View Full Version : Time-Travel.

October 18th, 2016, 11:34 PM
My time-travel experiment had failed.

I was doomed to spend the rest of my days travelling between the past and the future with no hope of returning to the moment I had ignited the engine on my time-vehicle. I lived in the knowledge that I would travel through the cold conduit of time until I swallowed the last gasp of artificial air generated by my time-vehicle's on-board oxygen farm. I spent five years moving from the past to the future and back to the past; desperately trying to find a way back to the moment I had set off into this nightmare.

In the past I argued with younger-selves about the mistakes they were going to make in their futures.‘You must stop this at once,’ I told my twenty-five year old past-self who had just come up with the idea that the boundary of time could be broken. He dismissed me with a wave of his hand and told me that what had happened to me would not happen to him because he was not me and had no intention of making the same mistakes as I had. My thirty-two year old self had listened to me, but had still refused to heed my warning. My forty-one year old self told me that he would stop immediately, but due to the fact that I remained trapped in the frozen wastes of time I could only assume that he had lied to me.

It was a strange sensation to argue with myself, even stranger was my past-selves reluctance to change their ways despite my warnings of their fate. It seemed that they refused to believe that my future was their future. Time and time again I exhausted myself in the past and time and time again I travelled forward to my future self, but discovered that time was like a gambler who never puts all its money on one horse. It seemed that time wanted to hedge its bets and presented me with every possible scenario where an infinite number of my future selves involved themselves with every possible future scenario a person could imagine. I met a version of me that had lost his wife to cancer. Another future me had witnessed the death of his two sons. A particularly sad future-self had lost his sight due to a tumour caused by leaking radiation from my time-vehicle. Time after time I met tragedy and desperation, poverty and heartache. How could all those futures be so sad? Back and forth through time I went. Five years, ten years, fifteen years, twenty… Arguing and pleading with past-selves to change their ways, but each time ignored and forced to watch them continue their foolish pursuit.

It was on my fiftieth birthday that I decided I could take no more. Travelling faster than light itself I smashed the engine with a hammer somewhere in-between my past and future. My time-vehicle drifted and eventually came to a stop somewhere dark and lonely and far from anything I could call ordinary. As I lay there waiting for death to come I had the strangest sense that something else was happening. After several hours I began to hear the faintest of sounds that at first seemed alien, but after listening intently I discovered they were the sounds of people talking. Low murmurs at first that soon became more intelligible until I could understand every word. Then came smells and sights. I sat there for hours and then days and then weeks and very slowly, a world appeared outside of my time-vehicle like a photograph in developing fluid. People popped into existence, frozen like waxworks: A young boy riding a bike. An elderly couple walking hand in hand. A teenage girl holding a red-balloon on a string. After a day or so I saw that I was in the park next to my house. Suddenly, every person I could see came to life, completely unaware of me and when I had been.

I can't express to you how elated I felt to be back in my own time. Even more so when I returned to my home and saw that it was only one hour after I had departed all those years ago. Of course I was older now by many years and none of my family or friends recognised me as being me.

'You're too patient,' said one of my colleagues.

'You're too relaxed,' said another.

'But you are not angry!' said Professor Mcflorish of the University physics department.

I laughed at all their comments and let them wash over me like water off a duck's back. I never travelled in time again. I destroyed the time-machine and spent the rest of my days fixed in the present, free from a lifetime of travel between an unchangeable past and an infinite number of hellish futures. Free to live my life in the present in any form I fancied.

Olly Buckle
October 30th, 2016, 11:57 PM
even stranger was my past-selves reluctanceplural possesive so 'even stranger was my past-selves' reluctance', but it might be a little clearer to rephrase as 'the reluctance of my past-selves'.

Your model of time is a little dated, though it is related to speed, I wonder what things looked like when you travelled faster than light?

October 31st, 2016, 12:57 AM
Well, as today has twenty-five hours (We made the shift from BST to GMT at 2:00am here.) I have the time to comment on this before the day is out, it now being only twenty-four hours and five minutes old. So, cycle up the temporal field, disconnect the external feeds and prepare to disengage from reality and enter red time. (Sorry, that's my fictional world, not yours, a bit of bad navigation on my part there. As you were.)

