My WIP started out in the present time, shifted to an earlier point in time and my initial intention was to bring the story back to the present time for resolution. I then realized I would need to also include a third period of time and I would have to shift between periods a fair amount.
It was serendipity that a week ago I happened to read America America, by Ethan Canin. It begins in the present day and alternates between the present and roughly 1971 and then to another past time period around 1975. Ethan Canin managed to shift between the time periods seamlessly. He didn’t even wait for new chapters in order to do it. There are chapters that have scenes in them from two and sometimes three time periods, but it works.
Up until now I’ve been writing my WIP in the order in which a reader would read it. I’ve been shifting between the past and present at the points where it seems to make sense to me now. I’ve heard that another author who wrote a book with multiple time lines actually wrote the storyline for each time period and then meshed them together afterward. This approach makes a lot of sense to me, since it allows each time period to retain its own pacing and the characters can retain the voices appropriate to the time. This also makes sense in that it would allow a more objective view of each time period in order to decide what to keep, cut and where to shift from one time period to the next. It seems a little radical, but I’m thinking about giving it a try. Writing the story as I have been, in the order that I think I’ll end up with feels more natural, but something tells me it may not allow for as much creativity.
I’d like to find some more novels to read that use multiple time lines. Thanks to my out of control book buying habit, I think I have at least two. I think (but am not certain) that Divisadero, by Michael Ondaatje uses multiple time lines and I know People of the Book, by Geraldine Brooks has them.
So, my friends, I am looking for any reading recommendations you may have for books that alternate between different time periods. Chances are I may have one or two more on my TBR stack already.
I’m also looking for thoughts and ideas on the approach to writing this kind of structure.
Has anyone structured a story like this?
I suspect many people would recommend keeping time periods in their own separate chapters – although Ethan Canin managed to shift within chapters – yes, I know. I’m no Ethan Canin and just because he managed to do it does not mean that I can.
Or can I?
Thoughts and ideas?