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Writing Books With Overlapping Timelines

Stack of BooksI’ve always been fascinated by the idea that the same set of events from the point-of-view of two different people can result in two completely different stories. So it shouldn’t have surprised me that I’d end up writing books with overlapping timelines—that way I get to explore the same events from multiple perspectives. But, the first time it happened, it was a complete surprise. I’d written what was supposed to be a standalone romance novella, but toward the end, the heroine’s brother made a surprise announcement that he was getting married. I wanted to know what had brought him to the altar so quickly, so I decided to write his story. And, let me tell you, coming up with a satisfying story arc that didn’t conflict with the events of the previous book almost killed me. So, of course, I decided to do it again.

After struggling through the overlapping-timelines thing with a second pair of books, I’ve come up with a few guidelines for myself, in case I ever decide to attempt this craziness again, and I’m sharing them with you here.

Minimize the actual overlap

Be conscious of which book A scenes include / are relevant to the characters from book B, because you’re probably going to have to show them (or at least mention them) in book B.

Let’s take a birthday party. If the main characters from books A and B both attend the party, it might seem strange to show the party in book A, but not mention it in book B. But if the scene was designed to move the arc of book A forward, it might not fit well with the arc of book B.

Catching CleoBecause it’s difficult to write scenes that move both stories forward, I try to make sure there aren’t too many of them. Books 4 & 5 of my Voretti Family series start with the same scene (from the perspective of different characters, of course). But, while book 4 takes place over the course of a few weeks, the majority of book 5 takes place months after book 4 ends. So, while I have a few scenes that you see in both books, the majority of each book is unique. Thus, I could design most scenes to move the arc of their specific book forward without worrying about the other book.

Plot it out

For those plotters out there, it might help to plot both books before you start writing the first. That way, if there’s something you have to change in book A to fit with the plot line in book B, you know about it before you’ve written hundreds of pages. I note the day that each scene in books A & B takes place so that I can tell if I have any conflicts or inconsistencies between books.

Just say no

Even with all the planning and plotting in the world, it’s still really hard. So don’t do it, Ava. Just don’t do it anymore. (Who am I kidding? I’m totally going to do it again. What can I say? I’m an addict.)

What about you? Have you ever written books with overlapping timelines? Do you like reading them?

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