Thursday, April 30, 2020

Tips for Writing Time Slip Novels

by Kathy Neely @NeelyKneely3628

My newly completed manuscript is my first in a new genre—a time-slip novel shifting between two timelines. One is an emotional journey through Civil War reconstruction, racial tensions, and coming of age characters, and the other is my familiar contemporary setting. As a writer, it proved to be a great learning experience. Time-slip is a common term, but I prefer to reference it as a dual timeline novel. The term ‘time-slip’ conjures up thoughts of time travel. Those are great novels, but they aren’t me. 
Here are a few things I learned about writing with a dual timeline. 

Read and analyze similar novels. 
What elements make them work? How do they cut through the reader’s confusion of jumping back and forth? Before beginning, I read a number of novels spanning timelines. They displayed various formats from single alternating chapters to larger selections before shifting back. During the process of examining other works, I found a new favored author in Susan Meissner. Lady in Waiting and A Fall of Marigolds firmed my decision to write my time-slip. 

Expect to do double the research. 
Your two timeframes must each be distinct. They need to be true to their period, whether that is contemporary or historic. In my case, the contemporary research included the world of art, southern culture, and modeling. The historic required accuracy on post-Civil War reconstruction specific to the region of my setting. 

Theme is of the highest importance. 
It’s the glue that will hold your novel together. A dual timeline is not two separate novels linked for the purpose of visiting history. When you think through various literary themes, you’ll discover they’re timeless. 

Link the stories. 
In addition to theme, include other elements. This might be a vocation, an object, a commonality of plot—something that makes them worth pairing. In Meissner’s A Fall of Marigolds, it was a scarf. In Lady in Waiting, both had the same first name—Jane. These were in addition to plot elements. This component will probably be a catalyst for your contemporary protagonist to continue pursuing the historic facts. 

Be careful of the language shift. 
Your characters will have very different voices. The author needs to reacclimate with each transition. I gave momentary thought to writing each one separately, then merging them. That didn’t work. Transitions are crucial. A good time-slip needs both stories to emerge together so transitions make sense. 

Make strategic use of chapter endings. 
Those page-turners can hold more power. When your reader finishes a chapter with a cliff hanger, it may be three chapters away before returning to that time period. That burning desire to find out what happened can keep pages flying. 

I hope my tips were helpful. I’d love to hear from writers who have stepped out of their place of comfort and tried something new.


Kathleen Neely resides in Greenville, SC with her husband, two cats, and one dog. She is a retired elementary principal, and enjoys time with family, visiting her two grandsons, traveling, and reading. 

She is the author of The Street Singer, released in February, 2019. Beauty for Ashes and The Least of These will be released in 2019. Kathleen won second place in a short story contest through ACFW-VA for her short story “The Missing Piece” and an honorable mention for her story “The Dance”. Both were published in a Christmas anthology. Her first novel, The Least of These, was awarded first place in the 2015 Fresh Voices contest through Almost an Author. She has numerous devotions published through Christian Devotions.

Kathleen continues to speak to students about writing and publication processes. She is a member of Association of Christian Fiction Writers. 



  1. Excellent article, Kathleen. I found it very interesting and learned from it. I don't write time slip, but I've thought about. It's finding those elements that truly tie the two times together that I'm waiting to discover. If I do, I'll return again to your article. Thanks!

    1. By the way, Susan Meisner is one of my favorite authors. Always has been!

  2. Thanks. There are many Meissner novels I haven't read yet. Something to look forward to.