Nothing extreme, of course. No mentions of futuristic time-traveling gadgets or teleportation or the like. Or, conversely, nothing that smacks of medieval times or anything that immediately causes a reader to connect the dots.

I want my story to be as if it could technically take place at any time. I do not plan on incorporating slang or the way tech is in constant use at this time. Nor do I want my story to seem overly simplistic or as if it's happening in a quiet village in some bygone time.

How do I achieve this so my story's time frame seems ambiguous?

  • 3
    Neat question! :-) Do you have an overall setting for the story? A city; a school; a starship?
    – Standback
    Commented Nov 2, 2017 at 16:56
  • 5
    It is indeed a great question, but I think it is impossible to answer in this state. I don't think it's possible to have a timeline so ambiguous that the story could be happening anywhen and anywhere. Try establish a time range (such as from 1800 to 2100) and a setting
    – FFN
    Commented Nov 2, 2017 at 17:00
  • Alternatively, you can make a story to happens at several different times at once, as is done with the Fallout series. Fallout New Vegas in special manages to mix up a Roman-like cult, non-space space marines, mad scientists, old-school shamans, cyborgs, and so many other things that it manages to create a very unique and timeless world.
    – T. Sar
    Commented Nov 3, 2017 at 13:22
  • 2
    @Standback note that there could also be starships from 'Long time ago...'
    – clabacchio
    Commented Nov 3, 2017 at 16:29
  • @clabacchio and a galaxy "far, far away?" Commented Nov 3, 2017 at 20:17

5 Answers 5


I'd say there are two basic things you need to do.

First, make the story based on personal attributes, personal growth, relational issues, - Anything that is timeless. You can write about the insecurities of a teenager, wanting to find their way in the world. Or about a person facing their own mortality (perhaps they have learned they are terminally ill) and the personal journey they make in doing so. Or, about a psychosis. Romance. Greed, exploitation.

^ Whatever you choose as your story's theme, those are the things you try to focus on in your writing. Add to these as you can, to augment the strengths you find there.

Second, prune out anything that dates your story. You've identified slang and tech. You might also want to pay attention to the roles of people in society. Be aware if you are writing in a way that implies male dominance (suggests an older time) or gender equality (suggests a more recent time). Prune out anything that tips towards a time. Clothing, behaviors, cultural tip-offs like the role of religion - these things can date your piece. Make sure they are not doing so.

^ These are the things to remove from your story.

But, also, if you are strong on the human elements, on the realism of the journey that characters go through, on a compelling narrative about .... strength through adversity or some such, then in a sense you will have some leeway with the second part. Classic books like Catcher in the Rye or Moby Dick (etc) are 'timeless' even though they can be placed to a particular date. You want to avoid distracting with slang, tech, etc, but don't get hung up too much on that part of it.

-Two cents.

  • I wouldn't say that religion would play a role. Plenty of futuristic stories use religion as much as stories in the past. Other than that I mostly agree with this answer! I could never pull off something like this so I wish him good luck! I like to use my experiences and cultures to write.
    – ggiaquin16
    Commented Nov 2, 2017 at 17:04
  • 2
    @ggiaquin Yes, I suppose it could depend on the genre. The specifics matter, though, and maybe need to be paid attention to. If the characters practice Mormonism, for example, then by default the setting is within the past 100 - 200 years, On the other hand, a search for meaning is timeless.
    – SFWriter
    Commented Nov 2, 2017 at 17:08
  • 1
    Good point! When I commented, I was thinking about Halo in particular, a huge driving force for the Covenant is their religious drive which does not date it to the past or future. It's their own unique religion set in their world. However, I do agree with you that if they use a real religion, it would definitely date things.
    – ggiaquin16
    Commented Nov 2, 2017 at 17:13
  • 1
    That's a good solution, thought not a definitive one in my opinion. I don't think it is really possible to take from the story everything that implies a date and I don't think it would be healthy for the story. I think a good example for a story "detached from time" is La La Land, mostly because, as you said, it's a story about human struggle. There are, indeed, elements that imply a definite timeframe, but they are very rare. The protagonists are also somewhat hipster-like, meaning they like to use old technology (vinyls and typewriters). In the end, there is a set time, but it doesn't matter
    – FFN
    Commented Nov 3, 2017 at 11:15
  • 1
    Regarding clothing and behavior in particular, you also could make your characters, well, eccentric might be the right word here. Give them attributes that could work about equally well (or poorly, as the case may be) at any time in a desired timeframe. This might be difficult if you want your story to work equally well when set in the far future or during the stone ages, but it could certainly work if you've got a rough idea of the timeframe you're aiming for and are willing to commit to some particular environment (e.g., space station is different from on the ground of a planet).
    – user
    Commented Nov 3, 2017 at 23:19

Creating your own world allows you to do just this. Something that is foreign enough not to seem in the past or the future, simply the present. Harry Potter for example, shows Hogwarts and the world of magic to be timeless. Sure the buildings and the mannerism is that London 100-200 years ago, but you don't feel like you are back in time, nor do you feel like you are in the future due to magic and gadgets.

