1. Karwedsky
    Offline

    Karwedsky Member

    Joined:
    Apr 28, 2010
    Messages:
    36
    Likes Received:
    1

    Time Travel Problem

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by Karwedsky, Jul 9, 2010.

    I'm working on a time travel novel, and I've run into a few problems that I haven't been able to work out so far. Part of the plot is that the characters only travel through time in a set time period of around 10 years. The problem is how do I make is so that the characters never have to worry about running into themselves if they travel back to the same time and place.

    One idea I've come up with is that the laws of physics don't allow for the creation or destruction of matter, so if a time traveler were to travel back in time to a time in which he already exists then his past self just doesn't exist anymore. Only one copy of every person can exist at one time. Does this make sense or is there a better way I could make this work?
     
  2. Unit7
    Offline

    Unit7 Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jun 13, 2009
    Messages:
    1,151
    Likes Received:
    59
    Well since you are trying to think logical about this. Then I would say that your idea would be a bad one.

    Because then your character would be doomed to try and repeat that day exactly. Now maybe one could get away with interrupting ones own past... but depending on the day and such could have some serious consequences on their future. You may inadvertantly made it so you would not meet a future girlfriend.

    Seeing as your character wouldn't want to relive most days.

    Of course you could make it so they can only go back in time on days they can clearly remember so they can avoid bumping into one another. That or you can have a fun few moments where they almost bump into their past selfs. What kind of story with time travel(well when they are dealing with their past/future) would it be if you didn't include this?
     
  3. Karwedsky
    Offline

    Karwedsky Member

    Joined:
    Apr 28, 2010
    Messages:
    36
    Likes Received:
    1
    well the general idea is that there is a small number of people escape from a dystopian future to the decade immediately preceding the event that caused the world to become uninhabitable. They decide to live only within the confines of this decade. In the months before the catastrophic event they travel back to a decade before and relive the same decade over and over.

    My idea was that when the traveler's go back in time they will replace their previous selves and this would in turn erase all of their actions from the previous time-line. Most of the traveler's live out this kind existence, but a few don't want to live like this anymore and either try to prevent the cataclysm or find a way to travel further back in time.

    Does it make any sense?
     
  4. B-Gas
    Offline

    B-Gas Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Dec 1, 2007
    Messages:
    330
    Likes Received:
    14
    So it's more of a mental time-travel than a physical one. Like saving a video game at the first level and then loading it up again before fighting the final boss, and playing differently each time.

    Do I have the right of it?
     
  5. Unit7
    Offline

    Unit7 Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jun 13, 2009
    Messages:
    1,151
    Likes Received:
    59
    OH! Well in that case then I think thats a great idea and would definitely solve the problem.
     
  6. Karwedsky
    Offline

    Karwedsky Member

    Joined:
    Apr 28, 2010
    Messages:
    36
    Likes Received:
    1
    Sort of. Lets say the time period the characters are forced to live in is from December 2002 to December 2012. The travelers know something bad is going to happen in December 2012 so they travel back to December 2002. They physically travel there through a type of slipstream wormhole, so they can in fact travel to any place and time within this time period. When they arrive in 2002, it doesn't have to be the exact place they were the last time they were in this time, they step out of the wormhole and at that exact moment their past self dematerializes to balance the equation so that no matter is created out of thin air. Then they can go about their lives like they want because nothing has really changed in 2002 except that they might be in another place, and be slightly older.

    The concept I had is that only a small number of people originally traveled back from the future in the first place, mostly made up of the scientists who developed the means of traveling in time. They tried to change the future and prevent the cataclysm but couldn't. Then they decided to just live out their lives looping back through the same decade. They didn't want to travel too far back and cause even more problems, so they made it where it was only possible to travel within the set time period. The story takes place several generations later. There is more to the story I just don't want to give to much away. Does the time travel bit make sense though?
     
  7. Cogito
    Offline

    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 19, 2007
    Messages:
    35,935
    Likes Received:
    2,043
    Location:
    Massachusetts, USA
    Instead of deciding they CANNOT encounter themselves, drive home the point that they MUST NOT encounter themselves, or they risk a time paradox that will nearly certainly resolve itself by wiping them from existence. This adds tension as well, another mortal peril for them to worry about.
     
