See what I mean?

For instance, in a worst-case-scenario, the story might actually make more sense backwards than it does forwards. But then, by the time you reach the start of this article, you’ll already know that.

So time-travel is out. You won’t find any members of the Adherence of the Quantum Evocation coming from the 16th Steam Century back to Victorian London to make sure that Queen Victoria lives to 1901. It’s a bit of a shame, but it does save me an extra 25,000 words, and as we’re reaching the end of the Duel’s first month I’m accutely aware of time passing all too quickly, so I suppose it’s not all bad. Time-travel can often be seen as, or used as, nothing more than a flimsy gimmick. Plus, I don’t have to deal with any of the tricksy time issues that can occur. And they really are tricksy. They can break your story if they get out of hand.

I hadn’t expected introducing time-travel would remove all the drama. I think it’s because a control over time is the ultimate power. Nothing is impossible, everything is possible, and as such all tension is removed. All drama goes out the window. If character X dies then what’s the problem with skipping back a few minutes and preventing their death? Or why not travel to the future to amass an army of robots to slay your foe in the present? Things can get ridiculous pretty quickly, and if you try and introduce rules to combat that ridiculousness then you can end up running head first into the aforementioned ‘confusing the reader’ territory. No, time-travel is like booze. A little bit is good, maybe exciting, but too much and soon everything just gets fuzzy and gives you a headache.

It’s a problem I just encountered. In ‘The Invention of Steam’ Time gets changed, but there’s no time-travel involved. It’s an organic change and it happens over a period of years, just like it does in the real world. But then I got a bit clever and came up with some grand time-travel scheme that saw future Steampunk Britain rebel and try to prevent its creation in the first place back in Victorian Britain (Incidentally, by doing that I’d also be filling the ‘punk’ brief of ‘steampunk’, because as I’ll post about at a later date, people do seem to think adding cogs and brass makes a steampunk story, and forget that it actually needs to have an act of rebellion – an act of ‘punk’). It was a nice idea, a bold idea, and it fitted in perfectly with everything I’d done so far or planned to do, but the minute I put the first ideas of it in the story everything I’d written just felt, well…ridiculous. Worse still, everything I wrote after just didn’t feel right. The moment I introduced time-travel the world that I’d spent 7 chapters diligently creating just shattered. The Noir Victorian setting, the characters in it, all just felt flimsy. I’m still trying to work out why. It’s like an experiment went wrong and I’m trying to figure out which chemical was responsible for it. I think it’s because in writing the first chapters I’d set up the rules: a period novel that’s true to the details of the period. I hadn’t created alternate Victorian Britain – I was writing in the real one. So when I suddenly introduced a very sci-fi trope completely out of the blue it was like putting a talking whale in a Deerstalker there. It just blew all the drama apart. I had broken the time-page continuum. The minute I removed the offending sci-fi-ism the story flexed back into something I thought good.

The main problem is that, to put it bluntly, time-travel is very confusing. Not even the world’s smartest quantum physicists fully understand it. So already, as a writer, you’re starting out from a point of ignorance that you’re going to have to fill with your own ‘Laws of Time’. And in trying to explain it and how it weaves in with your story there’s always a danger you can lose the reader by super-saturating your text with sci-fi jargon (A Temporal Energy Deficit Factor? What the-?!). But even if you set up your own rules and understand them and your reader understands them you still run the danger of ending up with a story becoming overly-complicated (eg: ‘Wait, how many versions of ‘X’ are there running around?) too full of head-scratching loose ends (eg: ‘So, when Time was put right what happened to Mr. Y?’), or riddled with plot-hole paradoxes (eg: ‘How can ‘Z’ be there and there if they were there?’). Unless you do it right you’re likely to confuse your reader. But time-travel doesn’t just hurt your head, it can hurt your book.

When it is done right, it’s spectacular (like ‘The Time-Traveller’s Wife, The Time Machine, and any of the Thursday Next books but especially ‘Something Rotten’), and I am a HUGE fan of the time-travel genre when it’s done right. But as much as I love it, as a writer I also fear it. Because if you use time-travel in your story you suddenly posses an immense power to do anything, change anything, and bend all the rules to fit your whim, and if you don’t set yourself boundaries and rules on how to use it you can ruin your story in oh so many ways.

Time travel…it’s very hard to get right.

***WARNING: This article has been subjected to a ‘Jankis’-class Paragraph Continuity Paradox. Ensure your browser is updated with the latest temporal-feedback firewalls before reading***

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