Challenges of Writing Time Travel

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Now that the WILTON’S GOLD time travel series is “out there,” (Writer’s Edge Publishing – Kindle | Nook) and being read, and as people ask me questions about my writing process, it’s been interesting to take a look back at what the challenges were in writing the trilogy. Time travel is a different kind of animal, and I tell anyone who admits to me they’re thinking about putting together a time travel story to be wary of what they’re getting themselves into. Here are some reasons why…

1. The Changing World

When your characters time travel to the future, there’s an expectation that the future you create is sufficiently futuristic. Since you don’t write a novel overnight, a lot can change in reality that can affect your story – especially with the current pace of technology. When I wrote the first draft of the first book in the WILTON’S GOLD series, FORTUNE, I depicted a scene in New York City seven years into the future (from 2015, which is the “present” time for my time travelers), and talked about the familiar view of the Manhattan skyline, with the Empire State Building rising above midtown. Little did I know that by 2015 in real life there would be two more towers of equal or greater size in that part of the city under construction, with others on-line! That’s why we edit right before going to print.

2. Time Travel Tricks, Loopholes and Confusion

Planning CalendarIf you’re writing time travel, be prepared to have a shoebox full of scrap paper, old envelopes and napkins with diagrams written on them as you try to decipher what version of a character you’re working with, who knows what details, who’s carrying what with them and what time of year they’re visiting. And be prepared to rewrite. I had scenes change from summer to winter because summer didn’t end up making sense, I had to write an entire scene just before submission after waking up in the middle of the night realizing my character wouldn’t have had access to his mobile phone if he’d been successful in his time travel mission, and in one draft I had two characters going to different time periods but impacting the same chain of events in the present. To help, I actually created a calendar to keep dates straight that I’ve turned into a resource for other writers – the Official Time Travel Planning Calendar, 1700-2069. It was an invaluable resource for keeping things straight. My brain hurts just reminiscing about all of this!

3. Consistency

As I wrote WILTON’S GOLD, I set one very important criteria for myself… I knew that there would be readers who didn’t agree with my time travel logic. It was bound to happen, and I know because I’m a time travel fan myself and have found holes to poke into every time travel book I’ve read and movie I’ve seen. But what I pursued above all else was consistency. You may not like the logic I used, but I wanted to make sure the same logic was used at the beginning of Book #1 that was used at the end of Book #3. Which had its challenges when I got deeper into the story and didn’t necessarily like how that logic applied to the new situation. But I committed to that goal of consistency – and always jotted down that “other” time travel logic in a journal for use in another story. It’s a thick journal.

“This time travel crap, just fries your brain like a egg…”
– Jeff Daniels, as “Abe” in the excellent time travel movie, Looper

4. Introspection

There’s that game you play at parties or on long road trips where you ask, “If you could go back in time and change something in your life, what would it be?” When you write time travel, that becomes an overwhelming question to even want to consider – and even a frightful one. As you construct your story, and consider the multiple realities that can be created when even the simplest of decisions are made, you are forced to deal with the concept that the smallest change made by your parents, your grandparents or generation after generation before you could have eliminated your very existence. If you have children, it becomes even more prominent as you think about the moments in your own life that led you right to where you are. That question is a scary one – and, yes, everyone thinks about it from time-to-time… But when you’re writing a time travel series for four years out of your life, you spend an awful lot of time dwelling on it. After writing WILTON’S GOLD, I don’t give an answer to that question when it’s asked, because while I, like everyone, have regrets, I wouldn’t want to change who, what and where I am, and what blessings I have in life. But writing time travel certainly screws with your mind in that way.

All this is why, of course, my next book I’m working on is time travel, as well… Glutton for punishment.