Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Writing Wednesdays: The Trouble with Time Travel

Today I decided I'd really like to write a nice, simple MG contemporary novel. You know, one that doesn't require hours and hours of world building and only has to be about 50,000 words long. Alas, my interests lie elsewhere. This week, apparently, in sci fi. Only trouble is, I know nothing about quantum mechanics. Hell, I don't even know if time travel has anything to DO with quantum mechanics. That's how screwed I am.

I've actually had the idea for this novel for a while, but then I started thinking about the Russian book and got caught up in that. And then this morning the sci fi book started talking to me, and I just had to write it all down (well, as much as I could in the twenty minutes between breakfast and Jack's doctor's appointment). With my last book, Sarah forced me to do all my world-building ahead of time, so I wouldn't run into hang-ups later on. I'm not sure if I want to do that again, but I know I do need a general framework. I think I can explain most of the science through DNA manipulation, but time travel? That one's a bit tricky.

I figure there are two routes I can go down, since time travel might not ever be possible and therefore no amount of detailed scientific explanation is going to be convincing, unless I ACTUALLY discovered time travel, in which case, I'd have bigger fish to fry, no? So, there's the half-assed, psuedo-scientific approach, where I come up with something about the space-time continuum and worm holes and a bunch of other stuff I know nothing about, and then touch on a few important points just to convince my reader that I've done my homework, while casually glossing over the nitty gritty.

Or I skip over the "how" behind everything altogether and stick to the story.

My (theoretical) readers aren't physicists (theoretically), but they're also not idiots. I know there has to be a middle ground I can work from. So I'm asking all my writing friends out there who've ever written science fiction, dystopian, steam punk, etc, or any reader friends who've spent a lot of time with the genre: what's the best way to describe something that doesn't actually exist, without making myself crazy trying to understand a discipline only about 1% of the population actually understands?


Connie B. Dowell said...

Well worm holes are a good pseudoscientific approach but no explanation at all could also work. Read a lot of time travel books and watch a lot of shows and movies that use it to see what they do. I'm writing a time travel story myself, but in my novel it's magic, so no explanation is needed.

If you want to get a basic understanding behind the science of time travel (which is possible--astronauts have time traveled for tiny increments of time, but any significant traveling is much more difficult) check out this book: Time Travel in Einstein's Universe by J. Richard Gott. It doesn't skimp but it explains things with a general audience in mind.

Kelley Lynn said...

Oh man. When you figure this one out... let me know! :)

Iain said...

The beaury with Sci-Fi is that the technology doesn't exist. You can have a piece of kit that manipulates time, like a time-jump watch that generates a small field that punches through time and takes anything inside the field's radius to the new date.
MG readers will love the adventure side of it, and not worry whether it's possible.
Hope this helps :o)

VikLit said...

I agree that for the MG audience I think you can have a nice piece of kit which does it, and that explanation will be enough. They aren't idiots no, but I think a simple explanation works best rather than a complicated wormhole esque explanation which requires lots of physics. For an adult audience, that might be appropriate, but I think for MG you could go with a simpler explanation - a piece of kit, or its a superpower, like a skill they have, or they make friends with a crazy Doc Brown figure who has worked out how to do it?

When You Reach Me is a great MG book dealing with this if you haven't read that.

Actually found you through the 'tall tales' blog - I followed the links to a few people who entered the competition, as I am newly blogging and seeking to make connections with other YA/MG writers! I have followed you ;)

Mara Rae said...

Connie - thanks so much for the recommendation! I actually was just doing some research on worm holes after I wrote this post and I think they'll work! My husband just read the new Stephen King book and I guess he uses worm holes for time travel, so I'll probably check that out too.

Kelley Lynn - stay tuned! Of course, I've had half a dozen WIPs go down the tubes, so this one may not make it. But we'll see!

Hi Iain! That's a good way to look at it - anything's possible, since it's the future! In my book she doesn't need to go back and forth - she just needs to come back to present day to change the future. It's sort of a one-way ticket. :P

Welcome VikLit! Thanks so much for stopping by! I've heard great things about "When You Reach Me." Definitely need to check it out. This book will actually be YA, so I guess it needs to be slightly more complex, but you're right, I think I can skip the physics (phew!).