The first two short stories I wrote involved time travel. I know, it’s arguably a tired trope, especially how I used it. There was no grand scientific achievement. No new method of defying Einstein’s theories. I merely used time travel as a plot device, a way to set up conflict for the characters.
Using such a routine sci-fi trope didn’t bother me, but both stories also featured a paradox caused by the time travel. The paradoxes in these stories did bother my beta readers and at least one magazine editor I submitted them to. My first reaction to their reaction was, it’s time travel. Paradoxes happen. Get over it. How do we know how time travel will work? Nobody has done it yet.
I was partially vindicated when a magazine accepted one of these stories for publication. I say partially because the other story has not yet found a home. The latter story was part of the novella I’ve spent much of the summer on. I saw was because I’ve since made it a stand alone story again.
When my copy editor (my very understanding wife) read through the novella, she pointed out the paradox. She had pointed it out when she read the original short story, but I hadn’t done anything with it. However, this time she commented that if I took out a particular sentence then the paradox was not so apparent. That got me thinking. If I tweaked a character’s reaction in one scene to be a little more ambiguous, I could avoid the paradox altogether and at the same time foreshadow how a forthcoming dilemma was resolved. So that’s what I did.
Of course, this made me wonder why I hadn’t considered it before. Wasn’t it a fatal flaw in the story, or did I just not view it as such? A criticism of almost every time travel story is it can’t work because of a paradox. I assumed a paradox was inevitable and accepted that without considering ways to avoid it.
Have I accepted other fatal flaws in my stories, knowing or unknowingly? I hope not. None of my beta readers have pointed out similar flaws in other stories. They’ve provided valuable feedback, but nothing along the lines of this story won’t work because of [insert fatal flaw here].
That’s why I have beta readers. Given the number of typos my wife finds after I’ve been through a manuscript however many times, I know how important a second set of eyes are. My beta readers’ eyes are needed to detect those fatal flaws I don’t see because I’m too close to the story. I’ve said it before, but thank you beta readers for your support and for keeping my stories from failing.
Let me know in the comments if you’ve written a fatal flaw into a story and whether you realized it or needed it pointed out. And let me know if you still ignored it or fixed it.
Photo credit: geralt via Pixabay