How To Write A Short Story About Time Travel (with writer prompts)

How To Write A Short Story With Time Travel

Time travel is one of the most well-loved ideas for writing compelling Sci-Fi short stories. But how to write a short story using time travel as a key component can be a challenge - even for veteran writers in the Sci-Fi fiction sphere.

In this blog post we will cover things to consider and avoid when using this trope in your creative writing. We will also include some writer prompts to get you started on your journey to create your short story.


Write About A Character

This may seem relatively obvious, but many Sci-Fi writers fall into the trap of writing about their concepts over their characters. A story about a character will help your readers relate to the story and the characters in your story should be the focus.

The technology, advancements, and in this case the time travel, should all remain secondary elements to your story. There is nothing wrong with these secondary elements playing a vital role in the story and progressing the narrative but they shouldn’t be the story.

While this is a broad statement and generalisation, and a tip that is over emphasized a lot in writing, it’s true. It’s true and it works. While time travel is an awesome concept, people often read for the character’s story – not the story in and of itself.

Remembering to write – first and foremost – a story about a character will elevate the human connection that separates a good story from a great one. But do remember to keep it relatively simple. You only have a few thousand words to use, so use them wisely.

This moves us nicely onto;


Don’t Over Complicate Plot

This cannot be overstated when it comes to Sci-Fi short stories, and especially stories that have time travel at their core. Don’t make the reader feel dumb. At the same time, don’t alienate the reader that may be more scientifically inclined.

The plot should be simple. Keeping it simple will allow you to play around with the world, characters, and concepts that you have created. There are no original stories anymore, but rather original takes on a story. So, instead of focusing on being revolutionary with plot ideas, be revolutionary with your characters.

This links back nicely into the ‘write a story about a character’ aspect we just discussed. It is difficult to give precise advice for everyone’s story and everyone’s characters – but you’ll know best how to apply these concepts to your own work.

You’ll be surprised at what you can achieve by keeping the plot simple, the technology secondary, and putting your characters at the forefront.

A Simple 3 Act Structure


Hint At Your Sci-Fi World Building

While it is very tempting to world build in any sci-fi short story, this can distract and pull away from actually telling the story. Having more emphasis on world building for a novella or full length novel is fine, but not so much for short stories. If anything, they should be lightly sprinkled in.

Certainly map out your world, your concepts, your ideas, your technology, the factions of the world, social constructs – the list goes on. World building is vital to make a story feel real but including too many of these aspects in a short story can flood it with information you don’t need to tell the story.

It is fine if your character is the best neo-western gunslinger in the outer most star systems. But unless this is a key component to driving the narrative, you don’t need it in there. Instead, why not hint with a line of dialogue that isn’t too on the nose?

Hinting at your world building ideas keeps your reader intrigued and gives them something to think about. This is always a good thing.

But I diverge, let’s move onto the juicy bit!


Stay Consistent And Use Real Science

Always, always, always, use real science for sci-fi. If you prefer science fantasy, that is absolutely fine! But for science fiction? It absolutely needs to be grounded in real science.

Read up on how spacetime works in our reality, as understanding this to a basic level will help you write you time travel story. Of course, we can bend the rules a bit, as time travel will obviously remain speculative and objective. What isn’t speculative and objective, however, are the rules of physics that govern our real world.

Decide upon a time travel rule set and stick to it. It must be consistent and must obey our understanding of physics as much as possible. This will keep it realistic and believable. If you stray, that is fine, but now you are wading into science fantasy territory.

With all that said, there is no ‘right’ way to write about time travel. There are different interpretations of the theories about how spacetime functions, and how time travel would function (if at all) in the real world.

A good starting place is reading into Einstein-Rosen bridges, negative mass, special relativity, general relativity, and the energy conditions ‘needed’ for time travel identified in our current scientific theories.

Another recommendation I would give is to read into light cones and Penrose diagrams, for a little bit of detail that can help you structure your time travel rules. It is important to consider how you would resolve certain time travel paradoxes too, for the sake of world building.

A Penrose Diagram

In terms of handling paradoxes, you could look into the butterfly effect and multiverse theory. The 2012 film Looper by Rian Johnstone handles time travel paradoxes in a very logical way – do watch it.


In Conclusion

There are many ways to write a sci-fi short story, and this article is by no means a comprehensive guide. It does, however, serve to give you a guiding light when beginning to research writing sci-fi short stories that include time travel.

Click here for our writerprompt list.

Stewart Storrar is a professional writer, poet, and avid storyteller from Glasgow, Scotland. Find him on Twitter for more musings or follow his other passions on YouTube.

Be sure to follow Lore’s account on Twitter too!


Further Reading

·        Exploring Sci-Fi Tropes: Planning An Alien Invasion

·        Exemplum – A Sci-Fi Flash Fiction

·        Child’s Play – A Sci-Fi Short Story

how to write a short story