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
Ah, the magic of Christmases past… even those we want to forget…
Like spending an hour hanging up Christmas tree lights that don’t work when you plug them in.
Or imbibing in two much spicy eggnog at the office party while wearing a tipsy Santa hat… and then seeing your grinning face splashed all over social media.
Or digging through your closet for your favorite red Christmas dress to impress the new man in your life and you find out it doesn’t fit anymore.
Not our best holiday memories and ones we’d rather forget. But what about the holiday moments that make our eyes misty no matter how many years go by?
Memories of Christmases past race through our heads like sugar plum fairies on a triathlon this time of year… for me, I’ve turned three of them into Christmas stories that turn back the clock.
When I was stationed in Livorno, Italy, I worked in the US Army Service Club and every Christmas we hosted an event for the soldiers with the nuns and little boys from the local orphanage. I never forgot how the soldiers and little Italian boys had such a great time even though they didn’t speak the same language… except they did.
The spirit of Christmas.
I wanted to capture that lovely day in a story about a US Army captain in Italy during World War 2 who gets lost on the road to Rome right before Christmas Eve. He ends up helping out a beautiful nun and her charge of little boys and saves them from the Nazis.
If you like WW 2 romance, check out my holiday novella that takes place on Christmas Eve during the cold winter of 1943: A Soldier’s Italian Christmas.
December 1943 Italy
He is a US Army captain, a battle-weary soldier who has lost his faith.
She is a nun, her life dedicated to God.
Together they are going to commit an act the civilized world will not tolerate.
They are about to fall in love.
I was only six years old when I attended a strict parochial school behind a big iron gate in Philadelphia… at Christmastime, the nuns took us to see Santa Claus at Wanamaker’s department store, but we had to pass by the ‘poor house’ – an old limestone building with broken windows and no trees. Lost souls squatting. We gave them packages of food and the sisters told us kids we’d end up there if we didn’t learn our Catechism lessons.
It scared the heck out of me.
Years later when I saw ‘A Christmas Carol’ on TV and got a glimpse of Scrooge threatening to send the hungry and poor to a workhouse, I remember the nun’s warning.
I wanted to write my own version of Scrooge, but I fantasized him more like a tortured, romantic hero, so I created Nick Radnor… handsome, brilliant… and with a smartphone.
And one so close to my heart…
I grew up hearing my dad’s stories about how he met my mom during the war… the red coat she wore when she saw him off at the train station… the letters they wrote to each other. The strong feelings of hope and love that kept everybody’s spirits up till the soldiers came home.
When I wrote Christmas Once Again about a woman who goes back in time to save the man she loves, I drew upon those memories, especially for my heroine’s mother. Kate’s strong bond with Ma, her need to see her again (she lost her mother before the book opens), also reflects my desire to see my mom.
My mother passed away a few days before Christmas many years ago…
So, when I talk about Christmas Once Again, you’ll understand the joy and poignant feelings racing through me when I wrote those scenes when my heroine reconnects with her mother once again… if only for a little while.
What are your most emotional Christmas memories?
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays, everyone!
Christmas memories are forever…better yet if they’re on film.
Until you can’t find them.
I’m a good record keeper, my accountant loves me…my handwritten notes from trips abroad often help me shape a story, but I was devastated when I couldn’t find my old Christmas movies when I was a kid.
A mad search finally showed up a lost reel my dad shot at Christmas when I was in grade school. It was the only time we took movies at Christmas. We moved around a lot (I went to fifteen schools), and over the years the old movie camera stopped working…and well, you get the idea.
But this year I wanted to resurrect the old movies because of one short piece of film.
My mom hanging up Christmas stockings.
So although her picture won’t appear in the dedication, here’s that special piece of film from my old home movies.
Thanks, Mom, for making every Christmas special.
Time travel back to Christmas 1943 on the home front
Exciting news re: my holiday Women’s Fiction novel CHRISTMAS ONCE AGAIN — release day is October 10th! It’s now up for pre-order at $2.99
On a cold December day in 1955, I got on a train to go back home for Christmas.
This is the story of what happened when I got off that train.
Christmas Once Again:
More about Christmas Once Again as we get closer to pub date…
I’ve spent Christmas where it snows . . . where it doesn’t . . . and where it’s truly a winter wonderland in the German Alps. The magic only gets stronger over the years for me because each Christmas I have another memory to hang on my tree.
Not a real tree, of course. But what I call my Christmas Look Back Tree.
I can pull up fun memories, funny moments, heartfelt goodbyes, and most of all the true spirit of the season. The star at the top of the tree shines year after year to give me hope.
For there’s nothing like the warm goodness and comforting embrace of family and friends to experience the real joy of the season. Like a cup of hot cocoa with cinnamon sticks that never gets empty.
So, why am I telling you this in August? It’s back to school time, vacation days lingering, time to BBQ and eat burgers and messy corn on the cob. Because I’ve been spending a lot of time recently in a little town in Pennsylvania called Posey Creek.
At Christmastime — during World War 2 in 1943.
I found that in order to create a time and place that existed only in my heart, I relived my own Christmases Pasts far removed from that time, but the sentiment, the hopes, dreams, and needs of my heroine come from a place within me. That I went back to my Christmas Look Back Tree to dig deep into my feelings to mold my heroine.
More on my story next time, but for this post I wanted to write about that even when we write about a time and place we never knew, it still comes from the heart, from our passion to tell a story that reflects a bit of us, even if we don’t know it at the time.
For me, it was Ma. My heroine’s mother. Her strong bond with her mother, her need to see her again (she goes back in time to reconnect with her mother who’s gone when the book opens), also reflects my desire to do the same.
You see, my mother passed away a few days before Christmas many years ago…
So, when we talk about my upcoming release, CHRISTMAS ONCE AGAIN, you’ll understand how joyous I felt writing those scenes when my heroine reconnects with her mother once again…if only for a little while.
News about Christmas Once Again release in October now up for pre-order:
Before Dr. Eric King was with Kyla, he chased Olivia Bennett.More info →