If you are looking to have the story take place using actual cities and regions from earth, this will be fairly hard to pull off. Even the clothing, the means of transportation, and the view of the world will require some details that will automatically date it in the present, past, or future.

If you are going for the affect of having a reader 200 years from now apply their current view into the world then you could try not describing communication, clothing, transportation, setting in too much detail. Leave it up for the reader's mind. A reader today will add the culture of today to it. A reader 100 years from now will add in that culture.

But to have a world that does not tie into any timeline of the known world that people will say that is the past or future, I would say it is better to make your own world so that it is dissociated from any time lines that a brain would try to link with a "realistic" world.

  • That's all well and good and useful advice, but if this is just for the sake of a single standalone novel, where the story takes place entirely in one small town? I suppose I should have clarified that in my original question, huh. -_- Commented Nov 2, 2017 at 16:57
  • @JackRabbit no worries man I’ll edit my answer accordingly
    – ggiaquin16
    Commented Nov 2, 2017 at 16:58
  • 1
    @JackRabbit Also to note... world building and creating your own world doesn't imply that there are multiple books. There are plenty of (fantasy) books that have their own world and are just a stand alone, though I do agree generally, people have multiple stories tied to a world. Also, you should note that small towns generally tend to have an "old school" feel to it. They aren't per-say up to date in tech or else they wouldn't be a small town (plenty of small towns in the USA still don't have internet for example and need other means), and tend to cater a rural vibe which would date it.
    – ggiaquin16
    Commented Nov 2, 2017 at 17:12
  • Aha, this certainly simplifies matters for me. Thank you so much for your input, :) Commented Nov 2, 2017 at 17:42
  • @JackRabbit Sure man! I wish you luck... I don't think I could ever write a story like this... I use too much of my experiences of various cultures and own views in stories to be able to separate it from a story. Hopefully it helps some what!
    – ggiaquin16
    Commented Nov 2, 2017 at 17:46

Be reflective, not descriptive.

For example, a guy wants to talk to a girl. Descriptive writing would specifically mention how he gets to talk to a girl - using stationary phone, cell phone, Skype-like technology or maybe even telepathically. This type of writing would likely mention scratches on the apparatus and ringing tone.

Reflective writing, on the other hand, will focus on thoughts and feelings. This guy would be thinking about a girl, their relationships, her voice and how he misses her, while sparing no thoughts about the technology. At the end, it's just he called, and she answered.

I understand this may require you to change or at least adjust your style. I personally may find it difficult to skip the scratches on apparatus.

  • 1
    The only issue with this is... "calling" still implies a time frame. You didn't call anyone prior to the late 1800s (roughly 1870s was first land line). Using the term call would certainly date the story. You could argue that you called for someone as a mom would to announce dinner, but this context doesn't imply the same meaning as you had.
    – ggiaquin16
    Commented Nov 2, 2017 at 17:56

I don’t think it’s possible. I have a short storybwhere I want to keep it open as to when it happens, but only within a 10–20 year window. That is, does it end in present day, or begin in present day, with two acts separated by 10 years.

So consider helping a pizza-delivery driver who has mechanical or weather-related problems. Today, would someone knock on a door to ask for help, or just use her own phone? In the past, is pizza delivery even a thing? Would women be doing it? Does it make sense if it predates automobiles, or would you have condern for the horse be up-front in the interaction?

So many things about the situation date it to some extent, even without mentioning specific tech. The latter can broaden it: e.g watching a movie at home implys some tech level even if you avoid specific mention of the media used.

Deciding on a specific range will be easier than trying to make it completely open. Even if it's all ruminations, would a ancient Roman care about such issues?


I know this is probably a few years too late to help you, but Daniel Handler did it wonderfully in his book series a series of unfortunate events. The way I've seen him do it is that he mixed things from different timelines, which happened to confuse me and a whole fandom (Other than the theorists, you can never convince the theorists... I'm just joking) Just don't mix something such as a laptops and rotary phones being widely used, unless you want an interesting universe plot.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.