Essays, general essay

Learning How To Write the Future

science fiction, time travel, how to write the future

Last year, as I was writing Time Enough, the sequel to my time travel novel, But World Enough and Time, I was writing along at a great clip. Was even ahead of where I was supposed to be when everything came to a screeching halt. I had hit the section that takes place in the future and was lost. The only way out was to teach myself how to write the future.

Now, that might not sound like that big a deal – and it sort of wasn’t. After all, what I essentially was doing was world building. But I had to build on our world today to make it make sense, and I had to do it in a way that was particularly conscious.

That was a little weird for me. Usually, I’m more of a natural writer. In fact, when I try to impose motivations on my characters or set up themes, it almost never works. If I let my characters do what they need to do, then ask why they did something, I get a much more organic result.

For example, I was working on the first draft of my upcoming spring release, Death of the City Marshal, and I had a scene where the bad guy attacks Maddie Wilcox in the dead of night to warn her off investigating. He’s got her in the dead of night with a knife to her throat. In my head, I realized it didn’t entirely make sense. Why doesn’t he just kill her? And in the asking why, the killer and his motivations became much clearer to me and the character came alive.

It didn’t work that way writing Time Enough. For some reason, not having a clear idea of how the future looked made the plot elements really hard to come together. I knew what I wanted to happen – to a degree. But it wasn’t enough to drive the story.

But how do I come up with a future that makes sense? In a way, being a history buff really helped. The thing with reading about history is that you see how things develop over time. So, if I was going to write a future that made sense, I had to look at where things are now.

I also thought about it and realized that our world tends toward evolution. So while there had to be some cataclysms, because that does happen, the essential problem driving the experiment in bringing a woman from the distant past to the future, had to be one that had evolved. 

What I came up with is far too complicated to go into here. And, yes, I had to tweak a few things in But World Enough and Time, which is why I left it as an ebook and didn’t put out a print version. I suspect that when I get to writing All the Time in the World (the last in the time travel trilogy), I’ll have to re-tweak things in Time Enough.

While I am a strong advocate of trusting your process, there are times when your process needs a metaphorical kick in the pants. And sometimes working against your process is exactly what your story needs.  I won’t necessarily do impose a world on my characters again. In fact, I pretty much abandoned detailed outlining and fussing with motivations for the third section of Time Enough. But learning how to write the future taught me as much about building a story as it did about building a world.

Anne Louise Bannon

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