Thursday, May 10, 2018

2YN Class 71 for FB People


Because you cannot insert graphics at various points in a post on FB, I'm going to post class #71 here and put a link to it on FaceBook.  The rest of you need not pay any attention to it.  I hope that this works out for everyone!

Week 71: Second Draft, Part Six
Continuity and Timelines/2

Getting the Time Right

There are several aspects of time, some of which we've covered already (but I will go over again), that can affect the way you tell your story. Having a file which includes the timeline of your story can be an essential tool, especially when you are working with multiple characters in various situations, some of which overlap and much of which happens simultaneously. If like me, you tend to add in more secondary plots in the rewrite, it can also save you from dramatic mistakes.  Before you create a working timeline for your story, you have to take a couple thoughts into consideration.

1. What units of time are you using?

If your story is sf or fantasy with no connection to the world as we know it, then there is no real reason to use things like weeks, months, years. What we consider normal (seven-day week) hasn't been the standard for all places and all times even in our own history.

Many pre-industrial societies used moon-based and harvest-related calendars. The phases of the moon are steady and easy to follow, and agricultural communities have always been attuned to the changes of seasons and especially the best times to plant. The rest of agriculture is mostly self-evident. You can tell when the crop is ripe, for instance, but you will likely still have something like a harvest festival if only to bring people together to help with such work.

'Weeks' may be non-existent or be shorter or longer than seven days. Months may disappear in favor of four seasons. Years may not exist as we know them, though this seems unlikely since seasons indicate a circle of time.

But what about a science fiction story based on a ship? Would they still use the same sort of time keeping? Maybe not, though quite likely (in my opinion) if the society is not far removed from Earth they are still going to use Earth-related times on a ship, mostly because it is convenient and part of the general culture. My own sf universe uses a basic 'Earth Standard' time for ships, and local time on the planets.

Daily time is also affected by the society. Industrial age societies live by the hour, minute and second. Pre-industrial age societies did not. People did not meet at half past ten in the courtyard. They gathered at midmorning, and there was a far more fluid idea of meeting times. Dawn, midday -- or in a society with churches and temples, they might meet at first bell, third bell or something similar. Churches often kept the time with specially measured candles which burnt for one hour. Obviously, they were not the most consistent way of keeping track.

The twelve and twenty-four-hour method of timekeeping (along with sixty minutes and sixty seconds) has evolved from the Sumerians. Since almost everything else in our world is based on a ten number system (much easier to keep track of with the hands), it and the 12-inch foot is something of an anomaly. However, it's a good example of how things can be different, even in our own world.

2. How Much Time Does Your Story Take?

And epic tale might span years, a mystery might take three days. Both might require the same number of words to tell -- though epics are generally known for being very long and mystery novels for being short, quick reads. Both, however, can be faced with the same sort of problem when it comes to dealing with the 'dead' time between scenes.

You cannot tell a tale and spend every single moment with a character. The readers will get bored. Even the most exciting characters have their downtime; no one can be in the midst of an adventure for any sustained amount of time.

The longer the timescale of the novel, the more 'dead time' you'll have to cover. A novel covering years is likely to have entire months brushed aside in a few words. A mystery novel covering days may only have a few sleeping hours to cover where absolutely nothing is going on.  For both tales, a lot of the other time will be summarized as well.

Leaning how to present those dead time passages is often very hard and has something to do with the tone of the novel and your own voice.

For instance, here are four different ways to cover a three day time period while the main character waits for someone to arrive.

The three days passed quickly in a rush of cleaning, day job, and sleepless nights.

From the moment the letter arrived time crawled forward, filled with unnamed dread until I heard the knock on the door.

Three days passed before she arrived at my door.

I read the letter and sat it down on the desk, worried. Three days later, I waited on the steps watching the car drive up the road.

What you don't want to do is drag the three days out if there is nothing worth mentioning going to happen in them. Don't purposely try to fill the days up with non-story line related material. If the story is about how the MC gets the letter and three days later has to deal with something from the letter, then head straight there.

