2 timelines in the future

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lyann88

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I'm writing a cyberpunk novel that takes place in 2090. I have 2 times lines one present day and one a few weeks before (past). I want to write mostly in past tense in a flashback and switch to present tense after a major event that happened a few weeks after the flashback begins. I don't want to state the exact date of that event to create suspense. So right now I start the book with :
Present day
“Good people don’t kill,” I say.
*
Past
Maybe selling drugs wasn’t such a good idea after all. Funny how having the Lizard's gang hang you upside down makes you rethink certain decisions. I kept wiggling my wrist and feet to loosen the rope.

Present day, isn't exactly present day given that the story takes place in 2090 and "past" seem vague...
Any other suggestions of heading?
 

armgrab

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I think the standard that I've tended to use (and I've seen other people use as well) with multiple timelines is to have the "standard" timeline use regular font and the "non-standard" timeline use italics. It sounds like the "present-day" situations are more like flash-forwards, so I'd assume those would be the italicized bits. Alternatively, if the flash-forward bits are separate chapters, you could open them with a time-stamp header - either the actual dates or just "several weeks later" or something to that effect.
 

ChaseJxyz

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Well, nothing is ever literally the present, even "live" sports have a delay of some seconds just because of the data moving to various tech systems to finally reach your eyeballs. Saying "the present" in your book would mean stuff that is currently happening to your characters (and present tense), while "the past" is things that already happened to them, cannot change, and are currently affecting your characters or world in some way (and past tense). People will get that.
 

lyann88

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I could use present tense italic for the short flashforward/present within the longer flashback section (75% of the novel). But, at some point the story will reach the point of the "present" and than the narrative will be all chronological present tense thereafter for remaining 25%. Will it look weird to continue in present tense without italic? What is the general opinion on present tense story? I heard it's common in contemporary YA but I'm writing adult science fiction.
 

MaeZe

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For a few short flashbacks, italics might work. But if you are talking about pages, then no.

Change chapters and show the date, like this example:

Chapter 1
July 15, 2090

Chapter 2
July 2, 2090​

I have two timelines in my story, a character in the present story and chapters where she is younger. In the earlier chapters I note her age in the chapter title. In the present day the reader can do the math to figure out her current age. I Just note the date.
 
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lyann88

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I would prefer remaining vague on the exact time that lasted between the beginning of the story and present day to keep the suspense. I changed to:

Present day, Los Angeles, 2090

“Good people don’t kill,” I say.

*

Sometime earlier

Maybe selling drugs wasn’t such a good idea after all. Funny how having the Lizard's gang hang you upside down makes you rethink certain decisions.

Is it better? Any suggestions?
 

Chris P

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I like this. It's similar to how I've seen it done in other books. I think the key is to be "minimally invasive," meaning to do as little as you can when switching between the timelines to keep from jarring the reader. I recently read a book (Happiness by Aminatta Forna) where the author used italics for flashbacks. Please do not do this. It was super hard on the eyes and unnecessary. There are other, better ways to establish timeline in the story. (Although I recall a Simpson's flashback scene where a guy is reading a newspaper with the headline "Dick Cavett Born." It took me a few seconds to realize why that was funny.)

For your example, I like the "Present day, Los Angeles, 2090." Although it's technically redundant (the story would somehow tell us what year it is, and that it's the main narrative timeline) it is minimally invasive and plants us in time in only 4 characters.
 

lyann88

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What about if I used bolded for the flashforward/present part?
 

Chris P

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I think bolding would be jarring. I like the very short headings for the section breaks as you have in Post #6. Nothing more is needed.
 

Bing Z

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My opinion in blue:

Present day, Los Angeles, 2090 <--may need to tweak the punctuation a bit, otherwise totally fine.

“Good people don’t kill,” I say.

*

Sometime earlier <--- 'sometime' can be from a few hours ago to 3000 years prior. The span is too huge to make it meaningful without context. How about several weeks earlier, the previous winter, a few years earlier, a couple of decades earlier... vague but with a range.

Maybe selling drugs
 

lyann88

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Bing Z, how would you change the punctuation?
What about this?
Los Angeles, present day, 2090
“Good people don’t kill,” I say.


*


Sometime earlier that year
Maybe selling drugs wasn’t such a good idea after all. Funny how having the Lizard's gang hang you upside down makes you rethink certain decisions.
 

Bing Z

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That works. An alternative is to use em-dash between present day and 2090 (but comma works).
 

MaeZe

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What about if I used bolded for the flashforward/present part?

Anything you do with the font that goes on for paragraphs or pages is going to annoy readers. Italics are bad, bolding is worse. Italics are fine for inner monologue as long as it's not pages and pages.

One thing I will defer to others is how to manage ESP communication as far as italics go.

But you don't need it. What is stopping you from using different chapters with headings that designate the time?
 

lyann88

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I could use different chapters but the flashforward to the present are very short. The longest one I have is less than 10 lines. If I use chapter switch, it would mean I have some chapters with only 2 lines...
 

Chris P

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Scene breaks within chapters are fine. Find an example that works for you and use the same format.
 

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