When Am I?

Short notice, but I’ll be reading, along with other poets, at Byrd’s Books at 126 Greenwood Avenue in Bethel, Connecticut, on April 2nd at 3:00 pm to celebrate Poetry Month. My poems will be for adults, and so will the other poets’, so high school age and above–but I would love to see you if you can make it!

On November 6, 2016, Bejoy4theworld wrote, In my story, I have three MCs going back in time to get Johannes Gutenberg to invent the printing press. The problem is, I have no idea how to get my characters to time-travel without seeming completely unrealistic! Any suggestions?

Emma G. C. wrote back, There have been so many creative ways writers have used time travel! One of my personal favorites is the time turner in J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. Look it up if you’re not familiar with it, because it’s very interesting and isn’t your standard time traveling device.

As far as time traveling seeming unrealistic, that would depend on your story. If your story is set in a world with a form of magic, such as Harry Potter, you may not have to worry about it being unrealistic as much as if your story is set in real, modern society. Also, if your story is more science fiction based, you would most likely use a form of machine or gadget to time travel, whereas if your story is a high fantasy, you might have your characters time travel by using a form of wizardry.

My advice would be to research different methods of time travel used in literature, and specifically in the genre your story is in to get an idea of what is realistic for your story.

Great ideas! I agree that method will depend on the kind of story we’re writing, whether it’s fantasy or sci fi.

I love time travel, and I particularly love the way it’s treated in Time and Again by Jack Finney, which I would guess is middle school and above–though written for adults–a wonderfully nostalgic look st New York City before World War I. And I adore Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. So I agree again that it may be useful to see how the problem has been treated by other writers. I bet a google search will yield plenty of examples.

When this comment came in in November, I posted this: I think in any time travel story, readers know they have to suspend their disbelief.

We build on that suspension, so I don’t think we have to worry much about being realistic.

I always think, the simpler, the better. If our setting is contemporary, we can tell the reader in narration that time travel was invented fifteen years earlier. After that span–as with the internet or smart phones–the technology is established. For example, if we were writing about someone buying, say, shoes online, we’d write, She clicked Submit. We wouldn’t mention a mouse or the mouse-less options. We wouldn’t explain the difference between clickable and not-clickable text, because the reader would know. Same old-hat with time travel. We don’t have to go into everything, because our characters will know.

The reader doesn’t need the science (invented or based on physics) explained. If we love the ingenuity of what we’ve come up with and can figure out a way to work it in, we can provide the science. But we don’t have to.

Of course, if our plot demands that we deal with the mechanics of the time travel, then we must. For example, if there’s any uncertainty about whether the machine will work or not, then we have to make clear how the machine or the app or whatever works.

What we do need to focus on, however, which will buy us a lot of reader belief and engagement, is the experience for our MC. We have to figure out the details. For example, we have to answer basic questions, like these, and I’m sure there are more, depending on our story:

∙ What does it feel like to time travel–physically? Does it hurt? Is it quick? Are there surprising effects that will entertain readers or increase tension? And more questions along these lines.

∙ What can she take with her?

∙ Does she have to speak the language when she reaches her destination?

∙ What about diseases, like the plague, that have been eliminated in the present, to which she won’t have immunity?

∙ How prepared is she to enter the time she’s headed for?

It can be helpful for us if this is her first trip, because everything is new to her, and we can use her thoughts to share the experience with the reader. But if she’s a seasoned time traveler, we can introduce other ways to inform. She can remember her first trip. She can brace herself for a certain part in the process. She can love a different part. She can be tinkering with some other aspect.

If we’re writing a fantasy, simplicity is still a virtue. There can be a particular donkey that’s endowed with time travel magic. Our MC climbs on his back, whispers the date into his left ear. He takes a single step, and presto! she’s there. Or anything else. The world has to be set up to accommodate the magic–there have to be enchanted donkeys–but the magic itself can be straightforward. (Incomprehensible, or there really would be time-trekking donkeys, but straightforward.)

Interestingly, in a fantasy medieval setting, the kind I often write, travel from the fantasy medieval present into the fantasy medieval past won’t land our characters in a radically different environment. Change happened very slowly before the Industrial Revolution. The fashion in shoes might change. Trade might open up to some far-off region. A better sword might be invented. But people will still ride horses, write with quill pens, spread rushes over dirt floors. There still can be reasons for time travel, like to get to the week before Good Queen Charlotte was poisoned, but the culture and technological shock will be much less.

