Monthly Writing Challenge #4: Alternate Reality Quantum Multiverse Storytelling

Buzzwords Ahoy! So yeah, this is going to get weird. If you just want the challenge, skip to the bottom. Main content contains masked spoilers for Bioshock Infinite, and Far Cry 3. Challenge has spoilers for Firefly/Serenity, and Lord of the Rings.

When it comes to listening to music, my brain doesn’t always do a great job of processing lyrics. I’m not alone in mishearing them, and neither am I alone in imagining completely different lyrics that totally work in my imagined context, that always feels like my own personal version of a well-known song. Even when the words are clear, the imagery a song presents can be very different to what’s going on in the version my head rolls with. Context is a powerful thing.

The same sort of thing can apply to stories in many kinds of fiction, and I’ve written a little about that before. We often add embellishments to fiction when we read, from the shallow of appearances, to developing unstated motivations. We read the actions, and theorise at reasons for them. If it’s an action that gets explained later, we incorporate it into our thoughts about the plot, and the characters, and all elements become additive. Nobody really reads the same story.

Of late, I’ve been mixing my narratives. I’m still playing a lot of Mass Effect, and my brain’s right in there. I’m still writing Trail, and am close to setting up a good-enough study-type area in which to write at home (doing so on a heat-prone laptop without a table? it’s difficult). I recently finished two other games, Bioshock Infinite and Far Cry 3. I watched Jack the Giant Slayer at the movies with my wife. We watched the new episodes of HIMYM, Doctor Who, and the start of Game of Thrones (which is a little different to the book). We watched the Matrix again. Gladiator again. Blade Runner again, though first time for her. Thought about some old plot ideas. Thought about Back to the Future, Sliders, time-travel, the number of times a particular setting/story of mine has been transplanted into a different time/place. Basically, a whole lot of thinking.

The commonality for me between all of these, is the line between canon and non-canon, and the line between realities. My Mass Effect Shepard? Different to my wife’s. There are similarities, but they’re like different universes too. My second playthrough with my main Shepard felt like it wasn’t just an alternate version to my first, but a carry-on, as though the character was still unconsciously aware of what happened last time. Yes, my Shep achieved CHIM (warning: contains weirdness). There was a certain resolution that didn’t pan out the way I wanted it to, yet I still couldn’t avoid it. I was reminded of a dream I’d had years ago, where I’d gone back into my own timeline and scooped out a moment to try and relive it, and inadvertently broke my own life. That turned into a plot idea about someone wanting to go back to repair the damage they’d caused to their own timeline, and some of that transferred to my playthrough.

I never said this would be simple 😉

Bioshock Infinite spoilers here: (Bioshock Infinite is all about alternate realities interfering with each other – the choices we make going one way or another, and then the us that made the other choice screwing around with us.) There isn’t a big link between Infinite and the previous games, though it does reference Rapture. The flying city of Columbia, and the underwater city of Rapture don’t exist in the same reality. The real link is said to be the constants of the story (as said by one of the characters), that there is always a lighthouse, a man, and a city.

FC3, well, I feel like it would have been better if (more spoilers: Vaas hadn’t died when he does, but stayed through to be the penultimate antagonist instead of Hoyt). Non-spoiler version: A slightly altered story.

I’m going to speed this along. Jack: The story differs from the fairy tale, but at the end, shows the story being retold over and over until it becomes the fairy tale. HIMYM – More of a fan-theory than a spoiler, but it feels like the mother is dead, and that’s why Ted is abusing his children via recitation. Doctor Who: More Clara, and so far, there appears to be alternate versions of her, that are still always her. GoT: It plays out differently to the book, sometimes slightly. The same is true of any adaptation, but one could imagine them as being alternate realities to each other. Matrix: Need I even explain the link?

With Gladiator, it was clear that there was a current of a story running underneath the movie, and if they’d wanted to show a tepid friendship between Maximus and Commodus prior to Germania, it could have worked. Of course then we started talking about who would win between Maximus and Braveheart, and then Maximus and Leonidas, and what the world might have been like if Ancient Rome and Ancient Greece were big at the same time. Blade Runner: The Deckard thing – plus that’s a much bigger divide between the book and movie, given Ridley Scott’s insistence that Deckard is a replicant.

Reboots do this all the time. Rewrites too, are like alternate versions, and I’ve definitely done at least a half-dozen approaches for one of my scifi stories, but then I’ve been playing with it for over a decade. My original approach for last year’s NaNoWriMo, was to write a narrative across four different time periods, with them all bouncing off each other non-linearly for no real reason other than that’s how I’d imagined it.

It’s easy to see an additional story where none exists. Imagination is a big batch of what-if? There’s a whole bit where it’s almost as though there’s a level of awareness somewhere between the character and the audience. Sometimes we need our additional stories, or our alternate ones. Sometimes we need to more than just think about them. We need to write them.

April’s challenge is for the fans. Fan-fiction is a big thing (in case you were unaware), and for this challenge, you are going to pick that moment in a fandom that’s always bothered you, and fix it to something you prefer. That doesn’t necessarily mean it needs to be rainbows and unicorns, (MLP fandom might need it though). What you do instead, is to settle on an event or action that almost broke your attachment to the setting, because it just left you feeling empty inside. Yes, for those of you with Whedonaemia (or Moffatitis), it’s your chance to write righted wrongs.

It could be a character’s death, like in Serenity, or Grey’s Anatomy, or Downton Abbey. It could be characters acting out of what you believed to be in character, like in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, or Shadows of the Empire. Is there a character that got written out too early for you? Imagine writing a story where a character from a book that’s eventually played by Sean Bean LIVES! And maybe, the moment that killed it for you, was a Deus Ex Machina (or five hundred of them) that was just too wrapped up in how brilliant and ingenious it was, that it lost sight of everything it was – either Doctor Who, or that game I’m continuously obsessed with.

In short, fix it. Write a different version of events, the one you want to adopt as your headcanon. Shoot for 1000 words. Make it as brilliant as you can, not because you know better or because you feel entitled to a happy ending, but because you prefer an alternate reality to what happened canonically.

I’m sure there’s no question as to which I’ll be writing for, and it’s for all the reasons I’ve blogged about before.

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