‘Chiang doesn’t keep a journal in which to jot down his ideas, and he doesn’t dedicate a set time of the day to think. Rather, “the stories I write are usually based on ideas that have been rattling around in my head for years,” he said. “I get plenty of ideas that I lose interest in almost immediately. It’s only when I keep returning to a particular idea again and again over a long period of time do I know that it’s something that might become a story.”
He continues, “Writing is very difficult for me, and so I write very slowly.” That delay is in part due to Chiang’s character development, thinking of how he can blend his stories with the right characters and then bringing together a number of threads.
His characters are capable of existing both on and outside the page, and while Chiang’s plots are clearly sci-fi oriented, nothing is unbelievable. “I’m sure there are readers who can’t suspend their disbelief when reading my work,” he wrote. “But I suppose I’m more interested in exploring philosophical questions, and I don’t think fanciful technology helps with that. When philosophers pose thought experiments, I tend to prefer the ones that don’t involve really outlandish premises.”
“Every studio passed, telling me they didn’t see this as a movie,” he continued. “That it was too smart, which I began to see as an excuse to pass on something that isn’t a franchise movie.” Heisserer negotiated for the literary rights for one year, and adapted Story of Your Life on spec until he was finally received the go-ahead in 2010. “It has been a slow crawl to get to where we see the movie released,” he said.
But even if Arrival smashes through the box office and awards season—and if advanced reviews are any indication, it will—Chiang doesn’t intend to forget his roots. He still has no desire to ever write a novel, which he first made clear in an email to Kim when the two initially spoke several years ago, writing: “I am not writing a novel. Just to let you know, I am a short story writer.”’