What is the attraction of Time Travel as a genre in writing? Is it the idea we can go back and fix our lives? Or the appeal of watching history unfold? Maybe it’s the concept that everything happens for a reason. Regardless of your “why”, you need a good “how” to make time travel a reality. Below are five examples of how you can make that happen. Don’t worry, none of them have to do with Albert Einstein’s Theory of Relativity.
1. Mechanical – Most Sci-Fi fans are familiar with automated time traveling. What do Dr. Who and Back to the Future have in common? They both have machines of some type that allows characters to go forward or back in time. This is by far the most common method writers use to get their subjects from point A to point B. The advantages are you don’t really have to explain the mechanics, just assume it works and continue with the story. The disadvantage is making sure you don’t sound like a Dr. Who or Back to the Future rip off.
2. A Natural Phenomenon – Relying on a natural phenomenon is a little different. TV series like Star Trek and Stargate use these a lot. This includes black holes, wormholes, and the ever popular, rip in the fabric of time. In these stories, time travel is not usually planned, it is something that is thrust upon the characters. Advantages are it is typically high suspense and makes a great plot twist. The disadvantage is they are usually harder to explain and often require space travel as another area to research. Examples of this include, A Wrinkle in Time and the show Sliders.
3. Hypnosis or Meditation – If you use hypnosis or meditation to travel in time, the characters own mind is doing all the work. Think of Somewhere in Time or Time and Again. This makes time travel limited to only those who have strong enough willpower. Advantages are this puts your character in charge of their own destiny. Disadvantages are the character must spend so much effort to maintain that reality, that any small detail can disrupt the adventure.
4. Sleep or Dreams – If you use sleep or dreams this is a form of time travel happening to your character, but, less technical than a wormhole. Often used to teach someone a lesson. Think Rip Van Winkle or A Christmas Carol. Advantages are it can be excepted by more people, including children because it does not sound like Sci-Fi. A disadvantage is that it can be challenging to make a dream, not sound cliché.
5. Magic or Enchanted Items start to blur the line between Sci-Fi and Fantasy. The Story of the Amulet and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban both use items that are not traditional time machines. Advantages are you get to make up your own rules because after all, it is magic. Disadvantages include not all sci-fiction fans like fantasy and visa versa. Also, this usually involves more backstory that you must work in (the history of the item, how the character came to possess the object, etc.)
Most time travel adventures are character based, but the reader still needs to grasp how this is possible. Like knowing your setting, you also need to understand the mechanics of what you are suggesting. Are there other ways of writing a time travel story? I’m sure there are, but you as the writer need to have a clear picture in your mind before you try to share that vision. These are some of the more popular ways of writing time travel, think of them as templates, but don’t forget to make it your own.