Friday, April 20, 2012

Character Profile ?'s: Time Travel

As a way to speak more to my creative process, I decided to start posting about some of the more interesting questions I ask as I develop my characters.  Most of the standard questions are:

  • What is your characters name?  Gender? Age?  Occupation?
  • Where does your character come from?
  • What is your character's favorite hobby?

These are all good questions.  In fact, they're vital.  You can't have a rounded character without them.  I answer each one of these before I really begin the writing process.  I'll occasionally write a couple of scenes to get a feel for my characters before I make any hard and fast decisions about them, but I certainly can't complete a first draft without this basic info.

As a writer, though, I ask much more complicated questions than this.  In fact, I ask some strange ones.  If anyone knew the scenarios I run through in my head while developing my characters, I'd probably be committed to a mental institution.  And now, here I am, ready to share this process with you.  I'm probably dooming myself, but here we go.

Strange Q #1:  In a time travel scenario, how would this character react if they met an older version themselves?  How would the older version react?

Image: Victor Habbick /

Odd, I know, but I guess that's the science fiction in me coming out.  I ask this for every story, even ones that don't ever involve time travel.  And I'll admit, as much as I love time travel, I almost never write it into my stories.  It's one of those elements that has to be integral to the plot, otherwise it just feels tacked on and doesn't work.  However, knowing how a character would react should they ever meet another version of themselves answers a lot of important questions for me. 

In juxtaposing them, I typically use my character as they are at the beginning of the story for the young version, and the character at the end of the story, or perhaps a year or two after, for the older counterpart.  This allows me to visualize the transformation they undergo during the course of the story.  It also lets me flesh out each version of them.  How does the younger one see themselves in comparison to who they will become?  Do they like what they see, or do they want to avoid that outcome?  How does the older one see their past selves?  Do they wish they could return to that state of being, or are they happier with who they are now?  The older character gives me the advantage, as a writer, to explore how they feel about the events they lived through, while the younger one tells me how they respond to knowing what will happen.  As we all know, how we anticipate an upcoming event and how we feel about it afterward are often entirely different.

I'll give you an example from my WIP.  My character Ralph is a gay man who grew up in a society where his sexual orientation was illegal, and punishable by death.  As a child, he was forced into a brutal regimen of  treatment aimed at curing him.  When that failed, he was sentenced to death for the so-called good for himself and society as a whole.  He escaped to and started over in a place where he could, for once, be himself.  The change is gradual, and is impacted by the constant threat of war with the place he was once forced to call home, but he eventually becomes someone quite different than he used to be.

In encountering one another, the young version would be shy, avert his eyes, and entirely skeptical of a future where he could be at all self-assured or able to be honest with anyone about himself.  The older Ralph would look at the old him and feel grateful that he made it out of that.  He would also feel sympathy for his younger self, and would want to reassure him that his life really does get better.  Even their physical appearances show the dramatic shift in the course of his life.  I could give more details than this, but I don't want to give everything away. 

In employing my time travel question to this particular character, I was able to visualize this transformation in a very dramatic way.  Strange, maybe, but it's effective for me.


  1. It certainly is a question to ponder, and I often wonder about what the older version of myself will have to say to me.

    Earlier this year, I wrote a letter addressed to myself, dated for ten years in the future, and I sealed it away. I wonder how the older me will react when reading this letter. ^.^

    -Barb the French Bean

  2. I'm a little worried now, because that actually made sense to me!!