Author Toolbox · Cockle Shells and Silver Bells · WIP · Writing

Writing dual timelines – Author Toolbox Blog Hop

Hello friends! Welcome to the October edition of the Author Toolbox Blog Hop created by the fabulous Raimey Gallant. This will be the last Author Toolbox of 2017, as we take a mini break for NaNoWriMo and the holidays. So make the most of all this incredible insight and hop along to as many of the other blogs as you can!

This month, I’m taking you guys along on another research mission for my current WIP, COCKLE SHELLS AND SILVER BELLS. After outlining the plot months ago, I’ve now decided to add a second timeline set forty years earlier, using a secret diary as the mode of delivery for my additional POV. I’ve never done anything like this before, so I’ve been reading everything I can on the subject, and I thought some of you might be interested in what I’ve learned.

Author Toolbox Blog Hop

Adding a second timeline

Whose point of view?

So you’ve decided to add a secondary timeline to your novel, but you’re not quite sure how to go about it. First things first, you need to decide whether the POV will be your MC, or another character. Are you trying to show how earlier events lead to your character’s current situation? Was it their own doing, or a parent/ancestor? Maybe you’re writing a thriller or crime novel and want to include a timeline with one of the killer’s previous victims to show what could happen to your MC if they don’t get away. Dual timelines can (and should) both build tension and include exposition to keep your readers’ interest, so keep that in mind when deciding whose POV to use.

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How to frame it

There are several ways you could frame the second timeline, aside from simply stating the name and date at the beginning of each chapter. Here are a few fun ideas:

  • A diary or letters
  • Flashbacks/memories
  • Cassette tapes, a la 13 Reasons Why (or a vlog perhaps)
  • Police records and interviews, a la Carrie
Dual timelines Lyndsey's Book Blog
How often should you switch between timelines?

Next, you need to think about the weight you want to give your secondary timeline. Is it strong enough to take up 50% of the novel? Is it more of a supporting subplot? It’s your choice how much of the story is spent in timeline number two, but it should be a significant enough amount that it couldn’t be cut without seriously affecting the story.

Whether you alternate every single chapter, or throw in a flashback every fifty pages, make sure your secondary timeline plot is essential to the story. You don’t want readers to skip to the next chapter whenever they reach a time change, but don’t worry too much about readers preferring one to the other – they probably will.

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Writing your dual timeline novel

There are two main methods for writing your novel once you’ve decided on your two POVs and their plot points:

  • Write each timeline continuously and alternate them during editing.
  • Flip between timelines and write the novel as you intend it to be read.

Each has their merits, and it’s up to you to decide which one works best for you and your story. For my WIP, I plan to write through the main story from start to finish, leaving bullet points in the places where the diary entries will come up so I know which bits of narrative exposition have been revealed. Then I’ll go back and write the diary so I can really immerse myself in my second POV character and her 1970s time period.

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A few final tips

As with any multi POV novel, your character voices need to be distinct. Even if your second timeline is still in your MCs voice, it should be clear that something has changed, especially if your character is considerably younger/older in your two timelines.

Make the transition between POVs connected in some way, i.e. make the exposition relevant to the main timeline and your MCs current conflict. If you’re writing a mystery, you could include a series of clues and red herrings, and use each time change to reveal the significance, or insignificance, of each one. This will keep your readers guessing and make sure they don’t skim over your secondary timeline, as they’d miss crucial exposition.

Read as many books with a similar narrative style to your planned WIP as possible before you start. This is where I’m up to with my outlining, so if you have any recommendations of books with a secondary timeline and POV using diaries or letters pop them in the comments please!

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I hope you found that as useful as I did! It’s not as daunting as it seems at first glance, all it takes to write a novel with two timelines and two POV characters is a little extra planning and research. Good thing I’m a card carrying plotter then!

Don’t forget to check out the other blogs on the Author Toolbox blog hop, all the writers taking part are incredibly talented and inspiring, you’ll definitely learn something new and maybe find a few new blogs to follow.

Until next time!

