When I teach my Screenwriting and Art of Story classes, one of the first assignments my students must do is define their setting: the world of where and when their story takes place. For those ambitious souls writing a future tale, they have the added tough job of setting the rules to their world: Are apples now poisonous? Are oranges holy? Do children control the planet and their parents obey their own offspring? Is smoking healthy?
As absurd as any of these ideas sound, creating your story’s future demands the discipline of developing rules that stay consistent from beginning to end. Only then will the readers or watchers offer their suspension of disbelief.
One of the scarier futures to write about is the near future, when, say ten years from now, a dystopian universe prevails. Think Blade Runner. Released in 1983, the film is set in 2019. That’s just six years from now.
Writing the future isn’t limited to professional media. Writing the future is something we could do with our own lives. One way to do this is to write a future journal. The process is simple:
1. Find a beautiful notebook that resonates with your senses
2. Write your first entry with today’s date, but one year from now
3. Describe in detail not just what it is that you’re doing or experiencing, but, also, how it feels to be in that moment; as though it’s real and alive and already part of your life.
Personally, I’ve taken on the challenge several times and while I may not have always achieved what I wrote I did, the words on the pages and the surrounding emotions did get me closer to those goals and visions.
In the past several years, the attempts at these journals, including some visual ones where instead of words I cut out images and pictures that showcased what life was supposed to be like, have been feeble, at best. Given everything that was going on in my real life, this level of escapism felt simply as that: a brief if colorful reprieve from the harshness of daily reality. So I quit.
In fact, I even burnt my journals. As in all of them. Twenty years’ worth.
On December 31, 2009, I drove over to Edgewater Park, opened the trunk of my car and pulled out two giant Tupperware containers and a duffel bag full of notebooks. I walked over to one of the metal garbage cans, tore out a few pages, poured gas on them and with a gas lighter, lit the pages on fire. I repeated this process methodically, in an almost Zen-like state. Because an entire journal won’t burn through on its own, pages must be torn out. And the coated paper burns slower than uncoated paper. But I stood there, in the damp cold, by the great Lake Erie, and kept throwing the past into the fire. To make room for the present.
I have done this every year since. Sometimes others have joined me. Sometimes passing strangers would walk over asking me what I’m up to. Sometimes cops would drive past, inspecting the fire from a distance, only to keep driving. Letting go of the past years, with gratitude and with peace, has been incredibly liberating.
And, times are new, again. Fresh, crisp winter air is here. In fact, yesterday, when walking towards my car, I could see my breath for the first time since early Spring. And, while the forthcoming season is typically reserved for hibernation, perhaps it’ll be better spent being in the world vs. hiding from it.
Writing my future – and really seeing it and feeling it – is a big responsibility. Every one of our lives impacts others. At the same time, if we’re pursuing our bliss, and being in the moment, being honest, being loving and being kind, then the realization of that bliss will impact those we love in the best way possible.
Think of yourself as the storyteller of your own life. Think of your future journal as the biography you always wanted to have.
Now, what does it say?