Reversing Time: Why You Shouldn't Use It
Tell me if this sounds familiar. The heroes of the story have gotten themselves in deep trouble. Everything seems lost. Then one of them makes a wish, goes into a time stream, or does something that reverses everything and keeps it from happening. The story is over, but everyone, except maybe the protagonists, have forgotten what happened. But at least nothing bad happened.
This is something my sister and I call reversing time. And it annoys us to death. Why? That's the subject of this post.
What Do I Mean by Reversing Time?
Like I said in the introduction, reversing time is when you get to the end of the story, then someone does something that makes everyone go back to the beginning of the story. They then prevent the whole chain of events from happening and most of the time people lose their memories of what did happen that was prevented.
Sorry if that's a little confusing, but it's a confusing concept. There are several problems with using this storytelling technique that I'm going to cover. Let's get straight to the first one.
Reverses Character Arcs
When people reverse time in stories, it takes away memories from most of the characters. Taking away their memories and going back to the beginning also undoes anything they learned along the way. The characters return to their previous selves. If you do that, what is the point?
• Tamina from Prince of Persia. The princess goes along with Dastan on his journey to find the Sands of Time. As the story progresses, the two fall in love and she becomes a better person. But when Dastan reverses time and stops his uncle from killing his step-father, they have to meet and fall in love all over again. Which makes her whole arc useless.
Makes the Story Pointless
If you undo everything that happened in your story, what was the point of telling it? Maybe you could use this properly, but I've never seen it done. Your theme is wrecked because the characters learned nothing and it just makes everything that happened pointless.
• The end of Ninjago Season 6. (Yes, I watch Ninjago. It's a good show.) At the end of season 6, Jay uses his last wish to wish none of this had ever happened so he can save Nya (so cliche). It takes them all back to the time when the story started, and though they sort of remembered, it really gave the whole season very little point.
Takes Away Memories
I've already mentioned this one with the others, but I'll say it again. Reversing time normally makes the characters, except maybe the protagonist, forget that anything happened. Relationships forged, friends made, lessons learned, all out the window. It is so annoying every time it happens.
• Superman (Christopher Reeves movie). At the end of the movie, there's a lot of disasters going on and Superman is hard at work saving lives. Unfortunately, he doesn't realize that Lois is being suffocated until she's already dead. (And we're not even going to start the discussion of how much of a damsel in distress Lois is.) Superman flies around the Earth and reverses that whole chain of events (we're also not talking about how that wouldn't work or that fact that he just killed a bunch of other people to save Lois). And since he reversed time, no one remembers anything that happened.
Messes Up Timelines
Another problem with turning back time is when they don't fix the problem. Instead, they have to keep living in a giant paradox. Or they do fix it, but change the timeline so that something else happens instead and confuses everybody. Don't reverse time, it isn't worth it.
• The end of Meet the Robinsons. I liked this movie, but the ending could have used some work. There's lots of jumping through time, changing the past and the future, and basically creating a mess. Lewis technically made so many paradoxes and anomalies, I think the universe would have ended. I mean, how do you learn your motto from yourself? It doesn't make sense.
It's a Cheaters Way Out
My biggest problem with this method of ending a story is that it is normally used because the writers got themselves in too deep and couldn't figure another way out. Instead, they cheat and reverse everything. Problem solved, right?
Except that leaves readers and viewers unsatisfied. We can tell you ran out of ideas. We know you're cheating your way out. I'm sure this isn't always the case, and you may be able to pull this off well, but I've never seen one I liked yet.
• The final episode of Power Rangers: Dino Super Charge. At the end of the season, the Power Rangers go back in time through a black hole to stop the events that happened during the two seasons. They also stopped the dinosaurs from going extinct, so when they got back to the present, there were live dinosaurs. Not only is that cheating your way out of the ending, it's impossible for dinosaurs in exist in today's environment.
Reversing time is something that annoys readers or viewers to death. My sister and I get so mad when they chose this as their ending. It also turns people off of re-watching the movie. Why would we invest all that time in something that doesn't matter because it's all reversed?
There are variations on this that work well. In Doctor Who, Donna loses all memories of the Doctor, but only to save her life. It hurts the Doctor to do that to her. Or in Teen Beach 2, where Lela rewrites the timeline so Brady and Mack never met, but they still meet each other after that. If you must use time travel in your novel, think of new creative ways to use it that won't tick off your readers.
Let's talk! What are your thoughts on reversing time? What do you hate about it? What do you like about it? Tell me in the comments.