  8. Mantha Hendrix
    Offline

    Mantha Hendrix Contributing Member

    Joined:
    May 10, 2010
    Messages:
    268
    Likes Received:
    4
    Location:
    Northern Ireland... the place I've taken for grant
    Go with cog's advice. This idea is often used in fiction, and WELL used. The tension created would be put to good use. Also, if you could not meet yourself... it just makes it too easy. The one big danger to the time traveller is the paradox, and the one big cause of the paradox is having two versions of yourself meet.
     
  9. Steerpike
    Offline

    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 5, 2010
    Messages:
    11,098
    Likes Received:
    5,311
    Location:
    California, US
    I like Cogito's solution.

    The problem with simply saying they wipe out their old selves, is that they really ARE their old selves, going back in time. And if you wipe out the old version, why are they still around? And what happens to everything their old selves did during the intervening decade if you go back and wipe them out before the fact? Seems to me you create far too many problems with this method.

    Another solution is that when they go back the universe splits into two parallel universes, one where their old selves are there and did all the things they did, and another identical one except that their old selves aren't in it, but instead the time travelers are there.
     
  10. Karwedsky
    Offline

    Karwedsky Member

    Joined:
    Apr 28, 2010
    Messages:
    36
    Likes Received:
    1
    I've thought about doing it this way, but this is the way time travel is handled in most fiction and I wanted to try something different and unique. I don't want the time travel aspect of the story to be the main cause of tension, and have the characters constantly worrying about bumping into themselves or causing changes that might put their own existence in jeopardy. Instead of the classical paradox of what if my past self is killed, will I not exist anymore dilemma, I was thinking of making all existence relative to the observer. Meaning only one of each person can exist at any given time as a way for the universe to prevent paradoxes. I plan on having one character that is not one of the original travelers to get caught up in the conflict between the two sides and when he travels back with one of them accidentally, his future from that point on is erased. Meaning his life and career are gone and he is ten years older, and it is almost impossible for him to relive his life in the same way to get his life back to the way it was. This forces him to join forces with the travelers.
     
  11. Cogito
    Offline

    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 19, 2007
    Messages:
    35,935
    Likes Received:
    2,043
    Location:
    Massachusetts, USA
    See, I have a problem with that scenario. If each person can only exist once in any moment, the very act of going back in time during your lifetime will change the future, because the you who belongs in that time is no longer there. Every action you did take, now you didn't. Every space you occupied, you no longer do.

    If you change the physics/logic in order to be different, you have to reason out the consequences of that change. That's what speculative fiction is all about.
     
  12. Steerpike
    Offline

    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 5, 2010
    Messages:
    11,098
    Likes Received:
    5,311
    Location:
    California, US
    I agree, Cogito. And what's more, most science-fiction readers will reason it out, and if the author doesn't do so, it will be apparent to the reader and will hurt the story.
     
  13. RobT
    Offline

    RobT Active Member

    Joined:
    Oct 22, 2009
    Messages:
    217
    Likes Received:
    37
    Location:
    Stoke-on-Trent, England
    Not exactly imaginative, but if they wake up looking at the clock that says 05:00 on December 1st 2002 everytime, you won't have any issues with meeting your double, and you could still age your character.

    You could also do the "stepping into the body" type of thing, a bit like the devil / Gabriel Byrne in End of Days (I think).
     
  14. TerraIncognita
    Offline

    TerraIncognita Aggressively Nice Person Contributor

    Joined:
    May 28, 2010
    Messages:
    1,339
    Likes Received:
    40
    Location:
    Texas
    That's what I was thinking.. It's a good way to add more suspense to it and it gives you a way to work around that particular issue as well.
     
  15. Peregrin
    Offline

    Peregrin Member

    Joined:
    May 14, 2010
    Messages:
    20
    Likes Received:
    0
    Normal people try to avoid conflict, but writers must learn to embrace it! Conflict is what stories are all about and without it, we might as well be scribbling with our pens (or digital equivalent). Doesn't mean you have to make it that way, but the added conflict may even enhance your story.
     
  16. rainy
    Offline

    rainy Senior Member

    Joined:
    Jan 14, 2010
    Messages:
    137
    Likes Received:
    1
    While conflict is truly the heart of every story, I have to disagree on the meeting-self perspective. I think it's a bit cliche and a cop out these days, and the suspense it adds isn't necessarily all that suspenseful. I actually like the idea that the two selves cannot co-exist and there's some obscure equilibrium or some such.

