Definitive time travel rules

Cover of "Back to the Future"
Time travel is a tricky concept to master

For my next book, I spent A LOT of time researching time travel, quantum physics, and alternate realities. All of it is theoretical, of course, which presents a number of obstacles. I found a solution that seems to work, and I’ll share a little bit of it with you.

Some Debbie Downer chaos theorists say that any mode of successful time travel within your own lifetime would destroy the planet. Makes for an anti-climactic novel, don’t you think? The call to action destroying all of mankind? Bummer.

There’s the Back to the Future theory, where you can travel outside of your own lifetime, like Marty McFly, and return to a reality resembling the one you left. To make this movie work, his parents would have to have awful memories, wouldn’t they?

My wife loved The Lake House. I still don’t buy Keanu Reeves as a romantic lead, but I like Sandra Bullock enough to ignore most of the potholes in the time-jumping plot. And, while The Butterfly Effect was critically panned, I appreciated the negative consequences of Evan’s time-jumping. He caused brain damage to himself. After all, once you change your past, EVERYTHING, from the clothes you wear the next day to the next sentence you speak, has the possibility to be different.

Here’s are three tips that I found useful:

  1. I’ve heard it said that if you write characters that the reader/viewer falls in love with, you can get away with pretty much anything plot-wise. Yeah, my soapbox on writing good characters  is pretty much always in use. But think about it: how many movies have you seen with unbelievable plots but you didn’t care?
  2. Make your theme clear. Sure, they’re going back in time. It’s cool and adventurous. But, why did they go in the first place? What’s the ultimate message? In Back to the Future, Marty was warned not to interfere with history, but he did it to save his friend. Ultimately, that was deemed an okay rule to bend. Evan in The Butterfly Effect sacrificed the love of his life and destroy his method of time travel after realizing that playing God was too dangerous.
  3. Keep it simple. If you get lost in the writing, your reader will get lost in the reading — and not in a good way. Some of my writing was once compared to that of Toni Morrison. She’s a Nobel Prize winner and a celebrated author, but I did not take that as a compliment. It was her excuse for not reading any further. Don’t let the same happen to you.
Happy writing!

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