I’m going to start off by saying that I’m aware that a lot of people are going to disagree with me on this one, but I find the idea of writing about time travel daunting.

Why, you may ask? Because it’s a headache. Think about it, literally thousands of books addressing the problems of time travel in stories have been written. Some really good, others really bad.

They all seem to focus on the same idea… “Say you build a time machine to go back and kill Hitler. You make it back to 1935 and assassinate him before he can do any damage… well now he doesn’t exist, so why’d you build the time machine? Since you didn’t build the time machine, how is Hitler now dead?”

It’s a cyclical problem that no one has ever really been able to aptly answer. Recently, there’s been a theory that I actually kind of like that does -sort of- fix the problem of paradoxes. I call it divergent timelines. What does this involve?

The idea is that if you go back in time and kill Hitler, you’re not changing history, you’re altering reality and creating a new timeline. The old ‘prime’ timeline still exists and is still ongoing, but now the person who traveled back to kill Hitler can never get back to his own reality. In this theory, the stories we see where someone goes back in time, undoes a historical event, and comes back to his time where virtually nothing is different and his loved ones are still waiting for him, is pure fantasy.  The traveler is now trapped in the reality he created with no way to truly get home again. Thus, does this really count as time travel? I would be more inclined to put this in the trans-dimension category.

There have been other stories that address this problem by creating some kind of… temporal vortex that allows the time traveler to remember who was and be exempt from the laws of quantum physics, but this is pure absurdity in my eyes.

A third theory I’ve seen literally has time rip itself apart when someone creates a time paradox. I don’t subscribe to that idea either because I’d have a hard time believing that the universe is that poorly built. That’s my suspension of disbelief though, so chalk it up as an anecdote.

So have a lost you yet?

All right, now, with all that said, why am I against people writing about it? Or why do I avoid any stories that attempt to seriously tackle the idea? Because it’s next to impossible to not create a ton of plot flaws!

The divergent timelines theory is a way around it, but again, I don’t consider that legitimate time travel.

Every time I’ve seen a time travel story created, there’s always a million comments about ‘well if you had a time machine, why didn’t you just go back in time and do this?’
‘Why didn’t you go back and resolve this issue before it happened instead of trying to deal with it after?’

Let’s look at one of the more famous movies, Back to the Future.

In all three movies, the lead characters altered the present. Yet somehow the time machine, the characters, and their memories all seem to remain the same. In theory, none of them should be able to remember the original timeline and they never really explain why it would be so disastrous if they meet their past selves. The mechanics behind that remains a mystery.

Now I know what a lot of people are probably saying at this point;

“It’s just a fun little 80s romp, you’re taking it way too seriously.”

Fine, fair enough. Then let’s move onto a series that is meant to be taken seriously, Star Trek. Specifically, Star Trek Generations.

In that movie, we see a galactic terrorist named Sauron going around destroying stars in order to move a dimensional doorway closer to a planet where he can then enter a paradise dimension. In that dimension, time has no meaning. Both Jean Luc Picard and James Kirk end up there. Picard convinces Kirk to leave the Nexus with him in order to stop Sauron, as Picard failed to do so and his entire crew was killed as a result.

So together, they return to the planet and fight Sauron, minutes before Sauron can launch the missile into the star, destroying everything.

A few questions right off the bat…

“Why didn’t you tell Kirk to go back to the Enterprise B where he came from and kill Sauron who was unconscious in sickbay? Preventing this whole thing in the first place?”

“Why didn’t Picard want to go back and prevent his brother and nephew from dying in the fire at their home while Kirk did this?”

“Why not go back in time far enough to save the Enterprise?”

Okay… we can keep going with these questions, but I think I’ll stop there. This is an example of the problems with plot that inevitably pop up whenever you write about time travel.
Irritatingly enough, I’ve seen some stories actually recognize and mention these problems, but then stop short of attempting to explain them away. People, having characters recognize a plot flaw in your story doesn’t count as resolving it.

I tried to write a story about time travel a while back… and wound up dealing with the same problem. Eventually, I found myself with a book where 140 pages were the story while the rest was me trying to explain why my characters did C, while A, B, D, E, F, and G won’t work.

So this is really just my opinion of why I don’t think it’s a good idea, maybe you’ve had other experiences, but I’ve found it to be a really good way of pissing your audience off in short order.

However, let me know your thoughts down in the comments.


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5 Comments on “Time Travel and Why You Shouldn’t Write About It!

  1. Good topic, Jim, and you make some valid points. I think you’re being a bit rigid with this, though. The general consensus is that time-travel is impossible, so rather than thinking of it as Science Fiction, and having to justify the “science”, consider it fantasy, and deal with it the way you might set up a magic system in your world – decide what the rules are, try to be consistent, and just go with it.
    I have a fondness for time-travel stories, and find them to be a wonderful topic for friendly arguments, and some good mental “what if” exercise.
    When I decided to be a writer, my first story – “Passed Life” – was old-school time-travel (where you can create paradoxes, destroy your future, and darn well better not run into yourself, because the disonance will kill you…)
    Later I wrote another story – “Choosing the Right Time” – that was based more on the idea of infinite timelines (you can travel backwards along your own timeline, then head “forward” in a different timeline, based on your choices and events, but there are infinite directions to go from any point on any timeline. I understand why you don’t want to call that time travel, but going backwards has always been the challenge – all of us are normally going forward otherwise, so if you’re going backwards, you’re time-travelling.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This reminds me of the Dragon Riders of Pern novels. Anne McCaffrey resolves these issues by her time travel making history the way it already is, not creating an alternate timeline. Her characters, mostly unwittingly, create the timeline they live in by going back in time to change it. It has its flaws, but I thought worked pretty well. I think space travel poses similar problems. Orson Scott Card tries to deal with these in his books, but most other authors I’ve read just say that the laws of physics simply don’t apply. Time and space are crazy and it goes to show how little we understand about either one. I think it’s more interesting to pose problems and possibilities than to try to get it right, because there is no way you will get it right.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. You surely pointed put the difficulties well, but time-travel books can still be well written. Take Diana Galbadon’s book for example, Outlander. The protagonist goes back 200 years by accident and find herself into scottish medieval times. The story is brilliant, and she avoids any kind of paradox by deciding NOT to return back to the future, although she was given the possibility. Of course, the story is stepping rather into a fantasy theme rather than science-fiction, but the problem of time-travel is still the main thing.


  4. Pingback: BW’s Morning Article Link: Time Travel Story Problems | BW Media Spotlight

  5. All true. Time travel—other than going forward one day at a time—is hard to rationalize with current science, so makes shaky SF. However as a literary device it has moved well away from science—a simple trope for telling a ‘what if” story. You may have read my character Marty’s attempt to kill Hitler in “Time to Change,” posted to by blog site on July 17, 2017.


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