Time Travel is Boring? Um, I Don’t Think So.
When I was asked if I’d like to write about time travel for The World of the Blue Bells Trilogy, my first thought was, “Heck, yeah! I love time travel stories. I can’t wait to write about this!”
And then I sat down to write. And every line and passage that hit the page shouted at me. And the word those lines shouted at me over…and over…and over was…boring.
For reasons I still can’t explain, the passion I have for time travel was somehow sucked right out of me. Maybe it was the commitment I made to Laura, or the (more than generous) timeline I had agreed to meet. Perhaps I was having a bad week and didn’t feel like writing. More than likely, I was just being a lazy bum who didn’t feel up to the task at hand. Honestly, I don’t know what it was. But I knew it could not be the topic itself.
Time travel, baby!
Everyone knows time travel stories are awesome. And I’m not talking about your regular old, vanilla-type awesome, either. Time travel stories are the bomb! They rock! Everyone loves a good one, and rarely does anyone hate a bad one. Heck, even Back to the Future 3 had its fans.
So there I was struggling with what to write, and confused over why I couldn’t write about such an awesome subject like time travel...and that’s when it hit me. All I had to do was write about how great time travel stories are. Everyone knows that the possibilities for time travel stories are endless. A writer is bound only by the limits of his or her imagination.
Anyone can write a time travel story. It’s true. I know because I’ve written them. Getting started is easy. Just ask yourself one question:
“Should I travel back in history, or forward to the future?”
Once you’ve decided on that, the game is on. You can break free from your leash and let your wildest imagination rule the world. Ask yourself simple questions and begin answering them. How far back or forward should you go? What’s it going to be like when you get there? What will you do when you arrive? Take a walk, run, or sprint around the track of your imagination. And before you know it–
–the year is 1863. You’re standing in a field listening to Abraham Lincoln deliver a speech. You’re surrounded by thousands, but no one except you knows that his words – the words he is speaking right this moment – will become known as the Gettysburg Address. Of all those thousands who surround you, including Lincoln himself, only you know for sure how the Civil War will end and how the President will die.
Once you’re there in 1863, just keep asking yourself questions and providing interesting answers. When you do that, the story – no, not just the story, but the world – is under your control. The world and the characters that make up your version of 1863 are yours to take wherever you want them to go. History will meander down whatever paths you want it to meander. You can kill Lincoln off early or save him from Booth’s bullet. You can change history! Hey, that’s power right there! You own the world! You get to decide what happens next because you are the writer and the characters belong to you. Even the President! You get to decide what happens on the world stage and…
…um, sorry. Got a little out of control for a minute there.
Anyway, you get the idea. Whatever happens in your 1863 is completely within your hands. Your next thought might be, “I need to get my butt back to my own time before I screw something up here in the past.” Or you might ask yourself, “How can I keep this poor sucker from going to see that crappy play in Ford’s Theater two years from now?” Either way, you take the story where you want it to go. You imagine it, you shape it, you feed it and let it grow. Pretty cool, huh?
In my novel, Peace Warrior, my protagonist, Grant, is a professional soldier who is killed in action sometime in the mid-21st century. He is “awakened” six hundred years later through the science of cryogenics. By bringing Grant back to life so far into the future, I was able to paint my own vision of what Earth might look like in the future. Since just about anything can happen after six hundred years, I had a blank canvas with which to work. That kind of literary freedom can be a blast. I filled my canvas with a teeming population of Peace-loving humans who had abolished war and banned all forms of violence. On the surface, it sounds like a paradise, right? No more wars, murders, rapes. But consider what might happen when an alien race, a race that has no inclination toward Peace, shows up and says, “Hey, we like what you guys have here. Hand it over or die.” That’s the world that Grant wakes up to, and the reason he’s brought back by science. The world needs help defending itself, and who better to do that than an ancient warrior?
Writing interesting time travel fiction can be a blast. When done well, readers suck it up, swallow it down, and ask for more. If you are considering writing a time travel story, start by asking yourself those initial questions: Back in time or forward? How far? What’s it like there? Once you get the ball rolling, the story will often take on a life of its own. Once it does, my advice is to let your freak flag fly and allow your imagination to run feral. Enjoy the process and have fun with it.
It should never be boring.
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