Tuesday, January 17, 2023

Dual Timeline Novels -- by Christine

Photo taken by Christine on her last trip to Ireland of the famous
Dark Hedges so often photographed and filmed in N. Ireland.
And to think it is really just a lane in a farmer's field.

My current work-in-progress is a dual timeline. For ages, I’ve been calling it a Time-Slip novel which is a whole different kettle of fish. Time slip is a plot device in fantasy and science fiction in which a character magically travels through time, such as Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court or Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series, a huge favorite of mine, but not to be confused with dual timeline.

Dual timelines weave together two or more separate eras in which characters flesh out their individual stories, but the past has a definite influence on the future or present day, and often the future story has the more satisfying ending to storylines slightly unfinished in the older story.

  • Questions are answered.
  • Mysteries are solved.
  • Relationships past and present are solidified

But both times have their clearly defined story arcs. A few favorite authors of mine in this genre are Kate Morton, Susanna Kearsley, Kristin Hannah.

At the last writers’ conference I attended, an agent advised me that publishers are wary of dual timeline novels because, more often than not, the quality of one of the timelines is better than the other. Readers are left to flip through one story to get to the other. So, as far as writing goes the multiple stories must be equally well written.

  • Suspense in both stories must be well constructed.
  • Characters must be fully developed.
  • Conflict must be fully rounded and believable. 

As writers we can take no shortcuts to just match one story up to the other.

In essence the writer is telling two separate stories over two different times that weave together significant commonalities, such as place, family ties, war, an object of value. The list is endless.

While writing a dual timeline has its challenges, I find as a reader I enjoy this genre the most. Funny that I’ve never tried to write this type of story until now when way back when I was a teenager, I read what was to become one of the top five of my life-long favorites, Mary Stewart’s Touch Not the Cat.

In Touch Not the Cat Stewart’s sequences from the far past are much shorter than her current day sections, but they gripped me because the answers to the current day heroine’s journey are suspensefully unfolded in those shorter sections. There was a certain magic to the subliminal slip for me as a reader going between the past and current day. There I believe is the commonality between these two difference genres, time-slip and dual time, that I equally love. It is the magic required in both genres. 

That is why I’m setting my dual timeline novel in the place I was born, Ireland. Emigrating from that island when I was a five-year-old has meant that the land of my birth has always held that magic for me. Who of us isn’t enthralled by the past lives of our ancestors, to imagine walking where they walked? To feel the same swell of emotion as we stand on clifftops overlooking the same oceans? To imagine their voices? It’s sheer magic. 

 

Tuesday, January 3, 2023

Unifying a Novel with Multiple Storylines -- by Rachel

 


Writing a novel with multiple storylines can be a fun challenge. However, as your storylines diverge, it is important to make sure all of the story threads do in fact weave into one story tapestry. Otherwise, the reader will leave your story feeling muddled.

Here are a few methods to make sure your various storylines hang together as one and keep the reader feeling engaged.

Present multiple sides of a single story.

The most straightforward way to carry off multiple storylines is to present a single story from multiple points of view. This weaves the tapestry together easily and cleanly. In Daisy Jones & the Six, all of the band members tell one story: the band’s rise and fall. Each character presents their own view and own substories, with the two stars, Daisy and Billy, getting the most airtime.

You can spice up this method by ensuring that some of the POVs cast doubt on previous character accounts, present an unreliable version, or in some way turns the story on its head.  Piccoult does this in Nineteen Minutes where she presents a school shooting from different characters’ points of view, but her goal is to change the reader’s judgement about the events as each new perspective is presented.

Write the path of characters finding their way to each other.

This keeps the tension up as two main characters or groups head for that meeting the reader knows is coming, the crux of the story. In All the Light We Cannot See, the reader waits on pins and needles as Marie-Laure, the blind girl, hides in her uncle’s home during WWII, while Werner, conscripted by the Nazis for his precocious engineering skills, heads in her direction. Doerr makes the meeting feel inevitable and suspenseful, keeping the two stories closely linked, but he doesn’t stop there. The two stories are further intertwined by the children’s history. It is Marie-Laure’s family that hosted a science radio show, which reached the orphan, Werner, and sparked his interest in engineering and still comes to him as fond memories as he faces the nightmare of war. That third piece is important. As you make the upcoming meeting of the characters a center point of your novel, how else can you connect the characters?

