You’re pulled from a peaceful sleep by the buzzing of your phone beside you in bed. You squint at the bright screen to see the caller ID first, it’s Shawn. Next you glance at the time, 2:34am. You take a second to force yourself to wake up a little before allowing yourself to answer.
“I’m sorry it’s so late,” he says. You can tell he’s feeling really anxious, just by the sound of his voice and the fact that he called even though he knew it was late. He wouldn’t have called unless he really needed you. He cares too much about you for that.
“It’s okay, babe, what’s up?” You question, still trying to sound more awake than you are at the moment.
“I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have woken you.” He responds, sounding defeated, and not answering the question of why he called in the first place.
“It’s okay, I couldn’t sleep anyway.” You lie.
“You were asleep.” He knows you too well.
“I didn’t want to be. Now baby, tell me what’s wrong.” You gently encourage.
It takes a little more coaxing, but eventually, he does tell you why he called in the first place. He was feeling jet-lagged and stressed about work. Feeling the pressure from all around him, and he just didn’t think he could take it anymore. After about thirty minutes of talking to him, reminding him how much he’s meant to be doing what he’s doing, and how absolutely capable he is, and lastly, how much you love him and are proud of him, he finally seems to be feeling a little better. He apologizes for waking you, but truly you don’t mind at all. You still have a few hours left to sleep, and he has to start getting ready for the day, so you say goodbye to him, promising to text him when you wake up in the morning.
“What is a good way that I could write time travelling without it being cliche?”
Ooh, I love questions like this! They’re so much fun, and on a somewhat self-indulgent level, they really get me thinking on the tropes themselves.
So without further ado, here are my personal thoughts on writing about time travel:
1. Embrace the fact that it’s not gonna make total sense.
This goes for a lot of creative fiction. When I was writing my urban fantasy novel, for example, I used a lot of traditional mythological figures whose duties and depictions (i.e. one humanoid being reaping the dead despite the fact that over a hundred thousand people die a day, billion-year-old entities who still look and behave like teenagers, figures from religions whose world views wildly conflict interacting with each other, etc.) weren’t compatible with what we currently know about the laws of physics.
And the sooner I resolved not to even attempt to explain it, the sooner my novel improved.
The wonderful thing about fiction is that it doesn’t have to imitate reality as we know it; the laws of the physical universe need not apply. And as long as the characters in your universe accept that, so will the reader.
I’ve had around twenty beta readers look at my book, and not one of them has poked holes in my casual disregard for the conventionally accepted rules of physical reality. The suspension of disbelief is an amazing thing.
As for how to best apply this to time travel, take Back to the Future, for example. This is one of the best time travel series ever made, but if you really look at what’s going on, you’ll come to find that none of it really makes any sense at all.
First of all, Marty McFly is a popular high school student whose best friend is an eccentric nuclear physicist. Conventional wisdom (and just about every fiction writing book or advice blog I’ve ever read) would dictate that this is a pretty heavy plot-point and warrants some explanation. But the narrative never questions it, and as such neither does the vast majority of its audience.
It is in this exact manner that Back to the Future handles its heaviest of all plotpoints, the act of time travel, which is the main driving force behind its entire plot.
How does it explain Doc Brown’s ability to time travel? Well, he invented the Flux Capacitor, of course. What is a Flux Capacitor, you ask? How does it work, exactly? Well, fucked if I know. All I know is that the narrative treats it like it’s a real thing, and by default, so do I.
The same could be said for the magically changing family portrait, the fact that the characters can’t interact with their past or future selves without universal destruction, flying cars, and the fact that the McFlys’ future children inexplicably look exactly like them. None of it makes any sense. And it’s fucking magical.
Another of my favorite examples of this is pre-Moffat Doctor Who. The science is campy, occasionally straight-up ridiculous, and unabashedly nonsensical, yet paves the way for some truly great and thought provoking storylines and commentary.
Bottom line is, I don’t know how to time travel. I’m guessing you don’t either, otherwise you probably wouldn’t be asking me for advice on how to write it. Accept it. Embrace it. Don’t be bashful about it – trust me, time travelers are probably a minority in your readership, so they won’t judge you.
So as to what would be a good means of writing time travel, the short answer is: any way you want. For obvious reasons, I’d stay away from old cars, police boxes, and phone booths, but with the power of the suspension of disbelief, virtually nothing is off the table: a pair of magic sneakers, a refrigerator, a closet, a treehouse -oh, crap, that one’s been done before. But you get the picture. You can be as creative as you want to be about it. Don’t be afraid to step outside the police box, so to speak.
Trust in the magic of the suspension of disbelief, and don’t overthink things. Your story and readers will thank you.
