Notes About the Writing of "In Memory" (The First Story I Sold)
The Making of “In Memory”
by Eric James Stone
OK, so that sounds a little pretentious. “In Memory” was my first story sale, as a published finalist in Writers of the Future, Vol. XX, but it’s hardly a classic. But after “In Memory” became a finalist in the contest, my creative writing teacher, Caleb Warnock, asked me to explain how I developed the story so that others could get an idea of how the creative process worked.
The first idea for the story came while I was trying to think of something to write for the assignment to show two people with opposite personalities who are still friends. I’m not completely sure I can reconstruct my thinking on this, but I believe I had the idea for one friend to be the kind of person who enjoyed a fast-paced life and the other to be a laid-back, slow-paced kind of guy. Because I have a science-fiction-oriented mindset, I then tried to place the characters into a science fiction setting. I believe I considered having one friend on a starship traveling at relativistic speeds (near the speed of light) because time slows down at that speed, but I discarded that when I thought of having one friend being a mind uploaded into a computer.
In the computer science field, there’s something known as Moore’s Law. Basically what is says is that maximum computer processor speed doubles about every eighteen months. Moore’s Law has held true for decades. I can remember reading in the early 1980′s that we would soon reach the limits of processor speed. I can remember reading in the early 1990′s that we would soon reach the limits of processor speed. Although everybody in the field knows that there eventually has to be some limit, few people are now willing to go out on a limb and predict that we will soon reach the limit, because the chip designers keep improving the processors. Moore’s Law still holds.
Knowing Moore’s Law, I then applied it to the idea of a simulated brain inside a computer. When the brain was originally uploaded, it would think at the same speed as a normal human brain. But then, over the years as the computer it was running on got upgraded with faster processors, the brain would be able to think faster. I did up an Excel spreadsheet to see how fast it would get over a long period. For the purposes of that projection, I actually doubled processor speed only every two years, which is slower than Moore’s Law. I then decided to set the story at a point where one day in the real world was about one year in the simulation.
I decided to call the rate of time in the simulation “simtime,” as opposed to “realtime.”
Now, in order to have a conversation between the simtime friend and the realtime friend, the simtime friend would have to slow down to realtime. I then had the idea that the simulated mind could “split off” a copy of itself to deal with the slow real world, while it continued to operate at the high speed.
Now that I had the basic rules of the science in the story, I started writing it.
I gave the friends names: Cy was the one now living in cyberspace, and Hugh was the one who was still human. (Get it? That’s why I changed the names later, when I developed it into a real story. The names Cy and Hugh were just too cutesy.)
I needed an excuse for the two friends to talk, and came up with the idea that Hugh had just been to the funeral of the Cy’s mother. Because of the time differential, what was a recent event for Hugh would be a more distant event for Cy.
That then gave me the idea that Cy was really distant from his family. He felt they had rejected him when he uploaded. (Note: At this point, the idea that Cy’s orginal human self might still be around after the upload had not ocurred to me. I thought of uploading as a choice someone might make to leave their body, not as a copy of the mind that remained in the body. Nothing in the original version implied that Cy’s uploading was experimental, or that there weren’t millions of people who had chosen to upload.)
So now I had a bit of conflict for the story: Hugh thinks Cy’s becoming inhuman. And that’s basically what the conversation was about.
After ending the conversation, I have Cy think about what Hugh has said. I also introduce the idea that, in the simulated reality, Cy can assume any shape he wants, such as a winged form. (I then went back to the beginning and inserted a bit about answering the call using his human appearance.)
Rather than come to any real resolution, the idea of one day being a year inspired me to put a twist on the old Scarlett O’Hara line: “Maybe I’ll just think about it tomorrow. After all, tomorrow is another year.” (I would have stuck with that ending when I developed the whole story, but it struck me as being too cutesy.)
So I submitted the assignment. Caleb suggested that I expand it into a full story, and I replied that I would like to work on it, but “I think it needs another element, but I’m not sure what.”
Sure, I could have expanded the conversation, or given more details about what the simworld was like in order to get the word count up, but I knew that it wasn’t really a complete story. There was something missing.
I’ve had that feeling before with other fragments I’ve written. Sometimes I have to wait a long time before I come up with something. Some fragments are still waiting.
This fragment only had to wait three days. And the key to the new idea was sitting there in the original fragment. Hugh tells Cy that he needs to remember where he came from, and Cy mentions that he has perfect recall.
Since I do not have perfect recall, I don’t know exactly what my thinking process was to develop the idea from that point, but it might have gone something like this:
- What if it wasn’t perfect?
- What if Cy discovered that there were holes in his memory?
- Why would there be holes?
- Because his memory had been erased.
- Who would do that?
- What if he did it to himself?
- Why would he do that?
- Because there’s something he doesn’t want to remember.
- What would be so awful that he’d want to erase his memory?
- He killed someone.
- His own sister.
- Why would he kill her?
- Because his original human self went crazy.
- Why did his original go crazy?
- Because of the uploading.
- What caused it?
- The scanning process itself. (Note: There is a scientific principle involved in quantum mechanics called the Observer Principle. Basically, the idea is that observing is not completely passive — sometimes observing something can change what is observed. So, if scanning the brain for upload required extremely detailed scanning, the scan itself would change the brain that was being scanned.)
I now had the basis for the rest of the story, and I wrote it.
Thanks to suggestions from Caleb and members of the class, I was able to strengthen the story by making various things clearer, and by adding details.
But the editing wasn’t just adding to the story. It also included taking away.
There was one brief scene in particular that I loved when I wrote it. It was haunting and emotional and poetic. I thought it was possibly the highlight of the entire story. And, unfortunately, Caleb was absolutely right when he pointed out that it was melodramatic and unrealistic. It can be dangerous to fall in love with your own words. (William Faulkner’s advice on that: “Kill your darlings.”)
One last thing: Where did the title come from? The phrase “in memory” is used regarding remembrance of the dead, which is an important part of the story. But a computer simulation lives in the RAM of the computer, so you can say it is “in memory.” With a double meaning like that, I could not resist choosing that title.