Here are four prompts:

∙ List five ways time travel might be accomplished through magic in a fantasy. Use one in a story.

∙ List five ways time travel might be accomplished through science in a science fiction. Use one in a story.

∙ Your MC travels back on a magic donkey. Write the experience.

∙ Your MC has prepared for two years for her trip back to ancient Egypt. She opens her app, clicks on what she needs to, and she’s there. Nothing is as expected. Her translator box falls apart. She can’t understand anyone, and no one understands her. Her suitcase fails to make the crossing, and she loses the amulet from the Egyptian exhibit at the local art museum, the amulet that was supposed to make her safe. Write the story.

Have fun, and save what you write!

  1. Carley Anne says:

    Hello,
    simply a note to mention that, in reference to time travel, Madeline L’Engle’s ‘A Wrinkle In Time’ series is (obviously), a time-traveling story, and, I’m pretty certain that it’s a convincing depiction of what time traveling must be like, as I never really questioned whether or not it was possible, whilst I was reading them (but if you disagree with me, Rebecca Stead’s ‘When You Reach Me’ is excellent, and challenges ‘A Wrinkle In Time’s’ method of such travel…I agree, the time turner from Harry Potter is extremely creative!

  2. I thought of ‘Wrinkle In Time’ too. It’s one that actually (almost) makes sense.

    Awhile ago, I read a blog post on another site about underused protagonists that they wish they saw more of, but I’m not finding it again. I remember that grandma was on the list: she’s got experience, she’s got motivation if her kids/grandkids are in danger, she’d be complex and just about everything you could want. I think tax collector and social worker were on the list. On the off chance that someone’s read it, can you send me a link? If not, what other interesting people can you think of who are rarely used as protagonists?

  3. – Go back in time through the thoughts of someone who lived in that time period.

    – Go back in time through an object; e.g. step into a pie safe and whoosh! Or maybe write about how a pie safe or a chimney is a different experience.

    -Go back in time through the mind. Not physically, but mentally.

    -Go back in time by way of an object, such as touching a magical thing.

    -Go back in time in a time machine. I know, not original… but make it original!

    -Go back in time by way of a radio or a TV show or program. Maybe it is a wizard calling all the gifted back to his secret land years ago. Or more believably, maybe there is some problem in the electricity or station or TV itself, it sucks all watchers up and deposits them back in time.

    -Maybe there is a certain kind of beast that isn’t well known but is made for taking passengers back in time.

    Wow…I should write a story about time travel! Hmm how can I fit this into one of my current stories…?
    Thanks Mrs. Levine!

  4. Song4myKing says:

    You might also want to consider where you’ll end up. A machine in Sci-fi might be programmable to land you not only when, but also where you want to be. A magical spell might be able to do similar. But other things (like an object that just happens to have time travel properties and needs no input from the user) might logically place the person at some time in the past but in exactly the same location they started from. Or where the object sat at that time in history. (I’m thinking of that pie safe … My family has a pie safe that traveled west in a covered wagon, then returned to nearly the same place on a truck a hundred years later. If a person could time travel in it, they might not know whether they’d open the door in the Midwest or the East, or on a wagon or truck in transit.)

      • Also, interesting story about your family pie safe! I love writing fantasy stories based on real things, such as that!

        • Song4myKing says:

          Thanks! Your comment about the pie safe made me immediately think of it. The story has always fascinated me, where textbook history, family history, and a useful piece of furniture all come together. Add in a fantasy possibility …

  5. Chrissa Pedersen says:

    I love the “pie safe” story! One other time travel method I remember reading was in Diana Gabaldon’s (okay, yes a romance) Outlander series. The MC accidentally travels back in time when near some standing stones in Scotland.

    Also, I’m not sure if any of you are on twitter, but there was a contest announcement by Harper Children’s for a book giveaway through Good Reads by our wonderful hostess Gail for THE LOST KINGDOM OF BAMARRE 🙂

  6. Writeforfun says:

    Hi! Thanks for the post – I’ve never tried time travel before, but now I want to!

    I’m looking for advice on a different topic now. I love to explore people’s emotions when I write – love to – to the point that, as I look over my stories, I realize that the majority of my writing is spent detailing what is going on in characters’ heads. I enjoy writing because I get to put them in dangerous situations or scar them emotionally, and then explore all of the conflicting and interesting emotions they experience (my favorite characters to write are those who are sensitive about something). That sounds terrible, doesn’t it!

