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!
I’ve been writing humorous poetry since I was a wee girl at me Irish grandmother’s knee… she’d chuckle and get on with baking her apple sugar pies and then winding her blue rosary around her gnarled fingers, praying, ‘What’s the lass going to come to with these ditties?’
Novels, mostly historicals these days and I’m finishing up a second Paris WW 2 novel while pulling all-nighters… I needed a break, so here’s a lighthearted poem about everyone’s favorite frog from this Irish Poetess.
Put the kettle on and Enjoy!
The art of writing fairy tales
is a joy I claim.
But frog or toad, what’s in a name?
’Tis a prince I seek at the end of my tale
And that happily ever after, but to no avail
Ah, but yes have I the power of the pen
So with my snappy keystrokes Poof! I say.
He’s here. Amen!
Here the first in my Occupied Paris series:
The Resistance Girl
Juliana discovers her grandmamma was a famous French film star in Occupied Paris
And the shocking secret her mother never told her…
5* ‘… a beautiful and poignant historic fiction that left me in tears’ Jessica F NetGalley
Writing never gets easier… if anything, it’s more difficult.
Why? Because we expect more of ourselves. Even more so when you’re doing edits from your fab editor who’s really an angel in disguise. We want to make our story as perfect as possible and not disappoint her. She believes in you. Your characters believe in you. After all, their lives are in your hands.
But like a chocolate soufflé, a lot can go wrong.
Your computer screen goes blue… computer updates send your heart pounding as you pray you get all your pretty icons back…. a character keeps you up at nights because you’re so worried about how you’re going to save her butt and yours.
You go over your word count.
You can’t find your timeline/fact sheet for your heroine (when you’re writing about Paris during WW 2 this is crucial).
You ‘re so tired, you push the wrong button on your keyboard and everything in Track Changes disappears
You realize a secondary relationship ain’t working because the hero is based on an old boyfriend with a big ego. You dump him. Get a new guy for the part. And he’s an absolute dream.
You work from dawn-to-dawn the week before edits are due and have no idea what day it is.
And worst of all, you run out of coffee.
But I did it!
I sent my editor the edited manuscript at 7:37 a.m. on a sunny morning… and I felt numb. No whistles went off. No bells. Just the quiet hum of my computer.
I needed a hug.
Someone telling me ‘I done good’.
Yes, I’m totally proud of what I accomplished, but writing can be a lonely business. And it’s hard work, especially writing historicals. (My story follows a dual timeline from 1926 to 1950 and present day. Silent films, Nazis in Paris, the film business in Hollywood and France.)
So I did what I swore I wouldn’t after I sent the m/s: I opened it back up and read some of my favorite passages. Laughed and cried again with my characters… sat amazed at how they accomplished their goals… fell in love with them all over again… and cheered when they beat the Nazis!
And I got that hug.
From my characters. Reminding me why I write. Because I so love them, the stories, the chance to give them life.
So, merci beaucoup, mes bons amis! Thank you, my friends.
PS — I’ll keep you posted on my Paris WW 2 historical. Cover ideas coming soon…
Veronic is on vacation this month, so we are rerunning one of her more popular posts. She’ll be back September 22, but in the meantime we hope you enjoy:
Most people are a combination of various cultures, though I think their ancestors tended to confine their marriages and unions to one continent. Mine didn’t. As a teenager, growing up in the 1960s, I was always asked, “What are you, black or white?” I’d usually answer, “Both,” or “Neither,” not because I was afraid or wanted to fit in, but because it was true: Nicaraguan and Dominican parents, Middle-Eastern and French grandparents, and Chinese and African great-grandparents. (Hope I didn’t miss anyone). And born in Brooklyn, New York. “How sweet it is!”
This ethnic mix probably explains my preferred genres; Kid-Lit, because I am always looking for someone like me in children’s books; and Historical Fiction, because like working on a jigsaw puzzle, I travel the globe, mostly through books, in search of all of the pieces of me that, once united, will make me whole.
This quest has made me an avid multicultural reader. In every reading exploration I discover something about myself. Everything I write contains a key to who I am that reveals an aspect of my essence. It’s an awesome journey.
And while I seem to connect with everyone, I don’t really fit in anywhere; yet I love the empathy toward others that these various cultures have generated in me because it leads to a deeper kind of listening and understanding, which in turn informs and directs my writing.
I’m always learning, and changing, and growing, and I often have so much to say that I don’t know where to begin, or how to put it all together…like now.
So, thank you ancestors, for being willing and unwilling globe-hoppers. I am wonderfully made and you have given me much to think of and write about.
Imagine you’re reading a fiction historical romance book set in the back country of Montana and one of the characters asks another character if he’s always been a freighter.
He responds with no. He was a trapper.
Aww. Cool. Immediately my mind went to my Great-Great-Great-Grandfather who was a trapper. I continued to read.
He was a part of the great mountain men.
Wait! My Great-Great-Great-Grandfather was called that too. Now my heart was thumping faster as I continued to read. Somehow I just knew what I would see next.
Mountain men like Jedidiah Smith and Jim Clyman.
Stop the presses! That’s my Great-Great-Great-Grandfather’s name! Here in the fiction book I’m reading!!
How cool is that?
I ran around the house showing everyone my Kindle I was so excited!
A lover of all things history, I’ve wanted to write a blog post on James Clyman and our family history for a while, but I’ve been so busy with other topics, I hadn’t gotten to it, but I just had to share this exciting news and tell you a little about him now.
He called himself a mountain man. A trapper with Jedidiah Smith, he was the one who sewed Jedidiah’s ear back on after a bear almost swiped it off. He also came over the pass in the sierras and encountered the Donner Party, advising them not to go that way since winter was settling in. And unfortunately they opted not to listen.
Just how do we know all this? He wrote journals. Daily. Details describing who he met and what he did. Those journals have been printed into books. One titled Frontiersman, was printed in 1960 in a limited number mostly for libraries.
He apparently wrote it all on slates and his daughter composed it into a book. I haven’t read it through completely but there’s a chapter on the Black Hawk War and being in the same unit as future President Lincoln and another on his later years when he settled in Napa, Ca.
Another smaller version came out in the 1980s. My dad signed that one for me. Writing on the inside cover that I’m the 6th generation born in Napa to James Clyman. Pretty cool.
And even more cooler…I’ve actually seen the original journals. They are in the Huntington Library in Pasadena.
He’s in the 4th grade history books as well, which was a real treat for my boys whenever they got to that particular unit.
He’s buried in the same cemetery as my parents and his grave is part of a historical tour they host every once in a while.
Another historical nugget – the original ranch house is still standing. My dad used to spend his summers there and when the land was sold off for housing developments my parents purchased in the neighborhood. You could see the top of the ranch house if you stood in my parents backyard.
There’s more but I’ll save that for another post. I have plans for him to make an appearance in a book or two someday. With all the books out there to read, how fascinating I found someone who beat me to it.
It's a warm August morning in 1926 Los Angles . . .More info →
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