Friday, April 10, 2015

Controlling Time


Don’t know if our ISP had a few too many yesterday, or what, but it fell down in the gutter. Probably barfed on its own shoes and got picked up on a drunk and disorderly. A night spent in the drunk tank hasn’t sobered it up any that I’ve noticed. Finding someplace unaffected has been a challenge.

But here I am. To tell you how I keep track of the time line(s) in my stories. Yeah. That sound you hear? That’s my local critique group laughing me off the internet. It is possible I’ve had some challenges on that front. The urban fantasies, especially, suffered a few temporal challenges . . .They may still. I mean, there are plenty of ways to increase tension in a story. Compressing the time during which the world must be saved, the ring tossed into an inconvenient volcano, or the murderer caught is an easy way for a writer to get a story screaming along.

Not all that effecting, however, if you’re writing something other than a heart-pounding thriller-y type story. Someone associated with your story, somewhere, had better be wearing a watch and counting the days on the calendar. I submit you’ll be happier if that someone is you and not your editor. Or worse. Your readers.

In an attempt to take my own advice, (stop rolling your eyes, your face will stick that way) I’ve started mapping out a rough timeline at the same time I try to map out the turning points of my story. It looks something like this:

Open (1st 10th of book)
1st Twist (1/4 through)
Climax (black moment)
Hero starts here
No one saw this coming!
This is total surprise, too
Uh oh. Very bad, no good day
Hey. Not so bad, after all
June 5, 4pm
June 7, all day
June 15, (this date is immovable because plot point!)
June 20, 2AM
June 20, 6PM

No. They don’t really look like this. The 5 points I track usually have lots more detail than this – info for me about where characters start, notes about WHEN in the timeline each character enters the story. In truth, none of it fits in a neat table. I usually end up with pages. One for each twist point. I do try to keep my time line loose so there’s room to adjust as surprises crop up in the story, but usually, I find there is one point in time somewhere in the story that determines how the timing of all the other scenes falls out. It’s rarely at the beginning of my stories. Suppose in the example above the midpoint twist is the hero succeeding in convicting a killer, but it turns out nothing like he expects because a death sentence is handed down and the hero subsequently discovers he convicted the wrong person. Worse, back at the first twist point, he’d gotten the news that the cancer he’d thought cured three years ago is back. With a vengeance. The rest of the timeline is driven by his need to right the wrong he committed before he dies.

It’s not a perfect system, but it is better than some of the scenes I wrote for the urban fantasies where the only way my heroine could have done everything I had her doing in the timeframe I had her doing them – would have been if Star Trek were real and teleportation was a thing. New market. Scifi urban fantasy.

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