How to Cross Dimensions: Dimension Traveler Stories - An Examination
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Here I'll examine dimension traveler/parallel world stories to see why they are so interesting and enjoyable.

"I love my job, and I'm happy with my current lifestyle and all... but lately, I get to thinking when I see Kiki... About how I could've had a different future... If I had chosen a different path 10 years ago... Then I'd be living a completely different life than I am now. I'm not saying which one would've been better... But I just wonder where the other path may have led me... I guess the longer you live, the more you wonder about another '"you"' that might have been. Boy... Life sure is complex..."

-excerpt from Chrono Cross (Video Game)

Types of Dimension Stories (Why Write Them?)

  • Overview

    • Dimension stories allow us to compare and contrast two different worlds.  We can use this to make a point or to come up with exciting and novel plot points.  We are also able to use the idea of dimensions to write very weird situations and settings that wouldn't be possible otherwise.
  • Cool Points

    • Different versions of the same world (different events)
    • Different versions of the same character (different backstory/choices/disposition) 
    • Seeing the actual result of different choices (instead of imagined results)
    • Traveling between dimensions 
    • Conflict between dimensions (usually one invading or trying to destroy the other)
    • Strangers/ghosts from other dimensions
    • Characters dealing with "Weird" situations or worlds
    • Overlap with Time Travel stories (changes in the current timeline can cause allternate dimensions to be created or perceived)
    • Which dimension/timeline is the "Right" or "True" or "Original" timeline?
    • Infinite worlds/endless universe.  (Ties into String Theory/M-Theory)

Types of Alternate Dimensions:

  • Similar/Personal

    • These alternate dimensions are almost identical to our world.
    • The differences are limited to individual people or even single choices.
    • Example 1:
      • In one dimension, you marry Julie, and settle down to have two kids, feeling stressed but happy with your family.
      • In another dimension, you never marry and travel the world on your own, having adventures but feeling lonely.
    • Example 2:
      • In one dimension, you die in a car accident on your 18th birthday.
      • In another dimension, you don't leave your house that day and survive to 80 years old.
    • Example 3:
      • In one dimension, you're a hermaphrodite that is surgically changed to a boy at birth.
      • In another dmiension, you're a hermaphrodite that is surgically changed to a girl at birth.
    • These stories are the easiest to understand and relate to on a personal level, but lack the social commentary of the Historical dimension and the pizazz of the Strange dimension.  You will have to make the reader care about the character(s) to make this work.
  • Social/Historical

    • These alternate dimensions are still in our recognizable world, but important historical events changed, resulting in different social outcomes.
    • The differences can affect entire countries, causing some people never to be born, others to be killed too soon; those who live in both dimensions may have completely different lives.
    • Example 1:
      • In our dimension, the Allied forces won World War II and the US became the leading world power.  
      • In another dimension, the Axis forces won World War II and Germany became the leading world power.
    • Example 2:
      • In our dimension, the North won the American Civil War.
      • In another dimension, the South won the American Civil War and the Confederacy separated into its own country.
    • Example 3:
      • In our dimension, Constantine used Christianity to unite the Roman Empire, bringing the religion into political and cultural prominence for 2,000 years.
      • In another dimension, Constantine was assassinated, and Christianity died out, becoming an "ancient religion" by 2,000 A.D.
    • These stories have a great What-If impact and allow you to explore different social ideas. However, they require more explanation and world-building.  So you better do your research.
  • Strange

    • These alternate dimensions still obey our physical laws and our world still exists.  But something very fundamental changed that created a crazy and strange place.
    • Examples:
      • Dinosaurs never died out, so people never evolved.
      • The world is ruled by sentient plants.
      • People have wings and can fly.
      • All people have superpowers or ESP.
      • The world is covered in one amorphous cell.
      • The world is permanently frozen since a collision knocked it away from the sun.
    • In order to make these stories believable you will need to do some research and put in some details.  You will have to find ties or contrasts to our own reality to make it relevant.
  • Unrecognizable/Weird

    • These alternate dimensions have little to no similarity to our own.  
    • Examples:
      • A universe with no light
      • A universe with no matter
      • A universe where space is warped together and walking in a straight line is impossible
      • A universe with only 2 visible spatial dimensions (or 4 visible spatial dimensions)
      • A universe with no time
      • A universe where you can walk forwards and backwards through time like a spatial dimension
      • "Heaven" and "Hell"
    • These dimensions are very interesting but require careful handling, both in their description and in their use in the story.  If they are too strange, it may be hard to sustain a narrative.  Consider just visiting those for a short period of interest, unless you have a situation that can be intuitively understood by the reader.

How to Cross Dimensions

  • On purpose

    • This is easier to handle.  The character knows what they are doing, so they are not confused.  Their thoughts or dialogue can explain the situation to the reader.  The character will also have a clear and relevant purpose in changing dimensions, which will engage the reader in their travel.
    • The characters can use:
      • Technology
      • Magic spells or summonings
      • Their own, or someone else's, innate power.  (Angels.  Psychics.  Aliens.)
      • Portals and wormholes
      • Consciousness.  (Trances.  Drugs.  Neural implants.)
      • Time Travel/Time Loop (Change the past or future, creating an alternate dimension with different events.)
  • On accident

    • This is much more difficult, as the character will be totally confused if the new dimension is noticeably different from their own.  If the new dimension is similar to their own, the character will not notice the change until the first irregularity arises, and their first instinct will not be to assume they have changed dimensions.  If the character does not know why things have changed, they will have to discover this on their own or be told by someone who does know.  The reader may be as lost as the character unless you are very careful and drop clues.
    • There may not be a clear way for the character to get back to their own dimension, since they crossed dimensions on accident.
    • You will have to come up with an explanation for why and how they crossed dimensions without their knowledge. 
    • You will have to create a reasonable goal for the character in the new dimension, since they didn't intend to end up there.
    • The characters can accidentally cross dimensions because:
      • Of an unintended side-effect of (or encounter with) any of the things listed in the On Purpose section above
      • Someone else purposefully put them in another dimension without their knowledge
      • Their personal timeline was changed by an external force

 

In conclusion, dimension stories require more careful handling than regular stories, because we only deal with one timeline in our daily lives.  Sci-fi/fantasy tropes like spaceships and magic swords are easy things to imagine, but alternate dimensions are abstract and require the reader to think twice.  They must first put themselves in the multiple-dimension mindset; then they must imagine and compare the two (or more) different worlds.  And that's if you want them to know right off that it's a dimension story!  If you want to be smooth and confuse the reader at first, switching between worlds without explanation, you will have to be deft indeed to keep their interest while forcing them to untangle the truth of what's happening.

But, as I can attest, the result is worth the trouble; dimension stories are some of the most interesting ones I've experienced.  

References:

  • Original ideas
  • Chrono Cross (Video game)
  • Noein (TV)
  • Fringe (TV)
  • World Trigger (TV)
  • The Witcher 3 (Video game)
  • Puella Magi Madoka Magica (TV)
  • Stein's Gate (TV)
  • Various stories throughout the years

 

    




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