I recently read a novel where there were two timelines, and I wasn’t terribly impressed. Some of the comments on my review noted that it seems this trope has been overused of late. So, the question is…
Multiple Timelines: are they brilliant or are they bogus?
These are my personal opinions. I do not expect anyone to agree with anything here, and in fact, I’m certain that many will disagree and/or even hate many of the things I’ve written below. Sorry about that, but you are always welcome to express your own opinions – be they contrary or comparable – in the comments section. So, with that out of the way… let the controversy begin!
What made me think about this topic?
As noted above, in a recent review on this blog, I noted that one of the timelines in the novel seemed superfluous. Several people noted in the comments of that post that it seems that writers are using this mechanic more frequently than before. While I don’t know if that’s true, I did wonder what other people are thinking about this. (I should add that the book I’m reading right now has only one timeline and I’m really enjoying that fact.)
Okay so “bogus” might be a touch harsh, but I was looking for alliteration here, so I ask you to please forgive me (should I have used “marvelous or a mess” instead? Or perhaps “perfection or passé” would have worked. Another idea was “genius or gauche.” Then again, I could have just done the mundane “love ’em or leave ’em” as well). Whatever way I phrase it, you must admit that dual (and sometimes triple or more) timelines have been popping up in lots and lots of novels these days, right? I don’t think its just me; you’ve noticed it too, right? I mean, most of the books I’ve read blurbs for recently seem to include “YYYY: X is doing something and is somewhere in the past. YYYY: Z is doing something when they find a clue/learn a secret that leads them back to X.” Ahem… but… do all historical mysteries of the past have to connect to someone or something more contemporary in order to be uncovered these days? Can’t we just follow one timeline anymore?
But then it occurred to me that perhaps it is the fault of the author. See, in the right hands, multiple timelines can be amazing. Take for example Ariel Lawhon’s novel “I Was Anastasia.” In that book, Lawhon recounts the last days of the Czar’s family with one timeline moving forward towards the terrible shooting of the whole family. In the other timeline, Lawhon goes backwards (yes, you read that correctly) starting from the end of Anna Anderson’s life, working back to the time when she started claiming she was the long-lost daughter of the Czar who somehow survived the mass murder! Not only did Lawhon work these timelines so that by the end of the book they almost meet up, but she also changed the points of view here so that one was first person, and the other was third person. In this case, you HAD to have two timelines, or the impact wouldn’t have been the same. That’s when using this mechanic can be brilliant.
The thing is, I also have to agree that this seems a bit overused these days in general. In fact, I’m starting to wonder if some authors are using it to pad out their books, instead of using it to enhance the impact of their storytelling. I mean… sometimes one story with one timeline can be enough, and it can be amazing. Yeah, sure, throw in a few flashbacks here and there, that’s fine; that can help with the backstory of the main characters – no problem. But if the bulk of your story is in one era, you don’t always need to jump forward (or back) a bunch of years or decades just to try to heighten the tension of the plot. I’m thinking… unless there’s a real, creative reason for more than one timeline, then maybe authors should think about sticking to one timeline again. (Mind you, I could be putting my foot in it right now. You never know but I might end up giving 5/5 stars to a bunch of books that have bunches of timelines this coming year, but I’ll risk that for now!)
There you have it! That’s my opinion, and I’m sticking with it!
So… what do you think?
Do you think authors are overusing the multiple timeline mechanic? Have you read books where you loved one timeline but didn’t care for another one? What books have you read that would have been less effective if they didn’t have more than one timeline? What books have you read that might have been better with only one timeline?
Let me know in the comments below (or in your own discussion blog post, if you decide to write on this topic)!
This post is my 3rd entry in the 2021 Discussion Challenge, hosted by Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction and Shannon @ It Starts at Midnight!