Time Travel in Fiction, Part One

In today’s Journal

* Quotes of the Day
* In Memoriam
* Time Travel in Fiction, Part One: Getting Into the Weeds
* Of Interest
* The Numbers

Quotes of the Day

“Everything is theoretically impossible until it is done.” Robert A. Heinlein

“Even if it turns out that time travel is impossible, it is important that we understand why it is impossible.” Professor Stephen Hawking

In Memoriam

This edition of the Journal is dedicated to my writer friend Sam Turner, whose loving, lifelong partner and wife Phyllis passed away on Thanksgiving day.

Time Travel in Fiction, Part One: Getting Into the Weeds

For time travel, you need only four ingredients:

  • A willing or unintentional traveler
  • A mode of transport
  • The Substory (setting, character, scene[s])
  • An understanding of alternate timelines

The Wiling or Unintentional Traveler

The possibility always exists (even in real life) that someone could stumble into or through a time-travel mode of transport and come out confused and probaby horrified on the other side in a different timeline.

There is at least a possibility that asylums (or whatever the politically correct term for that is now) are filled with folks who have had this experience.

But most often, the POV character in a time-travel story is an intentional traveler. S/he enters the mode of transport for a particular reason.

The Mode of Transport

The actual mode of transport is always a space/time anomaly. But you can pass through that anomaly in any of three ways:

  • via a dedicated device that carries you through the anomaly,
  • via a physical form or formation, the intentional manipulation of which enables you to pass through the anomaly, or
  • via a direct physical encounter with the anomaly itself.

The Dedicated Device

By “dedicated device” I mean a machine or other physical device built specifically to enable time travel. (Verne’s The Time Machine, Back to the Future, et al)

Time travel via physical device is seldom if ever an accident. The whole purpose of the device is to bridge the alleged void between the present and the destination somewhere (or some Time) in the past.

Okay, or another dimension, but that would also be a different timeline.

Maybe the traveler stands or sit inside the machine, then turns knobs and/or sets dials to indicate the time period or even the specific date and location to which s/he wishes to be transported.

And there may be other physical requirements. In the Back to the Future films, the device, a DeLorean, also had to attain a particular speed within a set period of time.

Or maybe the traveler manipulates the settings on a smaller device s/he is holding. In either case, the physical “time-travel” device usually goes with the traveler so s/he can return to the present.

In an old film (I forget the title) Buster Keaton was transported through time by wearing an odd helmet.

If you use a physical device, I recommend setting latitude and longitude to set the location for an empty field or something. Wouldn’t want the traveler to end up inside a rock wall. Or cause readers to wonder why s/he didn’t. (grin)

The Physical Form or Formation (Portal)

As I mentioned above, this is an established object the traveler must manipulate or navigate in order to enter and exit the anomaly.

This is usually a permanent or semi-permanent fixture, albeit one that is not readily recognizable as marking a time/space anomaly. The casual observer wouldn’t notice the form or formation, and even if s/he did, s/he wouldn’t associate it with a time/space anomaly.

The traveler would know in advance about the form or formation and would manipulate or navigate it to enter a different time or timeline.

How many timelines the traveler can visit via one form or formation depends on the form itself. For example, in my current novel I use a triangle as a physical formation that leads to a space-time anomaly. That particular triangle is a vague series of stones set in the ground.

The traveler must navigate a particular combination of two sides of the triangle in the present to enter a different timeline. Upon his return, he steps through the triangle in reverse order to emerge again into the present. So he can visit and return from any of three timelines via the formation.

If you use a triangle formation and if you include the points of the triangle, that’s three more timelines. If you include a combination of the points and sides, the number of possible destinations increases.

Of course you could also use any physical form or geometic formation in a similar way. The possibilities are probably endless.

