I always thought my first real spark of love for time travel happened when I was eleven. I remember walking out of the movie theater with my parents, a huge grin on my face, babbling nonstop about all the possibilities, and how it wasn’t completely out of the question that someone could someday really build a flux capacitor. (The whole teenage-crush-on-Michael-J.-Fox thing came a year or two later.)
Recently, however, I came across some old school papers and book reports my mom kept around. Apparently the time travel thing was a bit older than that, harkening back to elementary school and my childhood obsession with space and astronomy. I even illustrated my own “rainbow ring” for a book report on Tunnel Through Time by Lester Del Rey.
It’s such a huge topic and plot device. And really, what’s not to love? Well, other than the brain cramps and geeky arguments. Fortunately, there seems to be less of that in Romance – we’re too busy enjoying the results of time travel to fight over methods.
Even still, the fact that it hasn’t yet been accomplished in reality means that there are so many different ways we can accomplish it in fiction.
You’ve got your sci-fi time travel, and its variations – time machines built here on earth; space travel and wormholes and subsequent time travel there; mystery-time-travel, where someone from the future has the means and comes back to our present-time for whatever reason.
Then there’s the ‘magical’ time-travel – whether it’s accidental, a fluke of some kind of spelled-object; a Somewhere In Time kind of metaphysical trick; or completely fantastical and paranormal, where characters manage to willfully create the means to travel in time.
And those are just the means of time-travel. In fiction, what the characters and plot do with said time-travel is wonderfully and endlessly varied. Boil that down to romance-fiction, and you still get a delicious selection of methods. I’m not sure I can decide which romantic time-travel trope I love best:
-Modern character is thrust into a historical era and must function there. Inevitably, the lead character (okay, usually heroine), falls in love with someone in that era, and they must decide to sacrifice their entire world and choose to live out of their proper time for this new love.
This is often a nice, convenient way to write a historical romance without it being a typical historical romance. We can enjoy keeping one foot in each time, so to speak, and it feels like we’re ‘with’ the lead character, or they’re with us, in our wonderment of the world they’re experiencing.
Occasionally I’ve found stories where the heroine ultimately does return to present-time (usually unwillingly), only to discover her hero has materialized there in some form or another, say, via reincarnation or divine intervention. I absolutely love that idea, but I’m a sucker for that sort of thing!
-Character from historical era is thrust into present. Similar to above, but I don’t see it as frequently. Also, more room for hijinks with, say, a Viking wandering around Manhattan. Often, these feel less like the focus is on the time travel, and more like the focus is on the ‘modern’ woman falling for a crude, beast of a guy. Again, not so different from the previous example, but there is the advantage of the hero being taken down a notch because he has to be guided by the heroine through unfamiliar waters.
-There’s the more sci-fi form, with a character from the distant future coming to the present for whatever reason. I haven’t personally come across this in any romance novels, but have seen it in a few short stories that I liked.
-Just as rarely, but most appealing to me, is the notion of shorter-term time-travel. Maybe this goes back to the whole Back To The Future thing, but I like the concept of characters traveling and falling in love within a bare couple of generations of each other at most. Even better, I love the idea of actual consequences playing out, IE, the traveling character eventually returns and faces the older version of the man/woman they fell in love with in the past.
Obviously, this isn’t a comprehensive list, and I’m no expert on the topic. Just a fan and a writer! So, what are your favorite time travel tropes?