Those of you who, like me, have been following and thoroughly enjoying Star Trek Discovery over the past few months, will be aware that the crew have recently visited – indeed, appear to be stuck in – a very dark and dangerous universe, completely alien to their own.
The Mirror Universe is a plot line well-visited on Star Trek, but rarely has it grabbed hold of its entire crew and kept them there for more than a single episode. (I confess here to not having watched every episode of every incarnation of the franchise, so I may be mistaken and am willing to be corrected.)
However, the latest unfortunate adventure sees the starship and its inhabitants well and truly entrenched in this malevolent, disturbing place, and it looks like we may not be leaving for a few episodes yet.
The idea of a mirror universe is a fabulous one. Most of us as writers are familiar with the idea of a person’s shadow – that part of our character which we would rather not have to admit to and which we often find very difficult to face, let alone reconcile. This makes for a very useful way into a story when one is exploring a specific character.
What is so fascinating about the mirror universe is that it takes this concept one step further. Everyone in the universe is a weird transformation of who they present as in the ‘real’ world. Obviously, the ‘goodies’ come over as less than favourable, but those who are normally recognisable as dodgy, dubious or downright evil have a chance here to become champions and heroes.
Take Voq, for instance, a fairly typical un-politically-correct Klingon, who majors in trying to put down all and sundry in the name of Kahless, including his fellow warriors. In the mirror universe, he gets to be a leader of the rebellion, uniting any number of alien species against the ruthless Terran empire. Oh yes, it’s the humans who have relinquished any idea of respect or peace in this world.
Interestingly, when Michael challenges him to explain how he has come to be in this position, he still talks about the importance of unity within the Klingon tribes under the ideals of Kahless, but now states that because the Klingons are at one within themselves, they are able to be open to others from outside their race.
This is the beauty of the idea of the mirror universe. It is not a straight reversal of the original, nor is it, for each individual, a simple visit ‘to the dark side’ (to mix my sci-fi references). As a concept, it has innumerable places to go because each of us is a complex person. And in our writing, so should our characters be, if they are to be life-like.
I believe the idea of a mirror universe could be a utilised as a fantastic writing aid, because it allows each character’s potential to be fully explored. If you were to try writing your character from within this perception, you would begin to clarify quite clearly who this person could be if they chose differently, and therefore define who they definitely are not in their current situation.
I would think – I have yet to try this out – the technique would help tremendously in enriching the persona of a novel or short story, enabling one to avoid thin, superficial characters and to create a rich canvas for each personality, even if most of it never reached the page.
As I have said before, I don’t believe good writing features its people in a vacuum. We need to know much more about the characters we create, than we actually spell out, if they are to be credible.A visit to their individual mirror universe could be just the treatment they need to achieve this.
If nothing else, it could allow us to envisage new perceptions which might influence the story we’re telling. Remember, after all, what happened to Alice, not to mention Snow White.