I'm working on a short novel that has two main stories. These stories belong to relatives from different generations, but of the same age.

So, although the book spans through 20-30 years, I'm more interested in showing each character's current situation, rather than those things that happened in between.

What would be a good approach, tool or technique for creating a smooth transition between both narratives?

About the story: It's a historical short novel, and it intends to show the repercussions of one person's past actions on a younger family member. It's written in third person, and it uses quite a few parallelisms between both stories. The historical moment is crucial, as this gap between generations is also a split between two very different political scenarios.

3 Answers 3


If you're moving between timelines — one set of events happens in 1940 and one set happens in 1990 — the simplest way is to have one timeline per chapter and put the year (or detailed date) at the top of the chapter, either as a headline or a dateline in italics.

If you're doing the same thing inside a chapter, you need some kind of break (at least a few hard returns, if not some kind of dingbat) and then the dateline (June 1, 1940) before the text starts.

  • I love the idea of just naming the years. Thank you Lauren.
    – Yisela
    Sep 7, 2013 at 22:18
  • 1
    You're welcome. And welcome to Writers. :) Sep 7, 2013 at 22:31

Have you thought about using a MacGuffin? Something like an object or event that draws the characters together across the generations. That could work. It's a bit more sophisticated than using chapter switches. The Cloud Atlas uses both to good effect.


Another possible alternative might be to have the younger relative find a letter, diary or something like that written by and set aside by the older relative. The text could recount events from the time period of the older relative, and as the younger relative reads it he/she could reflect on how what's written differs from the world they are used to or what they have been told about the time period during which the older relative lived.

It might not work in your exact situation, depending on the specifics of the story you are writing, but don't underestimate the impact a document of its own time can have on a future individual. The revelations can believably be made profound. The hardest part would probably be to make it reasonably believable that this diary, letter or whatever has actually been sitting in limbo with no one considering it either important enough to look over or unimportant enough to throw away, for a good part of a century.

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