By “time loop” I don’t mean a story in which we actually get to see characters repeating the same period of time over and over. That’s a topic for another day. What I’m referring to is an event which becomes it’s own cause due a person or information from the future traveling back in time. For example, the loop I’ve already mentioned from the Harry Potter books, in which Harry saves his prior self after using Hermione’s time turner. This event is a time loop because if Harry had not saved himself, he would not have been alive to go back in time with Hermione, so he would never had had the chance to save himself. The act of his saving himself was part of it’s own cause, and it repeats infinitely as previous versions of Harry continually grow up a few hours and come to the moment where they save each other.
Since I’m putting time loops on my naughty list, I guess I’d better explain, I realize that time loops are just about everywhere in time travel, and some of them are quite interesting actually. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if one day I wrote one myself, either accidentally or on purpose. However, there are a couple of kinds of time loops that frustrate me more than loops in general.
Problematic time loop one: A physical object is involved. I’m thinking Somewhere in Time here, and the watch that is interchanged between the main characters. At the beginning of the story, the hero receives a watch from an old woman, who we later find out is the heroine. The hero goes back in time, meets and falls in love with her, and gives her the watch, thus explaining why she had the watch to give to him, right? Well… not exactly. Because if the only explanation for the watch’s origin is that it’s been passed back and forth though time, then who made the watch? And if the watch keeps living through the same few decades over and over, won’t it eventually fall apart? So, as romantic as it is for the characters to share an object, the mystery of them sharing an “un-created and eternal” watch (when most people would rather associate those characteristics with the Watch Maker) still has me shaking my head.
Problem number two: We’re clearly not in a fixed time line, so how did the time loop start? Near the end of the movie Lake House, the heroine finds herself in a bad situation. She realizes she’s caused her one true love’s death, by writing him a letter in which she mentioned the death, thus telling him where she would be so he could try to meet up with her. Realizing this, she hurriedly writes a letter and sends it back in time telling him NOT to try to meet her as he was planning to do. He gets the letter, chooses not to try to meet her, and does not die, resulting in their finally being able to meet up two years later on the day she sent the letter.
The fact that the heroine could break this time loop so easily means that it couldn’t have happened for many iterations, or she would have broken it sooner. This raises the question then: How did it start? Did she originally witness someone else’s death, then write a letter that caused him to show up and become the person that died instead? It’s romantic, but it doesn’t make sense.
So, to conclude my ramblings, time loops can be fun, but they also make your head hurt. To avoid this pain, do not a) start a physical object looping around in time, or b) let your characters get out a time loop too easily. Otherwise it just doesn’t hold up.
- How Not to Write About Time Travel Part 1: Don’t Define the Rules (mgirouxstories.wordpress.com)
- Time Warp (webowers.wordpress.com)