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Non-Linear Character
"Allow me to tell you a story. It took place 360,000 years... no; 14,000 years ago. But what is time anyways? For me, it seems like yesterday. For you, it might be tomorrow."

Most people live within a time stream, where time flows in one direction and effects follow causes. However, there are some characters in fiction that are slightly removed from the time stream and are able to see the past, present, and future all at the same time. These characters tend to exude a mysterious, all-knowing air about them, as they generally know who you are, why you are talking to them, and what will happen if you do what you are planning. They aren't necessarily The Omniscient as you may create your own destiny, but they may often act much like him.

Such characters will inevitably Mind Screw any character who thinks they can alter their destiny, since they have already seen the end of the story. If there is no possible future other than the one the author has intended, this character may be curiously passive despite their omniscience, since they already know what's going to happen regardless. May be lampshaded if they stop to contemplate what they're about to do next.

If played for comedy, the character may forget what period in time he currently is, sometimes uttering, "When is this again?" For extreme versions of this, go to Unstuck in Time. (You are about to, if you haven't already.)

For characters whose lives are reversed from the normal timeline but otherwise linear, see Merlin Sickness.

A simple way of showing this is Non Linear Storytelling, although that has more general applications; particularly in a Thriller, Mystery or Lit Fic where the author doesn't want the audience to put the pieces together before the end.

Examples:

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     Anime And Manga  

  • In Puella Magi Madoka Magica, Madoka becomes this (among other things) in the ending, and spends most of her "time" in a separate non-temporal dimension. She has memories of everything—or at least everything pertaining to Magical Girls—including the future and all alternate timelines and universes.

     Comics  

  • Watchmen: Dr. Manhattan
  • The Spectre in the DC Comics series Kingdom Come.
  • Gertrude's parents in Runaways.
  • Goblin demons in The Grievous Journey Of Ichabod Azrael perceive time like this, in contrast to human souls. This is how one of them knows the plane isn't supposed to be there, and there's something unusual about Ichabod as well.
  • Destiny and Death in The Sandman.
  • Blindfold in X-Men sees all of reality at once, it makes her a bit hard to talk to.

     Fanfiction  

  • In the novel-length Ice Age fanfic Lost In Time Series, the first story of the saga, Origins portrays the life of a supporting character, Hudson the dire wolf to be one as events unfold and Hudson shows the reality of who he really is - a character Hyperion traveling backwards in time and one who has been to a good future that the herd created, although the way to paving forward that future was through many HeroicSacrifices on the part of the first timeline's herd, on when they go back in time to ensure the safety of another herd, the second herd becomes Non-Linear Characters themselves, resembling Amy and Rory and River in that their memories belong to another timeline and not the one they found themselves in now.
  • In the Pony POV Series, this is the case with the Alicorns and Draconequi while in their native realm outside of time, able to move up and down the timeline. However, they can't predict the future, merely view the possible futures that await the timeline. The choices in the present are what alter the future. Rota Fortuna, the Goddess of Fate, is probably a straighter example as she created the roads of fate, even though ponies decide which ones they follow. However, some choices and futures surprise even her.

     Literature  

  • In the Discworld novels, the clairvoyant Mrs. Cake is a recurring character who tends to leave her precognition on by accident, resulting in awkward conversations where she answers questions before they're asked. If the questions aren't actually asked, she gets a headache.
    • In Soul Music, Death is also shown to have a non-linear memory.
      • His granddaughter Susan shares that trait, but she mostly finds it a nuisance.
    • Old Mother Dismass, a minor character in the Witches novels has "a detached retina in her second sight". She appears to be a Talkative Loon, but the other witches assume that whatever she says makes sense in some conversation they've had or are going to have.
    • And then there's Azrael, who owns a clock that tells time what it is instead of the other way around, and whose last line in Reaper Man is "I remember when all this will be again."
    • In another Pratchett work, The Carpet People, the wights are like this—they effectively know the 'script' for their entire life from the start. A very few wights, the thunorgs, are instead non-deterministic and can see alternate possibilities: normal wights are traumatised when the 'script' changes and they can no longer 'remember what's going to happen'.
  • Kurt Vonnegut:
    • Space explorer Winston Niles Rumfoord of The Sirens of Titan. Traveling from Earth to Mars, he enters a "chrono-synclastic infundibulum" phenomenon which transforms him and his dog into wave forms that materialize on planets at different points in the time continuum. As a result, Rumfoord becomes aware of the past, present and future.
    • Also, the Tralfamadorians from Slaughterhouse-Five. So it goes.
  • In Tamora Pierce's Protector Of The Small series, the Chamber of the Ordeal is this.
  • The Martian "Old Ones" in Robert A. Heinlein's Red Planet are so old they have trouble knowing "when" they are. At one point, a regular Martian guide shows an Old One a globe of current Mars to help the Old One locate himself temporally.
  • The eponymous character in The Dealings of Daniel Kesserich, by Fritz Leiber, gains this ability as a side effect of messing with time travel.
  • U-Janus Nevstruev in Strugatsky Brothers' novel Monday Begins on Saturday is a borderline case between this trope and Merlin Sickness. This one's time flow isn't linear but is relatively predictable; he lives a day normally, then hops 48 hours in the past. His favourite question is "What did I do/say yesterday?", since for him the past is the future.
  • During its start-up calibration, the Hitchhiker's Guide Mk. II from Mostly Harmless checks the "direction of causality" among other things, meaning that it can probably jump across time streams as it pleases.
  • Devera of the Dragaera series hasn't been born yet, but makes appearances and basically exists outside of regular time and space. It probably has a lot to do with her being the product of a coupling between the daughter of a goddess and her distant male ancestor.
  • The dragon in Grendel. He remembers Beowulf killing him in the future, but does nothing to prevent his death because as far as he's concerned, the future is as unchangeable as the past.
  • Merlyn in T.H. White's The Once and Future King, was as he says "unfortunately was born at the wrong end of time, and I have to live backwards from in front, while surrounded by a lot of people living forwards from behind. Some people call it having second sight" ("The Sword in the Stone", ch. iii). In ch. viii of "The Queen of Air and Darkness" he remembers, "There was just such a man when I was young — an Austrian who invented a new way of life and convinced himself that he was the chap to make it work. He tried to impose his reformation by the sword, and plunged the civilized world into misery and chaos."

