There is a genre that is not historical or contemporary, and yet is both at the same time. It is possibly somewhere between the present and the future, or two different points in the past. It can lean more toward fantasy or science fiction, but the emphasis is squarely on the romance, which is the living, beating heart of the story. What happens at one point can change what happens in the other, or they can travel parallel paths, unless they form a perfect circle. Or perhaps something else. In other words, pack your bags and pick up some snacks (and possibly sanitary and/or medical supplies) because, this week, we’re going time traveling.
Generally, time travel comes in one or two flavors – either somebody travels back in time, or they travel forward. Usually, this involves traveling between the modern age and a historical period -Regency England and the early days of the American West are popular destinations, though the medieval era gets its fair share of time travel loving, too- but there have also been romances where a character comes to the present day from some point in the future, or the other way round. While no historical/futuristic titles spring immediately to mind, fantasy or science fiction readers may be able to point interested romance devotees to some spectacular stories with romantic elements.
As with any subgenre, the only guarantee we have when going into a time travel romance is that the lovers will end up together, and happy about it, but the big question is when will the requisite happily ever after take place? Unless the author does some super-fancy footwork, a time travel couple’s resolution means that somebody is going to have to leave the world in which they’ve lived for two or three decades and make their home in the past or future. This can provide a plausible conflict, as choosing to live in the same world as their beloved means effectively dying to their own life…unless there is a way to communicate between the two eras, which there sometimes is. Alternatively, the person who leaves their contemporary life, in order to remain with their historical love, sometimes can leave evidence for their loved ones to find, to let the loved ones know that everything turned out all right in the end. This can take the form of family portraits, letters, or other signs, or, perhaps, they merely vanish from the current timeline as though they never existed.
Some authors get around this by making the time traveling character one without strong familial or friendship ties, which is sad in their present, but never worry, they’ll find plenty of friends and family members in their new home. Sometimes, the era the time traveler leaves has no place for them any longer, or they have no wish to return. Others spend a large portion of the book trying to get back to where they think they belong, only to find that they aren’t that sure of it anymore, once love enters the picture.
Whether the time traveler goes forward or backward in time, it’s going to be a huge adjustment. While it’s possible for a contemporary character to have studied the historical period, or at least have working knowledge of it, as in the case of a Regency romance reader or writer who finds herself transported to Almack’s at the height of the season, or a medieval scholar whisked back to the days of knights and damsels. Sometimes, this involves actual historical events, which the contemporary character may have knowledge of, and, other times, they have good reason to wish they had paid attention in history class. In the same vein, a historical character who travels to the present may initially find that the brave new world is too much, all at once, or they may embrace it with enthusiasm. The degree of angst or humor (and sometimes both) depends on the individual writer. Give the same two eras and character types to ten different authors, and ten different stories will come out of the process.
Some readers have a distinct preference as to what flavor of time travel romances they will or won’t read. Whether the HEA happens in the past, present, or future, may be of paramount importance, and for a variety of reasons. Maybe the historical character living out their lives in the twenty-first century is less romantic for some readers, while others can’t imagine a happily ever after that didn’t involve tampons, Diet Coke, and indoor plumbing. Still others don’t have a strict preference, as long as the lovers end up together; heck, even a third period would be perfectly fine, as long as they’re happy.
As for the methods of time travel, well, there are a lot of those, too. Though time machines may not be thick on the ground in time travel romance, it would be wrong to say they couldn’t be employed, especially by a scientist/inventor hero or heroine, from the past, present, or future. More commonly, time travel in romance skews toward the fantasy angle, the travel between times accomplished through natural portals, unexplained phenomena, sorcery, or even wishes. Whether said travel can be done more than once, that’s up to the author, as well as the exact requirements for accomplishing same.
Adding a contemporary character to a historical or futuristic environment allows the reader to bring their own experience into the other setting. To a lady of Elizabeth I’s Court, a Court dress is just a Court dress, but to a woman from the 21st century, that things weighs more than some furniture, and can we talk about the cage around her hips? Similarly, bringing a historical or futuristic character into the modern day gives us the chance to see our everyday world as something new and intriguing. No matter who goes to what era, and no matter if the HEA is in the past, present or future, time travel romance offers a new twist on some of our favorite parts of both historical and contemporary (or futuristic) romance, and that’s a combination that never gets old.
So, dear readers, I turn it now over to you. Do you like time travel romance? Why or why not? Do you prefer your historical characters to come forward in time, or modern day characters to travel back? How about characters from the far future? Are some eras better suited to time travel than others? Do you have a favorite time travel romance, or can you think of a favorite author who you wish would write in this genre? Something else we haven’t mentioned? Pull up a chair in the comments and tell us all about it. If you wouldn’t touch a time travel with a ten foot pole, we want to hear about that, too. There’s room for everybody at this table.