Saturday, June 14, 2008

Time Travel Fantasy Writing

Time travel is a popular concept in writing Fantasy and Science Fiction. In Fantasy, the mode of travel is provided by some magical happenstance whether purposeful or by accident. Many times, this fictional travel moves to a colorful era from the past. In popular movies like Back to the Future, characters return to a time before they existed. Writing time travel fantasy opens the door for writers to pull intricate and long-forgotten details from popular history, or to push their characters into the future building on present day situations and asking the question What if? such as the Planet of the Apes series.

What Fantasy Readers Want to Know

When time travel carries characters to the past or future, author need to make the concept believable and interesting. What readers want to know is:

  • Where characters are and when are they?
  • How did they get there?
  • How does the character feel?
  • Why is the character there?
  • Who else is there?
  • Can they get back to their own time?

No matter where or when fantasy characters travel in time, a thread of logic needs to connect them to their home point in time. Fantasy writers face the challenge of not only creating a reason for the character’s arrival to this new place but a logical explanation as to how they arrived.

Time Travel Circle of Logic

Fantasy writers carry their characters to destinations in the past or future with a purpose. In the 1980 movie Somewhere in Time, staring Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour, an old woman gives Reeve’s character a watch as a young man. Later in life, the painting of a woman in a 19th century hotel becomes an obsession. He determines that he must meet that woman, and uses a physics professor’s theory to will himself back in time where he meets the woman.

The two fall in love. The main character accomplishes his goal, and gives the woman his watch as a gift. The romantic tale is bitter-sweet as Reeve’s character discovers a modern day penny in his pocket, resulting in an instant return to the present. His quest to meet the woman in the painting was more than realized, but the time travel theory laid down the groundwork. To stay in the past, the character could not look upon anything from the present. When the love-sick Reeves returns to his own time he doesn’t realize the old woman who gave him the watch as a young man is the woman in the painting. This is a good example of the circle of logic within time travel stories.

How Time Travel Works

No matter how your characters travel through time, it’s important that you make the process understood. If you use time travel terms like pacetime curvature, make it clear to the reader that this is a property of spacetime that causes freely falling particles initially moving along parallel world lines to then move together or apart. Find a good source for time travel terms to create a time travel terminology that makes sense. Studying these terms may even inspire creativity to generate a new time travel theory to work within your story.

Why Travel in Time?

Some readers don’t like time travel fantasy, yet it is a popular subgenre. Time travel creates romantic settings (Somewhere in Time), opportunities to learn about oneself (A Kid in King Arthur’s Court), improve or change the past (A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court), or the quest may even start out as a source of curiosity to see if it can be done, like H.G. Wells' The Time Machine.

Traveling to another time and place allows a modern character to experience an alternate history. It opens the possibility to create a paradox. The premise of most time travel plots is that points throughout time exist now. This provides the basis for visits to one of these points in time much like we might visit a place in an everyday experience. Even Einstein thought of time as another dimension.


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