Common tropes of time travel in fiction
From portals to purpose-built machines, humans have dreamed of time travel for centuries. No matter what genre a story with time travel tries to be, it always ends up having a sci-fi feel, because time travel is a classic element of the genre.
Indeed, time travel has always been associated with the future. It is a technology and a power seemingly out of reach, if not entirely impossible, for humans. Perhaps what made it such an appealing device for stories is humanity’s desire to explore and understand another time beyond its reach, or maybe that just makes it a device for storytelling. helpful story. Whatever the reason why writers use time travel, there’s no doubt that it’s been used frequently for a few centuries now. Due to its popularity in literary and film fiction, it has developed a few common tropes along the way. Some of them are of particular importance thanks to their influence.
Explore different histories, realities and timelines
The use of time travel to explore alternate history has been so commonly used that it has become a trope of the genre. It makes sense that it has gained such popularity, as people tend to ask “what if?” Stories in this vein allow a writer and their audience to explore how a particular event or a certain person’s life could have radically changed the course of events that lead to the reality we know, for better or for worse. the worst. The first use of a time travel ability to explore an alternate past can be traced to HG Wells’ famous 1895 novel, The time machine.
On the other side of an alternate history is, of course, the use of an imaginary future. In other words, these stories use time travel to explore what the future of the world or humanity might look like. Generally, it is used in stories to reflect on a problem in our current society and how it may affect the state of humanity later on if left unresolved. The first notable use of this may also belong to HG Wells, who explored alternate futures the same way he explored history.
Another common method used to explore time travel is virtual reality or simulated reality, although given time travel, the latter is more common. The biggest difference between the two is that in virtual reality the character is consciously aware that the time they are in is not real, whereas in simulated realities the character may be unaware that their surroundings is not real. Some good modern examples of this are The matrix and Westworld, but perhaps the earliest examples are the novels of 1929 and 1930, The room of life and City of the living dead.
The time loop is another great tool for time travel stories. Rather than going to different time periods, in this case the time visited remains the same, looping, starting at a particular time each time. These stories usually revolve around the character learning and correcting certain details about themselves in order to move beyond this moment that they keep reliving. Fans may recognize him from famous movies like groundhog daybut this story is at least 100 years old, appearing in the 1922 novel The Ouroboros Worm by E. R. Eddison.
Alternate selves or alternate timelines could also be considered a trope for time travel stories, however often they appear. In these cases, the use of time travel reveals or creates different versions of the time traveler or different versions of the reality they experience. In a sense, these slightly mirrored concepts of circumstances have been around for centuries, but more specifically from a science fiction perspective, they seem to have started in the 1960s in popular comics.
Exploring and mingling with the past
In time travel stories, certain times or places that people visit tend to recur, becoming tropes in themselves. There are obviously many time travel stories where the time traveler has a particular date or period they want to visit. However, some of the most popular times when people travel are so far in the past that dinosaurs roamed the planet, or so far in the future that humans live in space. It may seem obvious why these two periods are the most frequently explored: they are two periods in which, to our knowledge, the human species did not exist. Because there is so much uncertainty about how people would react to these times and environments, they have great story potential and provide great creative freedom for writers.
However, perhaps the most popular trope in time travel is that of changing the past. Most sci-fi fans can name a whole list of time travel stories in which someone changed every last detail in the past or was warned not to. One of the most recognizable stories to explore this idea is the 2004 film Butterfly Effect, whose name is taken from the abbreviated term for this trope. The earliest noted story to explore the concept of changing the past by some means of the future is in the 1733 story, Twentieth Century Memoirs. What probably makes this so common is that it allows people to draw a line between reality and the “what if?” questions. By creating this distinct contrast, a story can either examine how humanity would be better or (usually) worse if even the slightest change had been made to the way things were meant to be.
Time travel can be represented in many forms: time travel with portals, time travel with machines, quantum teleportation, alien interference, or even using time travel to analyze the response of the human mind to trauma, as seen in Kurt Vonnegut. Slaughterhouse-Five when Billy Pilgrim becomes “unstuck in time”. No matter how it’s approached or how many tropes a time travel story uses, it’s the message it conveys that really determines its success and value. The popularity of time travel has led to tropes that allow people to examine not only the past and future of our species, but also our current condition. Unless humans ever get a real way to travel through time, it will probably show up continually in fictional tales, so people can at least get a glimpse of times that were before ours beyond the their.
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