Writing dual timelines

Hello friends! This month, I’m taking you guys along on another research mission for my current WIP, COCKLE SHELLS AND SILVER BELLS. After outlining the plot months ago, I’ve now decided to add a second timeline set forty years earlier, using a secret diary as the mode of delivery for my additional POV. I’ve never done anything like this before, so I’ve been reading everything I can on the subject, and I thought some of you might be interested in what I’ve learned.

Adding a second timeline

Whose point of view?

So you’ve decided to add a secondary timeline to your novel, but you’re not quite sure how to go about it. First things first, you need to decide whether the POV will be your MC, or another character. Are you trying to show how earlier events lead to your character’s current situation? Was it their own doing, or a parent/ancestor? Maybe you’re writing a thriller or crime novel and want to include a timeline with one of the killer’s previous victims to show what could happen to your MC if they don’t get away. Dual timelines can (and should) both build tension and include exposition to keep your readers’ interest, so keep that in mind when deciding whose POV to use.

How to frame it

There are several ways you could frame the second timeline, aside from simply stating the name and date at the beginning of each chapter. Here are a few fun ideas:

  • A diary or letters
  • Flashbacks/memories
  • Cassette tapes, a la 13 Reasons Why (or a vlog perhaps)
  • Police records and interviews, a la Carrie
Dual timelines Lyndsey's Book Blog
How often should you switch between timelines?

Next, you need to think about the weight you want to give your secondary timeline. Is it strong enough to take up 50% of the novel? Is it more of a supporting subplot? It’s your choice how much of the story is spent in timeline number two, but it should be a significant enough amount that it couldn’t be cut without seriously affecting the story.

Whether you alternate every single chapter, or throw in a flashback every fifty pages, make sure your secondary timeline plot is essential to the story. You don’t want readers to skip to the next chapter whenever they reach a time change, but don’t worry too much about readers preferring one to the other – they probably will.

Writing your dual timeline novel

There are two main methods for writing your novel once you’ve decided on your two POVs and their plot points:

  • Write each timeline continuously and alternate them during editing.
  • Flip between timelines and write the novel as you intend it to be read.

Each has their merits, and it’s up to you to decide which one works best for you and your story. For my WIP, I plan to write through the main story from start to finish, leaving bullet points in the places where the diary entries will come up so I know which bits of narrative exposition have been revealed. Then I’ll go back and write the diary so I can really immerse myself in my second POV character and her 1970s time period.

A few final tips

As with any multi POV novel, your character voices need to be distinct. Even if your second timeline is still in your MCs voice, it should be clear that something has changed, especially if your character is considerably younger/older in your two timelines.

Make the transition between POVs connected in some way, i.e. make the exposition relevant to the main timeline and your MCs current conflict. If you’re writing a mystery, you could include a series of clues and red herrings, and use each time change to reveal the significance, or insignificance, of each one. This will keep your readers guessing and make sure they don’t skim over your secondary timeline, as they’d miss crucial exposition.

Read as many books with a similar narrative style to your planned WIP as possible before you start. This is where I’m up to with my outlining, so if you have any recommendations of books with a secondary timeline and POV using diaries or letters pop them in the comments please!

I hope you found that as useful as I did! It’s not as daunting as it seems at first glance, all it takes to write a novel with two timelines and two POV characters is a little extra planning and research. Good thing I’m a card carrying plotter then!

Until next time!



Writing dual timelines Lyndsey's Book Blog

Beautiful Books 2017

It’s October, and that means NaNoWriMo is almost upon us! It also means Beautiful People, the monthly meme hosted by Cait @ Paper Fury and Sky @ Further Up and Further In, becomes Beautiful Books, where we talk about our current projects or what we’re planning to write during November.


What inspired the idea for your novel, and how long have you had the idea?

COCKLE SHELLS & SILVER BELLS is a YA contemporary fantasy inspired by The Secret Garden, with supernatural themes, LGBTQIA+ characters and a remote seaside setting on the North Yorkshire coast. It’s a combination of a few ideas I had scribbled in my notebook, some for a YA contemporary about a girl who moves to a quiet seaside town and falls for the girl who works at the local ice cream parlour, and some for a modern Bloody Mary story. I started piecing it together about six months ago when I thought I was finished with my other MS, THE FAIR QUEEN, and was outlining for Camp Nano in July.


Describe what your novel is about!

My MC is an orphan who, on turning 18, inherits her family estate on the North Yorkshire coast. There, she comes across the charming but mysterious housekeeper and groundskeeper, a petite, mermaid-haired firecracker called Dillon, a sassy cat with a bizarre habit of turning up at opportune moments, and a friendly ghost with the key to her family’s secrets.


