Wibbly wobbly timey wimey…

Working out the issues in novel writing.

It seems like everyone wants to be a Time Lord these days. You know, travel through time and space at will? I hadn’t been paying attention until I read this post written by Jack Binding. It made me aware of a trend among some of the books I’ve been reading.  These two: “All the Light We Cannot See” by Anthony Doerr and “The Lake House” by Kate Morton, and the one I’m currently reading, “A Desperate Fortune” by Susanna Kearsley, all employ timeline shifts to tell the story. “The Lake House” especially was confusing. The story changes time periods and then the characters have flashbacks within the new timeline. If you’re not paying attention, you’re left wondering who’s talking and what the devil is going on. I hate feeling like the book I’m reading for entertainment needs that level of concentration. At least in Kearsely’s book, the time changes with the decoding of an old diary and each timeline, the present and the past, proceeds in a linear fashion.

My concerns go beyond mild irritation with my current reading material. I realized that I’ve jumped into the same “time machine” with my serial fiction piece, ‘Here Lies a Soldier.’ The present day characters are about to discover a 100-year-old discrepancy in their family’s history. I have the entire plot outlined. I intended to slowly reveal the information in letters sent from their two ancestors fighting on the Western Front. However, I’m beginning to think that the information that comprises the “secret” wouldn’t necessarily be recorded in a letter. Alluded to, yes, but not stated plainly.

So what is a writer to do? My options are limited. What if I simply went back in time? Just started a fresh chapter with the story told in the words of one of the players from the earlier time period? That is essentially what Kate Morton did in “The Lake House.” Her present-day character was reading documents from multiple sources: books and old newspapers from the library, a collection of letters and diaries.  The actual documents were never quoted or read from.  Separately, we hear from another character’s point of view, not just her first-hand account, but also her sister’s.  That is partly why the time shifts were so jarring.  The reader was sent to the 1910s, to the 1930s and back to present day with no warning. Adding to the confusion, in the two past timelines, many of the same characters are in the scenes.

And yet, the reader was privy to more of the story than were the characters within.  It kind of felt like cheating.

Back to ‘Here Lies a Soldier’ and possible means to travel in time.  The letters will tell part of the story, but where does the rest come from? Grandmother’s scrapbook will yield some clues.  Do they discover a journal kept by a female relative back home? (Ugh, not another diary!)  Is anyone left alive that might remember?  A child now grown very old? There are outside sources: newspaper articles, archival records -like baptism registries at the church, birth and death certificates. Here’s the funny thing about that:  so much information is available at the click of a mouse that I’m not sure how long it will take for our characters to figure out.  I refuse to make it purposely more complicated than it needs to be.  That’s just not realistic.

Finally, do I need to jump timelines at all?  I’ve considered just having the characters sift through the information in the present day and put the pieces of the puzzle together as they are discovered.  The downside of that option is not being able to explore the minds and hearts of our characters in the past.  Frankly, part of the appeal of writing this story is trying to feel what life would have been like for the men and women who lived and died during The Great War.

Decisions, decisions…  At least, I’ve made it as far as my next chapter!  After that?  Who knows!

These are the issues we face when writing a novel across time.  Want to see how I figure it out?  Stay tuned!  What do you think? Do you like a story that jumps time?


34 thoughts on “Wibbly wobbly timey wimey…

  1. Soldiers may well have poured out their heart to a complete stranger in France, a rest area cook, a priest. They, in turn could have left diaries, passed down stories, left tangible evidence behind. You could time shift to the Western Front rest areas, or have discoveries made in military museums. So many possibilities, but whatever you decide I look forward to it!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Those are excellent suggestions! Thanks for the ideas! I had thought something similar – perhaps including the viewpoint of one of the nurses caring for the wounded, a fellow soldier or even a civilian refugee. Something simple to start the ball rolling though! I really appreciate the input!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Time travel ina book is going to be hard to wtite clearly, especially if there are flashbacks to go with it. But time shift or travel can make for an amazing story. Oddly enough one of my stories uses time shifting or a paradox. I jave to control myself from confusing sub plots lol

