Time Travel in Fiction, Part Two

In today’s Journal

* Quotes of the Day
* Time Travel in Fiction, Part Two
* Of Interest
* The Numbers

Quotes of the Day

“I made a chicken salad last night. Apparently they prefer grain.” Vince the Sign Guy (grin)

“Life is all about perspective. The sinking of the Titanic was a miracle to the lobsters in the ship’s kitchen.” a meme from Facebook

“The world has to change to fit you. And if you stick to your principles, values, and morals long enough, it will.” Berry Gordy

Nice thought, but not necessarily true.

“I can honestly say this is the most fun I’ve had writing fiction since I started with pencil and loose leaf as an 11-year-old. … Thank God for writing and all the magic it entails.” Philip Smith on WITD

Time Travel in Fiction, Part Two

First, a note in light of a comment on Part One (see Of Interest):

In this two-part series I’m talking only about physical time travel, the transport of the character’s physical body into a new timeline for a particular purpose.

I have omitted the dream state, transcendental meditation, reincarnation and other modes of mental or spiritual time travel, though you certainly needn’t omit them from your fiction. If I write the book, I probably will include a section on each.

That said, time travel of any kind is also valuable if you’re writing an Alternative History novel.

As I mentioned in the previous post, to write effective dimensional- or time-travel stories, 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

I covered the first two points on Substack in “Time Travel in Fiction, Part One”.

You can also see the original post and a great deal more (archives and other free stuff, etc.) at the Journal.

The Substory

What I’m calling the “substory” is whatever happens (the scenes) while the traveler is in the alternate timeline. Or whatever happens between significant events in the overall story of the book.

For example, in my current novel, Blackwell Ops 14: Charlie Task, the overall story consists of everything from Prologue to the seven centered, spaced asterisks that mark the end of the book.

But each substory is the collection of scenes that occur between the significant events. For example, between his entering the portal and when he exits, or between his exiting the portal and entering again, or between assignments.

Those scenes are all necessary if your characters are real. Mine are real. If you constructed a character with your conscious, critical mind, you’re on your own. I can’t help you.

One caution — Be sure to write those scenes in the past with the particular timeline in mind. You probably shouldn’t have a character pull out a cellphone in the 1940s.

Or you can have him or her pull it out, but not get a signal and realize the thing is even more worthless and annoying “back then” than it is now.

A Note on World- or Timeline-Building

You don’t have to do that in advance either. Just report what the POV character sees, hears, smells, tastes and touches (and feels, emotionally) as s/he lives the story.

His or her world expands with every moment, every hour, and every day, just as yours does. If you trust your characters to live their own lives, trust your characters to live theirs.

Among Genres, SF Trumps All Others

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention this.

In case you hadn’t realized it yet, if your story contains even one element of science fiction or science fantasy, that becomes the predominant genre.

So if you write a Romance, but it contains an element of SF, it becomes an “SF Romance,” not “Romance, SF.”

If you write a Western, it becomes an “SF Western” not a “Western, SF” and so on.

When you publish to Amazon, Draft2Digital, or any other sales venue, I encourage you to use the categories wisely. If you check the SF category initially, you will find most if not all of the other genres listed under it.

Blackwell Ops 14: Charlie Task, like those that preceded it in the series, started out as an action-adventure crime-thriller story.

This is important: When the POV character is assigned a job that requires him to step through a space-time portal — an element of SF — he could dismiss the possiblity of time travel as ridiculous and impossible. He could refuse the assignment.

In that case, and if the story continues without him going through the portal, the story would remain only an action-adventure crime-thriller.

But if for any reason the character suspends his disbelief, navigates the portal per instructions and is actually transported to a different timeline, the story becomes predominantly science fantasy.

Then when publishing, I would select SF as the first category, SF>action-adventure as the second, and SF>crime-thriller (or thriller) as the third.

Also FYI, the acronym SF refers both Science Fiction, in which the story adheres-to or is-possible-within the laws of physics as we know them, and Science Fantasy, which does not and is not. I suppose you could refer to them as SciFi and SciFa.

An Understanding of Alternate Timelines

Maybe I should have titled this section “The Necessity of Alternate Timelines,” because for time travel to be even plausible, alternate timelines are necessary.

Also, as I wrote this section, I realized I’ve written much of it before. I write this Journal day by day, so at times I repeat myself. Repetition seems prevalent below, but there are a few new thoughts as well. I think. (grin)

Time travel as it is often explained and explored cannot exist because of various paradoxes. The most notable is the “Grandfather Paradox” I mentioned earlier in this short series.

In a nutshell, if anything happens in the time traveler’s direct past to cause the death of the time traveler, s/he would not exist in the present and therefore (paradoxically) could not time-travel to the past in the first place.

So for time travel to be possible — and this includes in Science Fantasy, in which pretty much all things are possible — time travel would have to be more of a lateral move into an alternate timeline than a move backward into the character’s direct past or forward into the character’s at-this-moment-intended or hoped-for future.

I explained that lateral move in a previous post with this: If the character finds a way to travel into the past, s/he will, with that action, have started a new timeline, an alternate timeline, one in which time travel is possible.

So the alternate timeline actually begins in the character’s present and extends back into the “new” past created by that new present. And from any present, all things are possible, as is the case with any future.

The time traveler could still visit the past, but only in a different timeline: S/he would visit amidst what might have happened if something else had happened to cause it. The initial “something else” would be the time traveler having discovered a mode of transport, or a portal.

This is the only way for the time traveler to avoid direct conflict with the various time-travel parodoxes. S/he won’t be able to travel within the same timeline, so s/he won’t be able to say or do anything that might affect his or her own past or future.

Past or Future?

As I also wrote in a previous edition of the Journal, “the past 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.”

I believe it is impossible to time travel into the future.

Why? Because the future doesn’t exist, even as a direct extension of the present. Which is to say, it doesn’t exist at all.

You or your character(s) can’t travel to a place or time that doesn’t exist. Only the *possibility of a future actually exists. And possibilities for the future — your future — are literally endless.

The future only comes into being as the present, one nanosecond at a time. As I wrote in that earlier post,

“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.”

Of course, you might see the future differently. Feel free to share in a comment.

Talk with you again soon.

Of Interest

Another Variant of Time Travel A commenter discusses variants of time travel and how they can be used in writing

What Sleeping With Jane Eyre Taught Me About Pacing

The Numbers

The Journal……………………………… 1460

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
Day 8…… 3278words. To date…… 21965

Fiction for November…………………… 74333
Fiction for 2023…………………………. 392977
Fiction since August 1………………… 278432
Nonfiction for November……………… 27280
Nonfiction for the year……………… 255170
Annual consumable words………… 644640

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.

8 thoughts on “Time Travel in Fiction, Part Two”

  1. Pedantic: Of course time travel into the future is possible; if in extremely narrow ways. We all do it all day, every day. GRIN

    Also, I have a vague memory of hearing about an early indie success story that involved a novel about a woman time traveling via pleasuring herself. Would that be a form? Or a device? WINK

  2. I like the extended idea of this paradox as it is described to The Fabric of Reality by David Deutsch.

    Time traveller comes to room, turns time machine on and sets destination to 5 mins in past. Then he waits 5 mins and comes to portal.
    He appears in same room in front of same time machine. Then he sees that door opens and he-in-the-past comes to the room, turns time machine on…
    So every 5 mins a new copy of time traveller will appear in room.

    I can’t solve it. But I once have written a sci fi story totally based on this paradox.

  3. I just remembered that 6 years before invention of time machine the were a time travel just after hitting the head. It was in A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court by Mark Twain

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