The wider the storylines verge, the tighter your central premise and theme need to be.

If you have two or more storylines that ramble, especially where the characters are leading separate lives apart from each other through much of the novel, it’s crucial to have something that knits the stories close together. This can the burning question, a mystery that all of the characters are working to solve, or someone at risk that multiple characters are trying to save. One of my favorite wide-ranging novels, The Lake House, has quite a number of characters and spans back and forth over a century, but all through the  novel, Morton ties it together with a single question: what happened to the baby who disappeared?

Additionally, if you have parallel storylines running, it’s important that they’re linked by common themes. Think how in the TV series, This is Us, one episode may cover different time periods, generations and locations, but in each one, the threads deal with the same theme – the impossibility of being a perfect parent, say, or addiction.

As our world has become more chaotic, it is quite common to see storylines bob and weave across various characters, settings, and wider plots. This is a good thing, as our culture comes to recognize the variety that feeds into our own stories. If this is the story you’re writing, that’s fantastic. Just don’t forget to give some thought to how you’ll keep your multiple storylines unified into one central story.  

 

Monday, December 19, 2022

The Gift of Writing: The Many Reasons to Keep Going When Writing is Hard -- by Rachel

I write for the joy of it. Why else would I spend hours trying to carve out writing time around a busy life? But if we’re being honest, writing is the most demanding job I’ve ever done. So, when the day’s plot proves elusive or comes out flat and colorless, I begin to question myself. Should I give my time to a more straightforward pursuit, or you know, just breathe, instead of struggling with my unruly imagination?

Because those kinds of questions rear their heads so often, and because I got tired of wrestling with my mammoth self-doubt, I came up with several pages of why writing is a gift (which it is, even when I’m wrestling with my squirming first draft). This list has been my go-to reminder of why I write when the writing is hard. It sends me back to my computer with a metaphorical hug and a “it’s so worth it!”

Here's a sampling from that list. If you’re a writer and you struggle with self-doubt too, I hope you will find some inspiration from my list, and may even choose to write your own.

When I write:

  • I feel more “me;” writing is what I’m made for
  • I organize my flitting, sometimes distressing thoughts into something coherent and find their redemptive core
  • My senses start to sing (I see more beauty, taste my food, hear the music, find the mystic quality in the ordinary, until the mundane slips away)
  • My creative soul wakes up and brightens my world
  • I get to spend time with my writing friends who I love and cherish
  • My polished end products from blog posts to novels give me a sense of pride
  • There’s the surprise and delight of seeing a character take off on their own or a page practically write itself every once and a while
  • I go places and experience emotions that extend past the limits of my ordinary world
  • I’m reminded of the power of keeping at it – first tries often stink, but third and fourth and fifth tries sing
  • My readers are entertained
  • My readers may better understand people in their own lives through reading about my characters
  • I share beauty, and isn’t beauty meant to be shared?
  • I offer new perspectives, to myself and to my readers
  • I let my readers know they aren’t all alone in their experience of the world
  • I’m a happier, more confident mother because I’m creative (and a creative Rachel is a happier mom)
  • This introverted writer helps her loved ones know her better
  • I’m more confident and have more self-respect because I’ve finished big projects
  • When I write? What else is there? I’ve tried, and I can’t not write

Monday, December 5, 2022

WRITING PEACE by Christine


A Small Portion of Christine's Garden

Experiencing inner peace has become vital to me, not only as a writer but as a person. In my previous post I wrote about laying aside my writing for five years due to a decided lack of peace that had nothing to do with my actual life. My marriage was and remains to this day happy and loving, my children were all reasonably fine, and I had no chronic illness or extreme financial woes. My lack of peace was 100% due to the so-called marketing of my books.  

