Did you see the headlines today? The last ditch effort by the supers to assuage the Mexico-China axis completely failed.” The customer looked intently at the bartender to gauge his reaction. The bar was eerily quiet for an establishment in Midtown Manhattan.

“Well, David, we should have seen it coming. We used to be superpowers, us and the Russians. Now everyone’s too damn wealthy. Everyone wants to settle old debts. We should have kept the benefits of the time portals only to ourselves to keep us ahead of the world.” The bartender looked around, then poured himself a drink.

“Yeah, but we needed everyone’s help to make them in the first place.”

“And now all the other nations think it’s their right to tell us how to run things here in our home. No thanks! Back then, we wouldn’t have even worried about being attacked, with the two oceans protecting us. But now, with the transport tubes… I would get your family out of this time period. Heck, leave this entire century behind! I would if I had the money.” The bartender started out the window as he continued to sip at his drink.

David knew. He knew he had to get his sons Tom and Chris to safety. He paid for his drink, grabbed his jacket, and hurried out of the bar.

And the third is a simple narrative. I like this one the least…

The United States and the Russian Federation could find no allies other than each other. The construction of the time portals, the portal to the future in Washington D.C. and the portal to the past in Moscow, had consigned them to forever be the envy of the rest of the world. Back when the portals were built, centuries ago, by a collective global effort, the two superpowers had been able to force their will on all the other nations on where they should be built. The portals had brought unbelievable wealth and prestige to the two nations. However, regional and ethnic rivalries kept the rest of the world divided. With wealth pouring in from the use of the time portals for trade, old ambitions flared up. And the portals themselves were the object of intense desire…

So the benefit of the first, the newspaper headline, is that it’s short and sweet. It let’s me get to the protagonists quickly, and get the story flowing. The problem with it, is that it doesn’t really do a great job of telling why war is imminent, nor of painting a good picture of the world and how time travel is used. The second is probably my favorite so far, but it feels like it takes too long to get to the actual story. The third is more like a brainstorm than anything else… Anyway, I think I will work with the second, unless I can think of a way to incorporate this world-revealing within the actual story, and by the protagonists.

Brainstorm: Time travel

•May 8, 2013 • Leave a Comment

I’m a bit of a reddit reader. So, naturally, now that I’m blogging again, I’ve thought about how to potentially promote this blog on reddit. Not only that, I have also thought about how to use reddit as a resource; a place to find inspiration, like-minded people and an audience. So I did a quick search for fiction subreddits and I found quite a lot.

There are various good ones: /r/writing, /r/scifiwriting and /r/write are a few. /r/scifiwriting, in particular, has a monthly ‘challenge.’ They give you a prompt and a 3000 word limit. There really isn’t a prize (well, aside from reddit gold for this month of May and recognition within the community), but it seems like as good a place to start as any.

The prompt for May is: Write a piece about Time Travel.

Time travel

Not much of a prompt! Very broad, in any case. Good thing I have a couple ideas already, and my handy brainstorming guide that I made in my previous post. So let’s go through the seven bullets and populate them with my ideas for this story!

Who is your main character (the protagonist)?

For this story, I will have two protagonists. The two will be a pair of young brothers, perhaps born four years apart. The older brother feels somewhat responsible for the younger brother, but still places his own desires over what’s best for his brother. The storyteller will be the younger brother, who yearns to be as smart, strong and independent as his brother, and perhaps harbors a slight resentment toward him for being the older brother.

What does the world look like and how does it differ from our own?

This is where the time travel part comes into play. A couple of centuries from now, time travel is as ubiquitous as airplane travel is today. In fact, people have grown so accustomed to it, that they are used to meeting their grandparents or other ancestors while the latter are still their own age. What about time paradoxes, you ask? Well, I can use the infinite universes idea. For every possible course of action, a universe exists. So the future that exists might change if suddenly an important person decides to skip the present and travel two centuries into the future. In effect, every time that someone uses time travel, he or she (or they) enter a parallel universe. So going back in time and killing your grandparents wouldn’t kill you, but the you that would have been born in this universe. This helps to reduce people wanting to actively change aspects of their ancestors past, lest they become erased in another universe! (Well, I for one, would definitely be vain enough to want me to exist in as many universes as possible, but I’m sure that some people might not have such reservations.)

