I’ve written time travel and loved it… Her Lost Love when my heroine takes a magic train from 1955 back to 1943 to Posey Creek, PA to save the man she loves from being killed in France… and present day back to the Battle of Antietam in 1862 where my heroine meets her ‘twin’ who’s a Confederate spy… and also historical fiction about the Titanic The Runaway Girl.
But writing a dual timeline is like walking barefoot on broken seashells on the sand.
Painful. Excruciating. And dangerous.
You can end up hobbling all the way home… or to the end of your manuscript. Yikes.
I’ve been there… and survived. I’ve written two dual timeline novels — The Resistance Girl and the novel I just finished (title coming) — both about Paris during World War 2 when the city was occupied by the Nazis. The era lends itself to intrigue, romance, spies… and danger. Who could resist? Not me.
However, I’ve fretted and moaned and had more chocolate binges than I care to admit writing these books, but they’re the most rewarding stories I’ve ever written. Stories about lost family found and connecting with your ‘roots’. I learned a lot along the way… so here are my 7 Tips for Writing Dual Timelines:
1 — keep two sets of timelines so you know where you and your heroines are in each era at all times.
Your heroine’s birthdate in the past is important and determines what “historical events’ she witnesses. In the present, your heroine’s journey may last a shorter time — a week, month; in the past, it could be years. In The Resistance Girl, we follow the heroine’s film career from the 1920s through 1950. The modern heroine’s journey last for several days.
2 — present day in your story doesn’t have to mean today. Make it work for you.
My latest novel takes place in 2003 and 1940-1945. Why? Because I wanted my historical heroine to be alive when she meets the present day heroine. She’s 80 years old and at the top of her game, but the war years still haunt her. Also, she loves flying on the Concorde and the last trip of the airship was in 2003.
3 — create a compelling opening in whichever timeline works best. No hard fast rule you have to begin in the past.
In my new Paris novel, I begin in 2003 because I wanted to set up the 80-year-old diva’s reluctance to talk about the war years because of her personal pain. My modern heroine/reporter convinces her to ‘let it go’ and we’re off and running…
4 — decide before you begin plotting (or if you’re a pantster — I do both) if your two heroines meet at some point; or, if we know the historical heroine meets her fate and we never see her in the present.
I did both — in The Resistance Girl, the modern heroine discovers she had a famous grandmother in France during the war — a film star — she never knew existed. But in my new novel, the two heroines meet in the first chapter in 2003.
5 — know your history and research your era like crazy; your heroine in the past is fictional, but make her life believable! Facts count but don’t tell us, show us how your heroine survives in that era in a way that’s unique to her.
For example, the historical heroine in my upcoming book ends up in concentration camps; I gave her an unusual backstory that determined how she survived in the camps because of her background and talents, but made sure it was also possible.
6 — location, location, location… make sure you know exactly what your locations look like in both eras if you’re going to visit them in both timelines.
In my upcoming book about Paris, we go to concentration camp sites in Germany and Poland in both 1944-45, 1975, and 2003. I was fortunate to find photos and films that showed what the camps looked like in 1944-45 and also circa 2003 and 1975. An amazing bit of luck which created some tear-jerking moments for my historical heroine.
7 — have fun! This is an adventure about finding your heroine’s roots — like that fabulous PBS show where the celebrity goes through the big scrapbook and meets their lost relatives with the jovial host.
Make your story heartfelt, emotional, fascinating, believable, and filled with surprises to keep your readers turning those pages like the celeb on TV!
Questions about dual timelines:
Drop me a comment!
If you’re a fan of Jane Austen and other Regency-set fiction, Mrs. Hurst Dancing, a collection of 70 watercolors by Diana Sperling, is a treasure. The book is especially valuable for the often-confused author trying to envision the clothing, the transportation, and how everyone passed the time, especially in the country. Unfortunately, no one was posting helpful YouTube videos two hundred years ago.
The above painting is a good example of what you’ll find in the book. The tongue-in-cheek description is Sperling’s own. The “Lord of the Manor”, probably her brother Henry, leads three ladies (probably Diana and her sisters) to a neighbor’s house for a dinner party.
All three ladies are wearing red cloaks, which I often forget were staples of country life, and also good indicators of class. The Sperling family were gentry, not super-rich nobility. The bonnets look like leghorn bonnets with flatter crowns. If you know what they are, please mention it in the comments.
Dinner in the country was earlier than in “town”. They’re not driving down the road to the neighbor’s in a coach and four–they’re walking cross-country! There’s no date on this picture, so we don’t know what season this is; probably not the dead of winter though, despite the cloaks. The three ladies are carrying their shoes for indoors, and it looks like Henry has his stuffed into the pocket of his coat. (Men’s pockets were in the tails of their coats.)
He’s also carrying a lantern for the walk home. No street lights in the country. Without our modern light pollution, imagine how dark it must have been?
And what about that “tremendous stile”? According to Merriam-Webster, a stile is “a step or set of steps for passing over a fence or wall”. Like this:
A stile allows people to pass, but not livestock. I don’t see stairs in Sperling’s drawing, but there does seem to be a space to the left. I hope the ladies don’t have to climb over those rails in their white gowns.
As I mentioned, there are seventy watercolors in the book depicting the country life of the gentry in this era. In one, Diana’s mother and the housekeeper stand on the window ledge “murdering flies”. In another, the ladies of the family are wallpapering a room. There’s a drawing of the family holding hands and experimenting with an “electrifying machine”. Horses, donkeys, dogs, chickens are all part of the country life depicted.
Mrs. Hurst Dancing is only available in hardcover, and is, I believe, out of print. Weirdly, Amazon has two entries for the book, one with used copies starting at $99, the other with used copies starting at $21.92. How wonderful if the copyright holder would release another edition of this book in softcover.