As for how to avoid other cliches, that brings me to my next point:
2. Look at the tried and true tropes of time traveling. Now subvert them.
This might just be me and my adoration of irony talking, but since you specifically asked how to avoid cliche I’m going to indulge myself here.
Do the exact opposite of what people expect from narratives about time travel. You know the old trope: the protagonist steps on a bug, and comes back to the present to find the world being ruled by gorillas.
I’m not telling you not to include drastic consequences for time travel, because there would probably be quite a few (at least if you believe in the chaos theory, which states every action has a universal reaction.)
But you could toy around with the idea that fate isn’t something that can ultimately be altered at all, and that all the protagonist accomplishes is solidifying (or even triggering) a pre-existing outcome.
My knee-jerk suggestion, as someone who takes fiendish glee in incorporating humor into my writing, would be to make the protagonist have some Forrest Gump-type encounters that unwittingly trigger huge, history-defining event, but it can also be significantly more tragic than that: maybe the protagonist goes back in time to save his father from a hit-and-run car accident, for example, and then accidentally kills him. Or perhaps he realizes that his father was a bad man (beat his mother, planned on killing someone, etc.) and makes a moral decision to kill him (which is also a great way to ask philosophical questions. More on that later.)
I don’t know what kind of time travel your writing or what your style of writing is, but these are things I’d personally just love to play around with.
Or maybe time travel does change things, but it’s not even close to what the protagonist expected: maybe his words of wisdom to his newly married mother about true love and the meaning of life and whatnot unexpectedly lead her to realize that she’s deeply unhappy in her current marriage, and he returns to the present to find her divorced (lesbian stepmom optional.)
Maybe absolutely nothing at all changes, but he realizes that he’s responsible for some famous Mandela Effect, like the Bearenstein/Bearenstain discrepancy.
Bottom line is, don’t be afraid to do the unexpected. But conversely, don’t be afraid to use tried and true tropes, either: regardless of how overdone they may seem to be, they can almost always be rejuvenated when interjected with a thought-provoking plot.
Which brings me to my final point:
3. Make sure it has something to say.
Science fiction, especially the speculative variety, tends to be best when it begins by asking a question, for which it will later provide an answer. Take, for example, Planet of the Apes. The pervasive question of the movie is whether or not humanity is inherently self-destructive, which it ultimately answers with its famed final plot twist that humanity has long since destroyed itself.
Rod Serling (who was incidentally responsible for the original Planet of the Apes, by the way) did this remarkably well: almost every episode of the Twilight Zone packed a massive philosophical punch due to the fact that they followed this simplistic formula. The episode would begin with the presentation of a question, big or small (frequently by the charismatic Serling himself) and by the end of the episode, that question would be answered.
I’m not going to go in to detail here, as it would spoil the magic of uncovering the plot twists for the first time, but Serling used his speculation to tackle the narrow-mindedness of beauty standards in Eye of the Beholder, the dangers of fascism in Obsolete Man, the communist paranoia of the time period with the Monsters are Due on Maple Street, and countless more.
I would recommend watching the original Twilight Zone for almost anyone looking to write speculative fiction such as time travel.
Even if your work isn’t compatible with this specific formula of Question => Debate => Answer (which some work isn’t) it will still need to have some kind of underlying statement to it, or no matter how clever the science fiction is or how original the time travel is, it will fall flat.
This is why Twilight Zone, Planet of the Apes, Back to the Future, and (pre-Moffat, as I always feel inclined to stress – he does literally the opposite of almost everything I recommend here) Doctor Who still remain widely enjoyed today, despite the fact that many of their tropes have been used many, many times since they original aired.
So for time travel, remember that it is a means, not an end. You could write the most cliched type of time travel story imaginable, and your audience will still feel fulfilled by it if your message is heartfelt, thought-provoking, and/or poignant.
Maybe you want to use time travel to make a statement about your belief in the existence of fate, or lack thereof. In this case, using the Sterling Approach, you would have your story begin with the question of whether or not humans can alter or change destiny, allow the narrative/characters to argue the question back and forth for a while, and then ultimately disclose what you believe the answer to be.
Or maybe you want to use time travel to explore or subvert the treachery of history and how it is taught, and show how the true narrative can be explored, purposefully or otherwise, by the victors.
Maybe you want to show that there’s no clear answer, or maybe no answer at all, a la the cheerful nihilism of Douglas Adams novels.
Either way, figure out what you want your message to be long before you put pen to paper, and then use time travel, like any other creative trope, as a means to an end to answer it. Your story will thank you for it.