Time travel has also finally given the freedom for people to decide exactly how they want to spend their lives, meaning, that they can choose in exactly which era to live. If someone wanted to live in Ancient Rome, for example, they would buy a ticket to the date of their choosing and proceed to live their life there. If, on the other hand, somebody wanted to live in the far future, he or she would choose that date.

There is a body governing the use of time travel that ensures that no interference in historical events take place. Let’s assume, since this is a short story, that overall, they manage to get that job done.

The time during which the two brothers and their family live is troubled. There are wars arising from an increase in feelings of nationalism. The world is not unified, countries still quarrel, and worse, the weapons have become deadlier.

What does he/she/it want?

The parents decide to move, to settle their family in another time period. They have a choice: move to the past, or move to the future. They present this choice to the two brothers, and they, like so many siblings, disagree with each other. The older brother wants to move to the future, the younger brother wants to move to the past.

What happens to them?

The buildup to war begins to accelerate, and the family decides to move. When, though? What are the pros and cons? Does the trip itself present any difficulties? Is the trip to the past different than the trip to the present? These are all good questions. Let’s try to answer them!

Traveling to the past is cheaper than traveling to the future. Less energy involved. So, the family could potentially save more of their wealth to start over more comfortable by going to the past. On the other hand, there are more opportunities to succeed in the future, and an easier life. Technology is more advanced, for one. However, there is more of a risk when travelling to the future. Since they would be entering a parallel universe where they themselves were not part of the present, the future would change. It isn’t known how drastic those changes would be. Furthermore, the near future is impossible to predict, since time travel is so ubiquitous, and its everyday use constantly changes the timeline.

The portals to the past are located in a separate location from the portals to the future. These two locations are the two most heavily guarded locations on the planet: Moscow and Washington D.C. Moscow was decided to house the portal to the past, D.C. the portal to the future. The protagonists live in New York City.

The younger brother resents the fact that their parents are listening to the older brother’s desires to relocate to the future. He decides to run away and go to the past by himself.

How does they respond to what happens?

The older brother, now feeling responsible for the younger brother, runs away as well in order to bring him back. He catches up to him at the airport, only to see him talking to an older gentleman. It turns out that the older gentleman is the older brother, who has come back to the past to convince the younger brother to go back to the family. The older brother had never forgiven himself for not being able to find his little brother, who had disappeared from his life.

What background information does the reader need to know for this story to make sense?

Time travel is ubiquitous, people use it to relocate to different time periods to escape war, famine or because they want to live there. Protagonists and their family decide to move to escape a war, should they go to future (D.C.) or past (Moscow)?

Can I tell this story in 3000 words?

Well, yes, I believe so. I managed to make a general outline of the world that this takes place in 600 words, so that leaves plenty of space for storytelling and action.

Whew! That was a lot! The story actually seems to have gotten a bit too complicated and convoluted actually. Well, I guess that’s what I get for tackling a time travel story for my first try! Or at least, brainstorming it. I think it might end up being less complicated when I actually write it. We’ll see. I think the focus will be on the familial bond more than on the actual time travel. I will give it a shot tomorrow or the day after!

I created an account on Smashwords. It seems like a good place to publish. I can allow readers to read my book for free, but their site is set up so that it discourages unlawful copying of content, which I like a lot. I’m still figuring out the exact layout and presentation of this blog, so bear with me!

Brainstorming a Short Story

•May 7, 2013 • Leave a Comment

So let’s get this show on the road! I’m thoroughly excited about the prospect of populating a fiction writing blog. It’s something that I have wanted to do for 10 years. Only now have I had the time and wherewithal  to at least start it. So, in fact, how will I start this blog? I think the first type of story that I want to write for this blog will be a science fiction short story.

