Writing Time Travel

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If time travel were possible, would you journey to the past and visit long-deceased ancestors or travel to your future and witness the fate of the world? If you had the chance to change your history, would you? Sounds scary and exciting and perhaps the reason readers of all ages find this popular trope fascinating. Time travel novels continue to grow in science fiction, fantasy, historical fiction, and romance novels. Now that I’ve written a paranormal historical fiction involving time travel, I understand how tricky and complex this genre is to write. But time travel is a perfect complement to historical fiction. 

Einstein’s Theory of Relativity (1905) and General Theory of Relativity(1916) are the groundwork for time travel explaining, time and space’s connectivity, and its malleability (warping, bending, expanding, and contracting) when acted upon by matter or energy and allows for straight-line movement forward and back to the original starting point. Other astrophysicists theorized black holes, wormholes, and cosmic strings allow for time travel, elements of sci-fi books, and perhaps, our future reality.

Writing Time Travel Novel

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If you plan to write a time travel novel, pause before you step through that portal. A time travel novel should contain at least three timelines within the story’s plot. Outline your story’s plot. Determine which time travel model you will use.

Outline the Story’s Timeline

  • Timeline 1: Is where your protagonist, antagonist, and sub-characters exist in the present.
  • Timeline 2:  Is some past or future world where an actionable event causes conflict and major events to happen.
  • Timeline 3: This is where your characters travel through time to resolve issues. By doing so, they create alternate timelines and paradoxes.

Time Travel Models

Fixed Timeline Model

  • There is only one timeline, thus history cannot be changed.
  • An attempt to alter history means it was meant to happen. It was always a part of the timeline. 
  • Altering history creates a paradox. For example, the Hitler Paradox – A person travels back in time to kill Adolf Hitler as a baby to prevent WWII and replace him with a different baby. In the future, the baby still grows up to become Adolf Hitler (The Terminator, 12 Monkeys, and Harry Potter 3).

Dynamic Timelines

  • There is just one timeline
  • You can travel back in time and slightly alter history if it’s not a major event fated to happen (Historical Imperatives). Changing these will radically affect the future.
  • Changing history would result in a Grandfather Paradox- You travel back in time and kill your grandfather, preventing your birth and your trip back in time. As a result, your grandfather is never killed and you are born again only to go back in time and kill your grandfather anyway. This loop continues infinitely, creating a paradox (Back to the Future).

Multiverse Timelines

  • There are an infinite number of timelines (parallel universes).
  • Each time you travel to the past, a new divergent timeline is created. Thus, the traveler can alter history in new timelines, but the original timeline remains unaffected.  For example, if you go back in time and kill your grandparents, nothing will happen because there is no paradox. You simply created a new timeline in which you will not exist, but the original timeline remains the same. However, you cannot return to the original timeline (Terminator 2 and 3, Star Trek, 2009).

In writing your book, contemplate all the possible outcomes of time travel and its consequences for your characters. If your character alters the past, what will their future look like, can they return to their time, will their life be changed forever?  Plotting each timeline will save you headaches later on and any inconsistencies in the story.

Know Your Time

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Research, research, research…

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Research is the only way to capture the authenticity of the period you’ve plonked your characters in (dress, speech, food, popular culture, etc.).

What Vessel Carries Your Characters Through Time?  

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The means of time travel are limitless, as we seen in movies and novels. Be as creative as you want. After all, it’s fiction.

A time machine (H.G. Wells, The Time Machine)

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A car (George Gipe, Back To The Future)

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A genetic anomaly ( Audrey Niffenegger, The Time Traveler’s Wife)

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Stone ruins ( Diana Gabaldon, Outlander)

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Astral projection (Richard Matheson, Somewhere in Time)

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Or a paranormal trip through time (Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol)

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Time Travel Novels

Below are a few of my favorite time travel novels. A Wrinkle in Time (Madeleine L’Engle), The Time Machine, (H. G. Wells), Slaughter House Five (Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.), A Christmas Carol (Charles Dickens), Somewhere in Time (Richard Matheson), Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (J. K. Rowling), Outlander (Diana Gabaldon), 11/22/63 (Stephen King), The Time Traveler’s Wife (Audrey Niffenegger),  Unhappenings (Edward Aubry), Lightning (Dean Koontz), The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle (Stuart Turton) and many, many, more.

August 2020 Reading

I’ve include two time travel books to my August reading list. Currently, I’m reading Kindred, by Octavia E. Butler and What The Wind Knows by Amy Harmon.

Kindred by [Octavia E. Butler]

Dana, a modern black woman, is celebrating her twenty-sixth birthday with her new husband when she is snatched abruptly from her home in California and transported to the antebellum South. Rufus, the white son of a plantation owner, is drowning, and Dana has been summoned to save him. Dana is drawn back repeatedly through time to the slave quarters, and each time the stay grows longer, more arduous, and more dangerous until it is uncertain whether or not Dana’s life will end, long before it has a chance to begin.

What the Wind Knows by [Amy Harmon]

Anne Gallagher grew up enchanted by her grandfather’s stories of Ireland. Heartbroken at his death, she travels to his childhood home to spread his ashes. There, overcome with memories of the man she adored and consumed by a history she never knew, she is pulled into another time.

The Ireland of 1921, teetering on the edge of war, is a dangerous place in which to awaken. But there Anne finds herself, hurt, disoriented, and under the care of Dr. Thomas Smith, guardian to a young boy who is oddly familiar. Mistaken for the boy’s long-missing mother, Anne adopts her identity, convinced the woman’s disappearance is connected to her own.

As tensions rise, Thomas joins the struggle for Ireland’s independence and Anne is drawn into the conflict beside him. Caught between history and her heart, she must decide whether she’s willing to let go of the life she knew for a love she never thought she’d find. But in the end, is the choice actually hers to make?

Happy Reading and Writing!

7 Thoughts

    1. Hi Jina. It’s a challenge especially when it’s a historical fiction piece. This is my first time travel novel and I’m learning as I plot the story. If only we could time travel past 2020’s pandemic environment to a more peaceful time. 😊 Thanks for reading, Jina!

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