Dr. Who and Writing Out of Time

I’ve been pondering this post for a few weeks. Pretty much since my partner and I started watching Dr. Who (the reboot, but we’ve since found our way back in time to revisit some of the other time lords) as part of our Christmas Day TV Show marathon extravaganza.

For the next two months we watched nothing but Dr. Who.  There is certainly danger of me going down the spiral of the online fandom to distract me from what I should be doing which is writing my novel. And, while I have safely watched from a distance, there are some structural elements around Dr. Who that I keep coming back to in relation to writing my novel.

Now I’m not the first nor the last to probably link Dr. Who to writing.

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I will get back to my novel and travel back to the 19th century (which he does so you know it is connected) but first I need to delve into this mystery.

I would certainly not deem myself as any kind of Dr. Who expert. I avoided the show for years because when my Dad watched it in the 1970s and early 1980s, the music freaked me out so much that I remember running up the stairs to avoid it. (It doesn’t scare me now and like the new themes quite a lot.) So I hope that any longtime fan of the show will forgive any oversights that I have of the following. (It was probably one of the reasons that I didn’t write this post for fear that I would get it wrong.) But that is a completely different blog post and what I want to explore here is the idea of writing out of time.  Writing out of sequence. Which brings me to the Doctor’s description of the time/space continuum. 

Love that.

To me, this is what writing a first draft is totally like. I will write out what I think will be the outline to my novel and then I’ll begin. For my current WIP, when I wrote what I thought was the first scene, it turned out to happen later. As I learn more about my protagonist and the people she encounters, more information comes out. As I study more about the 19th century, I learn more about my character and her world and that feeds into everything else.

In fact, sometimes I’m writing a scene and the character tells me, “like that thing that happened. Oh you didn’t know and haven’t written about it yet.  Oops.”

And it can get quite confusing when I actually do know what is happening and am going back to fill out the story arc and have to figure out where I am in the timeline that I have created–or think that I have. (And before you ask, yes I do have a lovely plot graph on the wall, along with a family tree, lists of characters and other fun things. And no because if I showed it to you now that would be a…yes…)

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(Sorry, couldn’t resist.)

I’ve been working on the story arc of a particular relationship this week, focusing on how these two characters interact with one another. As I’ve already written other scenes that influence these characters, I needed to loop them in on the action. But when I went I do so, I was like: “Wait. You don’t know this yet. Or do you? Where am I in this timeline?” (And, yes, I did say this out loud to my character who kind of shrugged and said, “I don’t know, you tell me.”) It felt totally wibbly wobbly and timey wimey.

Which brings me to the River Song timeline. (River by the way is played by Alex Kingston, who is one of my favourite actresses from one of my other favourite shows.) When we first meet River we don’t know her whole story, but she seems to. We learn about her as the Doctor does. Her story is told out of sequence and there are clues given along the way about who she could possibly be, but when we find out who she really is in the “big reveal” it is bigger than we anticipated. In the theme of non-spoilers, I shall not give you details which is too bad because there are some awesome memes out there which amuse me…but there is of course a wiki who has put her timeline in sequential order for you.

This is how a I’m discovering my story and my characters. While I can see the big picture and where my story will theoretically end (I once thought that I had written the last scene and then realized that it wasn’t, so that happens…), sometimes when writing a particular scene other information will emerge, inspiring me to go back in my timeline and flush things out–and even possibly jump ahead.

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About Melanie J. Fishbane

MAUD, my YA novel based on the teen life of author L.M. Montgomery will be published by Penguin Random House on April 25, 2017. I hold an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. Here I talk about my writing process, things I love, and creative people who inspire me.
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5 Responses to Dr. Who and Writing Out of Time

  1. Angel says:

    I love this post so much. I’m really bad at writing things in a linear fashion, so like you, I end up having to go back and rewrite/add things into the story that I didn’t realize would happen. It’s challenging, but also really fulfilling once you figure something out. And as for linking DW to writing: I did that in my senior thesis, except with Amy Pond and the fairytale motif. 😄

    (PS I loved Alex in ER too! I was already sobbing when the Mark thing happened, but I think I felt even worse when I saw the way she reacted.)

  2. ayshawood says:

    I Love doctor Who!!!!

  3. L. Marie says:

    Great post, Melanie! (And I’m a long-time Doctor Who fan, so I doubly appreciate it.) I totally get what you mean. I’m constantly wondering where I am in the timeline. I don’t always write chronologically. I write the scenes that speak to me emotionally, then go back and fill in the other scenes. So, I’m constantly wondering how much information to include.

    BTW I totally loved the River Song storyline.

  4. Thanks, L. From a long time Dr. Who fan, I am glad that you feel that it is up to snuff. I was a bit worried about writing about it, given that I’m such a newbie. I think that is why I am always revising in the first draft, too, just to see where I am in the entire narrative.

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