I love mysteries, but wanted to try something a bit different for my next novel, so I wrote the first draft of a time travel mystery. I’m now working on the second draft, and I’m at that point where I must dig deeper and add the details that let the reader experience the time travel, the 18th century, etc. To do that I am researching the time period and reading about time travel theories.
The most difficult part of writing a time travel story is that the author must decide how realistic they want the time travel to be. With virtually all time travel stories, whether books, television series, or movies, the audience must somehow be persuaded to suspend belief because as far as we know, no one has actually been able to time travel. Some romance novels use devices such as a magical sword that when held transports the holder to another era, some use a magical mirror or a clock or a wishing well, etc. If you are a fan of the BBC’s “Doctor Who” series, you know that the Doctor (a time lord) uses a space ship that from the outside looks like a phone booth. The “Back to the Future” movie trilogy uses a time machine in the form of a car. In the SyFy Channel television series “Continuum”, a woman from the far future is sent back in time to our era and is stuck there. In Diana Gabaldon’s time travel series, “Outlander”, which is being made into a television series, a woman is accidentally transported back in time when she steps into a ring of ancient stones in Scotland.
I don’t want to give any spoilers, but I can tell you that my five time travelers–a group of ordinary people ranging in age from 9 to 75–accidentally time travel when they explore a stone cottage that one of them has inherited. I let the characters’ own bewilderment and skepticism at what has happened to them help the reader suspend belief–at least I hope so.
The second most difficult part of writing this type of book is that I need knowledge of life in the time period they travel to. I’ve been educating myself by reading numerous books about life in the 18th century (both in England and in Germany). My book (tentatively titled Cobblestone) actually starts out in a fictitious Bavarian city in 2009, and then moves to that same city and beyond in 1789. My research thus far has taught me about the filth, stench, and diseases that plagued the people. Pedestrians worried about being obstructed, robbed, hit by carriages or wagons, distracted by crowds in the street, getting the contents of privy tubs dumped on them, etc. One book told about animals roaming city streets–‘Pigs were notorious mobile street nuisances who poked their filthy snouts into grain sacks and discarded entrails, and grubbed through stinking dunghills.’ Food sellers sold goat cheese, spitted lamb, bags of animal organs including goatheads and testicles.
Adding the details is a painstakingly slow process, but it’s well worth the effort. I feel as though I’m watching a movie as I’m working. What fun that is! I can’t wait for the finished product. I hope readers will be fascinated and entertained.