Do Characters Actually Exist, and Time Travel for Writers

In today’s Journal

* Quotes of the Day
* Finished the Novel
* An Excellent Question
* Time Travel for Writers
* Of Interest
* The Numbers

Quotes of the Day

“Only human beings, in an effort to soothe their collective insecurity, is haughty enough to put forth the assertion that they are ‘better than’ instead of ‘different from’.” Yer Uncle Harv

“Being equal does not equate to being the same. And being unequal does not render either side less important.” Same source

Finished the Novel

Well, the novel wrapped yesterday at 3:20 p.m. Also, the real title of the book presented itself.

Today I’ll make a cycling pass over the last three chapters (no doubt the word count will change a bit), then upload those chapters to the Writing in Public substack to go out at 4 p.m. and send the whole manuscript to Russ, my excellent first reader.

If you’re wondering, Russ doesn’t critique. He simply reads the story and notes any wrong words (solder for soldier, etc.) and inconsistencies that pop out at him as he enjoys the story.

While Russ is doing that, I’ll write a promo doc and design a cover (for the time being, until I rebrand the whole series). When he sends it back, I’ll correct anything he catches, then publish it. And that will be that.

I plan to start a new novel as soon as an idea occurs. As I keep saying, moving forward, putting new words on the page, is what matters.

I am a writer. Writers write.

An Excellent Question

In a comment on yesterday’s post, Matt P wrote,

“I have a question relating to your characters. Specifically, why do you believe they actually exist? I find it an interesting perspective and one I share in a sense so I’m wondering what made you come to that conclusion? Or was it always something you considered to be true?”

As I told Matt, I’ve never actually thought about this before.

Here’s my expanded response:

1. Because they do.
2. Why not?

No conclusion, just a state of being. They Are. (God allegedly told Moses, “I Am.”)

I believe “my” characters (and “your” characters) actually exist for the same reasons I believe my wife or my neighbor or a hummingbird or my beloved little cat actually exists. Or dirt or trees or sky or….

After all, those also are only compilations of sensory input processed by the brain.

I believe the characters existed before I discovered them, I believe they exist now, and I believe they will continue to exist and live their lives long after I cease to exist myself.

I also consider myself fortunate that I finally worked up the courage to ask their permission to run through their lives with them occasionally, and to record their stories as I go. And that they actually invited me to do so. Among humans who “actually exist,” only my wife has extended me the same courtesy.

And I’m fortunate I was just wise enough to let the character live their own lives (as I let everyone else live theirs) instead of trying to force my “version” of it on them.

After all, my (your) parents existed before I was (you were) born. I only became aware of them all at once and then slowly over time. The same way I became aware of other people, places and things that I encountered through my physical senses. And the same way I became/become aware of the characters.

Sometime in grade school, I suppose, is when I first became aware of other people and creatures and things I would never actually see, hear, smell, touch, etc.

Like dinosaurs or the Dubai Tower or the Jaguar XKE (my favorite car, though I have never seen one in my reality) or however many billions of humans there are on Earth whom I will never actually physically meet.

I’m sure some philosopher in the past has asked whether we believe people, things, etc. exist because they actually do or because we believe they do.

To which my response would be What difference does it make?

Except that if I believed the “fictional” characters exist and that all of the others do not, some human or government entity would lock me away “for your own good.” (What they mean is “So you will stop making us feel uneasy.”) (grin)

All of which kind of leads us to today’s topic:

Time Travel for Writers

Is time travel impossible?

This is a question that is of interest to SF writers and to all writers, really. Who has never wondered what it would be like to travel through time?

But isn’t time travel impossible?

Well, yes. In the timeline in which we currently live, time travel is impossible. But it is also at least plausible.

And the fact that it is not possible proves it.

Consider the “Grandfather Paradox.” As astrophysicist Adi Foord explained in the article I linked to in Of Interest yesterday,

“The famous “grandfather paradox” is a hypothetical problem that could arise if someone traveled back in time and accidentally [ahem, or intentionally] prevented their grandparents from meeting. This would create a paradox where you were never born…: [And if you were never born] how could you have traveled back in time in the first place? It’s a mind-boggling puzzle that adds to the mystery of time travel.”

Meh. Not so mind-boggling really. The paradox is flawed.

As I wrote above, we cannot time-travel in the timeline in which we are currently living.

But there’s no law saying you have to remain in this timeline. Every time you make the smallest decision, your personal timeline changes.

And if you create a time-travel machine or device that works, that act alone will begin in a timeline in which time-travel IS possible.

Nobody else on Earth in the current timeline you stepped out of when you invented your time-travel machine will be able to travel in time. Only you.