     Live Action TV  

  • The Prophets, aka wormhole aliens, in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Sisko had to teach them about linear time in the pilot.
  • LOST: Desmond qualified as one for some time. Luckily, the effect eventually wore off, allowing him to live a normal live.
  • From the point of view of the Doctor, River Song is very much this. Unfortunately for them both, River and the Doctor continue meeting each other in the wrong order, throughout the entire series.
    • The TARDIS (and presumably her sisters) have this trait as well, experiencing the whole fourth dimension simultaneously. Usually this doesn't matter much, because she can only communicate psychically through emotions but the one time she was turned human it made things a bit confusing.
  • The fourth season episode of Fringe, "... And Those We've Left Behind," has Peter Bishop popping back and forth through time, caused by a local engineer who's designed a time bubble around his house.
    • The Observer more than qualifies. The 12 Observers see all periods of time simultaneously. This causes things like the wounded Observer showing up in the first episodes of the fourth season, but said wound only being inflicted near the end of the season.
  • Subverted in Lexx - the oracle sees all of time simultaneously, but only because the universe is on constant repeat and we've all been through this before...

     MMORP Gs  

  • City of Heroes: Anyone related to Ouroboros, but especially Mender Lazarus, who seems to have lost track of his own timeline.
    "Alright, then that means that I'm talking to a you that is not yet you, well 'my' you..."
    • In City of Villains, there is a Circle of Thorns contact, Diviner Maros, who does this. Conversations with him can be headache-inducing. Notable instances include him sending the Player Character to secure some information that he just told you (which he knows because you're about to tell him), skipping the boring bits of beating up some Mooks for information where to go, or getting part-way through the (word for word) briefing of the first mission of his arc before realizing you've done that before. A considerable part of the playerbase names him amongst their favorite contacts.

     Religion  

  • God, in Abrahamic religions, is traditionally believed to be omnipresent and omniscient throughout all time, while simultaneously existing outside of time (i.e. not being bound by it).

     Video Games  

  • The Venar from The Longest Journey. They perceive all of their life simultaneously. They are aware of everything that has happened to them and will happen to them, from their birth to their death, as if it happened now. Save for a period of time, soon to come, where their perception will be clouded and hidden, which upsets them quite a deal. (And given that they're never upset or surprised by anything ever usually, this means something.)
  • Moebius the Timestreamer from Legacy of Kain. As Guardian of time, he is virtually omniscient, enabling him to manipulate time travellers.
  • Observers in BlazBlue like Rachel and Terumi are like this.
  • The Lutece Twins in BioShock Infinite.

     Webcomics  

  • Fae in Dan and Mab's Furry Adventures are like this, in addition to being kinda' crazy (maybe). Apparently, very high-level Cubi end up like that too, prompting an interesting (and somewhat paradoxical) reaction when Mab runs into Fa'lina during the SAIA arc.
  • Bugbears within the universe of Skin Deep are incapable of being surprised without the help of a special Bugbear talisman. The exact mechanics of this sense have been described as an "internal radar," and whilst Bugbears are not technichally disconnected from time, it is a noteworthy semi-subversion.
  • The trolls in Homestuck live in a different universe than the main characters, allowing them to witness their entire timeline at once, bug them at whatever point they wish, and give them advice or deride them for the choices they have already made. In one case, one of them decides to talk to one of the kids backwards because he accidentally revealed his hate-crush on him the first time (It Makes Sense in Context), prompting him to not troll him in the future where he knows of this.
    • The mysterious uranianUmbra appears to be capable of communicating with the characters of Universe B2 nonlinearly, but she purposely avoids doing this. undyingUmbrage, on the other hand, doesn't care about telling people what they will do in the future.
    • The dreamselves are also said to exist in a place less affected by time - this was how Rose's dreamself from the doomed timeline was able to merge with her alpha timeline dreamself, bringing knowledge and memories with her.
    • Then there's Aranea, who is a ghost and has apparently existed for a very long time, moving entirely within dreambubbles (which are pretty time-screwy in themselves), to the point where she claims that she experiences time very differently from anyone else.
  • 8-Bit Theater: Sarda. But only when it's funny.
  • Time in the heaven and hell of Jack is said not to exist, which effectively means that those who can travel between planes can pop into any era on Earth. As such the story arcs aren't arranged in chronological order. In fact, the title character reaped himself.
    • At the end of another arc a character is reincarnated and her second life is shown as an old lady at the same time her first was a teenager.

     Western Animation  


Non-Ironic ClownCharacters as DeviceNon-Promotion
Half-Human HybridLiminal BeingOtherworldly And Sexually Ambiguous
Mystical WaifFate and Prophecy TropesNot So Omniscient After All

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