Author's Commentary: "Doug vs. Doug"
People seem to really love this trope, and I learned a few things this week as I wrote “Doug vs. Doug.” The first is what people like about it. Suspense-wise, it falls under the larger heading of “mystery,” which grabs interest through the discovery of unexplored territory. The specific narrative word for this type of mystery is “defamiliarization,” which if you’re a major narrative geek like me, you can go find quite a few academic papers on. The irony here is that this type of defamiliarization should feel very familiar to even a casual sci-fi fan. It’s a tough trope to do well for that and a few other reasons.
One of the things I learned about this multiverse trope is that much of the suspense in it should come from the reader learning about/caring about the differences between the two universes. Sounds obvious, sure, but that requires two very important things: first, the reader needs to care about the first universe; and second, they need to know that first universe well enough to recognize and appreciate the differences between the two. So a series like Fringe that goes deep into this trope—certainly its primary global plot element—did something very smart by slowly introducing this global plot. They spent an entire season before really diving into it, while introducing the audience to characters they got to know well and care about. Then, when the other universe got introduced, even very subtle differences were easy for the audience to recognize and enjoy. Counterpart is more like this week’s story, in that it got right down to business in the first episode, but, also smartly, the initial plot element is in the main character’s dissatisfaction at not being promoted—he believes he deserves more responsibility and management thinks he’s just too mild-mannered to be of any real use. That one fact becomes the basis for the audience to care about the difference when his bold and assertive counterpart shows up—there’s a clear distinction. Ideally, in the trope, these differences are interesting enough to grab the reader’s interest.
I didn’t exactly go the bold and assertive route with “Doug vs. Doug,” and part of that choice was that in a short story the writer doesn’t exactly have time to develop much of a baseline to then deviate from—as in the Fringe example. You have to go the Counterpart route and draw one single immediate and distinct difference: in this case, Other Doug’s brother is still alive and Doug resents him for it. Part of the decision to go that route was also that I didn’t want to get into literal “warfare” after last week’s literal war story. In hindsight, I probably should have, given the feedback I’ve gotten from last week’s story. I was worried about “The First Man” being too intense, and it seems those worries (at least with a week’s response from the audience) seem overblown, but that’s impossible to know at the time.
One moment I can definitely relate to from this story is the allusion to Schrodinger’s cat in the social sense. I hope I’ll get better at having a sense for whether a story is a dead cat (and the author by extension) before it’s released, but I don’t. I’m almost always the cat in a pre-observation state. All I can do is write the best story I can each week and put it out there, because somewhere out there, there’s a version of me who isn’t.
See you next week. I’ll be writing on the topic “Spaceports.”
Thanks for reading!