I love, love, love time loops in fiction. They’re formulaic, they’re often super hokey, and I don’t care.
Whether it’s Groundhog Day or Blessed Time, I’m a huge fan. Cool web novels like Reroll, Argatha Loop, and Mark of Time make great use of time loops, and movies like Edge of Tomorrow, Boss Level, and Source Code are just wonderful.
Not all time loops are the same. In fact, the changes excite me a ton! I’m super impressed by RE: Monarch’s combination of video-game-y “progressive” looping, and the movie Palm Springs does wonders simply by having multiple loopers meet and bond. Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask is just plain cool. Alexander Wales wrote a great blog last year wondering about different time loop ideas, and I started thinking too.
My main thought, just a small one, is, why do time loops always start the same way? The protagonist has a really bad day (or month, or life), then gets trapped in the loop. It takes them a few times to figure out the loop, then a few more times to experiment with things, and THEN the actual plot starts.
Sometimes, it’s boring!
But, it’s also really important. In these first loops, the story sets up familiar locations, characters, running gags, and the personal stakes to carry it, since physical stakes don’t tend to matter. But it’s also to some extent the sci-fi/fantasy equivalent of how so many novels start off with “protagonist goes through a mundane day of life before the actual plot starts.”
What I wonder is, what ways can time loop stories skip or compress its early sections and get us to the juicy bits faster? You’ll have to keep the buildup, but in a way that speeds it along. There’s in medias res, which a few of my above recommendations do, but they also often have flashbacks to the first loop later on. Visual mediums can use concrete images to speed along story beats without focusing too much on them, but how about prose?
This isn’t really a conversation of time loops, then, but a conversation of story mechanics, of establishing characters and setpieces as efficiently as possible. And I don’t really have an answer, just the question. Time loop stories, boring intro or not, are still Very Distinctly My Jam and that won’t change anytime soon.