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Oh, it’s definitely a trend across all works of art all right…whether you’re talking going back years or just a few hours. It has become quite the “device” on television shows I’ve watched over the last couple of years. You’ll see a scene play out followed by “two days earlier” or “four hours earlier.” Movies and books also. The telling of a story in forward, then reverse, in parallel, etc. I think got accelerated via a crime film in 2000 called “Memento.” At least that’s who I’m blaming it on. A guy has to create a system for himself to remember things without his short-term memory loss being an obstacle. You talk about trying to follow a narrative check that out sometime if you haven’t seen it. I think it’s like three-dimensional chess – writers like to take a fixed set of characters and place them in various, unfixed points of time so they can play out multiple stories. Just typing that last sentence confused me so you have an idea of how well I do on these things when the narrative time-jumps ahead, then backwards, then forwards again. I’m sure some readers and viewers are drawn in and take on the challenge of trying to figure out how the end game will play out but I’m also sure some are exhausted by trying to figure out what period of time the characters are currently in and trying to remember what’s going on in the future or happened previously. Then again, if you offer your work with a complementary bottle of that Japanese Whiskey you referred to in your prior post everybody’s gonna be happy with the end result!


    1. And now that it’s a thing that I’m aware of, the less I want to use it myself! You see my dilemma! Ergh! I’m going to be as straightforward with this as possible or else I will have to offer free drinks with my stories!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I have always liked books that present information (such as passages read from books, newspapers or diaries) in a different font.
    There is also the scene break or new chapter option. But this can take a lot of planning so you don’t end up with a bunch of short, choppy chapters.
    I do not envy you! I only have 1 flashback scene in my first chapter of my first book in my series, and I was able to do it in a way that incorporated a scene break, so the flashback is it’s own individual scene.
    Good luck!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Okay, here’s a thing… Can you make it some sort of past life regression story for your character in the present. The more trips to the hypnotherapist they have, the more of the story they – and the reader – uncovers.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. There are times when an issue in writing just confounds you! I am agonizing over the time changes mostly because I find the device so over used these days! I’m glad you enjoyed reading! It’s not all that unlike a construction project, I suppose! xo

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I feel like time is every author’s mortal enemy. Most stories progress forwards in time, which raises the issue of pacing. If you introduce a leap in time, will the reader be left behind? And for stories where a jump backwards is required, how do you recreate the past without introducing an entirely separate series of characters and events?

    I haven’t found the answers yet, so please share them when you do!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Damn. I thought you were going to have the answer for me J! The book I was talking about -the one that annoyed me so much- had two parallel stories running side by side, plus flashbacks to an even earlier time… Too many POV and my head was spinning. Nevertheless, this is a well reviewed, best-selling book. Is this what the modern reader is expecting to find in fiction? It’s not the book I want to write! On the other hand, the Kearsley book I’m currently reading is proceeding in a very orderly fashion between the two time periods and keeping the two storylines closely associated with no confusion at all. I’m making notes on the style as I read. Meanwhile, I’m almost sorry I started writing the ‘Soldier’ series on my blog! I could’ve worked the kinks out in a less public fashion! Ergh!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’ve been mulling your problem over and, if not a solution, I have come up with a feasible option to consider.

        Your story begins in Flanders, the modern-day location which provides your base link between past and present narrative. You could then have your character walk in the footsteps of her ancestor through the modern landscape, imagining events as he experienced them. This would let you explore the past without leaving the present. Just an idea, but I hope this helps!

        Liked by 1 person

  7. I totally agree about ‘The Lake House’ by Kate Morton. While I am intrigued about the story, the shifting timeline and the flashbacks within a flashback is kind of putting me off. I don’t appreciate when I have to put an effort to continue reading the book.
    The other novel I am researching for (Because Love) has the shifting timelines but in parts – part 1 is the flashback and part 2 is the current timeline. I wonder if that’s a good idea, though!?


    1. Precisely the issues I was worried about. However, I’ve received some excellent feedback here in the comments and I think I know how to proceed! Sorry I just found this in spam! I wasn’t ignoring you! 😩

      Liked by 1 person

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