So You Want to Write a Time-Travel Story (Giveaway!)

Today we welcome Kari Maaren, a Toronto-area writer, academic, and award-winning musician and cartoonist. She created the webcomics West of Bathurst and It Never Rains, and is also known as a musician for her popular song “Beowulf Pulled Off My Arm.” Weave a Circle Round is her first novel. Learn more about her at www.karimaaren.com.

One random commenter in the US or Canada wins a trade paperback copy of Weave a Circle Round.

I don’t see my upcoming novel as a time-travel story; I see it as a story with time travel in it. Nevertheless, time travel looms large in the plot. My webcomic, It Never Rains, definitely is a time-travel story.* I’ve had to think about time travel quite a bit in the last seven years.

In 2016, I was on a convention panel with Kelly Robson, who also writes about time travel. Kelly said something interesting; she pointed out that we all have our own favourite time-travel models. They are unlikely to change. If one of us writes six time-travel stories, the model will probably remain relatively consistent, even if the stories themselves vary wildly. I’ve found this to be roughly true. While Weave a Circle Round and It Never Rains have characters travelling in time by different means and for very different reasons, the rules governing the time travel are the same in both stories. I lean towards the model whereby while time travel can’t possibly change the past because there’s only ever one timeline, it can affect the past. In other words, if you go back in time and kill Hitler in 1931, then Hitler died in 1931. There has never been a version of history in which Hitler didn’t die in 1931. You grew up knowing that Hitler died in 1931. Hitler’s 1931 death is in all the history books. This model frustrates some writers, rightfully so; it appears to render the course of history fated, not a result of free will. It’s possible to squeeze free will into the model, but you have to get rather philosophical to do so.

There are various possible models, but the other really common one is the Back to the Future-type model in which time behaves more like space; you can travel to a particular point in time and make changes, thus creating an alternate timeline. This model offers more potential for zany situations involving people accidentally seducing their own mothers, but it too has its limitations. It can get really confusing really quickly. Just for instance, it would never have worked for It Never Rains, in which the time traveller, Rose, meets her future self years before she even becomes a time traveller. Changing the model would necessitate radically changing the story.

So you want to write a time-travel story? Pick your model. Make sure you understand its rules. One of the reasons I was annoyed by Harry Potter and the Cursed Child was that it changed the time-travel model set up in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. In Azkaban, it’s clear J.K. Rowling is using the you-can’t-change-the-past model. We see the time travel from two different perspectives: we get little hints it’s happening before the characters are aware they’re going to do it, and then we go back and do those three hours again from the perspective of the time travellers. In Cursed Child, time travel can change the past. The huge inconsistency thus created may, in the words of Doc Brown, unravel the very fabric of the space-time continuum.

Within the model you’ve chosen, go nuts. The thing about time travel is that it is so extremely unlikely ever to be possible that you can do practically anything with it within any genre from pure fantasy to strict hard science fiction. Weave a Circle Round and It Never Rains use the same basic model, but one of them works via fantasy mechanisms and one via science-fiction mechanisms. The explanation for the time travel in Weave a Circle Round is just shy of “A wizard did it.” In It Never Rains, it’s “Well, there was this experiment…” The characters also have different types and amounts of control over the time travel, and they’re doing it for different purposes. Your model sets up certain restrictions, but within those restrictions, almost unlimited variation is possible.

Time travel is quite popular right now, especially on television. It’s fun to play around with it and see how far it can be pushed; it’s also useful because it translates naturally into various metaphors (fate vs. free will, nostalgia, regret, the human tendency to live in the past) and lets us do experiments with history and quantum mechanics (what if someone killed Hitler? Or saved JFK? Or stepped on a butterfly in dinosaur days? Or slept with his own grandmother? Or had a circular conversation with a time traveller trapped in 1969 who filmed himself reading a transcript of the conversation, which someone will write down decades later? Aren’t bootstrap paradoxes fun? Let’s make another one!). Time is something that as far as we know we can’t actually control, so controlling it through fiction is oddly satisfying.

Eventually, the time-travel mania will fade,** but I doubt it will ever entirely die. Time travel is a relatively recent fictional concept. It wasn’t that long ago that the possibility of someone travelling to or even communicating with another time was completely outside the scope of the human imagination. Now that we have it, however, using the hell out of it sounds like a good idea to me. It simultaneously offers us a kind of escape and opens up an imaginative realm that forces us not to escape: to think, maybe a bit more than is strictly comfortable, about choices made in the unreachable past.

