What Is the Secret Storytelling Weapon on 'Rick and Morty'? Time Travel

'Rick and Morty'Credit: Adult Swim
Rick and Morty traveled through time with a storytelling secret for you.

How zany and creative are your ideas? Do they bounce off the walls, become sentient pickles, and survive by cloning themselves? Or are they more... normal? Regardless of the kinds of things you write, there's a lot you can learn from Rick and Morty.

For the uninitiated, Rick and Morty is an American animated science fiction sitcom created by Justin Roiland and Dan Harmon

The show is part homage to Back to the Future, part deconstruction of genius, ego, and all of humanity. Every week there's a new adventure for the gang to go on and lots of deep lessons as well. It's also one of the best-written shows on TV, and they have a secret to how they do it. 

They can time travel. 

Check out this video from Savage Books, and let's talk after the jump. 

What Is Rick and Morty's Secret Storytelling Weapon? 

If you have tried writing a lot of television, you know that one of the most difficult tasks is deciding what's going to drive the episode. You need characters to get into a predicament and then split off into A and B stories to deal with it. Well, on a show with time travel, you can have a predicament without ever showing it. 

See, characters can come from the future angry about something that has not happened yet. In that way, you don't have to have someone instigating anything on the screen, you can just have the reactions to the consequences. 

Now, Rick and Morty doesn't always use this technique, but they always have it at their disposal. Time travel opens up all kinds of narrative devices for them to play with. You can have people coming from the future and instigating things, or problems arising in the present because of something they inadvertently changed in the past. 

Just the very idea of time travel presents so many problems that it's easy for a network buying a show to see its potential and its ability to produce hundreds of episodes. It also makes the animated aspect of the show very easy to pitch. When people ask, "Why does this have to be animated?" You can answer with the stakes, visuals, and constant environmental changes that force your hand (unless you're willing to spend millions per episode).

Now, time travel is not some big secret, but it is a great example of an idea with legs. It's one that we know can cause a TV show to stretch out and last, depending on the showrunner's vision.

Every show cannot be able to time travel, but everyone who wants to write TV can understand that when you're perfecting your story, you need to make conflict and conflict resolutions the driving factor of the idea. Executives need to see how the conflict will naturally arise in this world and what your characters will do to resolve them. 

Keep that in mind for every idea you work on in the future... and in the past. Conflict is what makes TV shows last. And if you can't find your conflict, time travel backward and find a way to fix it. 

Let me know what you think in the comments.      

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2 Comments

This is the weirdest article considering Rick & Morty have a pretty solid "no time travel" rule. I think they've only done time travel once with the snakes episode where Rick even complains about time travel. They do parallel universes that can involve the the universes running at different time speeds a la Narnia but, yeah, no time travel. So the premise of this whole article is just off.

July 23, 2021 at 11:50AM

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I love Rick and Morty!

July 24, 2021 at 7:23AM

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Lola Harper
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