Some thought on storytelling

I came across this short video . . . 

I think it’s worth watching. If you’re going to watch it, do so before reading the words below because I’ll have spoilers. 

I enjoyed it, but then I got to thinking . . . How much of an advantage is it presenting a visual story as opposed to a written one?

I ask because the story is visually appealing (I thought the graphics were well done) but it’s a pretty simple story with a somewhat predictable trope/outcome. If I wrote such a story and tried selling it, that’s exactly the feedback I’d get. 

No conflict, no character development, no explanation of the broader implication of alien contact (or just how alien it is). It’s an automatic rejection letter. 

Plus, the character has no agency. The plot presents a problem, but the character itself has no agency. The plot weaves around his passive role. 

I should repeat that I don’t regret the time I spent watching it and enjoyed the experience. 

. . . but, how much was it the story and how much was it the visuals?

I’m writing this post because everything I mentioned above is feedback I’ve gotten back from my attempts at similar stories. By similar, I mean stories where the main protagonists are carried along by events but are not the shapers of those events.  

Stories like Stopover and Lucy (a.k.a. The Shirt) — two stories that got me actual reasons for being rejected as opposed to just a form letter — were deemed well written and interesting, but the main characters didn’t “do” anything. There are no conflicts and they’re passive spectators of the events. Also, the readers were interested in what happened beyond the experiences of the characters.

And yet, that’s exactly what happens in the above video. 

I liked the video for the same reason I like the stories I write; it’s about what the emotions and experiences of the characters even if they don’t have much agency, and the broader implications are secondary. 

My usual disclaimer: no, not bitching about the unyielding universe having it in for me. Not saying my life is unfair, not wanting people to pat me in the back and tell me (be they truthful or not) that I’m a good writer and someday people the world over will recognize my work as the product of an unusual and rare genius. What? You weren’t going to go that far? Oh. OK. I mean . . . no, no, that’s fine. 

Seriously, I do think that the limits of a visual medium (as opposed to a written one) are also an advantage, at least when dealing with modern audiences. You can distract them with the visuals, making a simple story appear grander than it is.

And, again, I liked it. 

~ ~ ~ o o o  ~ ~ ~

A quick technical and philosophical discussion . . . 

First, the malfunction has him travel, apparently, a very long distance. It’s hinted that FTL communication is possible. The reason to go to Mars was to deploy the satellite that allowed instantaneous communication (he chats in real time with the control room back on Earth). However, it doesn’t say FTL travel is possible. The trip to Mars took three minutes, and that’s the time it takes for the speed of light to travel between Earth and Mars (3:03 to 3:11 depending on the position of Mars relative to the Earth). 

For anyone familiar with Einstein’s equations, that’s a bit of a plot hole. You might be able to “slip” outside our universe and travel faster than light (not that we know of, but as a plot device, ok) but he traveled at the speed of light . . . that means he achieved infinite mass. 

But, OK, it’s science fiction, after all. 

The philosophical question comes in when he tells his wife “it’s really me”.

No, it’s not. It’s a copy of him. The original him was killed. Disintegrated by the aliens.

Side note 1: by the way, why not grab the photo as well? They grabbed his clothes. For all they knew, the photo was a part of his hand. 

A copy of him was reconstructed in his yard. 

Side Note 2: This has all sorts of implications we might want to know about. Did they read his mind? Did he communicate with them? How did they know where he lived? Not just the planet, but his actual address. All of these are considerations we writers regularly blow aside for the sake of the story. Or, at least, for the sake of this story. 

It’s the old Star Trek Transporter problem. When they say “Energize!” the machine destroys the bodies and reassembles a new body elsewhere. Captain Kirk et al. died many, many times. 

Now, this is not new; you can read about it HERE, and HERE, and HERE and many more places on the nerd corner of the Internet. Also the philosophy corner. 

I won’t go into it here except that it got me thinking about THIS article that someone sent me.

That article postulates the transfer of identity. Your consciousness, what makes you you, is captured and “moved”. People might have heard of the singularity (I wrote a little story about it) as a way to live forever. 

I’ve been reading a lot about consciousness and identity and awareness and what exactly we are. That reads weird; let me rephrase it. We are bodies, flesh, lots of excrement, and water. But our awareness of ourselves, what keeps the lights on, is poorly understood. We know it’s tied to the brain, but that’s about it. 

The person who sent me the article did so as a possible seed for future stories. Unfortunately for me, similar stories were written as far back as the 90s and probably earlier

Well, it doesn’t mean I can’t write variants; there are no new ideas in fiction. 

The point is, if we can “capture” consciousness, and presuming it’s something that is transferable, we either have to destroy the original (Old Man’s War does this) or we’re making copies of it. The latter means that there could be two copies of you (the article implies this). The problem I see with that is that both copies of you would see themselves at the original (we’re making exact copies). 

Either way, it doesn’t sound like something I would want to do. I can hardly stand one of me. 

Yes, these are the kinds of things I think about all the time. It’s enough to give one a headache. I think I’ll have a cookie. 

But, before I go, one of my favorite clips about Epistemology (one of my favorite movies with lots of great quotes and great music – it has an annoying religious undertone, but what the heck, the characters are great and the story is a good one) . . . 

That’s it. This post has ended . . . except for the stuff below.


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