*I started the comic in 2014, when hope that the novel would be picked up was beginning to fade. The novel was accepted for publication in 2015. My life is all about time travel now.

**Possibly after all the social turmoil dies down, if it ever does. It’s funny how attractive the idea of changing the past seems right about now.

One random commenter in the US or Canada wins a trade paperback copy of Weave a Circle Round.

About Weave a Circle Round: Tor is proud to present Kari Maaren’s debut fantasy novel WEAVE A CIRCLE ROUND (A Tor Trade Paperback Original; $15.99; On-Sale: November 28, 2017). This striking and fast-paced tale, perfect for fans of Madeleine L’Engle, Dianna Wynne Jones, and E. L. Konigsburg, has the potential to become a new classic and brings old and young adults on an epic adventure through time.

Fourteen-year-old Freddy Duchamp wants nothing more than to fade into the background at school, especially now that her former friends seem to have outgrown her. At home, she spends most of her time avoiding her deaf stepbrother Roland and resenting his connection with her genius younger sister Mel. But flying under the radar becomes impossible when two extremely strange neighbors move in next door.

Josiah, a boy Freddy’s age with an unidentifiable accent, is unfailingly abrasive and has an annoying habit of making her the center of attention. And nothing at all makes sense about her second neighbor, Cuerva Lachance. Still, Josiah seems to want to hang around her, and having a friend could make Freddy’s life a little bit easier. Or so she thought, until she and Josiah accidently step through a time portal.

Stuck jumping uncontrollably through time, Freddy discovers there’s more to Josiah and Cuerva Lachance than she guessed and finds herself in the middle of a millennia-old struggle that affects her and her siblings. Somehow, Freddy has to find a way home; on top of that, she senses there are some things Josiah isn’t telling her. An enthralling and thought-provoking debut with wonderfully strange and relatable characters, WEAVE A CIRCLE ROUND will enchant both adults and teens.


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KELLY LASITER, with us since July 2008, is a mild-mannered academic administrative assistant by day, but at night she rules over a private empire of tottering bookshelves. Kelly is most fond of fantasy set in a historical setting (a la Jo Graham) or in a setting that echoes a real historical period (a la George RR Martin and Jacqueline Carey). She also enjoys urban fantasy and its close cousin, paranormal romance, though she believes these subgenres’ recent burst in popularity has resulted in an excess of dreck. She is a sucker for pretty prose (she majored in English, after all) and mythological themes.

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13 comments

  1. Sandyg265 /

    I like time travel stories but prefer the ones where the past can’t be changed.

  2. Aleshia /

    I love time travel stories so I look forward to reading this one.

  3. John Smith /

    With the potterverse, I expect you can use multiple models for time travel. It doesn’t really trouble me. –I hope the latest iteration of Doctor Who is watchable. Of all the Doctor Whos, I found the last iteration completely unwatchable. I can’t really watch a show or root for the leads when they make me aesthetically recoil. I’m afraid the new doctor and her sidekick will still be a bit that way, alas. I’d rather watch the hokey elderly first doctor. What about charming, charismatic actors? How about somebody like Anna Chancellor as Doctor Who–that would make me ecstatic!

  4. Fee Roberts /

    This seems like a story my nephew would like. He loves time travel stories.

  5. Taryn Hearn /

    I haven’t read a time travel story in years. Also, I’m always interested in YA books for gifts.

  6. Jackie J /

    This looks like fun!

  7. Courtney Borgers /

    I would love to have this book :-)

  8. Fascinating post! Thanks.

  9. The idea of being able to fix past mistakes has always appealed to me. Will deffently have to add to my TBR list!(Is it wrong that I don’t consider The Cursed Child a Harry Potter book?)

  10. I like all sorts of time travel stories as long as whatever model the author chooses stays stable within the narrative, I’m ok with it.

  11. I have a soft spot for time travel stories! For me, the biggest concern, whether it’s time travel or simply a created world, is consistency. Create the rules of the world and then stick with them to the bitter end.

    I have enjoyed It Never Rains… and look forward to reading Weave a Circle Round.

  12. Yay time travel! This book sounds cool.

  13. Courtney Borgers, if you live in the USA, you win a copy of WEAVE A CIRCLE ROUND!
    Please contact me (Marion) with your US address and I’ll have the book sent right away. Happy reading!

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