1. Sanjuricus
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    Sanjuricus Active Member

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    Switching between timelines

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by Sanjuricus, Mar 24, 2013.

    I'd like some advice please from the spectacular hive mind that is writingforums.org! ;)

    My novel has an underlying theme about consequences. Part of this involves telling two stories thousands of years apart. The latter is the consequence of the earlier. The latter storyline is also the main focus of the story with the earlier one being something of a stock cube- adding flavour but little in the way of substance until the denouement when the two storylines collide.

    I was thinking of presenting the earlier storyline as excerpts (correct spelling WOOHOO!) from an ancient journal or something similar. The language would be a little more archaic and the setting considerably different.

    Looking forward to the finished product, I am wondering how best to do this:

    1. Intersperse chapters alternating the timeline but keeping the old timeline chapters relatively short.
    or
    2. Including a section entirely in italics (purely for differentiation, I don't use italics if I can help it!) at the head of each chapter that relates part of the story from the old timeline. (As much as possible, the sections will relate to the events in the new timeline.)

    What do you wonderful people think and do you have any other suggestions about how it could be done?
     
  2. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I'd go with option 1, I think. It leaves more space for the ancient story and doesn't require italics. It also doesn't kind of force your ancient story to track to the modern story. I think if you put an ancient-story section in a modern-story chapter, readers will expect the two to relate in that chapter somehow. That, I think, would restrict you a little.
     
  3. evelon
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    evelon Active Member

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    Option 1. The reader should be able to differentiate easily between the two timelines if you're writing them as exerps (kidding!) excerpts of a journal since, I imagine, the more ancient language will differ from the modern.

    I think you're right to keep these chapters short.

    Sounds interesting. Good luck with it.
     
  4. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Separate chapters. However, what you call "timeline chapters" is fairly arbitrary.

    Generally, switching between two time periods is fairly stratightforward, provided you can lead the reader through the transitions successfully. For examples, check out Sue Grafton's S is for Silence and Tess Gerritsen's The Bone Garden.

    Having a mutable timeline, where actions in the past alter subsequent timelines is slightly trickier, but not extraordinarily so. For an example, read James P. Hogan's Thrice Upon a Time.
     
  5. Xatron
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    Xatron Contributing Member

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    Definitely separate chapters. I remember many novels where i was thankful to the author for separating the chapters where the time period changed.
     
  6. Nee
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    Nee Contributing Member

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    Yep...separate them; but, I'd do it in alternating scenes rather than whole chapters.
     
  7. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    You could, but the scene transitions are extreme enough to warrant new chapters.
     
  8. Sanjuricus
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    Sanjuricus Active Member

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    Italics is is then!

    Only kidding. Thanks for the confirmation guys, much appreciated. It was my first instinct to go with alternating chapters then the idea of italics crept into my head and did a good sales pitch. I'll tell that salesman where to get off!
    I'll be sure to check out those books Cog, cheers. :)
     
  9. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    it's never a good idea to force your readers to read more than a foreign/emphasized word or two in italics... when i come upon sentences or paragraphs of the pesky stuff i stop reading...
     

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