Untitled Time Travel WIP

Hello! I’m an amateur writer seeking to improve my writing, and I’d love some feedback on the plot of my current WIP. I really want to make it the best it can be.

Summary:
When bookish 17-year-old Callie arrives in purgatory, she’s furious; her plans for the future are dashed. Purgatory “receptionist” Greg tells her she can travel across time.

Excited, Callie travels to colonial America, and Greg is forced to follow. While there, Callie drops a priceless pocket watch that belongs to Elizabeth, altering the course of history so that the Patriots lose the Revolutionary War.

During an argument in purgatory, Callie and Greg are transported back in time as humans to colonial Boston. Now, Greg and Callie need to find Elizabeth, and change history back.

Callie convinces Greg to follow some soldiers marching out of Boston. The two end up witnessing the skirmish at Lexington. After the skirmish, Callie notices someone lying in the road, and it turns out to be Elizabeth, posing as a man in order to survive off a military pension.

Elizabeth is terrified that Callie and Greg know her identity. She mumbles something about going to New York, and sprints off down the road.

Callie and Greg rent rooms in New York near a military encampment and wait for Elizabeth to arrive. She joins the Continentals, and Callie and Greg follow her.

Callie and Greg fight in the Battle of Long Island, and the Patriots are forced to retreat. Morale dips as they process the carnage of the battlefield.

During their time in camp, Callie and Greg approach Elizabeth. She is terrified to see that the two have followed her, and refuses to talk to them.

In December, the regiment crosses the Delaware. Elizabeth is wounded in the following battle, but Callie and Greg nurse her back to health.

When Elizabeth recovers, she demands to know why Callie and Greg have been following her. Callie tells Elizabeth the truth. Highly skeptical, Elizabeth resumes giving them the silent treatment.

By fall, the Continentals are forced back to Valley Forge. Callie and Greg decide to attempt to change history back without Elizabeth’s help by devising a new strategy.

The strategy is rejected by the higher-ups. As disease and cold wreak havoc on morale, they decide to give the strategy a chance.

When it fails, Callie and Greg are blamed. They notice portions of their human bodies fading as the effects of the failsafe begin to weaken. Downtrodden, they consider returning to purgatory to face their fate. However, Elizabeth approaches them one day. She confesses to admiring their bravery and offers to help them plan another strategy.

The commanders are unimpressed and angry with the new strategy. But when they voice their fears, Elizabeth defends Callie, Greg, and the strategy, threatening mutiny if necessary. Knowing resources and men are stretched thin already, the commanders agree to consider it.

The strategy is a success, propelling the Continentals to victory.

Callie and Greg return to purgatory. As Callie travels to heaven, she realizes that through her experience, she’s achieved more than what she wanted in life, and is able to make peace with her death.

Intended Audience: teen/young adult
Genre: This is a bit of a grey area as of now, since my story includes tropes from a few different genres, but I would probably place it in historical fiction since the majority takes place in the past.
Length: Around 40 chapters/90k words
Character arcs:
Callie goes from being frustrated with to accepting her death.
Greg learns to get along with Callie.
Elizabeth becomes more confident and less cynical/downtrodden.
Plotlines:
Callie and Greg have to “fix” the course of history before the effects of the failsafe wear off.
Callie and Greg have to convince Elizabeth that they mean well, and it’s worthwhile to help them.

Notes:
The fact that the protagonist is not from the time period this story takes place in is a factor that sets this story apart from other works of historical fiction. The “outsider’s perspective,” in my opinion, will contribute to the protagonist’s relatability while still offering the perspective of a participant in history.

Thank you so much for offering this service. I look forward to hearing from you!

2 Likes

Not a bad idea really, because it isn’t just time travel, there’s an element of transcendence, life/death, and even history. I’d read it! But I’m a sucker for time travel.

If you’d take a recommendation, check out Split Second by Douglas Richards :wink:

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So I have a couple of issues with this plot, one on a narrative level, another on a logic/concept level that block me from further evaluating.

First, the narrative lacks any sort of throughline for the character, stakes, or any sort of consistent tension. What are the stakes at the start? The character simply travels through time and, via accident, alters history over something trivial, and then must reset it because what? What would happen if they don’t reset it? This isn’t made clear, other than that it would just be a different history. Similarly, why would the character do anything they’re doing? What is their motivation for taking any action? Do they feel bad about the life they lived? Always wanted to see something? What are they trying to achieve or learning through the course of this? Similar with the tension, in a lot of cases, this is a series of events and without stakes tying them together, you don’t really feel the tension rise because nothing is at risk. I would need answers to those questions, in the summary (not in response to this) that help get at the core of the story.