You state that your experiment failed, but don't state what its objective was, so the reader can't judge that for themselves and has to take your word for it, which leaves a loose end hanging in the mind and in the story.

It isn't clear whether you realise your misinterpretation of your experiences. Although your past selves appear not to have heeded your warnings they, like yourself, have many futures and you represent only one of them, so they may have done so in others. That is the unfortunate truth about travelling backwards in time, that you can't improve your own life experience but only that of other selves in parallel realities. Some people think that one subsequently moves forward into a new reality created by one's tampering with events, but that would only be so if one took over the body of one's past self and literally became them, which you clearly aren't doing here. Hence your timeline is unique to you and evidently a pretty rocky ride. I would have expected you to express your realisation of your potential effect on your past selves after seeing the multiplicity of future selves with their varying fortunes, but you just get disheartened, which puzzles me. I can't tell whether it is your character who is confused about this or you the author.

I didn't understand the context of the dialogue near the end. Perhaps I have missed some vital subtlety in the story there. If so that could be down to my current lack of perception (but then it has been an extraordinarily long day, as I have already mentioned) or a deficiency in your writing.

The hackneyed expression "like water off a duck's back" adds nothing to that sentence, so just leave it out and let the comments wash over you, full stop.

Again in the last paragraph you seem to be suffering from a misconception, that destroying the time machine frees you from all those hellish futures. While some of them may have been the consequences of its continued existence they don't all appear to have been. For example you don't explain how the two sons died and whether that had anything to do with your time travel exploits. Some of your excursions into the future must have encountered realities where you had already destroyed the machine, but if they were all so full of doom despite that why were you so elated upon destroying it?

Your writing flowed so well that I was able to focus on the content and forget that I was reading strings of words. That is the ultimate objective of good writing, to implant your ideas into the reader's mind without them noticing the mechanism by which it is achieved. If you had made any serious mistakes, like mentioning water off a duck's back, then I would have been jolted back into reality and seen the words themselves rather than the images that they projected. As that barely happened at all I must conclude that your writing style is transparent, which can be considered a good thing. It isn't just mistakes which break the spell though. If a writer tries to be too clever with their writing to show off the same disruption can occur, but your style is effective without that problem either. Hence I found your writing very pleasant to read, even though I think you need more practice at time-travelling. I would suggest that you take a look at my website, but that would just be an invitation to share in my apparent madness, so perhaps not.

Well done. Oh, the twenty-fifth hour is almost up. Prepare for reversion to normal time. Five minutes until reversion and counting.

Jay Greenstein
October 31st, 2016, 04:03 AM
You're presenting someone the reader knows nothing about, giving an overview of things the reader has no context for. When you say:
I was doomed to spend the rest of my days travelling between the past and the future with no hope of returning to the moment I had ignited the engine on my time-vehicle. This reads as if it's the conclusion of the story.
I lived in the knowledge that I would travel through the cold conduit of time until I swallowed the last gasp of artificial air generated by my time-vehicle's on-board oxygen farm.I give up. What's "the cold conduit of time?" You know, but your intent doesn't make it to the page, so the reader has no clue.
In the past I argued with younger-selves about the mistakes they were going to make in their futures.Based on what was said, this makes no sense. We are, according to the text, locked into some kind of vehicle, moving in time, and cannot stop it or leave. So how does that relate to the protagonist talking to other versions of him or herself? No way to tell. The line has meaning only to someone who knows what has happened before you opened the story. you, in other words.

Here's the problem, and it has nothing to do with good or bad writing: you're focused on the idea that "story' is the events that took place. That's history. Story takes place in real-time, as perceived by the protagonist, moment-by-moment. That entertains. An unknown character musing on events the reader knows nothing about only informs, at best. So focus on what your character is experiencing, not talking about the events in synopsis.

That's not to say that you should tell the story in present tense. Tense is an authorial choice and has nothing to do with it, because past, present, or future tense prose, for the protagonist the events are in his/her present.

The short version: put some time aside to dig into the tricks of the trade. You'll be glad you did. The local library system's fiction writing section can be a great help there.

