Jonathan and Jesse tackle the second of the two most common time travel theories: Fixed Thread. Unlike Variable thread, this theory presupposes that the timeline is immutable, that traveling back in time is more about getting more done than actually changing anything. This theory suggests that when you travel, you don’t actually change anything in the timeline, you’re just experiencing it from a different point of view.
CORRECTION: Jesse incorrectly references the movie Primer in this episode, and Future Jesse corrects him. Unfortunately, Future Jesse wasn't paying much attention, because he also got the name of the movie wrong. The actual correct title is Predestination, as listed below. At some point we'll go back and fix it on the recording, but this will have to do for now.
For Fixed Thread:
- Use Foreshadowing properly
- Decide if you’re going to allow for Causal Loops, and have a plan to handle them if so
- Your character will age every time they travel. Be mindful of this fact.
Harry Potter & The Prisoner of Azkaban
Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure
Harry Potter & the Cursed Child
Quantum Break: Zero State, Cam Rogers
All Our Wrong Todays, Elan Mastai
Too Much Coffee Man
Escape from Monkey Island
In this episode, we talk about an oft-overlooked complication to Variable Thread travel: when a traveler changes the past and creates a new thread, they also create another version of themselves. We go over several options for mitigating this, and even touch on the death of the VCR and the hosts' faulty memories. We also discuss the ramifications of traveling forward in time in a Variable Thread story.
For Variable Thread time travel, make sure you address the Outsider Problem, via either the narrative or mode of travel.
How does your story handle the Outsider Problem?
Movies & TV:
Back to the Future
Back to the Future II
The Butterfly Effect
X-Men: Days of Future Past
Timshifters, Chris Grine
CORRECTION: In the episode, Jesse mentions the movie The Manhattan Project II. This was in error. The film in question was actually called The Philadelphia Experiment II. Unfortunately, this error wasn't discovered until after the episode was published. The Media References section and this page have been updated.
Jesse & Jonathan define and discuss what's probably the most common time travel theory: Variable Thread.
Variable Thread: A time travel theory wherein a traveller is able to affect the timeline and change events.
Variable thread: Be sure to consider small changes to the timeline as well as the big ones, but only in service of the story. You can't map every single difference that expand out from your change, so pick your battles.
What, if anything, are the travelers trying to change?
What do they actually change?
How do your changes affect the thread?
A Sound of Thunder, Ray Bradbury
The Philadelphia Experiment II
Back to the Future II
Jesse & Jonathan go over some basic tips & tricks for writing time travel that are always applicable. No matter how time travel works in your stories, keep these rules in mind, or your narrative will suffer.
- BE CONSISTENT - No matter what the rules of time travel are in your fiction, you have to know them, and you have to follow those rules.
- KNOW THE RULES - Even if you have to know all the rules, your characters don't, nor do the audience. They can be mistaken about the rules, or not know them at all. If used properly, this can provide nice drama.
- Unless you're dealing with interactive fiction. When your audience is also helping to craft the story, they need to understand the rules, and if you pull the rug out from under their characters/agents/whatever, you'll also be pulling the rug out from them, which will feel like a betrayal.
- TAKE NOTES - Take copious, copious notes.
- If you're traveling to real historical times & places, do your research and get it right.
- TAKE YOUR TIME - Any time a character or characters travel through time (either forward or backward), stop and check your notes. Make sure you've got everything lined up, extrapolate answers to questions, figure out as many ramifications to changes made as possible.
- If you're writing a novel, end the chapter or section here.
- If you're writing a screenplay for a film, use this as a scene- or act-break.
- If it's a TV show, go to commercial.
- If you're running an RPG, end the session there.
The Time Machine, H.G. Wells
Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure
Back to the Future