How Does Your Time Move?

March 29, 2011

The other day I gave myself a massive headache, all because I neglected to pay attention to how quickly my time moved in the past compared to the present when I started The Schoolhouse Disappearance. I’d meticulously plotted my story, but I hadn’t paid close attention to the relationship between time in the past and time in the present. Over the course of the story I needed roughly four weeks to pass in the past compared to just three days in the present. As I started writing the first time travel scene, I set up my “guidelines” for how much time would pass in the present while Abby was in the past, but didn’t think much more about it. I continued writing, and a few chapters later my protagonist goes back for the second time. I applied the same “math” to this visit and had a major panic moment as I realized it totally, completely, utterly (enough adverbs for you) did not work! I then pulled out my outline and applied my math to the rest of the scenes and found that nothing worked. What was required to make the time travel successful was some careful time management replotting.

Why does this matter? Can’t you just fudge it? Is anyone really going to stop and figure out if you were consistent? Maybe, maybe not. In my case, I had to know because my protagonist actually figures out how much time goes by in the present while she is in the past, and I used this as a plot aid. In the end, you might not let the reader know all the nitty gritty details about how your time moves, but that doesn’t excuse you from not knowing them yourself. You can compare it to a character sketch. Every writer develops a character, learning all about them. Despite all the prep work we do to define these characters very little of our character sketches actually end up in the novel. I might know that Abby despises peas, but that little fact has never been revealed to the reader. They haven’t needed to know, but as the writer I do; that little fact helps me make Abby more three dimensional. Same rules and concepts apply to time. You need to know how it moves, because having time behave consistently adds to the believability of the story, even if the “rules” are never revealed to the reader.

Time management and plot are interdependent. You can’t deal with one without the other. Understanding your time will give you flexibility in your plot, and your plot will shape how your time moves. Together they can present new ideas and possibilities.

There are four scenarios you find used in time travel novels:

1- Time in the past moves at the same rate as time in the present.
2- Time in the past moves faster than time in the present.
3- Time in the past moves slower than time in the present.
4- Time in the past moves forward but time in the present freezes.

Different situations will lend themselves more readily to one over the other. Unlike in The Schoolhouse Disappearance, where Abby goes back and forth between the past and present several times, in my second novel, Destination: Calistoga Depot, the children go back in time and stay there until they’ve completed their goals. When they return to the present, almost no time has passed. If I’d had them go missing for a week in the present, it would have created problems with “adults” that wouldn’t have added anything to the story I was trying to tell. My solution was to have little to no time pass in the present while they were in the past.

In The Time Travelers, by Linda Buckley-Archer, time moves at the same rate in the past as in the present. What this meant was that grown ups played a large part in this story, as the author had to deal with how the parents reacted to the disappearance of their children, since the children were unable to move back and forth in time. This created a much more complicated plot and forced the author to use many different viewpoint characters.

On the other hand, in On Etruscan Time, by Tracy Barrett, as in The Time Travelers, time moved at the same rate as the present, but the protagonist was able to move back and forth between times. He was never missed long enough to cause worry among the adults. This created a very different plot with a very different set of problems.

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Book Review: The Time Thief

November 29, 2010

The Time Thief (The Gideon Trilogy: Book Two)
Linda Buckley-Archer
Time Travel
Age 12 and up
368 pages

The Time Thief, by Linda Buckley-Archer, is the second book of her time travel series The Gideon Trilogy.  Without giving away the ending of the first book, The Time Thief continues the adventures of twelve-year-olds Peter and Kate and the many acquaintances they made along their journey in book one.  I recommend reading The Time Travelers (book 1) first, because this book does not completely stand on its own.  The author does attempt to bring new readers up to speed, but the nature of the story is such that the reader should start at the beginning.

I wasn’t a huge fan of the first book.  It moved too slowly and the characters never really resonated with me.  However, while the pacing wasn’t ideal, the plotting and her use of time travel were some of the best I’ve come across.  The second book was much better on all fronts.  The characters really came to life and the pacing improved as well.

The Time Thief uses many different viewpoint characters which does help in telling the story, but at times I felt there were a few too many.  On the other hand, while the author uses a lot of viewpoints, she doesn’t randomly add characters to suit her needs.  Characters that came and went in the first novel (that I had completely forgotten about) make appearances and play rather large roles in the second book.  It really is quite a feat of plotting.

This novel takes place in modern day England, 18th century England and revolutionary France.  The amount of detail is amazing…sometimes a little too much as it bogs the story down…but the research that had to be done for this novel is truly mind boggling.  Through all this history the action still does a good job of moving the story forward and it’s never predictable.  As a reader I never knew what would happen next or even how the novel would end.  I loved that the book kept me guessing the entire time.

If you want to study how a good time travel works, read this book.  It’s a really, really good example, despite its slow beginning, and plot-wise it is a masterpiece.  The author sets up rules and strictly follows them.  The consistency with how the time travel works, the effects it has on the characters and the consequences of those effects are brilliant.  The time travel isn’t static either.  The characters learn how to manipulate time.  Time affects the characters.  There are so many layers to the time travel in this novel—when I say brilliant I’m really not exaggerating.

