Rules of Time Travel Writing- A Fresh Start

Oh, time travel. Thou art cruel and frustrating. I don’t know why time travel annoys me as much as it does. Maybe it’s the complication in every action. Maybe it’s the way writers think that everyone enjoys being confused and having no idea what happened. Time travel is a staple of science fiction, spawning untold monstrosities of time travel stories. The two most common types of time travel can be summarized as –

  • The Paradox – The character changes something, everything goes to crap, a cat blows up, eldritch monsters rain down from the sky, the world collapses.
  • The Timeline – The character changes something, and everything is changed. Save a cat from dying? The apocalypse happens. Save mother from dying? People who never had superpowers get superpowers even though they never met the person (I’m looking at you, Flash).

So many shows have episodes that are about time travel, even though their story is not about time travel. The writers have never had experience writing time travel, which causes them to fall into one of the two time travel tropes. I’m not saying they shouldn’t do an episode about time travel, but they need to be more prepared for the genre they’re about to dip their pens into.

Taking Saturday as the day where all I do is go for a walk, stay in the house, and watch Disney movies and YouTube videos while eating Rice Krispie Bars, I watched Alice Through The Looking Glass on Netflix. When Alice in Wonderland came out, I was still living in my home in North Dakota. I don’t know why I didn’t remember it was the Jabberwock and not a dragon (though the two look very similar). So you can be sure I was looking forward to watching the new movie. I think I screamed when I saw Alice as the ship captain. You go, girl! When I learned that Alice would be traveling back in time, I groaned. I thought it would be just like the world of Wonderland to add all these confusing time travel rules, but surprisingly, it didn’t!

When Alice tried to stop Iracebeth, a.k.a the Red Queen, from hitting her head and enlarging it, the event still happened, even after Alice pushed away the clock that was supposed to hit Iracebeth. She realized what Time said was right, and spurts out an excellent theme; you can’t change the past, but you can learn from it. The event allows her to figure out what happened to the Hightopps, and save the Hatter.


You can’t change the past, but you can learn from it

This shows that there are multiple ways to use time travel- all it takes is a bit of imagination, and maybe a touch of madness. So, here are a few time travel methods, rules, and other aspects of fiction that can help refresh a time travel story

  • Invisibility – The time traveler cannot be seen by anyone in the past. They cannot interact with anyone. They simply see. Good for historians. (The Intangible Time Travel trope).
  • Memories – Time travel is activated through objects, like photos and journals, related to past memories. Only for use of traveling to the past, can cause the ‘bloody nose effect’ with brain damage due to multiple timelines (The Butterfly Effect, 2004).
  • Time Holes- Holes scattered across the world that can pop you to different times. Must be aware of opening and closing periods, and which portals take you where.
  • Dreams- Okay here me out. You fall asleep- and you wake up as a past ancestor/reincarnation. The ancestor you pop into could be controlled by a higher power, like in my example, or from a focus point of the person/time period you want to go to. (Warrior Cats, 2003-Present)

Those are just a few unique ideas I’ve found that could help make your time travel story unique and interesting. If you want timelines, that’s fine! Just make sure the effects make sense. I mean, if one person who was supposed to die got saved, it’s not like people who never had superpowers are going to get superpowers, right? (glares as Flash again). Instead, make people who know the saved person be affected. Do a chain effect with that, and understand what they and their descendants do that could change the timeline.


One comment

  1. hisunfoldinggrace · February 23

    Love this post! Time travel always messes with my brain… these are good strategies to follow! Also really like the old picture of the clock 🙂


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