Monday, February 7, 2011

Tick Tock

Every story has one; a timeline. That ticking clock might be at the front of your plot, akin to a ticking bomb. Or it might be a passive passenger on the journey; slow, steady, but relatively quiet.

Every writer has the nightmare of discovering that they've written a passage where Monday happens twice or people are getting ready for bed on one page and eating dinner two pages later. But the passage of time can add a new level to your storytelling as your characters become more and more aware of the sand slipping through the hourglass and their goals are still tantalizingly out of reach.

Fiction, of course, allows us to play with time - to make our characters lives far more event-filled than our own. I doubt that the majority of real-life detectives solve their cases within a few days of getting the call to the crime scene. Most singletons don't spend their daytime at fascinating jobs surrounded by quirky co-workers and their evenings either on dates or with their closest friends in wine bars or quaint apartments with hard wood floors and high ceilings. Let's face it; most coupled-up people don't spend their lives life that either.

Stories are an escape - a world where bigger things happen faster than in real life. Give your readers a ride.

Just remember, a ticking clock always comes in handy; even if it's only a reminder that your MC forgot to take dinner out of the oven.


  1. Today's goal for my revisions is to establish the new timeline. Strangely (IMHO) the editor said the murder happened too soon in the proposal, so I have to add more time up front.

    Terry's Place
    Romance with a Twist--of Mystery

  2. I wonder if the fact that no two clocks in my apt are set to the same time has anything to do w/ my problems w/ keeping timelines straight in my novels-in-progress...

    I really love how much we get to play in the sandbox (wink wink) of our stories, be it w/ time or place or characters, and so on. I so want to live in that coffeeshop world I created, and be in that place where work isn't so much work as much as it's the place where magic happens.

  3. Terry; I've never heard of an editor saying the murder happened too soon. Good luck in your work delaying the deed.

    Elisa; We DO live in the same world! I don't know if I'd want to actually live in the worlds I put my plots into - although the lack of money worries and abundance of servants would be pleasant. Now, if someone could just blink and put me into one of 'those' workplaces (with 'those' people) I'd be a happy camper. And that's saying something, because I *never* camp.

  4. "Give your readers a ride." Love this line. It's so freeing, inspirational. I see roller coasters or rafting.

  5. I've done the two-Mondays thing, only mine was a Thursday. Of course I don't wear a watch either. Great post.

  6. Carol; I haven't worn a watch for years. I keep meaning to start wearing one again. It irks me not to know the time.

  7. I have started making a note at the beginning of chapters as to the time-line. I have a horrible time keeping days and times of days straight unless I do that. Then when I am finished with the ms, I delete all those notes. And all the others I wrote to myself to keep clues, and people, and suspects straight.

  8. Maryann; That is an *excellent* idea. I shall scribble it down forthwith.

  9. Elspeth - That whole timeline thing is so important!! The ticking clock definitely adds to the suspense, but sometimes that slow buildup of tension works beautifully, too. I honestly think it depends on the kind of story the author is trying to tell. But either way, I agree completely: the author really does need to pay attention to the timeline and make some decisions.

    I've also found that the the timeline needs to be realistic. There's no need to go into all the details, say, of a police investigation, but the author (I think) does need to know about how long it takes to, say, get results back on a DNA sample. It's fine to just mention that the sample came back without the minutiae, but the sleuth shouldn't send out the sample at 9am and get results by lunchtime.

  10. Good point(s) here. I have been astounded more than once to have my editor point out a timeline inconsistency. So important to be mindful of, and sometimes it takes a fresh set of eyes to 'see' the error. We as authors get so involved in our stories we can lose sight of the trees through the forest.

  11. I like the idea of making even a small race against time in a book...a character late to something. They're hurrying and XYZ happens, which adds a little bit of tension to the story.


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