Second, on a logical function. I do not follow or understand the purgatory-time travel component. Why is a person put in purgatory and why, upon arriving there, are they allowed to freely travel through time and actually affect the time stream? Wouldn’t they just be an observer? Or they are reincarnating but they seem not to since they’re a real person with memories and bounce to other times and back to purgatory. So is she just some sort of omnipotent being? And if all of that is true, why would random humans be granted the ability to travel through time upon death and genuinely affect the flow of time? That seems incredibly risky and is never addressed. It is largely just a vessel to give them an excuse to travel through time. Except time travel has no relevance to the plot. It’s just a specific Civil War historical story. If you’re going to engage in time travel, the story must be about time travel, or else it’s just a story in a different setting for no reason. Time travel messes with plots and warps stories so significantly that it has to be addressed, or else it just raises nothing but questions.

2 Likes

Thanks so much for your feedback! It was very helpful, and I revised my summary based on your criticisms. Would you please let me know what you think?

Summary

When Callie learns she’s a Time Sentinel, someone who travels between eras to ensure history maintains its course, she’s overwhelmed. She already has a lot on her plate, and she’s always hated history.

Still struggling to manage her powers, Callie travels to colonial America, and her mentor Greg is forced to follow. While there, Callie drops a pocket watch that belongs to Elizabeth, altering the course of history so that the Patriots lose the Revolutionary War.

During the following argument, Greg transports the pair back in time to Valley Forge. Now, Greg and Callie need to fix history before Callie disappears due to deleting her timeline, and the Congress of Sentinels finds out that a timeline has been altered.

They try to join the military to seem less conspicuous, but one of the commanders is Elizabeth, posing as a man to survive off a military pension.

Elizabeth is terrified that they know her identity. She forces them out of her tent and refuses to speak to them.

When Elizabeth falls ill days later, Callie and Greg panic.They use their limited knowledge of modern medicine to help her, and are successful.

Upon her recovery, Elizabeth reconsiders her decision to shun Callie and Greg, promoting them to medics. Callie and Greg realize this is an opportunity to gain Elizabeth’s trust. They come up with a strategy to give the Patriots the upper hand. Soon, Elizabeth calls Callie and Greg to her again, and the two present their strategy. Elizabeth is taken aback by their boldness, and demands to know who they are. Callie tells her the truth, and Elizabeth dismisses them as crazy.

Confident, Callie and Greg plan a mutinous offensive. When it fails, they’re discharged from the army. They seek refuge at a nearby farm.

While staying there, they decide to try changing the course through diplomacy by forging a letter from Elizabeth proposing a French alliance. As they wait for a response, they get closer to the family they are staying with. When the response comes, inviting American diplomats to France for further discussion, Callie and Greg consider giving up.

One day, an army commander comes to the farmhouse, begging for supplies for the starving army. The family refuses, but Callie and Greg follow him as he leaves, promising supplies if he works with them. Desperate, he agrees.

The strategy the three plan is promising, and the other commanders override Elizabeth’s decision against it. It’s a success, and propels the Continentals to victory.

After the battle, Callie and Greg are transported back to the lobby, where they are confronted by Elizabeth, who is revealed to be a Time Sentinel. She tells two that the whole experience was a responsibility test for Callie, and she’s going to take away Callie’s powers due to her incompetence. Greg begs her not to, and a Congress of Sentinels meeting is held to determine Callie’s fate. They decide that Callie will remain a Sentinel. Callie gains some clarity as to her future, having discovered a connection to history.

Revised arc

Callie discovers what she wants to do with her future.

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So I’m still seeing largely the same issues of previous. The questions about the implications around purgatory are gone, now replaced with ones around Time Sentinels (for example, if they’re maintaining the integrity of the timeline, why would they be sent back in time if that time has already passed?). Most important though is that Callie still doesn’t have any character through this and there are no stakes involved in her actions.

In terms of character, what does she want? It says her arc is she discovers what she wants to do with her future which isn’t clear how she didn’t have that at the start or gains it by the end. Nothing she does has any relation to who she is, she is assigned to be a Time Sentinel and then immediately does it and at the end learns she should be a Time Sentinel, which isn’t a choice (it’s forced upon her) and isn’t something she struggled with throughout the story or resisted. It’s also not really a character. It’s just a job or not, imposed upon her. What does she want to do? What type of person is she and how would that influence her choices? Why would she try to devise a strategy or fix the past? Why would she, personally care? Put aside any of the Time Sentinel obligations and get down to the basics of who she is, as a person.

