outlining multiple timelines for your novel

outlining multiple timelines for your novel

I’m so excited, I moved on to outlining my second novel! The scenes have been simmering in my mind for at least a year, and it felt good to sit down and put cohesive structure to it.

I’ve known I want the novel to tell two stories, hence two timelines, and this is something I’ve never tried to do before now.

I’ll most definitely bring you along for the ride as I delve in!

As I began to write out my two timelines, following the guide from the source below, I began to feel a lightheartedness about some of the material that might make it into the novel. Unlike my first novel, I’d like this one to have more humorous scenes as the young girl protagonist comes of age. Incorporating her love rebellious nature, mixed with her love of Flashdance and Footloose began to bring me alive as I realized this book can actually be a little more fun than the first one!

I’d say that was one of the major benefits of sitting down and writing out the multiple timelines… within the cracks of the main storylines I began to picture more detail with how this young girl will come of age and the events that will come into her life to charge her up!

How to Write a Multiple Story Timeline in Four Steps

I can’t include a link to this article because it is for members only at medium.com.

For $5/month it’s a good resource for all kinds of topics, so you might want to check it out. (Nope, not paid to endorse them.)

I’ll do my best here to relay the information from the article along with adding my own two cents here n’ there. For the sake of this post, we’ll concentrate on two storylines, the primary and the secondary (rather than three or more).

Step 1 – select a primary storyline

The author tells us, “The primary timeline is the one that gets the most screentime. It has our main protagonist and antagonist. The secondary timeline mostly offers context to the events in the primary timeline.”

The author goes on to tell us that we shouldn’t divide up both storylines 50/50 because that is forcing the audience to follow two separate sets of characters for the price of one; rather, 70/30 or 80/20 are better ratios, in favor of the primary storyline.

Step 2 – create the story for the different timelines

The author tells us it’s important for us to know what happens in each timeline because then we can determine our transition points. Thankfully, we don’t need to know all the details at this point, just the beginning, middle, and end. “By fleshing out both stories,” the author says, “we give each timeline the best story treatment possible.” And whatever, we do, the author tells us, not to make one storyline more interesting than the other! I’ve seen more than my fair share of movies and read more than enough books with this downfall, and it leads to zoning out or skimming pages before getting to the good stuff again.

Step 3 – break the story into sequences

“Usually, this step will be carried out simultaneously with step four. I only separated it so that it’s easier to explain both,” the author tells us.

The author goes on to explain that once we know the story from beginning to end for both timelines, we can then break each storyline into blocks. We can move these blocks (or sequences of scenes) in a way that makes it easier to plot (arrange scenes) for maximum impact.

Step 4 – select your transition points

“The secret is to use the major beats (big character or story moments) in the primary story as transition points. Again, this depends on what constitutes maximum impact for your story,” the author tells us. Then, the author goes on to use Interstellar and Arrival as two good examples of multiple storylines.

This next bit is directly from the article, and I used it to write out my outline. I found it extremely helpful:

  • Timeline 2 begins the story. Think of this as a prologue.
  • If a film, this would be a great place for the title credits.
  • Then we drop into timeline 1 (primary timeline). We stay here until something major happens. Usually, this is the inciting incident (an event that changes the status quo in the character’s life)or the big event (the event that forces the character to enter act 2).
  • We switch back to timeline 2 for another short amount of time, picking up where we left off in the prologue.
  • Back to timeline 1 and we stay there until another major event. Usually, this is the midpoint.
  • Then we flip to timeline 2 for another short amount of time. This time, the connections with the first story should start to really show even though the way it connects doesn’t come together yet. It’s a delicate balancing act, but it’s very possible and it reaps a bountiful emotional reward.
  • Back to timeline 1 and this time we stay until the climax, the story’s most emotionally intense moment.
  • And then to timeline 2 for that last time for its own climax. This is the point where the connection of both stories is made explicit. How this section is handled determines just how good the story will be. If you nail it, you’ve got a winner.
  • And finally back to timeline 1 where we stay until the story finishes.


I hope you find this post helpful! Until next time, happy outlining!


query letter workshop

query letter workshop

In prep for writing my query letter, I found a workshop offered through RMFW here in Colorado. Perfect timing! A good in-person brush up is exactly what I needed and it didn’t disappoint.

The workshop speaker Kelley Lindberg,  volunteers on the RMFW board and oversees the organization’s blog. She’s been published a lot, both in fiction and non-fiction, and for the workshop, she focused on query letter writing for fiction.

As painful as query letter writing can be, we just have to dig in and re-work it until we’re happy with our letters. As part of the workshop, we were asked to read our letters aloud for a group critique. I volunteered to go first. Might as well get the pain over with! Ha.

Surprisingly, I received positive feedback and helpful tips to make it better… encouragement I was hoping for but definitely not counting on. Let’s dig into Kelley’s material on query letter writing.

A query letter must convice the publisher/agent of two (and only two) things:

1. This is a killer story

2. You’re the best writer for the job.

After the salutation, the three main components of the letter are hook, book, and cook. 

Let’s take a look at these components now:

First of all, with the salutation, give your reason for querying them and any connection to them. So, basically you are personalizing it appropriately.