How heart weary I was of striving, striving, striving, to push my books forward. So, I stopped, and truly believed I would never take up the novelist's quill again. 

"But", you say, "we are told to follow our dreams. Reach for the stars. You can do it." 

Thing is, not all of us will achieve the success of Stephen King or JK Rowling. There are bills to pay so a steady job is needed. There are children to raise with all the love and attention we can give them. A spouse to faithfully support. Or we must rest because we are totally exhausted. There comes a time when we may have to set our dreams aside. 

A harsh truth, but one that I hope is refreshing. 

Rachel and I were chatting the other day, her in her Houston suburb, me in my small town Alberta Canada. She said something to the affect, "Life is too short to use up our precious minutes in something that does not bring us peace and happiness." That is the place I had come to. 

I scaled back for my sanity. With relief I took up a part-time job for income. For those five years on my days off, I soaked myself in planting and caring for my garden. I read books in said garden for pure pleasure. My inner peace became paramount.

  • So, I ask, is it time for you as a writer to consider scaling back?
  • Is publication a good idea for you right now?
  • Can you write in smaller increments?
  • Can you delay for a short while or a long while?
  • Are there ways to have inner peace and keep your writing dream alive?
After my five-year furlough I now work on my current novel only because it is my desire. I do my research because I like it. I see the work growing under my hands like the mounding clay of a sculptor, or a flowerbed under the worn gloves of a gardener, and I find joy. 

And this is my wish for you. If writing fills you up, write. If it drains you, put it aside for now. Life is too short for anything else. 

These days I write in utter peace, having no expectations for how it will be received by the publishing world. I simply enjoy the wonder of creating a fictional world to share with whomever will wish to read it. 

I am a writer. 





Monday, November 21, 2022

Why I Took a Writing Sabbatical and am Back at Work on My Novel Now -- by Rachel




If you’re lucky – and I am – you have a passion that is central to your identity. It frames who you are, whether it’s art or medicine, homemaking or leadership. For me, that passion is writing. I hardly know what I think or feel until I’ve found a way to express it in writing. 

But having a passion that is also a commercial venture can get confusing. About the time my novel The Language of Sparrows was published, the complications in my life spiraled. It involved a painful divorce (what divorce isn’t?), promotions at work that required longer hours, and my girls entering their teens, which – surprise! – is more complex than raising little ones.

When I first started writing, my girls were young and I had a fulltime job. I got up before dawn to write, and edited during my lunch hour. It was exhausting and exhilarating. I finished two novels, published the second, and began work on the third.

If John Grisham and Diana Gabaldon could get their start stealing time to write in the wee hours around jobs and families, so could I. I was the little engine who could, chugging up the writing tracks with confidence. Until I couldn’t anymore. I couldn’t be a single mother, manager and author. I was burnt out. As any writer knows, letting your imagination dream up a coherent novel-length story requires loads of listening time and mental energy day after day after day. With my crazy busy life I no longer had time or mental energy.

I was convinced I had to write that next novel though, because I was published now and needed to strike while the iron was hot. I kept trying, unsuccessfully, until at last I surrendered to the blank page and stopped writing altogether. What a painful time that was. You see, writing isn’t a hobby for me. It’s my heart and soul. Without words I was emotionally parched.

It took about a year for me to rediscover the kinds of writing that didn’t have anything to do with publication. It was journaling for myself and writing poetry and short articles to share with friends. That kind of writing helped me rediscover the long-forgotten happiness of stringing words together for the fun of it, of saying exactly what I meant and saying it well. Writing bliss!

I’ve read so much writing advice that insinuates that if you’re a real writer, you’ll write through thick and thin, no matter what. I am a real writer, but I absolutely believe the time off was necessary and good, as it may be for many real writers.

During what I now call my sabbatical years, I got out of the house more, spent time with my girls, had profound relationships, took a few vacations, thought through hard personal topics. I experimented with different kinds of writing. I lived and I loved and I grew. Gradually, I returned to my third novel, but I wrote in slow snatches as I could find the time and only as ideas came to me. After several years I’m a little over half way into my first draft.

