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The Trouble With Time Travel

Since some of us are exploring the various genres within the SFF umbrella—all of the subgenres and quirky hybrids, I thought it would be interesting to discuss time travel. At the ACFW conference I heard that while editors aren’t actively […]
| Oct 26, 2006 | No comments |

Since some of us are exploring the various genres within the SFF umbrella—all of the subgenres and quirky hybrids, I thought it would be interesting to discuss time travel. At the ACFW conference I heard that while editors aren’t actively seeking fantasy, they would acquire it if the right story crossed their desk. . .not so for time travel. Editors are actively avoiding it. This came up because I had planned to pitch my time travel before my fantasy. Someone kindly pointed out my lack of wisdom.

Honestly? I haven’t even decided if this particular wip IS a time travel. I’m sure you’ll agree that it’s fortunate I haven’t written it yet. You’re probably wondering how it’s even possible to not KNOW if your story is a time travel. But back to the topic. The trouble with time travel is that editors are avoiding it. But it doesn’t end there.

When I was in school I excelled in math, won awards, all of that. Except when it came to word problems. I couldn’t understand them. Still can’t. It all boils down to understanding how something works. I never really understood math, yet I could remember the rules and use them. But ask me the whys of an equation. Forgeddaboudit.

This isn’t a good analogy but it’s the best way to convey how I feel about time travel. I just don’t get it!

Perhaps it’s not something we’re to understand, but rather we are to accept it. Perhaps it’s only a tool to place a contemporary character into a historical or futuristic setting and see how he or she reacts. I can buy that. But then, it never fails, all of these little questions begin to niggle me.

In Orson Scott Card’s How to Write Science Fiction & Fantasy he explains that first and foremost, we are to know the rules of our world:

. . . world creation sounds like a marvelous free-for –all, in which you come up with all kinds of ideas, ask “why” and “how” and “what result” a lot, and when there’s a really big pile of good stuff, you sit down and write.

I wish it were that easy. But that big pile of neat ideas is just that—a pile , shapeless, chaotic. Before you can tell meaningful story, you have to hone and sharpen your understanding of the world, and that begins with the fundamental rules, the natural laws.

Remember, because speculative fiction always differs from the know-able world, the reader is uncertain about what can and can’t happen in the story until the writer has spelled out the rules. And you, as a writer, can’t be certain of anything until you know the rules as well.

Those are important words that all SFF writers should live by. As I’ve already told you, just give me the rules and I can work with it. Card goes on to outline rules for writing time-travel. But when writing a complex novel you need more than rules, you need to understand the concept fully. Dean Koontz expresses this quandary about one of his own books in a Q&A.

Halfway through LIGHTNING, as I realized the full challenge of keeping to the rules of the story and not creating any paradoxes, I began to hyperventilate so urgently that my office windows vibrated from continuous rapid pressure changes. During a particularly dramatic attack of hyperventilation, I inhaled a passing cat, which had to be removed from my sinuses by emergency surgery. Truly, there were moments when, straining to think through the thicket of potential paradoxes, I felt like my head would explode, and the only time I usually feel like my head is going to explode is when I’m strapped into a chair and forced to watch old episodes of the Teletubbies, which fortunately doesn’t happen more than once a month. That’s why I will probably never write another novel with a time-travel element.

Koontz has also outlined several paradoxes in his book, Writing Popular Fiction. On my next post, I plan to relate some of the rules per Card and the paradoxes per Koontz. I know this is nothing new to you quantum physicists and I would love to hear your take or theories.

Blessings!
Beth.

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