The Time Traveler’s Life (Part I)

Still-of-Lea-Thompson-in-Back-to-the-Future-24BJGVYFS3-moviereviewfeeds-comIt seemed apropos that, on Groundhog Day, I’d post a picture of the first actress I had a crush on  … oh, wait!  What I mean to say is that I’d be asked to post an article on G+ about the challenges of writing time travel fiction.  If you want to delve into this weird but amazingly fun genre (where you may indeed have a protagonist who looks like Lea Thompson) you need to know what you’re up against.  What I’ve tried to do below is compile a list of issues the time travel writer needs to be aware of.

As with everything else in fiction, of course, the way to attract readers is through character.  But this article doesn’t address character development; there are ample resources for that.  Right now, we’ll stick to time-travel obstacles.

• Paradox Lost – You’ve got to come to grips with the notion of paradox.  That means wrapping your mind around two conflicting ideas.  My favorite time travel paradox, for example, is the one where the time traveler goes back in time and gives the blueprints for the time machine to his younger self.  Thinking about cause and effect here requires some serious mental gymnastics, not to mention a tall glass of scotch.  However, you really should avoid using this particular paradox in your story; it’s an overused cliche.

• Who’s Out to Get Your Hero? – You need to realize the villain of your story may well turn out to be the hero’s younger or older self.

• Timeline – Stephen King wrote a phenomenal time travel novel in 11/22/63.  In order to do that yourself, you’re going to have to map out the timeline chronologically (ahem).  So if you had a present-day time traveler going back to witness the events in Dealey Plaza, you’d need a timeline from 1963 till now.  Otherwise things are going to be a tangled mess.  Index cards work well for storyboarding such a plot, with each card representing a major aspect of the plot.11-22-63

• Travel Agent Required – How does the hero travel?  Via H.G. Wells steampunk machine?  A spaceship?  Gateway?  Phone booth?  Sports car?  Magic? You need to decide.  And once you decide you need to stick with it.  Time travel is part of your setting.  You wouldn’t have a creek flow uphill, so why would you have a time machine that worked inconsistently?

• The Left Behind – When your hero travels he’ll abandon friends and loved-ones.  How does he feel about that?  That’s nontrivial and potentially traumatic.

• Culture Shock – When Doctor Who’s Martha Jones (a woman of African descent) arrives in Shakespearean London she’s worried about getting sold into slavery.  Think about that.  Takes some of the romance out of the “good ol’ days,” doesn’t it?

• Cause and Effect – If the hero buys a ton of Apple Computer stock in 1999 will he really get rich?  Or does his stock purchase affect Apple’s success?

• Think Out of the Box – Suppose the time machine is a simple door.  What happens if the hero steps through using his cell phone?  Does he still have coverage?  That’s not as weird as it sounds.  If he can see through the door (visible light) then cell phone signals (radio waves) can travel through it, too.

• Grandfather Paradox – Is the hero going to do something that keeps himself from being born?  Suppose it involves murder.  How does the hero cope with that?  Murder is murder, in 2013 BC and 2013 CE.

• History Mystery – The hero wants to witness the Kennedy assassination.  Great subject, but you better damn well know your subject.  As the writer, can you tell us who the Babushka Lady was?  Or what was on Dallas TV right before the news broke?  Which motorcycle cop had his two-way radio on?   What was the weather like?  What’s the distance from the Book Depository to Kennedy’s car?  What did the “Treason” leaflets say?  What did the Manhattan businessman say about JFK’s killer? Zapruder-Film-Frame-366

• Action or Reaction –  How does the hero react to witnessing a really brutal murder?  The President, after all, had his brains blown out, literally.  If you’ve ever seen the Zapruder film you know it was a grisly, ugly, and sickening sight.  Now imagine being there, with the sights, the screams, the smells …

Time travel is not for the feint of heart.

In the next installment of “The Time Traveler’s Life” I’ll explore some of the pitfalls you need to avoid.  And in a later chapter, I’ll recommend some books and movies.  Stay tuned, same Chiroptera time, same Chiroptera channel!

Pax vobiscum,


Copyright © 2013

One Flu over the Cuckoo’s Nest

Immortality.  Everybody seems to crave it, whether through religion, science, mysticism or denial of death.  And so this begs a question about time travel. If I travel back in time one day and wake up yesterday morning at the same time I usually get up, and I have a chance to do my day all over again (see Murray, Bill; Day, Groundhog) and then I live through yesterday and in to today, throw on my white, time travel t-shirt (from last week’s blog) and jaunt back again, does that mean that the cells in my body, which have just aged 24 hours, will suddenly be 24 hours younger than they were when I put on the t-shirt?  Yes?

If that’s true, then can I repeat the process ad infinitum?  Can I make my body live indefinitely through time travel?  Back and forth, day in and day out, as it were.  I could certainly get a lot of writing done.

But maybe I should’ve asked whether I can do this ad nauseam?

Because … speaking of “nauseam” … my son started vomiting in the wee hours of the morning today, while we were in a hotel room, out of town. After his tummy finally settled down, the mess cleaned up, and he was snuggled under a comforter to stave off the chills, I told him something that seemed perfectly logical to me.

“I’ve never owned one million dollars in gold,” I said.

He looked at me sideways, probably wondering if his fever was making him delirious.

“Not many people have, Dad,” he said. His eyes looked drawn, dark bags, the glassy gaze of the sick.

“I’d like to.”

“Get in line, Dad.  Get in line.”

He sighed, rolled over, and slept another two hours before we hit the road and headed home.

During that two-hour drive from Birmingham to Huntsville my son lamented our not owning a helicopter or private jet.  And like any parent on a superhighway going 70 mph, I began to daydream about such possibilities myself.

If I travelled back in time 24 hours could I prevent him from getting sick?  Most likely not, since I have no idea how he came down with this virus in the first place.  But I could find a way to scrounge up a dollar.  And if I did this 24-hour t-shirt time hop one million times (even it was plain cash and not shiny gold) could I have made us millionaires while not aging a day in the process?

  • Million bucks?
  • Lear Jet?
  • T-shirt time machine?
  • No laugh lines?

There are worse ways to spend a Sunday.

But would that be worth it?  If I did that one million times, my son would suffer fever, chills and nausea one million times. And what sort of father would that make me?

In Groundhog Day Bill Murray’s character broke the cycle by realizing something greater than him.  Perhaps another way to grow is to never start the start the cycle in the first place.

And if you’re creating a character, critiquing a character, or just enjoying a movie with a big bowl of popcorn, try to put yourself in the character’s shoes.  That’s why good stories work, in my humble opinion.

Now, if your head’s hurting you may be trying to figure out what the hell I’m talking about today.  And, frankly, I wonder the same thing, especially since this is my first blog entry since winning a Freshly Pressed Award, and I’m a tad worried about disappointing you.  Or maybe your head’s hurting because you’re coming down with a touch of flu.  If the latter, I hope someone takes care of you, just this once.

Until next time,

Peace, from


Copyright © 2012, Alan Keith Parker.  All Rights Reserved.  I wrote this blog entry on my cell phone, which is like typing on a postage stamp.  Out of respect  for my pending carpel tunnel syndrome please don’t steal this!