Story-wise, I’ve always had a hard time when a writer wields the time travel toy.
I will attempt to keep things slightly below rant level and I’m sure you’re wondering what brought this on… or, you’re wondering why you’re sitting there reading this blog instead of playing a game, hangin’ with your friends/family or learning another language (or whatever the fuck you do with your spare time).
You see, I’ve never watched much TV. I’m a huge comic fan, and all my like-minded friends once scolded me for not watching Heroes when it was on the tele. They also lamented at the show’s death in the wake of the Hollywood writers’ strike of 2007/8. Now that I have a nice TV (and streaming Netflix), I have been watching Heroes and damned if I’m not shaking my head as I’m jarred from the story every damn episode! Each time Hiro doesn’t shift time as easily as he does in other parts of the show, I just cringe. Here you have a character who can stop time, teleport and travel backwards/forwards through time. He seems to use his ability when it advances the plot, yet he ‘forgets’ to use his ability at other obvious times when a simple slide thru time would fix major problems (usually caused by his blundering).
This ‘convenient power use’ is not so much a ‘plot hole’ as it is sloppy writing. (more on ‘plot’ next week, maybe… plot is a dirty, 4-letter word in my house).
Here’s my problem with time travel presented in this way:
Some characters wield such massive power (like, say Superman) that they cannot be killed and they can drastically alter any situation to their advantage. I classify ‘at-will time travel’ into that bucket. Superman is a crap character. Sorry, he is. He is unkillable (without a shitty, green plot device), he can fly, he can spin the earth backwards to travel in time, he’s superstrong and he’s morally the stiffest pair of tighty-whities. Hiro in Heroes has the powers I listed two paragraphs up. These types of characters remove any element of drama from a story. Do we, as the audience, fear for them? Nope – they are unstoppable. At some point, the writer realizes it’s too late, so they become lazy in some way. Superman has kryptonite. Hiro is written as a dumbass (which is incongruent with his highly analytical character). Once you start artificially supporting your story to maintain suspense, you’ve already lost me as a listener. Game over. Take yer ball and go home.
The other trap I’ve seen with time travel is when the ability gets trivialized, like with one of those Star Trek (Next Generation) movies. At the end, they literally punch a few buttons to travel back to their own time. Um, if time travel was so easy, why am I invested in the stories you are feeding me? Why must I fear from the fate of the noble Federation if any of your ships can travel through time as easily as the drive-up window of the nearest fast food joint? (well, I guess it would take a little maneuvering to get a massive starship through there…)
Can time travel work? Sure it can.
If you really really must open this Pandora’s Box for your story, I suggest you get you shit together. And I mean absolutely fucking together. You owe your readers cohesion and believability. Don’t make uber-characters who can wish their way out of any situation and don’t invent crap to support the other crap you’ve heaped onto your story.
If I were to write a story that involved time travel, I’m not sure I’d have the characters moving through the space-time continuum. Instead, I’d perhaps focus of a different shifting of time mechanism, where the characters have no control over their new circumstances. Perhaps the world around them was the source of the shift? I dunno, be creative. There are plenty of interesting ways to introduce time travel and survive the common pitfalls.
Nice rant, Matt…
Yeah, sorry about that. I just wonder sometimes why we, as a collective audience, still ‘buy’ lazily written time travel stories.
Do yourself a favor: avoid time travel and all of its associated baggage unless you are prepared/equipped to write an amazing piece of airtight fiction.