You can see a few more of Diana Sperling’s amazing watercolors on Pinterest.
For the authors and readers out there, do you make use of images to help you better “see” a story? What’s your go-to site?
The watercolor is from janeaustensworld.com via Pinterest; stile is from Wikimedia commons; book cover is from Amazon.com
This week I had lunch with two of my oldest writing buddies – the ever fabulous Mindy Neff and equally fabulous Sandy Chvostal. I met them soon after publishing my first book. Over the years I have truly come to treasure my book friends. In fact, I think the world should be run by book friends and here is why:
1) Book friends are inclusive. I have never been asked how old I am, what my heritage is, what my political party is, what my religion is. What I have been asked is,’what have you read/written lately?’ Instant friends!
2) Book friends are creative. We share not only a love of reading, but a love of creating. I’ve met sewers, quilter, carpenters, crafters, and chefs. I wonder if we love creating things because we need to move around after spending so much time reading, or do we read because we’re exhausted from our hobbies?
3) Book friends are endlessly curious. If they weren’t, they wouldn’t read, or review, ask questions about what they’ve read, or waxed poetic about it. I love being asked, “have you read (fill in the blank)” because I know the conversation is going to be interesting.
4) Book friends are generous. Time with a book is time we treasure, but reader friends will put down their book to come to another friend’s aid. Period. No questions asked.
5) Book friends are open. All of us have preferred genres, but we like to try something new. I’m a thriller lover yet there are historical fiction books I’ll never forget, nonfiction works I love, even action/adventure novels that have kept me up late into the night.
So it was no surprise that when I received an invitation from a group of authors to join their Facebook reader’s group, My Book Friends, I did. The authors are fun, smart, and generous. They primarily write women’s fiction and romance, but welcome my gritty thrillers. The members of My Book Friends are creative, curious, and inclusive.
The bottom line is this: no one can have too many books or too many book friends. That’s something we can all count on.
You’re Invited June 16, 4-5PM Pacific: Cocktails, Cops & Conversation . Help me celebrate my birthday and Detective Finn O’Brien’s fourth birthday as we talk about my latest release INTIMATE RELATIONS.
Join My Book Friends.
Read INTIMATE RELATIONS FREE at KindleUnlimited; 99¢ to buy
(Click on the cover for more information. Hover over the cover for buy links.)
I had every intention of writing a lovely post this month about all the cool stuff going on with my WW 2 Occupied Paris novel, The Resistance Girl. Honest I did.
Then the research on my next book shot the pants off that idea.
My deadline is right around the corner.
My book is written… mostly. Some bugs to work out. Re-read, check it over… you know the drill.
The research is overwhelming… so much so, I’ve got to cut this shorter than I like. I’m writing another book about Occupied Paris, but this time my heroine finds herself in a concentration camp. Two of them actually… emotionally, I’m drained. Mentally I’m exhausted.
My heart… broken.
I will never, never be able to understand why it happened, the horror, injustice, humiliation done to the victims of the Holocaust. But I’m determined to tell a story about a brave young woman who had a baby in a camp… and she survived. But she never knew what happened to her baby… until years later.
I’ve watched a million survivor videos… read so many books about the Holocaust… checked and double checked the timelines of the camps and what happened there down to what they ate, where the railroad tracks ended at camp, the blocks or barracks map… and I still have questions. I want to make it right.
No, I’ve got to make it right.
I owe to the those who died and those who survived.
So forgive me if I’m emotional this month.
We must never forget…
You can listen to The Resistance Girl on Spotify
Or search for Jina Bacarr and my ‘artiste’ page will pop up.
I’m always teasing my husband that I’d be Dr. Kitty at least once by now if I could go to school as much as I want…which is almost always. Hahaha! I love learning! I know the Internet is full of information — too much information to not get sucked into procrastination mode if you’re not careful — but focused learning is important. It’s good for your brain, and it’s good for your career.
There have been so many great topics on my podcast in the last month that I wanted to let you know so you don’t miss something that could be really helpful for you! As much as I’d love for you to subscribe and listen to every episode (!), be careful not to use “learning” as a way not to act, whether it’s writing or editing or submitting or marketing or any of the many other things we writers must do with our time. But in case you missed something that could help you where you’re at right now, here are links on YouTube to the latest episodes. You can also find them on your favorite podcast app or on the Episodes page of my website.
Episode 247 is an interview with agent Cynthia Ruchti, Are You Ready for a Literary Agent?
Episode 248 is from me asking the question, What Will It Take to Finish Your Book?
Episode 249 is a great discussion between me and writing coach, Ann Kroeker, about How to Find the Right Coach.
Episode 250 (woohoo!! 250 episodes!!) is an interview with author Jody Hedlund on Building Book Buzz.
Episode 251 is one of my Encouraging Words episodes, 5 minutes of encouragement to relax and say, This Isn’t Working For Me, when you feel things are going in a direction you’re not comfortable with.
And tomorrow’s episode, #252, will be super interesting in terms of the mind-body connection when I talk with autistic biohacker Jackie McMillan, Are Creativity and Lymphatic Movement Linked?
If you’re interested in learning more about what I do as a writing coach, you can visit the coaching page on my website, https://www.writenowworkshop.com/writingcoach/. Feel free to reach out with any questions. I love to help! And if you’re thinking of self-publishing, download my free Self-Publish Your Book Checklist, a fillable PDF that will help you organize all the information you need in order to self-publish your book.
In the second pulse-pounding thriller in the series, Detective Gabriel McRay is once again forced to face his inner demonsMore info →
A seductive spy. An alpha vampire. A deadly conspiracy determined to kill them both...More info →
Celebrate all year long through Romancing the PagesMore info →