Shifting Timelines

RCWAgain, been reading lately and have another Robert Charles Wilson book in process. Evidently I enjoy his writing style and skills.

I won’t mention which book it is at this point, but it is one of his earlier ones where he isn’t quite as subtle dipping into his extensive bag of tricks. It’s much easier to see how he’s introducing the characters, settings, and scenarios then interweaving them into the storyline.

Mid-way through this one I realized what an excellent teaching tool his books can be to frog disectcreative writing students—no matter the age. It just takes a little extra time, a few margin notes and a coil notebook to trace all the components as you read through it. Lay the gathered info out like an old-school frog dissection if you want to see what’s inside it—pinning those guts out onto the matrix-cardboard, gore everywhere—all over your desk—all over your shirt—all over the notebook.

Then using a white board to display each chapter (represented by small sheets of paper spaced evenly across and down the board), and using some colored yarn for each significant character, one can track character introductions, interactions, and crescendos across the entire whiteboard—which represents the entirety of the novel. This can be very revealing of an author’s intentions and message.

stephen kingIn novels where the narrator (voice and tone) is the main character, it is easier to follow character timelines—because you basically have one point of reference, but when the perspective is more omniscient or limited omniscient, it is more difficult to effectively regulate the writer’s tone and tempo. Then more obvious time descriptors are often used as headers, such as: “a day later”, “the year after this”, “two years prior,” etc.

Exposing too much information too soon makes for clichéd writing; but offering toodark night little information during early chapters creates reader confusion and lack of interest. So it becomes a balancing act of what and who is introduced when and where.

The big question the writer must always answer is the WHY of what, who, when, and where.

WHY is this character appearing early, middle or late in the story? What makes that character significant to the situation as well as to the integrity of the book itself? There are many ways to tell a story—why is the writer using this method? What’s his rationale?

For instance, right now the Wilson book I’m reading is a story about time-travelers, and as one might imagine, scenes switch all over the proposed timeline represented: present, past, future, past, present,…until you start to wonder aloud: “Wait,….which present am I in? The present in the past or the present in the future, or IS THERE ahere and now PRESENT at all?”

I think that might have been one of his themes for this particular novel: “Is there really a PRESENT?”

It’s interesting to me, because that is the same question that I’m sometimes asked when conducting hypnosis Past-Life Explorations with my own clients.

Mid-journey, the client can be describing to me the events and feelings that she is experiencing during a particular past-life situation in a different time and place—a different body—a different setting—a different country, while I sit in PPFthe chair beside her in the NOW. And to the client who is effectively bi-locating in two places at the same time, she may be asking herself or me, “Which PRESENT am I really in? Am I there? Am I here? …..Where is the present?

Well, as the narrator of this story and my client’s tour-guide through her then-current Past-Life Exploration, I simply tell her: We are right here, right now …wherever that is in your timeline because the PRESENT is a constantly moving target.

It comes. It goes. Yet it still remains…the PRESENT, ….at least as we know it.