As for stakes, it’s still very unclear what the negative is. If Callie doesn’t act as a Time Sentinel, what difference would it make? Does it affect anything? And when she messes up the time stream, what exactly does it mean? It says she’ll disappear and also the Congress will find out. If she disappears, it won’t really matter that congress finds out since she’s gone (also once she disappears she’ll have no longer existed to ever change time and thus her actions will no longer exist and it will snap back to what it was before which would likely mean she would come back, and you see why I say you shouldn’t do time travel plots unless you’re going to be very specific on the time travel and make it just about that).

Again, since 90% of this plot takes place in the American Revolution, it should be a historical fiction set during the American Revolution. Tell the story of a person having an impact on history without them doing it to restore the timeline (especially since in order to do so they just make normal history play out). Or, tell the story of Callie the time sentinel, a person who has to travel through many times and understand and grow from that experience and has to deal with the laws around time and all the implications that would have. But bookending a historical plot with time travel basically erodes the stakes and erases your character.

2 Likes

Thanks again for some great feedback! I took your advice to focus the story on either historical fiction or time travel. Hopefully this is an improvement. I’d love to know your thoughts.

Summary

After being prevented from going back in time to save her brother from the car crash that took his life, Callie disassociated herself entirely with the Time Sentinels. Vowing to never complete her duties to maintain the time stream, she took up residence in a Victorian London apartment to live out the rest of her days.

One day, Seth, a member of the Congress of Time Sentinels, arrives. He tells her there’s a rogue Time Sentinel attempting to “make history better” by altering the time stream, that the Time Sentinels are in over their heads, and that Callie is their last resort, as she’s experienced something similar. Callie is opposed, but when Seth suggests allowing her to have one last conversation with her brother, she reluctantly agrees.

Callie finds the rebel, Alex, trying to assassinate a dictator, and stops her. After an argument, she explains to Alex that altering the past drastically alters the present.

Alex recommends helping ordinary people live better lives throughout history, so that the time stream won’t be changed. Remembering her brother, Callie agrees, although she knows she’s risking her life.

After the two help a few people, Seth appears to ask about how Alex is reforming. Callie lies and says they are making progress, and Seth leaves.

When they go into the future to verify, the two notice that their actions haven’t actually improved the lives of anyone they helped. After an argument and some brainstorming, they realize they need to be more involved in people’s lives to alter their fate.

They resolve to do this, intervening in their lives for long periods at once to make sure change will happen. When they travel to the future, they’re overjoyed to see that they actually are making a difference.

Then, Seth arrives again, angry. He says he has no choice but to execute them and erase their meddling in the time stream since they’ve done too much damage. Callie and Alex flee to an obscure historical period. Callie suggests living there in hiding for the rest of their lives. Alex initially agrees.

After a few days, Alex and Callie have an argument, and Alex storms off to continue her work. Having finally found Callie, Seth arrives and tells her that Alex has been executed.

Callie resolves to continue Alex’s work in her name. As she’s settling into a new time period, Seth appears and tells her that he’s going to strip her of her powers, as her actions didn’t alter the time stream enough to warrant execution and a complete erase of her existence like Alex’s did.

Callie returns to her apartment, downtrodden, regretting that Seth hadn’t executed her. She curses her former self for failing to do anything to confront her frustration with the Time Sentinels, and running from them instead.

As she muses over her experiences as a Time Sentinel, she realizes she doesn’t have to travel in time to affect positive change. She has control over the present.

Character Arcs

Callie learns the importance of actively confronting her problems, and that she doesn’t need to be a Time Sentinel in order to change the course of history.

Alex’s arc is mostly flat, but she does realize that smaller actions can be as effective as larger ones.

Seth’s arc is also pretty flat.

There will also be a few arcs for the characters Callie and Alex help, but they weren’t major enough to include in the summary.

Notes

As I mentioned in the revised arcs, there will be a few characters from different eras that Callie and Alex interact with throughout the story. I see these characters and their arcs as sort of a series of b plots, so I didn’t include them in the summary.