What is your book’s aesthetic? Use words or photos or whatever you like!

I’m hoping to combine the atmospheric moodiness of classic novels by the Bronte sisters, like Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre, and whimsical fantasy elements of books by Maggie Stiefvater. I was initially hoping to venture into YA contemporary, but my fantasy heart wouldn’t allow it, so I had to throw in a few magical bits and bobs!


Introduce us to each of your characters!

Marie ‘Em’ Haigh – Em is 18 and an orphan, she grew up in Provence, France until the age of 10 when her parents were killed in a car accident and she moved to North Yorkshire to live with her great uncle Archie on his farm. She’s pretty isolated and self-reliant, having been home schooled on the farm. She writes gender bent Pride and Prejudice fan fiction on Tumblr and her friends are all either online or fictional. Until she meets Dillon…

Dillon Thackeray – Dillon is a petite, curvaceous lesbian with pastel coloured mermaid hair and an array of neon running gear. She works at the ice cream parlour during the holidays, and goes to university a couple of hours away during term time. She’s a confident and outspoken girl with big dreams and an even bigger heart.

Clemence – Em names Clemence ironically (it means mild and merciful). This cat couldn’t be any saltier, but ultimately she helps Em find some pretty crucial information and leads her to various important items throughout the story. She’s sort of like Em’s spirit guide, but with added sass. Plus I just really like the name Clemence, like Clemence Poesy.

Billy and Maggie Partridge – the Haigh family’s resident housekeeper and groundskeeper. They come with the house, but there might be something more to them…

Ghost boy – I haven’t decided on a name for my spook yet, but he represents Colin, the boy with vitamin D deficiency in The Secret Garden. I haven’t fully outlined his role in the story, but I’m thinking something along the lines of a twin brother to Em’s father who died in childhood and was never spoken of again because it was too painful for the family… Any suggestions on this front would be gratefully received!


How do you prepare to write? (Outline, research, stocking up on chocolate, howling, etc.?)

I’m a proud plotter, so I have a document full of notes, character bios, summaries of the chapters/acts etc. I do quite a bit of research before I start drafting, I choose names that mean something, either by googling baby name meanings until I find what I’m looking for, or naming characters after famous/fictional people who they share something in common with. Then, especially for Nano so I can keep track of where I am up to, I create a spreadsheet with thirty or more scenes or important events that I need for the story. I find that outlining quite rigorously helps me to keep writing even when I don’t feel motivated, and if I want to skip ahead to a juicier scene when I’m not in the mood, I can come back to where I was later.

Also, lots of tea or coffee and snacks, and breaks to walk the dogs and give me a chance to think through plot holes! Getting some fresh air and walking in nature does wonders for writer’s block.


What are you most looking forward to about this novel?

All the spooky scenes where the ghost is messing with Em, before she actually discovers him. I’m hoping to give it a real Woman in Black vibe up until the point she meets the ghost and realises he’s just a young boy with no intention of hurting her, and he didn’t mean to scare her, he’s just been alone for so long. You’re really going to feel for this ghost, guys!


List 3 things about your novel’s setting.

A beautiful, imposing manor house on a cliff’s edge, overlooking the North Sea.

A cutesy, vintage ice cream parlour full of cold treats and warm hearts.

A secret beach filled with cockle shells that feels like the edge of the world, but is actually where Em’s life really starts…


What’s your character’s goal and who (or what) stands in the way?

Em is looking for two pretty conflicting things at the beginning of the book. She wants independence and to stand on her own two feet, she feels like she’s got a lot to prove after her parents’ deaths when she was just a little girl. She wants to make them, and her uncle Archie, proud. But she also wants to learn as much as she can about her family and feel closer to them, hence why she decides to move into Haigh Manor, leaving the farm. Unfortunately, most of her family are dead, and Archie is a pretty reticent old man with secrets of his own (he’s Em’s grandmother’s brother). Plus, Em’s social skills aren’t exactly up to scratch, she struggles with social anxiety and moving from one remote house to another does nothing to change that.


How does your protagonist change by the end of the novel?

She opens up a lot, thanks to Dillon, and learns to accept her quirks for what they are. She finds a new passion, makes some great friends, and discovers more about her family history than she could ever have imagined. At the end, she’s a more mature, confident and content person. Plus she might fall in love…


What are your book’s themes? How do you want readers to feel when the story is over?