On the other hand, if the MC receives the letter, but you want to bury the importance so that the reader loses track of it, have essential plot complications arise at the same time. Not just any plot problem -- it should, as always, be as closely related to the main trouble of your story as you can manage.

How you write your passing time periods is entirely up to you and has to do, as I said before, with the tone of the novel and your own voice. In some novels, you may want to 'timestamp' your chapters. This can be very helpful if you are writing a 'real world' novel, and especially if you have multiple MCs who have things going on at about the same time. A simple date (and time, if needed) can put the reader in the right time -- and place can also be added.

Chapter One -- Mary's House, Monday Morning

Chapter Two -- The Police Station, Monday Afternoon

You can do this with a calendar system you have made up as well, but make certain the reader has a clear conception of how much time you are actually covering. In some cases, it's wise to put tags in place if it's not obvious.

Chapter One -- Day One: Festival Day, Year of the Starchaser

Chapter Two -- Day Ten: Dark Moon Day, Year of the Starchaser

And so on. When you can, use terms that will at least give your reader a basic idea of time passage. Your 'days' may not be the same length as Earth days, but they serve the same purpose.

Don't get carried away with these designations, though.  Keep them simple enough so the reader can glance at the chapter title and get a precise idea of the time and place.

Building a Timeline

A timeline is an outline where the time of the events takes precedence over the grouping of events. In other words, things which are not related thematically, but do occur in the same time frame, should be grouped together. Such a timeline can be helpful in making certain everyone is in the right place at the right time, and they can also help when working on submission packages.

A simple timeline written out on a word processor might look like this:

Day 1 (Morning):

Dave heads for town.

Mary loses job.

Day 1 (Afternoon):

Dave argues with bank manager over a loan.

Mary draws out last of her savings to leave town.

The more complex the plot, the more entries you will have. You might find you need to break down the morning by the hour ( or even smaller increments) and account for what each of the two characters does as their paths continue to cross, and the reader knows they are on a collision course somewhere. If Mary stops to have coffee at the corner coffee shop can she actually be crossing the street ten blocks away a few minutes later as Dave looks at his watch and nearly runs her down? If not, then one of them will need to adjust their time scale or location.

Keeping track of what's going on at what time during your story can help you find glitches you didn't see before you mapped the timeframe out. This week I'm going to show you some easy timelines and how you can manipulate them to help you with story problems. While I am doing these in Excel, you can do the same sort of thing in a lot of other programs. The important part is to figure out the data you want to have at hand, and the kinds of things you need to check to see that everything is flowing correctly.

For this post, I'm going to pretend I'm writing a story called Hail to the New Queen. It's the story of Princess Olma and her fight to keep the rule of the country after her father is assassinated. This will be a story told in an imaginary country, but without magic. Perhaps a sort of late Middle Ages culture, though a dual religion of a God and Goddess. Time is kept via the ringing of temple bells -- those of the Goddess during the day and of the God at night.

What material might you want to have on the timeline?

1. Time

2. Scene/Chapter

3. Location

4. Event(s)

5. POV

6. Other Characters

The easiest program to use for this is Excel or a comparable program. (I usually do my outlines on Scrivener now, but this worked pretty well and has some advantages for sorting things.)

This timeline looks pretty much like a simple outline, really. But here's where you can start seeing what the story needs. Is this the story of Princess Olma? Odd....

By having the program sort alphabetically based on the POV column, I have a list of all the scenes by POV character. It looks to me as though Clanis is the real person behind this tale. The Princess has only two scenes out of 15 in the opening. She may be the focus of this story, but at this point, she is not the person who is going to tell it.

It's possible you didn't realize this since the Princess is present in a number of other scenes. Maybe you want to see how many times she's really around. (In Excel a Control+z will return the file to the previous line up). Do a find for Princess Olma, and it will take you through five cells -- two POV and three Other Characters. She's still not around nearly as much as Clanis. So perhaps you want to give her a couple more scenes, especially right off the opening because it is important the reader knows the main character as soon as possible, and you don't mislead them into thinking this is a novel about Clanis.


