How To Slip Through Time – Emily Gale

When I was young, my favourite books were time-slip and body-swap stories.

A time-slip story means that one character “slips” through time – usually into the past – and lives there until they find their way back home. Time-slips use magical but simple methods to transport characters back in time.

A body-swap story means one character swaps bodies with another and they live each other’s life for a while.

Nova Weetman and I wrote a book together that is both a time-slip and a body swap story. It’s called Elsewhere Girls. A girl in 2021 swaps times – and bodies – with a girl in 1908.

Would you like to try writing a time-slip story?

Here’s how:

  1. I wrote Elsewhere Girls with Nova Weetman. She’s my co-writer. You could write a time-slip story with a friend or by yourself, whatever you prefer.
  2. Choose something you would be interested in writing about. Elsewhere Girls is about swimming. Maybe you are interested in: music, wild animals, sport, art, science, gaming, astronomy . . .
  3. Choose a theme. The theme is the “big idea” of the story. The “big idea” in Elsewhere Girls is “ambition”, which means a strong desire to achieve something. Here are some other ideas for themes to get you started: change, freedom, secrets, courage, loneliness, friendship, fitting in . . .
  4. To help you get started quickly, here are some basic character profiles. Choose one from the “Now” list, and one from the “The Past” list. These will be your two main characters.
    a. Lives on a farm with a very large family and lots of animals
    b. Lives in a simple beach hut with two unusual grandparents
    c. Lives in a fancy apartment in the middle of the city with billionaire parents
    a. 1916 – a wealthy teen who becomes a nurse in World War One
    b. 1836 – a young convict who works as a maid in a big house for 12 hours a day
    c. 1956 – a teen from a family of travellers who wants to be a runner in the Olympics

  5. Now you need to find the heart of each character – this means what they love the most and what they fear the most. Think about what you love / fear most of all. Make a list. Then see if you can use any of those. Or make some up.
  6. THE REALLY FUN PART!  Choose how your character from “now” is going to slip into the past to meet your character in “the past”.In Elsewhere Girls, we used a broken stopwatch with one hand that kept spinning backwards. Here are some ways that characters have “slipped” back in time in other time-slip stories:
    Tom’s Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce: a grandfather clock that strikes thirteen times
    The Secret Library of Hummingbird House by Julianne Negri: a super full blood moon eclipse
    When The Lyrebird Calls by Kim Kane: a pair of beautiful, old shoes

    7. Get to know your characters better. What is their personality? Age? Name? Siblings? Other family? Hobbies? Likes and dislikes? Most important: give both characters a problem. Problems make good stories.

    8. Plot your story roughly so that you don’t get lost along the way.
    a. Think of an interesting place to start with your “now” character
    b. Make them “slip” through time and meet your “the past” character: what is that like for them? what is it like for the character in the past to meet this stranger from the future?
    c. Let them have some adventures together. Are they worried about how to get back home? Do they like it in the past?
    d. Try to build the story to one, exciting point. Are your characters “solving” a problem? That’s what readers like to see.
    e. Send your “now” character back home. Think of a good ending.

    Why not read a time-slip story to see how other writers have done it? There’s a list for you below.

Until next time,



Brimstone by Kelly Gardiner
The Secret Library of Hummingbird House by Julianne Negri
When The Lyrebird Calls by Kim Kane
The Boy Who Slipped Through Time by Anna Ciddor
Crow Country by Kate Constable
Heroes of the Secret Underground by Susannah Gervay
The Puzzle Ring by Kate Forsyth
Playing Beatie Bow by Ruth Park
Tom’s Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce
Moondial by Helen Cresswell
Charlotte Sometimes by Penelope Farmer


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