Have you ever contemplated what the world would be like if you had never been born? What other people wouldn’t be here? Which relationships would never have happened? What contributions to the planet and society would never have taken place?
If Steve Jobs hadn’t lived, there would be no Apple. Without Johannes Gutenberg, books may not be printed like today, and no Thomas Edison might mean lights, camera, action would’ve taken an entirely different turn. The Internet and social media may not be available to us without Tim Berners Lee’s internet protocol. Without John, Paul, George, and Ringo, there would be no Beatles, nor would there be a movie called Yesterday about a world that doesn’t remember The Beatles.
Authors have the power to add and erase characters from novels and do so often to create a better story for readers. But toying with lives in fiction is much less dramatic than in real life.
A recent episode of Seth MacFarlane’s The Orville called “Lasting Impressions” made me think. In the episode, the spaceship’s crew finds a time capsule dated 2015. A mobile phone that belonged to a woman named Laura is inside. Gordon, one of the crew members, loads Laura’s phone contents onto a computer and recreates a simulation of her life. He interacts with simulated Laura and falls for her until Greg, her ex, comes back. Gordon decides to delete Greg from the simulation so Laura and Greg don’t get back together. But without Greg, Laura loses her passion—her love of singing for an audience. Gordon does the right thing and puts Greg back so history can happen as intended.
I’m considering taking a character out of the Becker Circle sequel I’m working on now. What a dose of reality on the page it is to remove someone from their world. When I pull the character out of the romantic suspense, I realize how many lives he touched—for the better and worse. He’s responsible for people meeting, businesses starting, love, heartbreak, and a couple of thrilling chases. The exercise makes me even more thankful for the amazing people I know that shape my world and inspire me.
What if it were so simple to delete people? How many times would you have deleted your mom when you were a teenager? Your other half when they refuse to be reasonable? The driver next to you when they cut you off? A good friend just learned he had a heart attack sometime in the last 10 years and never knew. If the heart attack had been fatal, I wouldn’t know him, and I would never have met the love of my life. He also wouldn’t have contributed the music, connections, friendships, and laughter he’s shared, and that’s just since I’ve known him in the last six years.
These scenarios make me think about everything individuals contribute to lives and our planet, and authors mirror that in fiction. When they hit on hard times, it makes me realize what a huge impact one person can have. If you’d like a deep question to contemplate, who and what wouldn’t exist and how would the world be different if you were never part of it?