Jay Sherer is the author of the illustrated time travel series, Timeslingers: Season 1. (Now available in print!) His short stories have appeared in various small-market online magazines and two science fiction anthologies (Infinite Space, Infinite God I and II). He’s currently working on Timeslingers: Season 2 while also penning a Depression Era superhero comic book series called The Standard (with ridiculously cool art by partner-in-crime, Nathan Scheck).
In my last post, I talked about crafting a story using Syd Field’s screenwriting structure, the Paradigm. I had planned to show examples of how to apply the Paradigm to other types of writing, but I received several great comments that basically said: “You can absolutely use the Paradigm for all kinds of writing! I use it all the time!”
Thus, there will be no “part 2” to the last article. Instead, I am going to pose a question:
What are some sci-fi stories that have pushed the envelope of storytelling?
I love stories and the storytelling process, especially when a writer breaks the mold and takes her audience on a unique journey. Here’s my list of one-of-a-kind stories and why I love them:
5. Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (KOTOR)
A game? Absolutely. Immersive, interactive games allow storytellers to do two things: (1) effectively use the second person perspective, and (2) empower “you” (the player’s onscreen character) to help the writer tell the story.
KOTOR introduced a storytelling concept that, up until its release, I hadn’t seen: Influence. Not only influence over the game’s chain of events or its main character (which had been done before), but also influence over the community of secondary characters. I made decisions that impacted the way my avatar’s onscreen “friends” thought, felt, and ultimately behaved. As my character developed, so did the secondary characters. They changed their behaviors based on my choices! It was an incredibly unique experience, and the story shone because of it.
4, 3. The Watchmen and Ender’s Game (Tie)
I’m confident that this technique has been used prior to the release these two works, but I think these represent good examples of the “side story extended metaphor.” In The Watchmen, a side story unfolds as one of the minor characters reads a graphic novel (a story within the story, if you will). In Ender’s Game, it’s a simulation that Ender plays.
The two works use slightly different techniques, but both side stories are utilized to show us the greater truth behind what the characters are experiencing in the main storyline. Why is it cool? Because the reader doesn’t see the connection between the main storyline and the side story until both stories come to an end. And when she does make the connection, she realizes that the truth was in front of her the entire time.
This isn’t a sci-fi film, but I couldn’t think of a sci-fi example that assembled such a devious trail of breadcrumbs for the audience to follow. Talk about edge-of-your-seat intrigue. This film has it in spades. If you haven’t seen the film, I will only say this: it’s told backward.
It’s a gimmick, certainly, but an effective one for a murder mystery. It’s also handled extraordinarily well by the Nolan brothers (the writers). In many cases, if a film began at the end and ended at the beginning it would become incredibly tedious and boring by the end (which would be the beginning…?). But, Memento doesn’t disappoint. As the film unfolds we’re stuck in the constant tension of conflict following a carrot on a stick that may be held by a madman. We’re scratching our heads and wondering “why” until the final scene turns the story on its head.
1. War of the Worlds
Sheer genius-to create a radio drama so compelling that the audience believed that America was under attack from Martians. In the age of the Internet, Twitter, and Facebook, this type of storytelling might be impossible. No doubt it has been tried numerous times since, but I’m not aware of any other successes.
Talk about immersion. If the audience has to call the local authorities, I think the writer has won the day. Granted, many have refuted the idea that most audience members were fooled, but nevertheless, Orson Welles proved that an older story could be told in an entirely new and fascinating way. That’s unique storytelling.
What other stories (especially sci-fi stories) can you think of that break the mold? What are some of your favorites? And…can you think of a sci-fi story that unfolds as effectively as Memento?