  • In The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe C.S. Lewis used a closet (form) as a time- or inter-dimensional travel device.
  • In an old episode of The Twilight Zone, a child wandered through a physical wall into another dimension.
  • In another TTZ episode, an aged, fading Hollywood star rejoined her old friends from decades before in a film they starred in together.
  • In an episode of The Simpsons, Bart once passed into the world in the television.
  • In another episode, a very confused Homer walked among normal humans on the street. I forget the mode of travel on that one.

A Direct Physical Encounter with the Anomaly Itself

Despite the mode of transport, the space-time anomaly is always marked by a physical or ethereal “portal,” a “doorway,” between dimensions or timelines. The portal is always discernable with  one or more of the physical senses.

To my knowledge, thus far any character in any dimensional-travel or time-travel experience has discerned the mode of transport visually. Concidentally, writers most often describe scenes via the sense of sight too. This seems a flaw to me.

Any of us can (and have been) transported to memories by scents or sounds or tastes or textures, so why not other dimensions or timelines? Something to consider. “Why not?” is easily among the top few at the top of my personal list of questions that spur growth. You can experiment. We are talking about fiction, unimportant little stories that serve only as a few minutes’ or hours’ of entertainment for a reader.

An ethereal anomaly is readily recognizable by anyone. Often, it’s a “glowing” or otherwise noticeable passage. The sides of the anomaly that frame the passage might resemble the “lights” you see behind your eyelids, or they might be similar to the waves of a heat mirage in the desert.

When the traveler steps through the ethereal anomaly, s/he will come out in another timeline on the other side. (Again, the same technique is often used for passing from one dimension to another.)

This is getting long, so I’ll continue it tomorrow. I might even publish this in book form later. If I do it will be a little different, but as always, feel free to copy and paste these posts for your own reference if you find them of value.

More tomorrow in Time Travel in Fiction, Part Two.

Talk with you again soon.

Of Interest

Last Day of Sale

14 Do’s and Don’ts of Time Management for Writers But see PG’s take.

How to Make a Good Living with Your Fiction (short video)

What does it mean to KNOW the past?

The Ars guide to time travel in the movies I don’t know whether this will be helpful, but it might.

Wi-Fi for neurons: first map of wireless nerve signals unveiled in worms SF writers… Got worms in your stories? Or others with wireless nerve signals? Could those maybe be transmitted OUT?

The Numbers

The Journal……………………………… 1260

Writing of Blackwell Ops 14: Charlie Task

Day 1…… 1359 words. To date…… 1359
Day 2…… 3002 words. To date…… 4361
Day 3…… 3349 words. To date…… 7710
Day 4…… 1687 words. To date…… 9397
Day 5…… 2271 words. To date…… 11668
Day 6…… 3095 words. To date…… 14763
Day 7…… 3924 words. To date…… 18687

Fiction for November…………………… 71055
Fiction for 2023…………………………. 389699
Fiction since August 1………………… 275154
Nonfiction for November……………… 25820
Nonfiction for the year……………… 253710
Annual consumable words………… 639902

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.

2 thoughts on “Time Travel in Fiction, Part One”

  1. I would add here another variant of time travel, more popular in Asian fiction. But used to death in Russian alternative history fiction as well.
    It’s time travel of soul. It can be just remembering the old reincarnations (The Star Rover by Jack London is a great example), or sometimes a reincarnation back in time, mostly in brain of a famous historical figure. I remember even novel Steel Lion, about guy who was teleported to head of Trotzki. They resume frienship with Stalin and… I’m sorry, this book was unreadable, I don’t know did they colonise Mars and renamed it to Marx, as more proper name for red planet.
    And of course it’s always classical “Metempsychosic” reincarnation, that works like copying a file from one computer to another. Of course same religions has reincarnation as part of doctrine, but explantion it to a reader can be to complicated. For example, scholars most traditions of Buddhism refuse existing of soul, postulating reincarnation of just mind, losing memory and personality. And sometimes can even agree, that reincarnation is just part of folk tradition, not part of doctrine.

    • Thanks, Rikki. Great comment. I have thoughts on those aspects as well, and will address them in the book if I write it.

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