Lyndsey

x

Writing dual timelines Lyndsey's Book Blog

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42 thoughts on “Writing dual timelines – Author Toolbox Blog Hop

    1. Thanks Rosie, I’m the same, mine is going to be via a diary entry probably every third or fourth chapter. With novels with a historical timeline like mine I tend to prefer the modern day POV and rush through the other POV, so I want to avoid readers doing that if I can!

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  1. What a great post! I have never considered doing a dual timeline given the enormity of such a project but your tips motivate me to such an undertaking πŸ™‚ And absolutely lurrving the title of your WIP!

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  2. I’ve never even considered a dual timeline story, but this is a great resource should I ever decide to attempt that particular form of madness (as if writing a novel isn’t mad enough already!) Thank you!

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  3. This is so helpful. I had considered adding another timeline to my current WIP, but decided it’s not going to work for this piece. I definitely want to try it with something else in the future though. Thanks for sharing. πŸ™‚

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    1. I’m so glad it was useful, you’ll have to let me know when you decide to try it, and I’ll keep posting on my blog about my WIP and how it goes for me! Fingers crossed πŸ˜€

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  4. I’m plotting a multi-timeline, multi-POV right now, and it’s taxing to say the least. I’m going to write it all chapter by chapter as it comes, but that’s because it is going to be super interconnected, and I don’t want to lose track of what I’ve revealed. I love the idea of leaving notes for epistolary elements, and perhaps coming back to them. Great post, Lyndsey!

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    1. That sounds like a really challenging but rewarding WIP! I hope it all comes together for you, and with something like that it definitely sounds like taking it one chapter at a time is the best option. Good luck with your WIP Raimey! Can’t wait to hear more about it πŸ™‚

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  5. I just started a book with dual timeline and so far, I’m torn between wanting what happened that suggests it was terrible and what the future holds for the MC. It’s well done for now, and your post reminded me of it and how difficult it must be to find the right balance.

    I personally love the idea of letters. There is something personal and mysterious about it. Great post!

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    1. I’ve read a few books that did this perfectly, really building the tension in the past timeline towards whatever terrible thing happened, and then showing the aftermath without actually ruining the suspense or surprise in the current timeline. When it’s done well it can be completely gripping and thrilling! Fingers crossed I can find the balance for my WIP πŸ™‚

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  6. I really should participate in this sometime. I keep meaning to, but then don’t. Then again, maybe right now I should put more focus on . . . posting something in general. πŸ™‚

    My most recent WIP was meant to be dual timeline, but the draft ended up being so much longer than my usual first drafts that I decided it might be better for the story to standalone with one timeline than become a massive epic.

    I have written dual POV before, but in the same timeline . . . unless time travel counts? Based on the feedback of the beta reader I had at the time, I’m guessing I fell into the trap of writing characters with voices that were too similar. Even I had trouble remembering whose POV I was writing in, LOL. At least I had fun and learned something. πŸ™‚

    I won’t be participating in NaNo this year. I want to focus on revising the WIP I wrote for Camp last summer as opposed to starting anything new. (Even though every time I look at the NaNo website I am so tempted.) Still, I wish you luck next month if you’re participating!

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    1. Thanks Jacqueline! Well #AuthorToolboxBlogHop won’t be back til January now, so you’ve got three months to prepare πŸ˜‰ I understand the problem with too-similar voices, I struggle with that in a straight forward WIP, so I’m nervous about two POVs, but I’m just going to try to get to know my characters really well and take it one MC at a time. Wish me luck!

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  7. I have written a few stories like this. Either using flashback (my current WIP), diary entries (another WIP) or first long story (the one in the draw which I through 400k words at before realising I didn’t know what I was doing) which was where I cut my teeth on introducing different timelines through a variety of techniques (flashbacks, personal journal entries, and another characters diary entires etc.). It seems to be my thing. πŸ™‚ Your tips are therefore fabulous for me so I’ve exported to PDF for future use. Thanks! X

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    1. Wow you sound like a pro already! I should be asking you for tips πŸ˜ƒ I’m glad my post was helpful, I’m still trying to finalise how I’m going to make these dual timelines work so wish me luck 🀞

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  8. Great post. This is just the information I’ve been searching for – dual timelines. I was beginning to think I was searching for writing information that didn’t exist! Tiya Miles, β€œCherokee Rose” is written with a dual timeline.

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