Bill Johnson is one of those people writers should want to know. His understanding of stories and characters is deep and true and useful. He especially helps writers explore their characters’ psyches, wounds and motivations. Here’s an excerpt from the insightful Mr. Johnson:
Writing a novel with a dual timeline requires a strong understanding of story structure. The most common failure I see is that the character in the present simply relates information in a dramatically flat, uninteresting manner. Or, the intensity of events in the past are undercut by the certainty that the narrator will survive.
Water for Elephants, by Sara Gruen, offers a good example of how a well-written novel develops multiple timelines. First, the opening prologue of the novel starts with what in screen writing would be called an inciting incident: here, that all the animals in the circus have gotten loose in the big top. On a character note, a fry cook mentions to the narrator, “Besides,” he said, locking eyes with me, “it seems to me you’ve got a lot to lose right now.” He raised his eyebrows for emphasis. My heart skipped a beat.