    However, it DOES beg to ask, how did they even get here to begin with? That's where you have to spin a story worth suspending current logic. If the characters and the story are fantastic, I would be willing to believe that there are greater rules to time travel than we, today, "understand". Because we do not, in fact, time travel, who is to say what happened if we did? Maybe all our actions and turning events in our life are let off into bits of "energy" from ourselves, which work as sort of placeholders unless rewritten over. That's just a shell of one idea; it would be up to you to make it work.

    I love originality. But when you hit that ledge where you are pushing the line, moving out of the comfortable zones, no longer under a safety net of what other books and movies have done, you have to up your game a little. The chars and stories must be -amazing- and your story must have some thread of logic. But it just might be logic that only applies to YOUR world.

    Make up something fantastic, THEN set out to make us believe it!

    Just my two cents. They might be a bit tarnished.

    //R
     
  17. Cogito
    Offline

    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 19, 2007
    Messages:
    35,935
    Likes Received:
    2,043
    Location:
    Massachusetts, USA
    I don't agree. I do think I overstated by saying there is a certainty of wiping out the person completely, but it is a high probabbility.

    The logic is as follows:

    1. Assume a time travel model in which the actions a time traveller takes in the past can affect his own time. Without that assumption, the time travel story becomes uninteresting - the timeline cannot be affected in any way whatsoever.

    2. Foreknowledge affects the choices of sentient beings, and those changes affect the future.

    3. Foreknowledge that one will someday be able to travel back in time will profoundly affect that person's choices, altering his future drastically.

    4. It is highly likely that a person who has profited from foreknowledge will avoid meeting himself in the past and risking changing his past for the worse.

    5. Tis is a key assumption. If a paradox arises where A(past) leads to B(futiure) leads to A'(past) that leads to notB(future), you have an unstable causality loop, which can only be broken by an improbable event that breaks the paradox. The improbably event will be such tyat it prevents the precipitating event from occurring. It can either do this by causing the meeting to never take place (car crashes, lightning strikes, any kind of improbable event to prevent the meeting. OR it can prevent the meeting by causing the person to no longer exist.

    In other words, causality paradoxes will result in improbable events that prevent the paradox from occurring. In meta-time, the paradox does in fact take place, but it's instability erases the paradox.

    The greater consequences of this can potentially destroy worlds, by the way. The logic is not limited to individuals.

    See, it IS possible that you could meet yourself in the past and not erase your existence. But the danger remains high enough that any time traveller without a death wish should avoid any possibility of such a meeting.

    Dismiss it as cliche at your own risk!
     
  18. digitig
    Offline

    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jan 21, 2010
    Messages:
    2,502
    Likes Received:
    79
    Location:
    Orpington, Bromley, United Kingdom, United Kingdom
    In one of the Science of Discworld books, Pratchett, Stewart and Cohen talk about "The Trousers of Time". The idea is that as you go back in time you are going up one trouser leg, and as you go forward again you are going down the other trouser leg. Essentially it's a many-worlds model. The world you left is the one in which you did not appear in the past, the world in which you appeared in the past branches off from that timeline at the point at which you appeared. Unix programmers might see a similarity with the fork command.

    So "the you who belongs in that time" is still there, but it's a different world to the one you're in. "Every action you did take" you took in a different world.

    In the Doctor Who universe, Time Lords have an awareness of what interactions are safe and which damage the fabric of time. Yes, it's a handwave, but it acknowledges that the problem exists and gives an excuse for not addressing it. On the other hand, some stories freely allow such interactions (I can think of one recent sci-fi blockbuster, but I won't say which one because it's a spoiler).
     
  19. Cogito
    Offline

    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 19, 2007
    Messages:
    35,935
    Likes Received:
    2,043
    Location:
    Massachusetts, USA
    Yes, that's the parallel timelines model, which has its roots in quantum mechanics. Every decision that takes place on a subatomic level is equally real, so you essentially have a travelling wavefront of realities going forward in time. Going back in time does not affect your future, because you will return to every possible outcome reality anyway. Time travel becomes uninteresting, but travel "sideways" to alternate realities becomes the story.

    My Crosswalk story is based on this model.
     
  20. digitig
    Offline

    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jan 21, 2010
    Messages:
    2,502
    Likes Received:
    79
    Location:
    Orpington, Bromley, United Kingdom, United Kingdom
    I think that time travel remains interesting, as long as you assume a reasonably convergent view of history. You can return to "your own" time and if history is sufficiently convergent then somebody identifiably "you" in that world will have recently departed for the past, and there's still a story to be told. I treat most time-travel fiction that doesn't address the possible paradoxes as being according to this model.
     
