Time traveling woes…

I’m playing around with ideas for the next Xchyler Pub Anthology contest. The prompt is ‘Back to the Future’ in the Fantasy Genre. The characters in my story keep changing their own history, which makes writing difficult.

What’s your preference on altered timelines, A) the single timeline as in the ‘Back to the Future’  movie with M.J. Fox where changes in the past alter the present, or B) the branched timeline where changes in the past create a new parallel timeline/alternate reality?

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If I go with A) My characters will be intermittently disappearing and remembering things differently which will make for impossible character motivation.

I will likely have to go with B), but I’m concerned that I will have to burn a lot of words with unexciting explanations of alternate realities and parallel universes that might not even make sense to the readers…

Any other ideas?

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12 comments

  1. afstewart

    Oh, the headache inducing problem of the time paradox. I think changing character motivation in A) the single timeline could work, especially if you had one character outside the time changes that could be a focal point. There could be some interesting tensions and frustrations in that sort of character conflict.

  2. guayja1

    Here’s the catch though, I just charted out all the timelines and the problem is that two future versions of a character interact in their own past. One character changes his past, then his resultant self goes back to change the change… ugh… brain cramp…

  3. rmridley

    pool – oops…. blame it on the paradox you created in my mind…. or the fact I’ve only had one cup of coffee

  4. afstewart

    But if two versions of a character interact within their own past, doesn’t that violate the space-time continuum and implode the universe? But seriously, it doesn’t sound like a problem, it sounds like a plot point you can build on. Why is the character trying to change his past, twice? What went wrong the first time? Sounds like it needs exploring.

  5. guayja1

    He actually alters his past twice, and the story is about the third time.. because I’m a glutton for punishment like that. He continues to change his past to make himself more powerful earlier in life, but eventually realizes that its a bad idea and tries to reverse it. Parallel universes creates the fun excuse to actively kill off the extra versions of the character, but the single timeline makes the final resolution a little more meaningful. Still thinking…

  6. Jacob Marsh

    I found myself thinking about this problem yesterday; and since I’m now seeing this post today, I thought I’d chime in. I thought it would be fun to write/read a story in which the main character is in one of those “skewed” time lines that were the result of his “other self’s” own meddling with things. Perhaps he’s a historian who stumbles upon a commonality between some mysterious (and seemingly unfortunate) world-changing events only to discover that it was some future version of himself who’d done it all. I don’t know, maybe he left himself a clue. This leaves both time-travel concepts open until the end. Case “B”: He goes back and “fixes” his “previous” mistakes and thus spawns ANOTHER timeline… perhaps one in which his newest self’s existence is in danger, requiring some sort of rescue attempt, some arguments with “himself”, and an implied unending cycle of time-line manipulation. Case “A”: As he approaches his time-traveling future and finds himself somehow repeating his previous/future actions, not by some mystical force, but by a seemingly logical series of decisions. Perhaps at the last minute before undoing his mistakes, he realizes they were right in the first place. Perhaps he finds himself sort of forced or doomed to repeat them, and does so in a tragic sort of self-loathing helplessness, crying and raging at God… maybe killing someone he’s grown to know… you get the picture, dramatic. Perhaps his attempts to undo his previous changes wind up being what causes them in the first place. (This is the Twilight Zone ending. Oops, ya know who destroyed the world? You did.) The best part about all these ideas is that many readers go into a time-travel story wondering how the author is going to make it work. This lets you make that part of the mystery of the book, part of the suspense, and part of the reveal. It’s a bit meta, but not too much if you ask me.

    • guayja1

      Thanks for the comment! You are definitely onto something; almost wrote my plot for me 🙂 I’m thinking of jumping in undecided, on how to resolve the timeline conundrum, I may be able to write my way around it and leave in ambiguous. That is, if I’m clever enough.

  7. Pingback: Eternity Undone – an almost short story | The J. Aurel Guay Archive

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