Stories are written in linear threads. In the Lord of the Rings, Frodo is carrying the ring across Mordor, while Aragorn is hunting the Uruk-Hai who have taken Merry and Pippin, while Merry and Pippin are escaping from said Uruk-Hai.
All of these threads are supposed to happen concurrently.
But due to the linearity of books or movies, the threads occur sequentially.
Sometimes, the reader is asked to play with time as one thread depicts an escape, and the next chapter picks up in the past before the escape occurred.
The metaphor of threads brings to mind a tapestry in motion. Threads lifting from the loom, weaving back and forth in perfect coordination to build a grand image, one thread at a time. But books and even films are ponderous affairs, more like laying railroad tracks than weaving supple threads.
We are relentlessly linear in our perception by nature.
Short of the creative use of pharmaceuticals we’re stuck with experiencing time in a sequential manner.
However, we can borrow a trick from computer programming to get a taste of a more parallel perception of reality.
This type of time travel is taken for granted, but is it the only way to weave threads? Is it the best technique?
Books and movies lead you through the world one chapter at a time, one act at a time; one scene at a time, one paragraph at a time. The threads are woven, if ponderously, but what if the metaphor wasn’t so flat?
A tapestry may show a forest scene, but a two-dimensional one only. 3D glasses for the big screen don’t grant the tapestry any more depth than crossing your eyes. For the image to breathe, it has to respond to your touch.
Your computer may be running your Web browser, email client, and operating system all at the same time — or it may be switching between the programs so rapidly that you are fooled into thinking it runs them all concurrently.
Multithreading looks like parallel processing, but it’s the same old linear processing broken down into small pieces. Applied to storytelling, what if instead of laying threads a chapter at a time, what if they were laid a paragraph at a time?
I imagine a technique where the reader is entangled in the threads. Forced to participate, their perception shapes the story. The same events unfold, but everything is closer to the reader. It’s not packaged into neat and tidy chapters. The threads are wild.
The shape of the story changes with each reading. A traditional book can only be read from beginning to end, but a new kind of story could be more like a solitary forest hike than a sterile viewing of art.
Forest hikes are not always easy. There may be paths more difficult than others, hidden valleys few have seen, and even dead ends.
What if they were laid a sentence at a time?