“Our timelines run opposite to each other, but we start out hating each other. So the more I grow to love you, the more you’ll grow to hate me, and visa versa. This is the only time we’ll meet where we actually love each other.” AU
“I meet you, and you tell me one day we’ll fall in love. I’m stubbornly trying to fight it, but each time I see you, I feel myself slipping a little more.” AU
“We travel through time together, and you see your past self about to do whatever you regret the most.” AU
“I’m from the future, but I’m trapped a couple hundred years in the past, and you’ve been taking care of me, helping me figure out how to survive.” AU
“I’m about to propose to you, and my future self appears, interrupting the proposal to try to kill you.” AU
“I’m about to try to kill you, and my future self appears, trying to stop me, telling me I’ll fall in love with you one day.” AU
“We used to travel through time together, but then you died. I ran into your past self, from before you even know me, and I should probably stay away, but I can’t stop flirting with you.” AU
“You’re from the past, and you joined me in my time-travel adventures. I know history says you go back, so I’m trying not to get close, but I’m falling in love with you.” AU
-Have any themes for OTP prompts you’d like to see? Drop me an ask!-
Things were bright. Too bright. Too fast. He felt like a basket-case as he ran around, trying to find a hint of something normal. But there were no horses, no carriages. Only machines he could never have imagined and so many loud noises. He wanted to curl up into a ball and sleep until everything felt normal again.
“Thanks,” says the officer with the phone, and does a double-take. “I mean – thank you. So… you’re a scientist, too?”
Carlos looks around. The scientists are wearing business casual, button-downs, wrinkled khakis, college t-shirts; they have pens and styluses sticking out of their pockets, behind their ears, through their hair.
He’s wearing slightly charred fatigues and still holding a grime-spattered sword.
Baby Akira Kurusu awakens to his Persona in juvie at the tender age of 14, feeling abandoned by his parents and the system at large. His only way out was to offer his services to the man whose influence put him away in the first place. But that’s okay. He’ll be okay. He may spend his days as a quiet high-school student, and his nights as an assassin, but Igor assures him that if he plays his cards right, he will one day have vengeance on Masayoshi Shido and bring ruin to the government machine that imprisoned him.
TWO YEARS LATER, young “Detective Prince” Goro Akechi finally screws up the courage to confront his biological father, hoping that he might be able to get some college money out of it. He fails. Shido threatens to destroy his life if he breathes a word about his parentage to anyone, and to add insult to injury, Shido already has some random kid he’s not even related to as a protege. Akechi gains a weak ability to summon a Persona… which strengthens when he and his classmate Haru get caught in her asshole fiancé’s palace, and run into a very peculiar cat.
Mishima has no time for a guy like Akechi, and vice versa, so in this scenario the Phantom Thieves aren’t famous. They’re true stealth criminals, fighting against the very flamboyant and well-publicized Gentleman Killer.
Summary: This was an anon request: Can
you do a tom imagine where him and reader are trying to make their way through
an airport but the fans are like super persistent and reader gets trampled a
little and tom gets like super protective over her and is trying to stay calm
and nice to his fans but he’s just trying to get her out of there. I think I changed it a little bit because I get carried away once I start, but I hope you like it regardless! Thanks so much for the request! xoxo
Warnings: Swears. Reader has anxiety.
Word Count: 1070
A/N: This ended up being fluffy I hate myself I can’t stop it. Also Harrison at the end is the biggest mood. Anyways, I loved writing this, and I hope you enjoy reading it!
are boring as all hell, especially when you’re stuck on one for more than
eleven hours. After all, you could only sleep for so long, you could only read
for so long, you could only listen to music quietly for so long. Tom was
fucking exhausted, so he slept for nearly ten hours of the flight, but you and
Harrison had gotten horrendously bored around hour seven. From then, the two of
you had just shared stories over complimentary iced coffees about adventures
with Tom together, testing one another’s knowledge on his favorite things. You
placed bets on how long he’d stay asleep, what mood he’d be in when he got up,
and whether or not he’d forget his carry-on on the way out. (Since you sleep
with him pretty damn often, you won all the bets. Harrison was quite pressed
you left the plane, holding Tom’s bookbag that he’d forgotten, you squinted at
the early afternoon sunlight. It had been the dead of night the last time you’d
been outside. Strange. You followed Tom closely through the terminal, a little
afraid of the whole process. While Tom and Harrison were airport veterans, this
was only your second time travelling with a celebrity…and nothing can prepare
you for crazed fans.
were expecting a crowd to be waiting, but the number of people that confronted
your travelling party shocked you to your core. Eyes darting back and forth,
you tried to get a general estimate, but you just knew there was a hundred at
the absolute least. Ropes kept them back from getting to you directly, but
phones and pens were all being shoved towards Tom with a force that kept your
nerves on edge. Is this what it felt like to be on the other side?