I’ve been faced with a small but rather serious dilemma for several weeks.
It involves something called a temporal paradox.
My main character is rescued from oblivion. Without rescue, he is listed as missing in action and never recovered. If he’s rescued, he loses everything that was familiar to him, but he’s the main character of the story which makes his rescue imperative. He is, therefore, rescued so that he may do what I have planned for him through to the end of the story, which is rather long and involved and romantic and (for me) loads of fun.
In order to solved this dilemma, I had to ask myself this question: if this happened to me, if I faced oblivion and were rescued at the critical moment for my survival, but have lost everything that was important to me in the process, just how angry would I be? And how could I overcome that anger and meet whatever destiny lies ahead?
Destiny? Lies ahead? Yes! It is a cliché! Ignore the cliché. It just wants attention. All clichés do. Without them, purple literature could not possibly exist. And, occasionally, they do serve a purpose.
In that phrase ‘whatever destiny lies ahead’, while it is a cliché of the kind that makes me cringe a little, there is a nugget of truth. This character has to be believable or he isn’t real. He’s just a cardboard cutout in the movieplex lobby. Therefore, being brought up short against the brick wall of ‘you can’t go home’ is the kind of thing that will generate anger in any one of us, for a good reason: we’re human, not cardboard popups that are taken down at the end of the movie run.
Temporal paradox stories are as twisted as a Mobius strip. They have no beginning or end. The action is repeated over and over ad infinitum, even when the problem is solved. So a character who is rescued will always be rescued, but since his destiny lies somewhere along that twisted Mobius loop, whatever he does is what he will always do.
In this case, since I knew that I would be extremely angry as well as skeptical if someone dropped such a ridiculous story on me, the problem had to be solved by what I would demand from my rescuers. I’m a demanding sort anyway, and I’d be all over them to prove that I could not have my life back. The delightful part is that the rescuers don’t know why my main character is so important or what he does that makes him so important. They only know that he does something important in the future.
The twist in the Mobius loop now rises in front of me and my main character: he rescues the guy who leads the team that rescue him.
If it seems like a cheap trick, it isn’t. It is a way to use the temporal paradox to make the story work. You rescue me, and when I find out that you were the one rescued by me, and that all the stuff I remember before I was jerked out of my familiar world is still there, I go to great lengths to rescue you. The rescued becomes the rescuer. Now I can move forward again.
Where do I go from there? I get on with telling the story.