  21. rainy
    Offline

    rainy Senior Member

    Joined:
    Jan 14, 2010
    Messages:
    137
    Likes Received:
    1
    All this is under the assumption that time travel is the major conflict of the story, whereas it could simply be a backdrop in which an actual conflict occurs. Upping the ante can be fun at times, but it's up to the author if they wish to add a dash of that, too.

    This is NOT to say stories do not need to be logical -- they do. But creativity can fix a lot of issues. Heck, maybe the person disappears, but the people of the story simply do not know why it is that way, and have a list of Don'ts to follow. Not my favorite option, really, but just illustrating the fact there are many ways to play the time travel card.

    In the end, it's all in the execution. I'm pretty sure you'll agree with that, Cog ;)

    //R
     
  22. Karwedsky
    Offline

    Karwedsky Member

    Joined:
    Apr 28, 2010
    Messages:
    36
    Likes Received:
    1
    Exactly the novel is about a group of characters and their interactions and the time travel is only part of the backdrop, so to get the story to work I needed to come up with an unconventional mechanism for time travel because the story would not work using the classical literary form of time travel. Time travel is fictional so we can create the mechanics and make them behave in any way we see fit. I do agree that it does need to make sense and be logical.

    I've made some tweaks to it, tell me how this sounds. I want to stick to the "Law of Conservation of Mass" as it is central to the plot of my story. At any point in time the numbers of atoms in the universe is a constant. Matter cannot be created or destroyed, so the classical time travel mechanics don't work. In most time travel stories if I pull a book off of my bookshelf and send it one day into the past, then yesterday my past self sitting at my desk would see the book appear out of nowhere, and the very same book would still be sitting on my bookshelf. This cannot happen in physics because you are creating a whole book's worth of atoms out of nowhere. There has to be some sort of equilibrium. So my solution to this is if say I pull the book off of my bookshelf and send it back in time, in the present the book seems to disintegrate. There is a flash and then a poof of gas and dust as the book falls apart into each of its individual atoms. Then in the past there is a flash in that spot and on the bookshelf. The book on the bookshelf has disappeared and the book has reappeared in the spot from which it was sent back in time. The atoms from the past version of the book have just jumped to the new spot and reorganized to form the other version, in an instant. I know that this form of time travel has its complications because if the book were a person then the older version would be destroyed along with their future actions, possibly including traveling into the past in the first place. That is just one of the mysteries of the process. It could be the many worlds hypothesis, or something else that allows it to happen but the characters in the novel cannot know for certain, it just works.
     
  23. digitig
    Offline

    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jan 21, 2010
    Messages:
    2,502
    Likes Received:
    79
    Location:
    Orpington, Bromley, United Kingdom, United Kingdom
    Not quite the same thing, and neither is actually true. The number of atoms is not constant because atoms can break apart or fuse together (nuclear fission and fusion respectively). And mass can be created or destroyed because a) mass and energy can be converted into each other; it's mass-energy that's generally conserved, not mass or energy; and b) mass can spontaneously come into existence due to quantum effects, although usually only in very small quantities for a very sort time. The odds against a significant amount of mass for a significant time make "astronomical" pale into insignificance.
     
  24. Karwedsky
    Offline

    Karwedsky Member

    Joined:
    Apr 28, 2010
    Messages:
    36
    Likes Received:
    1
    True, I didn't phrase that right. I meant in the fictional scenario for my novel matter isn't destroyed or created with respect to time travel. If it could then each time a time traveler were to travel there could be an atomic blast which would really mess things up. I guess you could make a book appear out of nowhere in the classical sense of time travel if you had enough energy, but that energy would have to be astronomical.
     
  25. BlueWolf
    Offline

    BlueWolf Banned

    Joined:
    Jul 16, 2010
    Messages:
    168
    Likes Received:
    3
    Location:
    Germany
    Why does it have to be the actual 'body' that goes back in time? Can you not have it so that only the mind does, and is transferred into that person's body?

    I suppose then, that would mean that the original (future) body is somewhere else, and if the World ends (literally, or may as well have done), then what becomes of those bodies? Unless of course they can be permanently trapped in the worm-hole thingy, remaining there essentially forever.

    This way, the characters can live their old lives, but have knowledge of the future.
     

Share This Page