So the new premise is certainly more consistent than the prior and a little more related. I do like the initial set up of having a character who can travel through time but is forbidden from saving their lost brother. I think it’s sort of strange that the congress would go find them over a rogue agent because a) this seems like the most common rogue thing that would happen for time sentinels and b) it seems unlikely there is only one person who has ever encountered this probably common issue and they have no interest. I say that because it doesn’t seem like they need to quit the time sentinels in order to be involved in this plot (it doesn’t really amount to anything).

However, I appreciate her having a specific character motivation in an obsession with using her abilities to see her brother through time. I like that they offer to let her see him if she’s successful. If she is still a part of the Time Sentinels, it makes things more compelling that she is presented a challenge in the form of Alex, someone who will break the rules.

This would create a unique character dilemma: stop Alex and be given the ability to see her brother or work with Alex and simply break the rules to see her brother and get away with it (but suffer the consequences of being kicked out or possibly worse).

But since she’s already left the group, she has no reason not to go with Alex, and she also seems to go instantly into Alex’s side and story without much issue. Instead of becoming a battle between her and Alex or her and the Time Sentinels, it goes to the side and becomes her and Alex having a random adventure where they alter time to see if it helps people, which isn’t related to her original motivation or even the original conflict of stopping the rebel.

This also means the ending doesn’t involve her trying to see her brother and that plot point is simply abandoned. Instead she’s mad her friend got killed as a cost of them messing around in the past (for their own reasons?).

I do really like your opening premise. I also like an independent notion of a couple of people discovering they can travel through time and deciding to use it to improve lives and failing (without a council or larger system). But you need to stick to one throughout the flow of the story and deliver on the premise and see through the arc to the end. If you have some other idea (two people altering time to change lives) then build around that, don’t build other plotlines and then shift to the side into the one you really want to do.

3 Likes

Thanks so much again for your feedback; I really appreciate it. It’s definitely encouraging to know that my premise has improved.

I can definitely understand your point that it seems like Callie’s situation with her brother seems to be abandoned once she and Alex team up. Since I sent that summary, I’ve had the opportunity to think some more about what kinds of subplots to include in their adventures. I tried to focus them around character development, rather than just adventure for adventure’s sake.

Short summaries

Callie and Alex travel to Renaissance era Italy and help Lady Magdalena, an ambitious noblewoman living in the shadow of her obnoxious brother, discover that she doesn’t need to be in charge to have a broad impact. This plays into Alex’s arc, as it increases Alex’s confidence in her and Callie’s plan, and confirms that she doesn’t need to try to enact sweeping change in order to create change.

The pair then travel to the colonial Caribbean, where they help Javier, a washed-up pirate with a vendetta against the French, Spanish, and English colonists for destroying his childhood village. With Callie and Alex’s guidance, he discovers that acting on revenge or past motivations isn’t necessarily fulfilling. Callie will remember her experience with Javier when she realizes that she can let go of trying to change the past and try to change the present.

I also thought it was worth mentioning that after Callie learns Alex is dead and attempts to continue improving peoples’ lives in her name, she arrives at the night her brother died. (I envision time travel as being based on thoughts about the time period, and since Alex just died, the memory of her brother’s death comes back into Callie’s mind.) The plot essentially comes full circle here, because Callie takes this as a sign, figures she has nothing to lose, and decides again to take it into her own hands to save her brother’s life, since she knows Seth will never follow through on his promise. However, Seth stops her again, and, as a result, strips her of her powers.

I’d love some feedback on these plots, but I completely understand if that’s not part of Pitch Workshop.

All of your feedback has been truly invaluable. I feel like my story has improved a thousand times over, and I’m so much more confident in my plot. After I make the changes you recommended (like making Callie still a part of the Time Sentinels), I’m excited to start writing!

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If you want to shift into a different style of story, feel free. You can write what you’ve pitched as a collection of short-med stories that are self-contained, featuring the same couple of characters exploring different time periods. Through that, you can have them go into different character scenarios or explore different questions of morality or human nature.

In order to execute that though, you’ll need some overarching thing that drives your main characters (Callie having a desire to find a way to go back and see her brother and get away with it, for example) and that is sort of persistent but isn’t always the major driving force for any particular story.

With these types of stories, some of them can be used to give a little insight into your characters, or their world, or their worldview. It can also be used to ask questions of the audience, like what would they do if they could travel to that situation, and so on. I have a story like this on my profile, it’s different and I really enjoy using it to explore storylines that might not take an entire novel.

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Great idea! Now that I think about, this makes a lot of sense for what I’m trying to achieve. Additionally, writing shorter stories is much more in my comfort zone. Thanks again for all your help!