Portals to another world are a staple of fantasy world. Chronicles of Narnia; Stargate; Monsters,
Inc.; and many others have portals to another world, all presented
differently. I’ll go over some different types of portals and ways to deal with
Types of Portals
Portal to a parallel
Portals to parallel universes, like the quantum mirror in
Stargate SG-1, transfer the character(s) from this world to a parallel one, one
where there has been some divergence but where it is still fundamentally the
same as where they came from.
There are basically two types of portals you can have for
this. You can have a physical portal, like with the quantum mirror, or you can
have a purely magic portal. I’ve seen one story where the portal is and
worn can be activated and transfers the consciousness to the same body in another world when other!them dies (more or less).
There are three main things to think about for this:
Is it two-way? You
need to figure out whether or not it’s a one-way trip, and your character doesn’t
need to know the answer to this when they go through the first one. If it is a
two-way trip, there should probably be some symmetrical means to get back. It
always reads weirdly when they come through by one means and come back by
another. There has to be a really good reason for the characters to come back a
different way than they came; the physical object only existing in one world is
one of the only good reasons I can think of. That doesn’t mean that there can’t
be a whole adventure to be able to go back home.
Where do they come
out? You have a few options for this. They can come out in an arbitrary
place, they can come out at some set magic nexus, they can come out wherever
the physical object is on the other side, or they can come out in the same
place (longitude/latitude). For each of these options, you need to think about
why they come out where they do.
Do they replace
alternate!them? Because they’re coming out in a world that they would
theoretically exist in, think about whether they replace them or exist in
addition to them. In Stargate SG-1, for example, there are times when they show
up and there’s another of them there and there are times when other!them is
dead and they never interact with them. Both of these have their issues—what happens
when you meet yourself, how are you different from other!you, how do people
keep from conflating you, etc.—and you need to figure out how to incorporate
them into your story.
Portal to another
What I’m talking about here is where the characters and the
reader know that they are on another planet in the same universe (and often the
same galaxy) as where they came from. The classic example of this (and yes, I
have a theme) is Stargate, where they use portals to travel to other planets.
For this, one of the biggest things to think about is making the new planet(s)
livable without making it/them Earth. Do the aliens look human? Are they even
humanoid? How do they communicate with each other? How do they communicate with
Also, how did the portals get there? In Stargate, they were
seeded through the galaxy, as were the humans, which is why there are humans on
many of the planets with Stargates. If there are ones to multiple planets, you
also need to think about dialing and identification systems, as well as whether
or not characters have other means to get to these planets (i.e. space ships).
Portal to a magic/other
This is the classic idea à la Narnia, where there is some
way to get to another totally unrelated world that is neither on another planet
not in a parallel universe. The common story with this is a character or
characters on Earth being teleported to a world with magic and either being the
“chosen one” or otherwise getting embroiled in political unrest or war while
having to figure out their way around.
These worlds tend to look Narnia and/or Tolkein-esque, with
foresty pseudo-European landscapes and cultures. As with all fantasy stories,
that isn’t at all necessary. You can have them show up in desserts or tundras
or marshes or floating cities or underground or literally wherever you want. It’s
Another common thing is to have the world be magic with
pseudo-European-medieval-except-without-the-gross-stuff levels of technology.
You don’t need to go in that direction. You can have whatever type of magic you
want with whatever level of technology you want, because these worlds don’t need
to have the same historic path as the Earth.
Another option is that there is a hub of portals where a
character can enter from any and go through to any other—or whatever other
level of security or access you want—and it can end up as some sort of trade or
Things to Think
What is the portal? Whether
or not the portal is a physical thing, there needs to be some idea of what the
portal actually is. Traditionally it’s something that’s walked through, like a
literal gate, but it can also be an object or a teleportation spell.
How does the portal
work? Is it activated by touch? Is it activated by magic? Is there a
ritual? Is there a specific time it needs to be turned on? Is there a specific
place it needs to be? Is there a set of criteria to create it or make it work?
Is there a specific length of time for which it can be turned on? Is passing
through active or passive?
Who has access to it?
This is true both in terms of physical access—who can physically get to it,
who knows about it—and in terms of who can pass through magic-wise. There could
be a class distinction or a location requirement, or maybe only a select number
of people know about it (e.g. Narnia, Stargate).
Can inanimate objects
be sent through? Can communication (e.g. radio or sound waves) be sent
What is the cost? This
is tied into how it works, but also think about what physical objects may be
needed, what physical toll opening it or passing through may cost, or what
magic may be required.
Can it be opened from
both sides? Is it possible to pull someone through to your side or even
open up a portal and let people come through from another side without them
opening it on their side?
Today the Department of Astonishing Optical Illusions is trying not to fall into these awesome spray-painted portals created by German street artist 1010 (pronounced ten-ten). Using concentric layers of vibrant color that darken and disappear into endless black centers, 1010 turns flat surfaces, ranging in size from small framed pieces to the sides of multi-story buildings, into mesmerizing illusions that brighten otherwise boring facades and interior walls and compel the viewer to try stepping into them. Who knows where they might take us.
1010 has been creating his hypnotic pieces all over the world since 2009. Last month he had a solo exhibition, entitled Limbus, at Hashimoto Contemporary in San Francisco.