Gail Anderson-Dargatz  

Resources for Writers

On Developing Conflict and Structure

FlickerMy new book, Flicker, just published in the University of Calgary Press Brave & Brilliant Series, is a time-travel novel. As always, there’s at least one story behind the story: in the case of Flicker, I had the basic idea for the novel long before I got serious about writing fiction some twenty-five years ago. I’ve always been a voracious reader, and as a teenager, some of the time-travel novels I read were A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court by Mark Twain, The Time Machine by H.G. Wells and Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut. They put in my mind the idea of someday writing a time-travel novel.

Then in the late 80’s, like my character Cass in Flicker, I worked in a thrift store part-time while I was going to U of C. One day while going through donations, a question crossed my mind: what if one of the antique objects I handled somehow had the power to transport me back in time to its own era (similar to how a Ouija board is said to be a channel to the great beyond). Fast forward to the mid-2000’s, when I read the amazing novel The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger, which reawakened my early interest in writing time-travel. It wasn’t until about ten years ago, though, that my interest in time-travel novels and the idea that came to me at the store finally compelled me to begin writing the novel that would eventually become Flicker.

Time-travel novels by their nature have dual timelines at their cores, and the dual timeline is something I always have used in my novels, whether it’s one character looking back on her life or two characters in two different time periods. In the case of a time-travel novel, what’s interesting is the juxtaposition of the two time periods. The possibilities for anachronisms to pop up and cause trouble (read: tension!) for the main character are always there. There are also opportunities to compare and contrast: in the case of Flicker, my character Cass, whose present-day is in the 1980’s, travels back in time to 1900, and must confront the many differences between her worlds: the much more conservative social mores of 1900, and the constraints placed upon women at the time, to name just two.

In any dual timeline novel, time-travel or not, one of the challenges is to keep both of the timelines straight while having them mesh with each other in a seamless fashion. In the case of Flicker, it was helpful to me to have separate outlines to refer to for both the 1980’s part of the story and the 1900 parts of the story. Being able to consider each timeline separately helped me to ultimately make the two hang together.

As far as deciding how the actual physical act of time travel would work in the story, I knew pretty quickly that magic of some sort would have to be the basis for it. I am not scientifically literate enough to be able to come up with a believable mechanism that could somehow bend the rules of physics, so the only choice became magic. Which I feel is maybe a more fun explanation anyway.

In the end, in the writing of this novel I was going for a fast-paced page-turner in spite of the potential awkwardness of the dual timeline structure. Time will tell whether I was able to pull it off (and that’s another thing about writing and time!).


LoriLori Hahnel’s latest novel, Flicker, is published in the University of Calgary Press’ Brave & Brilliant Series. Her last book, Vermin: Stories, won an Alberta Literary Award, and was a finalist for a High Plains Book Award, the CAA Fred Kerner Award and the Saskatchewan Foundation for the Arts Glengarry Book Award. Her previous books are the novels Love Minus Zero and After You’ve Gone, and the story collection, Nothing Sacred. Her work has been broadcast on CBC Radio, and has appeared in The Fiddlehead, Joyland, The Saturday Evening Post and many other journals and anthologies.

Lori was Calgary Public Library’s Author-in-Residence in 2020 and has taught creative writing at Alexandra Writers’ Centre and Mount Royal University. She has also acted as a mentor through the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity, The Writers’ Guild of Alberta and AWCS.

Resource Categories

Blogs on Craft

On the Building Blocks of Fiction

Tips on how to craft vivid scene that allows the reader to experience events right along with the characters.

On Finding Your Big Idea

Insights into the writing process and what a writer's day really looks like, as well as perspectives on research and writing from real life.

On Getting to Know Your Characters

Advice on the many ways you can make your characters come alive on the page for both you and your reader.

On Deciding on Point of View

What is the best perspective from which to tell your story? Writers discuss how they made choices on point of view and voice.

On Choosing Your Situation and Setting

Writers talk about how they use situation and setting to build story and convey emotion.

On Developing Conflict and Structure

From how to work in different genres to finding the real story, writers offer good advice on building conflict and structure.

On Revising

Tips on how to gain distance from your work and to how to re-imagine your next draft.

On Publishing

Writers offer practical advice on the business of writing and promotion, and on the importance of finding a writing community.

On Making a Living as a Writer

Writers offer words of wisdom on living on less.

On The Writer's Life

Writers talk about their life as a writer.

About Gail

Gail's novels have been national and international bestsellers and two have been short-listed for the Giller Prize, among other awards. She works with writers from around the world on her online teaching forums.