Space/Time Continuum as a Narrative Tool

Increasingly in the medium of world building and transmedia storytelling, authors are turning to the dimension of time as a narrative device.

The periodical setting of a narrative can have a dramatic impact upon the story and can greatly enhance the audiences’ immersion within a particular world. Even if the direct narrative is unrelated, the time setting can help broaden the perspective on the world.

A great example of this is the Assassin’s Creed series of games. The first entry, ‘Assassin’s Creed’ is set in the year 1191, during the time of the Crusades. This interlinks with events occurring in the year 2012 in which the player also interacts. The leap from one time period to another not only changes the aesthetic qualities of a narrative, it also alters the method in which it is delivered and perhaps the perception of those consuming the story. The jumps between time periods employ certain mechanics in the time/space continuum which have been theoretically explored in other media and the field of science. The most common of which is the ‘Butterfly Effect’. A scientific theory first popularised in 1906 by French physicist Pierre Duhem. It is based in the field of chaos theory and postulates in simple terms that when a butterfly flaps its wings, the resulting air disturbance will eventually cause a tornado to form. It is rooted in the theory of cause and effect, where every action, no matter how small has an effect further down the line. In relation to time travel it is theorised that going back in time and changing the events of the past will have a knock-on effect on events in the future. (In actuality, the Butterfly Effect is a moot point when connected with time travel. If time travel were possible in the real world, the very act of a person travelling back in time would have repercussions throughout the space/time continuum, causing a theoretical ‘time paradox’ and said person would never actually be able to travel back to the exact point in time or reality that he/she came from). The Butterfly Effect however is an accepted fictional narrative tool based upon the concept of changing something in the past will have repercussions on future events/reality. This is a widely used narrative tool that has been employed with great success in film, television, literature and other media. Notable examples include the ‘Back to the Future’ series of films and the television series ‘Heroes’.

Time travel and the different perceptions of time periods has become a widely utilised and highly successful form of narrative delivery and world building. Narrative and world building does not necessarily have to be confined to spatial dimensions; it can be broadened and expanded through the use of the time element.

Time in itself is a pivotal aspect to consider when constructing a narrative or fictional world. The time period will dictate the aesthetic qualities, perhaps the language used, technological freedoms or constraints indicative of that particular time period and so on. Time can be relative and a narrative/world does not have to revolve around time, it must always however, be considered.

This is an area of narrative and world building that I am seriously considering in my studio practice and looking to implement some aspects of time into the narrative. It will perhaps not be as drastic as time travel, though certainly the passing of time and the use of past memories will certainly play a role in how I construct the narrative.


Duhem, P. (1906) La théorie physique son objet et sa structure. France, Chevalier & Riviére.

Back to the Future. (1985) Directed by Robert Zemeckis. Universal City, CA, USA. Amblin Entertainment [Film:35mm]

Back to the Future Part II. (1989) Directed by Robert Zemeckis. Universal City, CA, USA. Amblin Entertainment [Film:35mm]

Back to the Future Part III. (1990) Directed by Robert Zemeckis. Universal City, CA, USA. Amblin Entertainment [Film:35mm]

Back to the Future Movie Poster. (1985) [Online Image]
Available from: <;
[Accessed: 16 November 2010].

Heroes Poster. (2006) [Online Image]
Available from: <;
[Accessed: 16 November 2010].

Heroes. (2006-2010) Heroes. United States, NBC, September 25 2006 – February 8 2010, [Television Broadcast].

Assassin’s Creed. (2007) Ubisoft. Montreal, QC Canada. [Sony PlayStation 3 Blu-Ray]


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