Monday, April 25, 2011

Is It Monday?

This past weekend was a long weekend for many people. Long weekends are great, but it is very easy to lose track of what day it is. Friday feels like Saturday. Saturday feels like Sunday. Then Sunday comes and it's Sunday again. It's all very confusing.

Every writer has to keep track of the passage of time in their story. Sometimes a plot can take place over years or decades, sometimes the entire plot unfolds in a few days or even a few hours.

The writer's task is to make it believable.

Since I write mysteries, my timeline is usually quite short. Although in real life, murder mysteries aren't usually solved overnight, in fiction, the mystery has to be concluded in a very short span of time. No reader wants to wade through pages of where nothing much happens. It's the writer's task to make sure clues appear and suspects clear or incriminate themselves at a dizzying pace.

Some writers take advantage of this necessarily short timeline and use it ramp up the suspense. They start each chapter with a time so the reader is aware of the minutes ticking away. Other writers make time vague and although readers are aware time is passing, it's very much in the background.

I tend to do fall into the latter camp, and I must confess it comes with pitfalls. When you're concentrating on the plot it can be quite easy to lose track of time. I usually discover I've written one day that has three lunchtimes or another day with no morning but five teatimes.

Thank heavens, we don't submit our first drafts!

If you're a writer, how much attention do you pay to the passing of time? If you're a reader, do you pay attention? Or, are you more interested in the unfolding of the plot and the uncovering of the characters?


  1. As a reader I'm picky and look out for little things like this. I hear watching films with me can be a bit of a nuisance!

    As for writing. I am sitting here working on a timeline as I read this and it raised a smile. I try to organise everything I write via the aid of notebooks. I look out for the things that would annoy me as a reader and put them right in my own work. Maybe just for the sake of my own personal satisfaction.

  2. You've hit on one of my biggest pitfalls. I'm like you in plotting mysteries--I like to keep the timeline in the background, but sometimes I lose track. So I always have to make a calendar outline about half way through. I list each day and what each person is doing at what time. Otherwise--yes, I have three lunches a day, people who can travel at the speed of light, and nobody ever gets any sleep.

  3. Elspeth - Oh, I face this problem, too! It's such a balance for me to make sure time passes in what I write in a believable way with the plot I'm trying to create. I try to keep track of it, but it's not always easy...

  4. Debbie; What an excellent system! Many years ago I heard a writer say he wrote what he enjoyed and I've taken that as my motto ever since.

    Anne; I've made lists like that as well; the discoveries are usually unwelcome! Isn't it amazing how no one ever sleeps?

  5. Margot; It is tricky, isn't it? I think readers have to just accept that fictional mysteries get solved in a very timely (groan) manner.

  6. Last sumer I read a book where no one slept. Reference was made to the fact that over a month had passed since such and such. Other than that everything took place during the day -- it never got dark.

    That left me with the strangest feeling.

  7. When I read a book, I won´t notice these trip-ups unless they are glaring. And as I know that, I try to keep track of time in my own WIPs by adding a short footnote to myself whenever I begin a new sectiong, telling me which day it is etc. It doesn´t take long, and it is an immense relief for me as I often leave a manuscript for weeks due to health problems.

  8. Giggles; I don't know if I've ever read a book that only took place during the day. It would be odd.

    Dorte; I must admit I don't notice them very often either. When I'm writing, since my stories take place in a far more formal time, I try to keep track of meals to keep my time straight.

  9. I can lose track too. I don't write mysteries, but I do like having suspense and it does rely on time. Because I've had to go back and rework things to make the timeline correct. Gah.

    I like the idea of noting in your MS. I'm going to try that. It beats keeping a separate worksheet for it.

  10. Sia; That feeling of suspense certainly increases with that ticking clock. Reworking timelines is a huge pain, isn't it? However, I'm always grateful I was the one who found the errors and not someone else.

  11. Time is my downfall. Every manuscript I've written has had a time problem that I'e had to fix. I've left out days, had two Thursdays in a week, and in my WIP, I'm having trouble figuring how old some of the characters are and need to be. I should have paid more attention in algebra.

  12. Carol; I figure out ages before I start. They never change. HAHAHAHA. And thanks for the nightmare of algebra being involved in writing. Perhaps that explains my lack of lucre.

  13. My tracking board system helps. So does "Document Map". As I start a chapter, I usually put what day of the story it is, and maybe time of day.

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


Please leave a comment as I love to hear from you!