Writing in the Tom Clancy Universe
Sorry for not posting in a while. Life has been a bit complex and it has taken me some time to get back into blogging.
From my perspective, there are a few ways to write a fictitious story with regard to the setting/timeline.
1) Nonsense. This is a story that is set in complete fiction like in the movie Star Wars. You can make up any rule you want. Trump was never elected in this universe because there is no earth.
2 ) Close to home. In this universe, reality is far away like in Star Trek. Trump was elected, but he died a long time ago and nothing he did matters to the story.
3) Parallel. In this time line, the story takes place and nothing major changes. This is easy to write for, because all the history is available. How did WWII end? Just look it up in Wikipedia. Trump was elected and he did what he did.
4 ) Skewed. In this reality, things are skewed. Think that awful Watchmen movie where America wins the Vietnam war because the naked big blue guy smashes everything. Trump is probably elected unless the big blue guy smashed his house.
5) Time travel. Everything can change. Trump who?
6) Tom Clancy Universe. In this universe, everything is normal up until the first book takes place. Tom Clancy’s character Jack Ryan enters in the 1984 and he steals a submarine. By the 90’s, Jack Ryan is president. In this universe, Trump could never be elected.
7) Sort-of Tom Clancy Universe. In this universe, there is a major event and then everything turns back into normal. For example, the JFK assassination isn’t successful. JFK finishes his term and eventually, Trump is elected. This type of story is an attempt to slightly re-write history, yet bring everything back to normal.
Let’s look at the specifics of the Tom Clancy Universe. There was a split in 1984 and we entered an alternate timeline (the Tom Clancy Universe.) The characters grow along a similar path to our reality. Some things didn’t change and some did. For example, Apple still invented their iPhone. However, some things get murky. Did 911 occur in Tom Clancy Universe? This is more difficult to answer. A lot of political events helped build the powerbase that created the circumstances to allow this unfortunate incident. Afterwards, there was a huge political response that completely changed the world.
In the Tom Clancy Universe, President Jack Ryan or his successor would be president 911 occurred. Thus, everything would be different. The powerbase or response might have been subdued or amplified. The answer is: This tragic event was simply not covered by a book. This has major consequences. For example: Would the Patriot Act have been approved? Hard to say.
All of this makes the Tom Clancy Universe an interesting place to write it. Once a writer chooses this path, it’s a slippery slope that’s full of traps. This makes it hard to get back to reality. The best way to navigate through the Tom Clancy Universe is to avoid writing about it. For example, President Jack Ryan’s Secretary of Defense is not actually named in any of the books. In this way, we cannot compare this person to a real person such as Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld.
The good part of the Tom Clancy Universe is that it allows the writer to have a big story that isn’t bound. President Jack Ryan can increase taxes without protest. He can even have WWIII with full public/media support and not worry about how to pay for it. Tom Clancy wrote 3 books where this occurred. The problem is that the further down the Tom Clancy Universe we go, the farther we are detached from reality.
For example, who was the last president? We all know it was Obama. In the Tom Clancy Universe, who was the last president? Well, we have to read the last three books to find out. Who started Facebook? Was Facebook mentioned in the last Tom Clancy book? No. OK, the answer is Mark Zuckerberg. The result is that in the Tom Clancy Universe, all recent political “facts” are now in question.
Is the Tom Clancy Universe bad? I guess it depends on your prospective. My answer is that you just have to accept the Tom Clancy Universe when you start reading a Tom Clancy book. My point is that the more books in the Tom Clancy Universe that are written, the farther away from reality we get. This can lead to issues when a dramatic political event occurs such as 911, the Gulf War or Trump unexpectedly winning the presidency.
When I wrote Interviewing Immortality, I decided to take the parallel approach. I felt that the Tom Clancy Universe was too complex. I even went one step further and set this book slightly in the past. This allowed me to have some leeway to grow and be sure of the facts. For example, I know what TV shows were on 5 years ago. That will never change. I found that this was easier than the present, because the present is actually part of the future.
In my upcoming novel Cable Ties, I did enter the Tom Clancy Universe. All the political leaders were made up and the story flowed from there. I was careful not to mention what political party was associated with the characters and limited their background. I also intentionally didn’t mention any dates in the story. This prevents the reader from comparing the story to current events. All of these decisions allowed me the freedom to make huge political changes. In Cable Ties, the Vice president and President were both accused of major crimes and several politicians were arrested. In addition, the world was nearly taken into WWIII. When the novel concluded, I did my best to bring everything back to normal. This was to allow the reader to imagine that this story could have [or will] taken place and they were not aware of it. In my opinion, this is easier for the reader and it allows their mind to easily transition into believing that the farfetched story could have occurred (just under different circumstances.) If I had used real names such as Trump and Obama, then Cable Ties would have gotten crazy, complex and dated.
Now comes the hard part. I am writing a sequel, Cable Pairs. This will involve several of the main characters on a new adventure. Like the Tom Clancy Universe, I have declared a fictional character as president. Also, like the Tom Clancy Universe, I purposefully didn’t include the media reaction and all the crazy probing that people naturally do.
For me, this sequel is going to be difficult to write for because I will have to be very careful how to treat the characters. Readers can be really sensitive and if they find inconsistencies with the previous book.
Overall, a writer has to make a choice about how what setting they want to place their fictional story in. The Tom Clancy Universe is challenging and fun, but there are drawbacks as more details are added to the story. It is going to be interesting to see how my sequel pans out. Thanks for reading.
PS, Please buy Interviewing Immortality!!! It’s really a great read! I’m going major crazy here.
You’re the best -Bill
December, 12, 2017
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