First Paragraph (The Hook)

Plunge the editor into the topic/story.  Fiction: introduce the main character, a pivotal moment, and what’s at stake. Highlight a scene: jump immediately into the heart or main conflict of your story. Show the voice it was written in.

Paragraph Two (The Book)

Introduce the protagonist’s world, the broader story arc, their goals and their obstacles. Briefly describe the overall story. Don’t be vague! Include title, word count, and genre. Why is your story interesting and different from similar stories? If appropriate, use key facts or figures to show you’ve done you’re research. Make this paragraph exciting and interesting.

Paragraph Three (The Cook)

Who are you, do you have any publications, and what makes you an expert? Why is your story unique? Compare to recently published comparable titles (comps). Describe any relevant experience. Mention any previously published writing, writing awards, and writing organizations. If you are only selling specific rights, like reprint rights, say so. If this story has appeared online IN ANY FORM or in another publication, say so. OK to say: “This is the first book in a planned series,” or “This is a standalone book but has the potential to be a series.”

End with a polite, “Thank you for your consideration. I look forward to hearing from you. Sincerely, Your Name.”

Include your phone, email, and social media handles.

Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Conference 2023

Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Conference 2023

It’s that time again! The RMFW Conference 2023 is nearly upon us. September 8-10, 2023, in Colorado, to be exact! It is being held at the Hyatt Regency Aurora/Denver.

I scoured the website today for conference details, and, as usual, it’s full of solid, helpful roundtables and classes. As a member of RMFW and former volunteer board member, I can tell you RMFW is a solid organization now celebrating its 40th year.

I’ve attended this conference multiple times, and it’s definitely worth a writer’s time, al though this year I have to say I don’t see opportunities to pitch to agents or publishers. I plan to email them regarding that, after I take a second look… perhaps I somehow missed it. There are, however, agents offering their time and expertise in round table or learning sessions, along with other writing professionals .



Along with the workshops and roundtables offered, it is an excellent opportunity for networking; there are chats to be had over muffins in the morning or entrees at dinner. Click here to be taken directly to the conference schedule. There’s even a convenient download option if you’d like to save the schedule, and, if you sign in, you can personalize the schedule according to your interests.

In addition to Friday – Sun, there are Thursday intensives to choose from. Good luck, it won’t be easy to pick!!

query letter

query letter

When I was querying agents for my debut novel the first time, I couldn’t rid myself of feeling the novel’s ending sucked. So, I re-worked it, until getting it right, and now I’m truly ready to query agents.

Since this website is a space for the underlying turbulence around relationships, career and writing, it’s only fitting I talk about the turbulence I’m experiencing with writing this query letter, before giving you a resource below on how to do it well.

It’s amazing, the dread I’m feeling, as I go back to the drawing table and create both my query letter and synopsis for Miserably Happy. I’ve been to enough writing workshops to know I have my work cut out for me, grabbing an agent’s attention with a stay at home mom protagonist on a new career mission! Off the bat she doesn’t sound so “special.”

Yet, this protagonist’s appeal is just that— she is every woman who has ever experienced the battle between motherhood and career and all the dissatisfying and satisfying elements in both. And she has the audacity to listen to herself and leave her marriage (wink), only to experience further disillusionment. Finding her way back to center is a challenge most people can relate to.

As much as I’ve dreaded the thought of starting over on my querying journey, it’s already become easier, after taking the initial step of pulling up QueryTracker again. Sometimes you just have to take action and the dread begins to lessen. Researching the internet for this excellent resource below helped as well. I guess my underlying fear is rejection, like in most things, but if we don’t try, we never have a shot at breaking through to our higher dimensions.

For me, the easiest way to tackle the querying process was reading through the post I’m referencing here, then going back through it and breaking down the steps.

I will number my personal steps below, but once you read through this author’s post, I recommend doing the same thing— creating your own list of what you want to tackle, in a sequence that works for you. The link to her post is at the end.

Thankfully, the first bit of advice she gives, finishing the manuscript before querying, is something I’ve accomplished. I can leave that off the to-do list, ha!

The post gives us 4 elements of a query letter:

“I recommend your query include these elements, in no particular order (except the closing):

  • The housekeeping: your book’s genre/category, word count, title/subtitle
  • The hook: the description of your story and the most critical query element; 150-300 words is sufficient for most narrative works
  • Bio note: something about yourself, usually 50-100 words
  • Thank you & closing: about a sentence

I consider personalization or customization of the query optional. More on that later.”

Below is my personal “to-do” list:

1. The Housekeeping

Book’s genre/category, word count, title/subtitle

Hopefully my book’s subtitle isn’t a regrettable piece of shit… (important to keep a sense of humor in this process…)

Importantly, the post mentions later that if we mention genre, we should also offer up comps.

2. Research Comps

The author of this post tells us not all agents asks for comparables, but I want to see what I dig up here. It’s good to be educated on the marketplace, and when we’re busy writing, sometimes we’re not reading as much. Click here for the link offered in the post to research comps.

3. Personalize My Letter

After researching who publishes my comps, I’ll dig for possible authentic personalization for the letter.

4. Determine How I Want to Open My Letter

For me, the best way is to start with my story.

5. Work on the Hook!

The author of the post gives several formulas to get us started, so check those out. She also includes the hook used for The DaVinci Code, which is helpful.

6. Write the Bio

Read through the author’s pointers on writing the bio and take it from there.