Time Travel: DOs and DON’Ts

Travel writing? Why, yes, I’m fond of the sort. Evocative, painterly, introspective, resplendent. Taking my couch-planted duff off to places I’m not spending money to travel.

Oh, you’re talking time travel? Get in line.

That’s why we’re Writing All Wrong.

Greetings Curator of Blog [designation Writing All Wrong]:

I am Citizen #306765899. You may list me as “Brent Staples.” I inquire after the state of time travel in the writings of YEAR 2012. Thank you.

—”Brent Staples,” City NA9083

Hey 306765899, perhaps I should be the one asking you about how things “are cracking” in 2086 or whenever. Is redheadedness a crime where you live? I do worry about that.

I’m going to forgo opinions and instead offer sorely-needed dos and don’ts for this round of time travel.

DON’T reinvent the wheel.

Science has proven that every writer has given at least one consideration to writing time travel fiction. And many have. You’re following in the sunken footsteps of many who’ve done this before: Wells’s The Time Machine, Proust’s In Search of Lost Time, and God’s The Bible. Don’t shoot for a better wheel. Just make a good one.

DO your research.

If you’re sending characters back in time, then you’d better give a proper picture of what it was like back in the day. I’m not falling for a wooden-toothed Washington or a dragon-less court of King Canute. Same goes for future travels. It’s not guesswork: find future editions of Popular Science or postdated tech blogs that cover the science of your target era.

DON’T delve too deep into how time travel works.

If you’re not strapping on the suspenders of disbelief, then you’re in the wrong business. It’s nice to have some working knowledge of the intricacies, sure, but I’m not reading your book to find out how the heck I can warp back to 2nd grade on my own and duck when that stupidface kid punched me. Unless you’re writing a fictional textbook. That’s an idea.

DO exaggerate.

“But you said—” I know what I said, but if I wanted a history book, I’d read that. Get the facts right (Abe Lincoln was the 16th President, Hitler was a Nazi) before you take the necessary liberties (Abe Lincoln whooped his debate opponents in fencing, Hitler had plans for a Jew-seeking missile [soon thwarted].)

DON’T go gimmick.

Time travel is a common fascination, but an uncommon art. Before you sit down to write time traveling fiction, make sure that this is the best possible idea you have. Avoid using time travel as a novelty. It’s like a rocket. Pretty nift in and of itself, but not when you’re buckling it to the roof of a car. I know you want to “drive faster,” but there’s a better way of going about it.

DO write a good story, no matter what.

Great fiction wins. When your book’s pages meet the fire, burned in punitive pyres of creative purgation, may its mourners not say “This was a good time travel story,but “This was a good story.”

Writing All Wrong can be reached via email (WritingAllWrong@me.com) and followed on Twitter (@WritingAllWrong).

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