What’s missing from the time travel romantic comedy genre? A harsh dystopia. What if every manic pixie dream girl, was secretly a talent scout from the future? What if someone told you your magnum opus finds an audience long after you die? This story is a commentary on where I think the entertainment industry is headed.
Hand me the keys to the Delorean and I’ll show you an alternate timeline. Here’s some of the irresponsible things I’d do with a time machine.
My Time Travel Romantic Comedy Pitch
This isn’t a synopsis, it’s a loose pitch, a parade of plot points, a poll of possibilities. If you think it’s something worth developing, say so in the comments.
Logline: A publicist travels back in time to seduce an author whose fame was achieved after his death. Her firm specializes in corrupting these unsung geniuses with stardom, and reaping in the profits.
In the not too distant future: every film, TV show, and video game is based on an established work. New intellectual properties are considered risky investments. The corporations with the most time-honored masterpieces in their vaults own the entertainment industry.
Ashlynn is a scout for a publishing firm. Charged with copywriting classics before they enter into the public domain, she gets to these stories before their audience can. Violating restrictions on time travel, her firm has offices that stretch back to the dawn of the printing press.
Ashlynn specializes in finding authors who gained notoriety after their deaths. Traveling to when they were in their prime, she wins them over with sweet talk, and publishing contracts. For minuscule costs in the past, she reaps massive benefits for the future.
Ashlynn’s firm is responsible for an alternate reality where Edgar Allen Poe lives to become a bored true crime author, where H.P. Lovecraft struggles to step out of the shadow of his Cthulhu mythos, and fame gives Henry David Thoreau a new found affection for the big city.
Ashlynn pressures Herman Melville into writing a sequel to Moby Dick. It undermines the original’s message, turning the series into a precursor for Jaws.
As a scout, Ashlynn does her best to avoid the firm’s temporal agents, dark figures who travel back in time to enforce the firm’s agenda. They make sure their golden geese keep laying eggs. Whenever an author has a flight of fancy, these shadow figures clip their wings. Sabotaging lives, the agents put these writers back in front of the blank page. The firm regards their authors, who would never have achieved acclaim without them, as their prose spewing property.
Ashlynn watches the agents detain Emily Dickinson, when she tries to burn her journals. She sees them catch Franz Kafka trying to do the same. When he writes about their “Kafkaesque” time bending schemes, she’s surprised to find they publish it as it is.
Ashlynn thwarts Sylvia Plath’s suicide attempt. The agents throw her client into a padded cell, where the price of daylight is a page of poetry.
Break in the Routine
Ashlynn is brought on to gather intelligence on Jacob, a failed romantic novelist from the dawn of the information age. His work is finding an audience in her time, the firm wants to rope him in while he’s young.
After a pep talk from his coworkers, Jacob works up the courage to tell his office crush about his novel. Offering to give her a copy, he slips in an invitation for dinner. She accepts.
Posing in the mirror, Jacob tries to find space for his manuscript in his coat. He removes the pen from his pocket and replaces it with a toothbrush, just in case the night goes well. He leaves two dishes of cat food out, for good measure.
Ashlynn orchestrates a scenario that strands Jacob’s date in a jail cell.
Jacob is all smiles when he checks in for his reservation. He nurses his water, perking up as each new patron walks through the door. Unfolding his napkin, he reaches into his pocket. There’s a toothbrush where his pen should be.
From the neighboring booth, Ashlynn watches Jacob trade the dinner menu for the wine list. Half a bottle later, Jacob leaves his manuscript as a tip. When the waiter dumps it in the trash, Ashlynn fishes it out. Using Jacob’s contact info, she gives him a call.
“All the servers were riveted with your story. They passed it around until it got to Mark, the owner. Now Mark just happened to know someone in publishing, and I would really love to meet you.”
The Point of no Return
During their meeting, Jacob refers to himself as a “method writer.”
“All of my stories start from life experience. Every pitch is an act of self-deprecation.”
Jacob accidentally touches on the problems Ashlynn has with her career, and the future she must inevitably return to. He puts her at ease. She’s compelled to bring more authenticity to her persona than usual.
Ashlynn develops genuine feelings for the downtrodden author, despite his stubborn instance on publishing his novel on his own.
Returning empty handed, Ashlynn’s overlords push her to play the seduction angle.
