Writing as Time-Travel: Three Tips

I’m writing at Starbucks today, taking breaks in between thoughts to stare out the window as the rain splatters the sidewalks. There’s something timeless about it.  Hot coffee, a spring thunderstom, the blank page – Hemingway himself knew these well (nevermind the free wifi and laptop power station). Busy professionals come and go, with their suits and totes and ears-to-the-cellphones. College students wrinkle their brows, poring over dense text and typing important details into their iPads.

And then there’s me. I look just like anyone else here, really. Clicking on my laptop, sipping my tall house blend. You would never suspect that just yesterday I traveled back in time, and despite the advice of Doc Brown, I changed something in the past that forever altered the space-time continuum. My poor characters didn’t see it coming, thank goodness. Who knows what kind of mischief they would have caused otherwise.

If you plan to board that modified DeLorean in your writing, keep these three things in mind.

For your characters, time is a straight line. Your antagonist absolutely cannot blow up the building until she has acquired the bomb. The strangers who are destined to fall in love must first meet each other. And if something in their timeline changes, adjustments in the details of their lives must follow.

For you, time is a circle. As the writer, you are omniscient and omnipresent. Should your hero get stuck somewhere in chapter 35 without any possible way out, you as the author are not bound by the character’s space-time continuum. You have the ability to write a perfect solution into the character’s past, that somehow is exactly what they need in chapter 35. I like to think of this as tapping into God’s creative energy. He “writes in” to our lives every day, preparing us for that future dilemma.

For the reader, time is short. Adventures in fictional time must get to the point quickly because real time nips at our heels like a hungry puppy. Real emails need answering, real kids need attention, real meals must be prepared. Times moves faster now than in the past… for all the conveniences modern life affords, time is not one of them and the reader’s attention is fleeting. Hemingway said it well: “Prose is architecture, not interior decoration, and the Baroque is over.”

Time, it seems, can only go on for so long.

5 thoughts on “Writing as Time-Travel: Three Tips

  1. I remember reading about a science fiction writer who wrote serial adventures in newspapers. He left his hero alone and handcuffed on a dying planet, oxygen running out, his rocket ship stolen, and no possible way out.

    In the next segment of the adventure, the writer began the story: “Due to a miraculous escape, the hero arrived on earth…” No explanation at all, just these few words of transportation.

    I always try to keep this author in mind when I write.


  2. I’m not sure if my detail-oriented brain could handle that “miraculous escape.” Was it emotional? Spiritual? Physical? Had the whole thing been a dream, and when he awoke he was back on earth?
    Larry, now I have to know. The suspense is going to kill me!


  3. I read about this in “The Writer” magazine as an example of how not to leave loose ends hanging in the air. The science fiction author’s faux pas made a big impression on me so now I really check everything over.

    My wife has a detail-oriented brain and sadly, I do not. This makes for interesting conversations sometimes.


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