There -- I've inserted two more scenes I can add in during the second draft phase. Now at least she has more scenes than the assassin, and they could be compelling scenes as she watches her father die and then takes over, and later having her first argument with the Lords over who is in charge.

This will make Princess Olma a more powerful character and give her more 'on-screen' time to show her strengths.  These scenes are also directly related to what is going on in the story.  If you are adding scenes in, you want to find ways to connect them as intimately to the earlier material as you can.  Having a scene where Princess Olma has breakfast wouldn't be as powerful unless you have something drastic happen during that time.

I don't like this setup, though, especially the way it drops the 'Day' parts to the bottom when I do a check on the people. So here's a better way. Give each 'day' a color as well as the header for it.


This looks much easier to study. So maybe now I want to know how many scenes have taken place at the palace. I do the same 'sort' as I did for POV.


This shows that 8 of the 15 scenes take place at the various areas of the palace.

When working with something as small as fifteen scenes, this really isn't such a big deal. For a novel with 30 chapters and over 100 scenes, it might be an entirely different matter. You might discover Clanis, who dominated the first half of the timeline, suddenly drops to next to nothing toward the end, when the queen goes into exile and Clanis is no longer with her. This might be something you want to rectify one way or the other, so the readers who have become attached to Clanis don't suddenly feel let down when he disappears. You can cut down the number of scenes in the first half, or you can give him new opportunities in the second half -- he can go with the queen, or he can remain behind and still focus on things going on back at Court where Lord Terit is the ruler.

A timeline allows you to look at the events and see who was where at what time. In a book with multiple POV characters in different areas acting at the same time, you might want to set things up a little differently, as I have for this science fiction novel.

As you can see, some of the events in chapter two take place on Earth and occur at the same time as some of the events in chapter one on Mars. The N/T entries mean there is no text -- this bit of the timeline in this location does to appear in the novel. It doesn't mean things are not happening -- only that they are events which will not be directly covered in the story.

In this one, I have only two POV characters, and I don't have to worry about who is going to get more 'face' time since I would likely do this as an alternating POV story and they would each get the same number of chapters. My main questions would revolve around who is where and when. Even if Collins moved off to the moon, I would likely keep his timeline to the EST reckoning, since he would not quickly change anyway, as anyone who has traveled to a vastly different time zone can tell you. I dropped 'Other Characters' to make the picture manageable, but it might be a good section to have as well. (And no, I didn't bother to set up a real Mars clock for this little bit of an outline.)

If I had a large series, a number of events are going on in different areas so I might be tempted to do this entire process in Microsoft Access instead. Access has far better tools for entering and extracting data, but it's not a quick project, either. However, if you have a large universe filled with stories and people to keep track of, it can be a great way to track everything.

Timelines can catch problems you don't realize you have until you see it laid out and see that you need more time here, less time there, etc. They can also make certain you don't have too much dead time for one character while another is hogging all the glory.


Work out the timeline for your story.  You can do this in any format and program you like.  Write it in whatever way you find useful.  This is an important editing tool.

Example 1:

Resolutions of Trust

Resolutions should take place over a one month period -- although there are some events in the original which would not be practical in such a short time. The reworked version will take care of this better, compressing the events into a quicker timeframe in order to create a faster pace.  Here is a quick break down of events as I see them happening:

Week 1:  Original Disaster and immediate aftermath

Week 2: BriTerra cover-up begins to unravel

Week 3: BriTerra's more drastic steps

Week 4: Emil takes chances to bring down BriTerra

Example 2:

Darkness Falls

In Darkness Falls, I have two characters at odds with each other, even when they are not in the same place at the same time.  I might want to chart out their conflicting actions and know what each is doing at any given time.

De and Jake are plainly on a collision course throughout the book.  De has held back from it, which is not always the right thing to do, as evidenced by the things Jake does as soon as he thinks he can get away with it.

De Captured by Holy One  -- Jake begins secret meetings with friends

De finds sanctuary in alien enclave  -- Jake tells servants they will no longer deal with anyone but an elite

De begins mastering his feelings toward the world -- Jake finds out he can't win the leadership as easily as the thought, even with De gone

No comments: