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. 

 

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