“He’s famous for his lovelorn prose. You’re in the rare position to be his muse. Get him on the hook and hurt him. Hurt him bad enough, and we’ll make out like bandits.”
Casting off her formal attire, Ashlynn sets out to turn herself into the manic pixie dream girl she thinks Jacob wants. She takes her fashion cues from the indie movies of his day, wearing a hodgepodge of pink hair extensions, thick-rimmed glasses, goth makeup, hooded sweat shirts, and pastel cardigans.
Skimming reviews of Jacob’s work, she pulls out the most flattering quotes, and rehearses them. During their next encounter, flattery gets her everywhere.
Jacob laments the death of print. He catalogues his struggles with social media and self promotion. Using her foresight into successful platforms, Ashlynn redirects his efforts. She drags him out to networking events. Through each step of the courtship process, the firm’s agents lurk in the shadows. It seems this man is a larger investment than they’d led on.
Ashlynn drags Jacob to a reading. She’s signed him up to recite an excerpt from his novel. Stuttering through the first few lines, his tone shifts mid-sentence. Jacob’s passion rises to the surface. He experiences something he never has before: validation. Mingling with the crowd, Jacob shows the first signs of Ashlynn’s corrupting influence. He echoes the critical praise his work garners in the future.
The Shifting of Alliances
The couple butt heads over whether Jacob should self publish or relinquish control to the firm. Ashlynn already knows how much luck Jacob will have striking out on his own. Desperate to spare him this fate, she outs herself as a publisher from the future.
He doesn’t buy it, “It’s not the worst Sci-Fi premise I’ve heard, but–”
“Seriously. I come from a reality where Poe drank himself to death, where Sylvia Plath cooked herself in the oven, where Virginia Woolf stuffed her pockets full of stones and went for a swim, where Hart Crane and Spalding Grey dove in after her. Hell, we’d have saved Vincent Van Gogh, if he could write for shit.”
“Then why did you come back for me?”
“Think about where your life was heading before we met.”
Fearing the future Ashlynn described, Jacob signs to her firm. His first book is a colossal success. The film adaptation turns him into a household name. Ashlynn watches Jacob transform from a humble introvert into a dinner party monster. He quotes his own work and corrects people’s grammar.
Concerned with Jacob’s sunny outlook, the firm pushes for more material. With Ashlynn sharing his bed, Jacob is unable to produce the lovelorn prose for which he is known. The firm orders her to break off the relationship.
“You’ve built him up this far. Now it’s time to send him spiraling down to new depths of self-loathing. After all, he’s got a contract to fulfill.”
Ashlynn can’t bring herself to go through with it. She tells Jacob exactly the kind of future her firm has planned for him. The couple set out to skip town, to find a blind spot on the grid, invisible to the firm and its probability predictors.
Before they can escape, Ashlynn is abducted by the temporal agents and brought back to her time.
The Lowest Moment
Unsure of his lover’s whereabouts, Jacob stews in a funk, drinking and abusing prescription medication.
In the future, Ashlynn is met with a pink slip. She learns that Jacob died shortly after his first publication, an apparent overdose. Refusing to accept this, she discovers evidence that the firm had a role in his demise. Contesting the terms of his contract, Jacob refused to write another word. They had him killed to increase book sales; death always being a fail safe publicity method.
With wealth accumulated through a career of deceit, Ashlynn hires a team to help her break into the publishing house. Once inside, she makes a run for the time machine, traveling to just before her first encounter with the Jacob.
Ashlynn persuades her past self to throw the publishing firm off of the fledgling author’s sent, to convince them that he’s a plagiarist.
At the restaurant, she starts her relationship with Jacob anew. She gains his attention, by challenging the premise of his lovelorn manuscript.
“You’ve got skill as a method writer, but have you ever tried your hand at classic writing. I can tell you wrote this, because you had to, but have you ever told a story just for the joy of it. What if pent up pain wasn’t your only muse? What if you could transcribe your daydreams? What if you wrote about things you haven’t even experienced yet? I’d bet you’d be good at it.”
“You think so?”
Jacob switches up his technique, drawing from his imagination rather than just his experience. He finds inspiration outside of depression. He dabbles in different genres, develops a fluency for fantasy, a mastery of mystery, and a savvy for science fiction. With his lover’s guidance, he finds an audience for his self-published works.
Ashlynn becomes the founder of her own publishing house. It specializes in risk taking original works. It grows to rival her former employer. The couple has a bright future together.