One thing I struggled with early on in my attempts to become a professional writer was time, or more accurately, keeping tack of it. In my earliest stories, whether it be about lycanthropic pirates or a Harry Potter-esque story of witches, keeping track of how much time has passed was not high on my to-do list. I was more concerned with making a novel that would sell millions of copies, win me legions of adoring fans, and regularly get adapted into blockbuster hits. Why should I pay attention to how quickly a year can pass or how it’s noon on one page and then sunset on the next when I have to decide who I want to play my female protagonist and if she’s going to be my girlfriend?
But I got older, and around the time I started writing my earliest vampire stories, I started to become more aware of the passage of time in those stories. I think it first occurred to me that it seemed weird that my characters were still in school around late June. From then on I tried to keep the passage of time consistent in the stories I wrote, and as I got much older and realized there were too many vampire novels out there at the moment for me to make a name for myself with those sorts of stories, I started to put dates and even the passage of hours in my outlines, which would later end up in the early drafts of the stories I wrote.
If you examine other authors who are extemely popular, you’ll notice how they try to keep the reader as well as themselves aware of the passage of time without annoying the reader with it. For example, JK Rowling structured her entire Harry Potter series around the school year in Britain. Stephen King’s It switches between 1958 and 1985 and King makes sure to note how June passes on into July and July into August during the 1958 sections. And Jean Auel’s famous Children of Earth series is very particular of marking the passing of seasons and years.
All in all, I think keeping tack of the passage of time in my stories has very much improved them, and in some of these stories I need to be cognizant of how much time has passed in order to tell the story correctly. For example, my WIP Laura Horn takes place during the week leading up to the 2017 Presidential Inauguration. I went online to find advance calendar dates for that January, and only then did I write out the plot in my outline for the story. In addition, I have several ideas for stories that need to be very time conscientious while writing them. One takes place during World War II, meaning I’ll have to be very careful of the dates of certain events in order to tell the story correctly. And I have a science-fantasy story involving time travel that will require me to be very careful about the dates I use, should I ever get around to writing it.
The only thing I wish I was better at was keeping track of dates by making a timeline. However, doing a timeline at the outline stage isn’t always helpful because so much can change between the outline stage and in the actual writing of the story. Perhaps I can find some sort of middle ground in future stories. I might ask my writing group on Facebook if they have any tips on doing timelines.
And speaking of Facebook, I just want to remind people that I have a Facbook page and a Twitter feed, where I post on stuff that I don’t always post about on my blog. If you’re interested in checking either out, please do so.
How important is marking the passage of time in your stories? What do you do to keep track of time?