The overall theme is hopefully going to be self-acceptance, Em is going to go through a pretty huge journey of self-discovery and growth that should give readers the feeling that she’s found herself in some ways. There’ll still be a way to go before she’s completely happy and comfortable in her own skin, but by the end of the book it should be clear that she’s headed in the right direction.


That was so much fun! I hadn’t thought this much about CS&SB in months, and digging deep into the story and my characters has really given me a boost for Nano next month. I’m looking forward to reading more about all your WIPs, let me know in the comments if you’re taking part in Nano, and add me as a buddy, my username is lyndleloo!



Beautiful Books 2017 Lyndsey's Book Blog


Beautiful People – June edition

Welcome back to another edition of Beautiful People! This is a monthly meme hosted by the lovely Cait @ Paper Fury and Sky @ Further up and further in. Basically, the ladies come up with ten fabulous questions to help us delve into the hearts, minds and souls of our characters, and we answer them. Simple as that.

Beautiful People linkup for writers

If you’ve been here before, you might know I recently finished my WIP The Fair Queen and sent it off to beta readers to get some feedback. I’m also planning to take part in Camp Nano next month, so I’ve been plotting and outlining a new novel idea loosely based on The Secret Garden. Today I’m going to treat you to your first glimpse of my new WIP! Exciting, no?

My new MC is called Marie – Em for short – and she’s 18 and, sadly, an orphan. At the moment I’m imagining her with waist length jet black hair and bright blue eyes. Shall we dive into the questions?


What’s their favourite place they’ve ever visited?

Em grew up in Aix-en-Provence in Southern France, her parents were British and met while working over there. Her father was a University lecturer and her mother was a ballerina. Every summer they would travel to Barcelona for a couple of weeks when school finished, and Em absolutely loved the city – the architecture, the food, the atmosphere.


What’s one mistake they made that they learned from?

When she was eight, her parents were killed in a car crash and she was flown back to England to live with her great uncle Archie. Since then, Em has been pretty much alone. She was home-schooled because Archie’s farmhouse was so remote and miles from any local schools. She didn’t have any real friends, spending most of her time reading in her room, posting on her Tumblr account, and hanging out with the farm animals. Basically, it wasn’t her fault, but she learned at a young age that the things you care about can be snatched away in a moment, so she stopped caring about people and things. She learns from that mistake over the course of the book!


What was their favourite subject in school? Or favourite thing to learn about?

Em loves to read, her favourite part of being home-schooled was choosing books to study for English Literature. She particularly enjoys classics like Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre – living in North Yorkshire it was pretty much like living in a Bronte novel.


What’s their favourite flower/growing thing?

Em’s favourite plant is lavender. There were great fields full of it in Provence, and it grows all over the North Yorkshire moors as well. The colour and pretty scent remind her of home.


Have they ever made someone cry? What happened?

She sometimes heard uncle Archie crying at night when she first came to live with him, but not because she had upset him.


Would you consider them a reliable or unreliable narrator?

Mainly reliable, but a bit of both. She has a very specific frame for how she sees the world, after everything she’s been through, and it’s not always accurate. She tends to see the negatives rather than the positives, and always assumes the worst. But she isn’t a liar, she would never deliberately deceive anyone.


What do they dream about at night?

She has frequent nightmares about the day her parents died, and wakes up in a cold sweat, expecting to get a call about something else bad happening, someone else she loves being taken from her. Like uncle Archie.


They’ve gone out for a “special meal.” What would they eat?

Moules frites, probably. Or some other kind of fish or shellfish. She doesn’t eat meat after living on the farm and spending time with the animals, the first time Archie killed a pig she’d become friends with she cried for a week and vowed never to eat meat.


What’s at least one thing they want to do before they die?

She would love to go back to France, but she’s terrified. She really wants to be brave and go back one day, see where they used to live and spend time in the city where her parents fell in love. After that, she’d like to travel and see the world.


Do they have any distinguishing or unique talents?

She has a way with animals, she can calm them, and almost communicate with them. She wanted to be a vet as a little girl, until she realised that would mean putting animals to sleep when they were too sick or injured to survive. She couldn’t bear that, so she never applied to veterinary college. She has her mother’s figure, a dancer’s figure, but she never learned how – she does have natural grace though, so maybe one day she’ll do something with that.


That was fun! I haven’t done character bios for my new novel yet, but I feel really inspired now, so I’ll have to get right on that!

What do you think to my new WIP and my MC, Em? Let me know in the comments, I can’t wait to see all your answers to this month’s questions!