You’ve been introduced to historical fiction by Emilie and historical fantasy by Tricia, so last but not least I’ll cover time travel.
What is time travel, in relation to a novel? Simply put, it is the concept of moving between different moments in time. Characters can move backwards in time to a moment before the present, or forward from the present to the future.
Time travel is one of those tricky topics to place in a genre. It is so many different things—historical, adventure, mystery, and fantasy/science fiction! Ultimately, when a reader sees time travel they know to some extent what they’re getting into. I classify time travel as a subgenre of historical fiction. Why? Because time travel implies historical. The first question that comes to mind when I hear the words “time travel” is: What time period? The reader expects to go back in time.
Any book that moves forward in time I’m going to classify as fantasy or science fiction. By moving forward in time the author is introducing new worlds and rules and conventions. Any book that recedes in time I’ll classify as a subgenre of historical. By going back in time an author is setting up strict guidelines for themselves. They have to follow the rules and conventions of the past. History has been lived and documented and leaves little room for invention, unlike future time travel.
Now, after saying all that I’m going to tell you that historical time travel, even though it predominantly follows the rules of historical fiction, is also, technically, fantasy or science fiction. Time travel is unproven and hence fantastical. How do we determine which one describes a particular story? I had a chat about this once with Bruce Coville. He gave me some great advice on an easy way to distinguish between fantasy and science fiction. He said if you time travel by machine it is science fiction, and any other way, it’s fantasy.
For example, my Abigail Wenworth Series would be defined as fantasy. Abby gets to the past in many different ways. One book it’s through a schoolhouse door, another on a train, another on a boat, but there is never a machine that transports them. They never know exactly how or when they could end up in the past. On the other hand, Gideon the Cutpurse by Linda Buckley-Archer would be classified as science fiction since the children go back to 1763 England by a machine made by their scientist father.
What distinguishes time travel from pure historical fiction is the author’s ability to change the past and also to compare the present and past. These are the two biggest reasons I write time travel. I want to be able to manipulate the past; even if it’s just one person’s life, I can still change it to some degree. And I love to throw my modern-day characters into a world they don’t understand. It just creates so many delightful problems!
This just touches the surface and we’ll get into more detail in future discussions, but now that you’ve been introduced to historical fiction, historical fantasy and time travel which is your favorite (to read or write) and why? Do you have any favorite books that you think are great examples?