Earlier, I was looking around on the web for science fiction short story contests. I found a couple worth mentioning that I might try to enter stories to. I won’t be able to publish the stories that I enter into contests here on the blog. The contests that I’m looking at currently are the James White Award and the Writers of the Future contest.

On the James White Award website there’s a really handy ‘Advice for Writers‘ section. Most of it seems just like common sense to me. One of the points that they bring up, though, is to know how the story ends before you begin to write it. I’ve definitely heard that before, but I hadn’t given it much thought. It made me realize that I need to think about how to brainstorm a short story before I write it.

So there are some questions that the writer should be able to answer before starting to write the short story, according to the James White Award website:

  • Who is your main character (the protagonist)?Cognition
  • What does he/she/it want?
  • What happens to him/her/it?
  • How does he/she/it respond to what happens?
  • What does the world look like and how does it differ from our own?
  • What background information does the reader need to know for this story to make sense?
  • Can I tell this story in 6000 words?

Now, after I (or any other author of short stories) have the answer to these questions, I can think about framing the story. There are some other useful suggestions on the site.

  • Stories must be strong – experimental fiction is fine but this is a short story competition, so writing with a strong plot, a beginning, middle and end, is likely to stand a better chance of winning.
  • No matter how strange or exotic the background, characters are important and stories that feature realistic people behaving believably stand a better chance of winning.
  • Don’t just start at page one and make it up as you go along. It’s important to plot out your story. You don’t have to go into incredible detail, just enough to ensure that you’ll never write yourself into a corner. Remember: it’s much easier to rewrite an outline than it is to rewrite a whole story.
  • Always know how your story is going to end before you begin (yes, this does sound like the same thing, but it’s such an important point that it’s worth mentioning twice).
  • When writing each scene ask yourself:
    • Why is this moment important for these characters?
    • How do these events take me closer to the end of the story?
    • What is different in my story after this scene?

Okay, so that was a lot of tips and suggestions from an outside source (again, everything bulleted was taken from the ‘Advice for Writers‘ section from the James White Award website. I just liked them so much that I figure I might save them for myself here on this blog. I think I might end this post here at this point, and use the next one to actually brainstorm my first short story for this blog.

Start of a Journey

•May 7, 2013 • Leave a Comment

I’ve often been bitten by the writing bug. Short stories, novellas, blogs, articles. I have taken creative writing courses and written for school newspapers. I have edited stories, scientific articles and theses. In short, I’ve written plenty of things. Now I want to get my feet wet in writing fiction.

I do have a confession to make. I have mostly read science fiction. But I’ve read a lot of it. Robert Heinlein is my favorite author by far, so I assume that, at first, my writing voice will sound quite a bit like his. Or well, I would want it to. That would be a huge compliment to me. Eventually, I want to discover and refine my own style of writing. But I do hope to incorporate and never lose some characteristics of Heinlein novels. First, I want my stories to be fun. Sure, they will have serious and sad parts. But in the end, I want the reader to enjoy having read my stories. Second, I want my stories to cause the reader to think. Whether it’s about some technological advancement, a social issue or a philosophical statement, I want the readers to find a new and interesting viewpoint in my stories that will cause them to re-evaluate their own beliefs.

So what exactly am I going to write in this blog? Hopefully start out with some short stories, maybe expand into novellas. The whole point of this whole project is to give me some experience in continuous, dedicated writing. Hopefully my writing will attract some readers, and give me more of an incentive to keep writing! So obviously, I’m looking for feedback (constructive please!), criticisms and praise both accepted. I think as a first goal I’ll be looking to write a short story every 1-2 weeks. I might throw in a couple of blog posts here and there to discuss books I’m reading, aspects of writing that I find interesting or am having trouble with or even brainstorming posts about story ideas.

So, here we go! Feel free to comment with ideas and suggestions!

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