October 31st, 2016, 02:07 PM
I agree with Jay's observations about this being a person relating their experiences rather than experiencing them, expressing feelings rather than describing the contexts for them. Given the length of the piece I can imagine the protagonist relating this over a drink in a bar and leaving the listener confused by the incongruities and wondering whether the inconsistencies and omissions can be attributed to the amount that the speaker has drunk. If less of the story were revealed it might be seen as the prequel to the full story to follow rather than a story in its own right.

The writer has to lead the reader through the story, which implies two things. One is that the writer must be ahead of the reader in what he knows and the other is that he must give the reader the assistance to catch up with that. As I mentioned at the beginning of my previous post I have a personal context, my own fictional environment, within which I can interpret your story, so I can fill in some of the missing information with my own assumptions, but I am unlikely to be your average reader, with the emphasis on "your". That is why you must have some idea of your target reader and what you can reasonably expect them to know already. For example, if your average reader regularly reads science fiction then you could probably mention an FTL drive without further explanation. On the other hand the number of readers who would accept that someone locked inside a time machine could communicate with someone outside it would most likely be far more limited, so that needs explanation. Jay has rightly presented the reactions of a generic reader while I have presented those of one who already explores the ins and outs of time travel and associated phenomena. Think carefully about your reader and what they will most likely perceive in your writing or you will come across as that incoherent man in the bar.

Many stories can just follow the chronological events and paint the context for them along the way, but time travel stories make no chronological sense by definition, so the reader must follow the events as experienced by a specific protagonist for them to make any contextual sense. This is therefore a genre where point of view is all important. That said, changing point of view can add another dimension to the story once you have mastered the basics, but you do need to do that first. Time travel is so full of horrible anomalies, paradoxes and clichés that it is difficult to write anything original without crashing into them. That's why I choose to write about the absence of time travel, paradoxically.

The bottom line is that you have a long story here and not enough words to tell it properly.

October 31st, 2016, 09:29 PM
Hey all....

Firstly thanks so much for taking the time to give feedback..

This story is a metaphor for the thinking patterns of people who suffer with anxiety. It is not actually about time-travel. Sorry, I should say that I did not write it with the intention of creating a story about time-travel. I wrote it to express a psychological condition through the metaphor of time-travel. I suffer with anxiety which means my mind is never in the present. i am either rehashing something troubling from the past or imagining a myriad of hellish futures. Only lately have I come across the concept of mindfulness which is basically anchoring yourself in the present moment in order to stop yourself from being pulled into the past or the future.
I wrote stream of consciousness for the first draft and gave it a little clean up.

I appreciate that this story has been read at face value, but many people who suffer with anxiety have read it and expressed that it makes some sense. It's not perfect and I appreciate the comments about the mechanics of the story....

Any ideas of how I could make my theme more transparent would be gratefully received.


Jay Greenstein
November 1st, 2016, 03:12 AM
Something to keep in mind: intent doesn't make it past the keyboard. Hand your words off to someone and you, your background, your intent, and everything about you cease to be relevant. It's the reader, your words, and what those words mean to that reader that count.

A story told as a metaphor must make sense as a story, on its own, and entertain the reader or they'll not turn to page two.

You've set yourself a difficult task, and it's not something I can advise you on other then to say that there's a lot more to writing fiction than we suspect when we make the decision to write it because almost universally, we believe that writing s writing, and we have that part taken care of. But in reality, our school days prepared us for employment, and so focused on nonfiction technique. That's why I so often suggest that the hopeful writer put some time aside to dig into the tricks of the trade.

November 1st, 2016, 04:13 PM
Yes, Jay is spot on there, that your written words have to stand on their own and will, as you said, be read at face value. In effect you, the writer, do not exist to the reader. If you write the story entirely as a metaphor then it becomes covert rather than overt. To make it the latter you need to provide clues such as some similes rather than metaphors. This piece has too many specific physical elements which tether it to literal interpretation. For example, gasping for air could be associated with an anxiety attack but your mention of "artificial air" and an "oxygen farm" strongly suggest literal environmental hardware. It is true that a reader will interpret your words within the context of their own experience if allowed that freedom, which is why I said that you must have a clear idea of your target reader. The fact that your readers who themselves suffer from anxiety do see the text that way demonstrates this, but your words wouldn't lead others towards that way of thinking.

