Plotting Dual Time Frames and Jumping Between the Two by Heidi Perks – guest post

Heidi Perks is the author of Now You See Her, published by Cornerstone on 26 July 2018.

Today Heidi discusses dual time frames.

Sometimes I wonder if I make things hard for myself! In Now You See Her I not only have two time frames running alongside each other, I also use two points of view. Bringing all these elements together can be tricky, but get it right and it can be an incredibly effective way of writing a thriller.

When I began plotting the book it became clear early on that multiple time frames could add depth to the plot. The main storyline evolves from the day of the school fete where Charlotte is responsible for her best friend, Harriet’s, daughter, while Harriet attends a bookkeeping course. Confident the children are safe, Charlotte momentarily takes her eyes off them. But the little girl disappears and it is the fall-out from this moment that begins the story.

I could have taken a linear approach but I liked the idea of dipping into the future – a flash forward of snapshots of what becomes of Charlotte and Harriet. Knowing where I wanted to take the story, I wrote the two time frames consecutively, settling on a time a year after the fete.

There were many things that worked about the two stories but after discussions with my agent we both agreed something didn’t feel right. I didn’t want to take the ‘present’ chapters out – they created added tension – but she asked me to try rewriting them, bringing the time frame closer to the main story. I wasn’t sure her suggestion would work but I went along with it and rewrote them all, setting them two weeks after the fete with Charlotte being interviewed by detectives. As soon as they were done I knew it was right. Suddenly the story flowed, the characters were more believable and I even felt a shudder of excitement when I wrote a new scene and it fell into place.

In my next book, I use dual time frames again, only this time they span back twenty-five years. Even though I wrote copious notes and scenes, I didn’t write the ‘past’ chapters until the end – a technique that seems to work for me.

Dual time frames can be challenging to write but they can deepen the plot and allow your readers to invest more in the characters (be it backstory or an insight into what happens to them.) Here are some of my thoughts on making them work:

Make sure you get the right balance. In Now You See Her the time frames are by no means equal. I chose to write the present chapters every few in and they were much shorter than the main story. But you might decide that alternating chapters work best for you.

Keep them both interesting – there’s nothing worse than reading a book and groaning each time it switches because nothing much is happening in that time frame. Effectively they should both be stories in their own right, but importantly ones that support each other.

Don’t confuse your reader. A clear heading with dates or ‘now’ and ‘then’ will help but you also need to remind the reader of the characters and events quickly so they don’t spend the first page trying to remember what happened last time.

About the book

Charlotte is looking after her best friend’s daughter the day she disappears. She thought the little girl was playing with her own children. She swears she only took her eyes off them for a second.

Now, Charlotte must do the unthinkable: tell her best friend Harriet that her only child is missing. The child she was meant to be watching.

Devastated, Harriet can no longer bear to see Charlotte. No one could expect her to trust her friend again.
Only now she needs to. Because two weeks later Harriet and Charlotte are both being questioned separately by the police. And secrets are about to surface.

Someone is hiding the truth about what really happened to Alice.

Read more on the Penguin website.

About the author

Heidi Perks worked as a marketing director for a financial company before leaving to become a full-time mother and writer. She is a voracious reader of crime and thrillers and endlessly interested in what makes people tick. Heidi lives in Bournemouth with her family.


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