Time has allowed my story to marinate. As a result, it has more plot layers, richer characters and deeper themes. Maybe I’m rationalizing, but I think the time away from the story has paid off personally and creatively.

My girls are young women now, and a couple of months ago, I took early retirement. I’m back to writing my novel consistently. It’s my new unofficial job. It’s unpaid at least for now and comes with a demanding boss (ha!) 

I’m excited to be back at it though. I’m loving the pages piling up and the story taking shape. Also, it fills my heart to be working again with my favorite friend and critique partner, Christine Lindsay. As we write our novels, we’ll be sharing some of our tips on writing fiction and living well as a writers on www.NovelRenaissance.com. If writing is your thing, I invite you to join us.



Monday, November 7, 2022

Why I Stopped a Successful Writing Career. And Why I Started Again: by Christine

Rachel and I at Moraine Lake, Banff National Park, Alberta Canada 2022. Yes, the lake is that exact turquoise color.


I stopped writing about five years ago. Something I never thought would happen. 


I had just returned from a writers’ conference in Dallas. While my one-sheet for my then work-in-progress hadn’t cornered a new agent or big publisher, I was asked to send the completed manuscript when it was finished. But sometime shortly after that my successful writing career stalled. Its engine sputtered, clanged, rolled and bumped to the side of the road. Maybe a little smoke wafted off to a lifeless prairie. Can you hear the coyotes howl?

 

“Why?” You ask. “Why did you stop a successful writing career?”

 

Firstly, let’s define successful. My books had won a number of awards. No small amount of critical acclaim for which I was proud. Yes, proud. Pride does not insinuate that one has a big head, nor is it an emotion to be ashamed of. Pride is simply this: “A feeling of deep pleasure or satisfaction derived from one's own achievements…”

 

I was happy, fulfilled, that my writing had produced six books of quality. I considered that success. And royalties you ask…

 

A tumbleweed rolls past.  

 

By the time you count the dollars I spent on marketing I probably broke even. My success with small publishing houses had garnered little monetary reward. Don’t get me wrong, I have the utmost gratitude to the small houses that published me, but it’s a tough business out there, and small houses don’t reach readers in the same way big houses do. 

 

Still, that didn’t bother me. Success to me has little to do with royalties. The issue was simply, BURN-OUT. My writing engine was toast, steaming slightly by the side of the road, and I had no desire to even turn the ignition key. 

 

You see, while I love, love, love the creative process of writing a full-length novel, I hate, hate, hate marketing. I cringed every time I promoted my books on social media. I hated the time spent on fruitless newsletters and writing guest blog posts. Other authors do so much better at marketing their own books than I do. I admire their stick-to-it-tive-ness. But in me, it's something that really goes against the grain. And I wanted to simply write and be a normal person. I needed a break. 

 

As time passed, the almost complete outline for my current book gathered dust. And I didn’t care. 


I was living, not trying to balance a part-time job, care for my elderly mother, and squeeze time in with my husband as he approached retirement, or play with my grandchildren.

 

Gosh, the freedom was exhilarating. 

 

But as I reached my own retirement something wonderful happened. Time! Luxurious time just for me. Would I take up an old hobby: water-color painting, perhaps? 


Or blow the dust off my half completed novel? 

 

That’s when my best friend and critique partner, Rachel, came for a visit. Rachel, too, had recently retired (early for her). For almost seven days we talked about writing. Cold embers stirred. Discarded coals glowed. Okay, that doesn’t quite match up with my engine metaphor, but for the first time in five years I wanted to slip the key into the ignition and turn it.

 

I’ve picked up my work-in-progress. The coyotes are gagged silent, and the birds in my backyard are singing the hallelujah chorus. I have no idea if an agent or publisher of a large house will take it up once it’s completed, but I don’t care. I’m writing. I’m loving every word that appears on my laptop screen. I'm writing this book for me.

 

I hope you’ll rejoin Rachel and I as we both focus on our current novels. In addition to that we are restarting our blog, Novel Renaissance to encourage you too along the way. 



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