    Anyway, it’s so much fun (for me!) but I realize that it often overshadows the action and other important details. Has anyone else had that problem? How do you reign yourself in from including too much emotional exploration? I try to cut back one the detail I’ve included…but it’s too interesting to me to give it up! How to do find a balance between what is going on in your story and what is going on in your characters’ heads?

    • I like using the action and plot to show the emotion–possibly in the present, possibly with a mini-flashback. Usually when someone is feeling emotional, there is a specific image or phrase in their heads (if I’m in the car and afraid, I probably have an image of a car wreck in my head). I like “Hatchet” by Gary Paulsen as an example–I think I “inherited” some of his style and only recently noticed the connection. He uses short sentences, even one word sentences, and line-breaks for emphasis. His main character Brian’s survival story is both inside his head, as he develops the attitude to survive as well as the ability.

      Here’s a section from my WIP that includes a more emotional moment, but it also pulls in a little plot, a secondary character, and some backstory:

      “Had anything to eat yet?”

      Keita jumped. A round, friendly-faced man stood beneath the closest cottonwoods, holding out a turtle-shell bowl of thick brown stew. A refusal was halfway out Keita’s mouth when she remembered to bite it back. Not today.

      At last he asked, “This your first meal in a season?”

      “Thereabouts,” Keita said without looking up. Her last meal had been just like this. The day was cold but crystal clear, and the stew sat warm in her stomach. Trees towered over their valley home, unscathed by the future fire that would roar through weeks later. Her father, strong, busy, alive, threaded through the crowds, while dancers proved that though winter came and Earth slept, life would come again. Now the whole valley slept, and Keita had been gone from it three seasons. Nine months. No food.

      The man was still watching. Keita attempted to smile as she scooped a square of root vegetable into her mouth.

      Warmth. Crunch. Salt. Savory flavor of summer richness, of festivals gone by, of happy days that would never come back. The bowl slipped from her fingers and thudded to the ground.

      Warm gravy spattered her toes. The children gasped, and Bract’s eyes widened. Waste of food was sin.

      • Ohhh! That makes me want to read more Christie V. Powell!!! I love to read that style of writing and I didn’t know anyone else in the world used it!
        My sister and I both write in a very similar way, with sentences used as emphasis and also with a lot of flashbacks. I never thought about it relating to Gary Paulsen’s style of writing, but now that you mention it I see what you mean! ‘Hatchet’ is one of my (MANY!) favorite books and I love Gary Paulsen’s works.

        I used to think that this style of writing was a problem, but now I’m not so sure. I think it can be used to the writer’s advantage and can come off as a very appealing style. I also think it can be used to improve the depth and feeling of the writing.

        Maybe exploring more styles of writing and seeing which style you like most for making the reader really feel the emotion, then play around with that? Work different styles into your writing. Play around with how you write, and styling your writing more. Use punctuation, experiences, memories…anything you can! I like to watch people’s reactions to real-life-happenings and twist them around to fit my needs. For example, yesterday I witnessed three young boys playing tag at a farm equipment auction. They were having such a fun time, chasing each other around the pickup trucks. Now think of all the possibilities! I can base a whole story off this! These three young boys could become princes, pretending to fight in their father’s army! Or this could become a flashback, playing tag with a friend or a brother, think of the emotion you could put into that! You have to base your writing on something, have to get inspiration from something. I think it is good to get inspiration from what happens around you. Look at people and how they live.
        The world holds the makings for stories, we just need to add a little of ourselves to make them complete!

        Ha ha! I’m not sure any of that was helpful…I kinda went on a rant about looking at people there! I had better submit this reply before I get into philosophy!
        Very inspiring!

    • Song4myKing says:

      I don’t generally get too detailed with emotions – I stem from a fairly stoic family :). I generally rely on memory flashbacks and things like songs, and on external details like body language. I lean toward the observable, not by a decision as much as by what I’m comfortable with.

      But I do have problem showing too much of the thought processes when a character is trying to decide what to do. I guess I feel I have to make the decisions understood, but I think I go overboard. It’s like I can’t leave any stone un-turned. I try to show every angle the character might take.

  7. MisplacedPoetry says:

    Oddly enough for once the post is relevant to what I’m writing. Time travel. This gets my gears going, Thanks!

    Btw someone mentioned standing stones and those are used quite a bit for time travel in Celtic based stories right?

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