One of the subtleties of writing is gauging when to lead the reader precisely by the nose and when to allow them sufficient ambiguity to interpret your words in their own way. Personally I give my readers plenty of scope for seeing my words differently, but I also try to make the story work regardless of which view they take. My solitary novel can be read as a straight science fiction story, but it is also a complex metaphorical representation of what went through my head as I struggled with the task of writing fictional prose for the first time ever. In fact the time capsule which is the main setting for the story has the same architecture as a human brain, i.e. my own, and the characters in it find themselves trapped there and look for a way to escape into reality, which is exactly what I as a writer was trying to achieve on their behalf. Their route to the real world outside is along long subterranean tunnels, which represent the nerves running from my brain to fingers doing the typing. Each character represents an aspect of my writing. The absent-minded scientist is my flawed knowledge of science; the doctor with power over life and death who also performs conjuring tricks represents the convoluted plot; a young girl represents the pages on which the story is eventually written and her boyfriend is the text impressing himself on her. I won't go into the metaphorical meaning of the details in their sex scene, but it is there right down to laying out the chapter headings, page numbers and font. You can follow this metaphorical interpretation as far as you like, but it doesn't distort the more prominent science fiction story at all. One could equally see the story as one about religion and faith if one had such inclinations, but it isn't that primarily either. The point with a metaphorical work is that the "face value" story must be consistent in itself and take precedence over the metaphor where necessary, because that is the only one that all the readers can be assumed see.

As Jay says, you gave yourself a tough task, but that can be a good way of finding out what your limits are. That is exactly why my only novel has these complex layers of meaning in it, because I was testing my own ability and therefore risking making a complete hash of some things. I doubt that any reader would find everything that I've secreted in it, but they should be able to gain enjoyment from it at some level of their own choosing and that's the objective, to capture as many different minds as one can with a single story. So, soldier on and learn all the tricks but also always challenge yourself and treat anxiety and doubt as motivators, not deterrents.

November 2nd, 2016, 02:31 AM
I felt as if you had a good concept here but that you danced around it. You did not focus your lens on what could have been an amazing conception rather than one that is a little confusing and muddled. I think breaking down your story a little and getting back at creating something that expresses precisely what you are trying to get at, what other readers might be struggling with, is a good idea.

Just my two cents! Keep on writin'!

November 2nd, 2016, 09:39 AM
Thanks all...
I am going back to work on it as we speak....JustRob I would love to read your novel. It sounds very meta which is right up my street!

November 2nd, 2016, 06:13 PM
As someone who has had his bouts with anxiety, I would love to see that battle played out. Let me echo what's been said above. I would love to see drunk, anxiety-riddled Narrator brawling with his former selves in the middle of a pub somewhere and watching someone else try to deal with it. If you write that, I will read the hell out of it.

November 2nd, 2016, 07:07 PM
Thanks all...
I am going back to work on it as we speak....JustRob I would love to read your novel. It sounds very meta which is right up my street!

In 2011 I sent an extract from an early draft to a professional reader for an assessment. He told me that the story was an easy read, but when I mentioned the metafictional aspect that he had missed entirely he was riled, saying that he was into metafiction and would have seen it if it had been there. The truth was that, as I explained earlier, the metafiction is deep under the main story and never revealed. By reading only an extract this expert could not possibly see it. It's only when the writer breaks the fourth wall and allows the reader to see it showing through that they start to look at it that way and I never do that. Had I not mentioned it in this thread I doubt that you would have noticed it on a read through either.

If you want to read the novel it is freely downloadable from my website. Here's the direct link to the download page. http://www.menstemporum.uk/NUATmenu1.htm
If you read even just some of it please give me your comments as I ask there. As is written in my signature text here, the most difficult criticism that a writer has to comprehend is silence. I have noticed that the novel's readers fall into two categories, those who can't get very far through it at all and those who just can't stop reading, so I will value your comments regardless of which you find yourself in.

If you really want to be freaked out then try reading in the rest of the website how I came to write it. Your story about communicating with your past self may have just been a metaphor, but mine was ... something else.

Although I give my email address on the website you can PM me here on WF if you prefer to keep your anonymity.

November 2nd, 2016, 08:27 PM
This story feels a like ball of miss-mash to me. I have no idea what this story is about.