From time to time, I see discussions in Facebook groups about dual timelines in novels. Some people love them but others hate them. So, what does ‘dual timelines’ mean? Dual timelines means the novel has two story lines set in different periods of time. Sometimes the two story lines are equal, and sometimes one story line is clearly dominant.

I’ll give you an example of dual timelines from my own books. In my Tangled Roots series, each book has a present day story and a WWII-era story. I alternate the timelines, with the odd-numbered chapters set in present day and the even-numbered chapters set in the past.

Why do some writers choose to use two time periods?

Well, it’s not something you do to be lazy, I can assure you. It’s much more difficult to write multiple storylines/timelines that will somehow tie together. They can be fun to write, but they take more time to plan and to write than straightforward books do. I’m sure authors have various reasons for writing them–maybe they see them as a popular trend, maybe their publisher suggests it, etc.

When I started my first Tangled Roots book, I knew that I wanted to tell the story of what it was like for German families living during the war. What I didn’t know was how I would tell the story? Would it be best to have the whole thing set in the past?

Here’s how my idea started and what my process was:

My mother was a little ethnic-German girl living in the Sudetenland with her parents and siblings during the war, and I wanted to tell her story, but I didn’t have enough information. Because of that I knew I would have to create fictional characters and plot, but wanted some of the story to be somewhat close to my family. So, I started looking at the family tree book that my father created years ago. I also looked through old documents, photos, etc. I soon had lots of questions that I wanted to ask, but no way to get the answers. Both of my parents were gone, and my mother’s sister (who wanted me to write the book) had recently passed away.

I realized then that I wanted to create dual timelines for the first book (Breadcrumbs and Bombs). I decided my main character would be a young man who was going through some of what I was going through–wanting to know about his family’s past and having to dig through documents, etc. But I wanted him to have his own story and his own demons and problems to work through, as well. So, I gave him an estranged brother who is a racist and antisemitic. The historical part of the book is the story of his ancestors and the horrors they suffered.

In essence, the book has two complete and equal stories, each with fully developed characters, conflict, character arcs, theme, etc.

Like I said before, this type of story construction doesn’t appeal to everyone. Some people say that they are only interested in the historical parts of a dual timeline story, and they either skip over the present day portion or they skip the book entirely. In my books, I make it easy for them to skip the present day portion by clearly separating them and labeling them.

What I realized after I wrote the first two books in the series (I’m working on the third right now), is that my time-travel books are also dual timeline books, but the past story-line is dominant over the present day story.

If you like reading dual timeline stories, there are many available. Here’s a short list of some:

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

The Clockmaker’s Daughter by Kate Morton

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

What She Left Behind by Ellen Marie Wiseman

The Photograph by Debbie Rix

There are many, many others, including most time-travel stories.

If you haven’t tried a dual timeline novel, I hope you’ll give one a chance. You might find that you’re one of the people who love them.