If you are reading the Time Travel Diaries for the first time you may find the format unusual. That is because they are written in the form of an epistolary novel whereby the diaries of the two main characters, Elizabeth and James, are combined and then narrated in a sequence by a fictional author, Professor Rolleston.
The reason for this was simple. I wanted the hero and heroine to present the adventure from their own perspectives.
So how did I do it?
My original intention was to write a simple story by someone in the distant future who finds two diaries locked together in an old box. One written by a James Urquhart from 2015 and the other by an Elizabeth Bicester, a Victorian lady of means. At first the finder of the diaries believes they are some form of hoax for which the meaning is not clear. However, in the process of reading the story and analysis of the diary material he is led to the conclusion that they were written by two lovers who had actually lived a hundred years apart and if that was true demonstrated that time travel was possible.
In order to put this in a novel I first thought the simplest way was to just write extracts verbatim from each diary alternatively in chronological order. First James, then Elizabeth then James and so on. This I hoped would allow me to write from each other’s perspective. This was quite important because I was concerned that if I wrote from the point of view of just one of them I would not be able to get inside the mind of the other and understand and develop his or her character. Of course that might just be a limitation on my abilities to write a story, but I certainly felt I could not write about Elizabeth unless I was Elizabeth.
However, I quickly discovered this not only put rigid constraints on the telling of the story but actually made it sound like I had just cut up two diaries in sections and pasted them together. I then did some research on this format and discovered that what I was trying to devise was apparently called an ‘epistolary’: a novel containing an exchange of letters or in modern day form a set of emails between two persons (see Jane Austen’s Lady Susan, Bram Stoker’s Dracula or Shelley’s Frankenstein for an example). However, this still wasn’t what I wanted.
I then considered putting each person’s story as a separate chapter, but I could see immediately that I was in danger of just repeating the story in alternate chapters. There was also the difficulty of choosing a good ending to one chapter and then trying to put it in a different form in the next chapter. It wasn’t going to work.
Still not wanting to abandon either person I then thought of a different tact. I would use a fictional author to narrate the diaries. I decided that the finder of the diaries, Mr Rolleston, would write the story but still in the form of alternate passages from each diary but in the character of Elizabeth and James. By this method the story progressed; first one then the other took turn to tell the story and also where appropriate, or inappropriate, making comment about each other. This was much more fun as it allowed me to introduce banter and humour. This format also allowed me to introduce conversations into the text which is of course an essential part of any novel.
Thus I was able to re-establish the flow of the story and keep the concept of the diaries. But more importantly it gave me the freedom to write ‘in character”.
I hope that makes sense and help readers to follow the stories.
Any comments are welcome
Author of THE TIME TRAVEL DIARIES OF JAMES URQUHART AND ELIZABETH BICESTER