Well, okay, unless they also invent a time-travel machine or device that works. But even then, they will have stepped into their own new timeline, not yours.

Let’s look for a moment at Time itself.

As we recognize it, Time consists of the past, the present, and the future.

We all know what the present is. It is the ever-fleeting Now, a nano-instant that follows the past and precedes “the future.” We speak of “the future” as if it, like the past, is an event. It isn’t.

We also know what the past is. It is what has already happened. It is a singular, locked-in event composed of countless lesser events. No matter how much you sometimes wish you could change it or affect it in any way, you can’t. (This is also one reason people don’t believe in time travel.)

But the future isn’t simply the other side of the past-present-future coin with the present being the minuscule edge of the coin.

The future exists only as countless possibilities that haven’t happened yet.

Every decsion you make and every step you take in every moment of your life leads to a completely new future with countless other possibilities than you might have encountered if you had decided differently or stepped in a slightly different direction.

Every decision, every step, leads you into a new timeline of possibilities. That’s exactly why it’s so important to choose well. It’s why we talk of “planning our future,” a concept that is at least as faulty as time-travel.

Even the best fiction writer in the world can’t write a story that hasn’t happened yet. You can plot, plan, outline and make up a false story — a lie at best — or you can write the facts of an authenic story as it unfolds and is lived by those who are living it. But that’s for you to decide.

So if you do manage to step out of our current timeline (in which time travel is “impossible,” remember?) and create a time-travel machine, and if you step into that time machine and travel back to any point in the past, it is impossible to affect future events in your original timeline.


Because when you step out of your time machine, everything after that is the future in your new timeline.

Anything you do, any decision you make in the present or in the past (which becomes the present the instant you step into it), will lead to a new immediate future (a different timeline) with countless future possibilities for other timelines.

And none of them will be the future from which you traveled into the past: which has become your new present and your new future.

To see this concept in action, I invite you to take a look at my time-travel novel, The Portals. It is available on Amazon and everywhere else ebooks are sold.

I also wrote a time-travel western short story — “Rider Jones and the Portal” — for a Cave Creek anthology (Bitter Mountain Moonlight) edited by Dean Wesley Smith.

If you want to play with this concept yourself as a writer, you don’t have to invent a time-travel machine and neither do your characters unless they just want to.

If one of them sees a glimmering (or not) kind of frame or opening or a door out in the open, and if s/he walks through it and disappears, chances are it’s a time portal.

Writing is a great way to explore the concept without having to have a degree in engineering or quantum physics, and it’s a ton of fun. Like the future, the possibilities are endless.

Talk with you again soon.

Of Interest

7 Keys to Writing the Ultimate Spy Thriller Um, or just write what happens.

The Numbers

The Journal……………………………… 1610

Writing of Looking to the Future (formerly Rose Padilla, WCG10SF5)

Day 1…… 4086 words. To date…… 4086
Day 2…… 3609 words. To date…… 7695
Day 3…… 3971 words. To date…… 11666
Day 4…… 4129 words. To date…… 15795
Day 5…… 4542 words. To date…… 20337
Day 6…… 8696 words. To date…… 29033
Day 7…… 5025 words. To date…… 34058 (done)

Fiction for November…………………… 51566 (Guess I won NaNo.)
Fiction for 2023…………………………. 370210
Fiction since August 1………………… 37908
Nonfiction for November……………… 14900
Nonfiction for the year……………… 242790
Annual consumable words………… 609493

2023 Novels to Date……………………… 8
2023 Novellas to Date…………………… 0
2023 Short Stories to Date……………… 7
Novels (since Oct 19, 2014)…………… 79
Novellas (since Nov 1, 2015)…………… 9
Short stories (since Apr 15, 2014)…… 235
Short story collections…………………… 31

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Disclaimer: I am a prolific professional fiction writer. On this blog I teach Writing Into the Dark and adherence to Heinlein’s Rules. Unreasoning fear and the myths of writing will slow your progress as a writer or stop you cold. I will never teach the myths on this blog.

3 thoughts on “Do Characters Actually Exist, and Time Travel for Writers”

  1. Thanks for answering my question Harvey. Its cool how you see things. I can certainly see that being true as someone who believes in parallel universes and other dimensions. I’ve often wondered, when writing a historical fiction story, whether or not my ‘fictional’ character actually existed in the time I’m writing about and somehow I’m ‘channeling’ their experiences.
    I don’t often mention this to others since they look at me like I’m crazy haha, but I’m quite open minded on such things and where I personally believe in an afterlife and reincarnation I see no reason why this can’t be true as well.

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