While the multiple timelines model in a novel allows you to prevent plot holes since there's no time travel paradoxes, it limits the scope time travel can have on a story. So I am wondering what are the various ways to use time travel if it's limited by the multiple timeline model. Since your own timeline cannot be modified allowing you to kill your grandmother and thus disappear from existence or make your enemy disappear from existence, the characters don't have a strong motivation to change the past, so what are the various ways time travel can be used in the story?

By multiple timelines model, I am referring to the many worlds interpretation of Quantum physics.


  • 1
    Could you give an example of this model in use?
    – Weckar E.
    Jul 24 at 15:00

Lifestyle Tourism

Lifestyle tourism promises a vacation embedded within the day-to-day culture of the destination. Modern conveniences and comforts are forbidden, at least ceremoniously, in the spirit of preserving authenticity.

The inherent conflict is that tourism accelerates outside influences (economically, personally, environmentally), directly contaminating the 'purity' of the local culture.

I'll leave it to you to extrapolate the various problematic strategies that are currently employed to balance conservation with exploitation in remote and fragile-environment tourism.

conflict example

In a film (and shortstory – see spoiler for titles), time travelers visit a small town to witness a natural disaster. Their identity and intent are withheld from the protagonist for suspense, but they expose themselves as fish out of water.

Once discovered, they don't feel threatened, but moral disagreements arise about 'interfering'. Their behavior to the locals is patronizing, indulgent, and inconsistent. They are accused of being little more than thrill-seeking tourists.

The physics are unimportant, time travel allows the protagonist to run towards/away from explosions.

The core mystery is the 'others' who turn out not to be uber-villains but messy/complicated people who aren't prepared to act as moral guardians despite advanced technology. They struggle to feel anything at all so they put themselves at the center of other people's tragedies – prescient for disaster tourism. They feel compassion in the moment, but remain aloof because the time yacht will pick them up and they'll be back to their own hum-drum lives tomorrow.

Grand Tour: Disaster in Time, (original title Timescape) based on "Vintage Season" by Catherine L. Moore (and Henry Kuttner)


Material Harvesting

The Stugatsky Brothers (cant remember the name of the book) used time travel to mine the past. They sent oil pipelines and gold harvesters through the portal to all the known location a thousand or so years earlier.

  • But that's for worldbuilding and has no incidence to the plot, right?
    – Sayaman
    Jul 24 at 14:14

Extra Dimensions of Time:

If you're going to envision a multiverse, this might be more of a Worldbuilding SE question. The whole point is that you can't alter your own timeline, and thus screw up causality. But what if you can save a different future you from making the same mistakes?

In my vision of time for worldbuilding, time isn't simply linear, but can be viewed as a three-dimensional object that we can only see one dimension of at a time. So our existence is as a three-time-dimensional being only experiencing one dimension at once. There is a future you one fraction of a second ahead of you in a parallel universe, and a parallel you a fraction of a second behind. So your perception of time would be like an infinite stack of sheets of paper. You can intellectually understand time to be bigger, but you can't see it. The past is truly the past, but in the parallel universe, it's fractionally off in time. So in reality, if you travel across enough parallel universes, every moment of "the past" is happening somewhere RIGHT NOW.

In my story, the MC's future self has been spending their life jumping in time, trying to prevent their past self from experiencing the same pain they did from the loss of their beloved. They keep diverting themselves away from meeting their beloved to spare them the pain. The MC figures out this interference, meets her future self in the past, and agrees to let the future self keep meddling in the past. Besides, it was a different future self that meddled in the MC's past when it happened to HER. But in reality, the 3D time allows all these things to be happening in the current time.

The true MC is actually a three-dimensional-time being, but the nature of human existence is such we can only experience it one dimension/slice at a time. They affect the past because it affects their 3D time self, even if they themselves never get to take advantage of the changes to the past.

  • Never mind that people can travel to the past to experience it (and how awesome is that?)
  • Never mind tripping to the future to get advanced tech to reshape your world.
  • Never mind migrating your culture to the deep past to avoid the supernova destroying your world.
  • Never mind winning the lotto, or investing in a major company, then cryo-storing yourself until the stock explodes and you're a billionaire.
  • Never mind playing God and convincing people you are a divine being, or conquering the world because you can for fun and profit.

The opportunities of playing with time are endless, even if they can't kill their grandfather for real, and killing Hitler helps someone else. What about your alternate self, alternate world, or alternate home? After all, you don't need to worry about breaking the past if the past is someone else's present.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

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