I can’t say I loved this book, but I absolutely appreciated what the author has accomplished. I definitely think it’s worth the read, especially if you’re interested in time travel.

On a side note: I never quite understand why, when a British book gets “translated” into American English, the titles sometimes change too.  I actually like the British titles better and even the series name is more suited to the novels—The Time Quake Trilogy (British) vs. The Gideon Trilogy (American).  The books really are more about the time travel than Gideon.  I just wonder sometimes, who makes these decisions and why.  I even like the British book covers better! (comparisons below)

Book Covers


Time Travel: Beginnings!

September 21, 2010

Let’s talk about beginnings in time travel novels! If there’s one comment I get more than any other, it’s that everyone is always telling me to start the time travel sooner! It’s like a broken record when it comes to critiques from school, editors, and contests. I recently got feedback on my opening chapter to The Schoolhouse Disappearance from a contest I entered. I received some great feedback, but amongst the comments (from four judges) were two suggestions that I start the time travel sooner! I should expect it by now, but I thought I’d finally written an opening that worked. After all, my main character travels through time on page four…any earlier and I’d be starting the novel in the past. How much earlier can I start it? This has been an issue for me since I first started writing time travel—something I’ve worked to fix!

Sometimes the best way to learn is to study what’s already been done, so I started reading all the time travel books I could find. I discovered three things. One—there are not a lot of time travel books out there. Two—it’s hard to find a well plotted time travel. Three—not a single time travel book that I read started the time travel in the first chapter. In fact, most of them didn’t start the time travel until the third or fourth chapter. In one book I read, it didn’t happen until a quarter of the way into the novel!

I admit, the time travels I read picked up once the time travel started, but they all had slow beginnings. However, most of those beginnings set up what was to come, and without that set up the books would never have worked. That said, some creative replotting and these books could have been much stronger.

I know how important a good beginning is, but I believe that the rules we apply to beginnings for novels need to be altered for time travel. The first two novels in my time travel series have my main character time traveling before the end of the first chapter, and everyone is still telling me to start sooner. I don’t (in most cases) think this is possible. The story needs to be set up to some degree before the time travel can be introduced. I do believe that the time travel should happen in the first chapter; the second chapter at the latest (in most cases). I also believe it is possible to do—despite all the novels out there that don’t do it. It takes practice and some creativity, but it is doable. The first and second books in my series start the time travel by the end of the first chapter—it took many, many revisions to get them there. In fact, in the first drafts of both novels the time travel didn’t start until the third chapter.

When it comes to “rules” in writing, my mantra is: the rules are more like guidelines. That said, I think the writing world could benefit from some “guidelines” for time travel beginnings. I truly believe that the success of a time travel lies in the opening chapters. I think that part of why there are so few time travel novels published is because so many editors and agents fail to get past the first couple chapters. A time travel, just like any other novel, must hook the reader. The conventional rules of openings should be followed, but there is an extra element to consider that other novels lack—the time travel itself. Other questions need to be considered when writing the beginning of a time travel novel. What makes a good time travel beginning? What elements need to be in the opening chapter? When, exactly, should the time travel begin?

People are comfortable with how historical, mystery, contemporary, romance, science fiction and fantasy novels should be written, but time travel is in a league of its own. Ask a writer, agent, or editor what makes a good time travel, and I’ll bet the responses would be vague and varied. Answering these questions and establishing guidelines will help editors and writers better evaluate time travel and not ask for the impossible. We need to quantify what makes for a good time travel beginning before there’s any hope of finding consistently well written and entertaining time travel novels being published.


Book Review – Blackbeard’s Lost Treasure

July 13, 2009

Blackbeard’s Lost Treasure: H.G. Doyle, The Greatest Detective of All Time (Book 1)
Craig Venezia
Adventure/Time Travel
Age 6+
1 Audio disc

Chapter Book Ages 6+

Chapter Book Ages 6+

Craig Venezia’s Blackbeard’s Lost Treasure brings H.G and his best friend Agatha back to 1718 in search of—you guessed it—Blackbeard’s lost treasure!

H.G. has a time machine! Only he’s not quite sure how to work it yet, which causes a few mishaps and a couple of unplanned stops in his quest to find Blackbeard’s lost treasure. But H.G., the greatest detective of all time, doesn’t let that get in his way. A fast thinker, he manages to get out of one scrape after another.

This story is filled with twist and turns you don’t see coming and that keep you on the edge of your seat. H.G. is a bright and funny character with little quirks that I promise will endear him to you before you’re even five minutes into the story. After all, what kid can’t relate to “being allowed to time travel, but only after his homework is done.” With a strong plot, strong character, and awesome sound effects I guarantee you’ll get pulled in and enjoy the ride.

Blackbeard’s Lost Treasure, the first book in the H.G. Doyle series is unique in that it went straight to audio. I can understand why the publishers did this. The story is full of opportunities to use sound effects, from ocean waves and seagulls to wedding music to shovels digging to the splat of drool from a t-rex. The audios are used to get us to cringe, to laugh, to sigh and so much more. I look forward to H.G.’s next adventure!

My favorite line: “…flashing my, ‘I’m sorry, but I’m cute’ smile…” Brought back many childhood memories where I tried to be cute to get out of trouble!