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!