I just finished my latest novel and was feeling a bit proud of myself until I realized I wasn’t really finished. There was more to do before I gave it to real people to read. The first thing that needed attention was the timeline. While I’m writing I try to keep track of dates and times. I learned this from the editor who shepherded all my Tucker books through the perilous waters. After sending her my second book, she said, in effect, that she had no doubt Tucker could save the world but probably not in one day. Of course, she was right. I’d larded in so much action it was not possible or believable that anybody could run that fast in a twenty four hour period, except maybe a gerbil spinning on its wheel.
My books have all been set in Los Angeles. It takes time to navigate traffic in this city. I have to take that into account. With this current novel, I kept track of days, hours and sometimes minutes in the first half of the book. Then I switched several scenes around and what had once been day was now night. After that I gave up keeping track and accepted that I would have to fix it later. If you have an easy way to do this, please let me know. Here are some timeline aids I’ve used:
- Excel spreadsheet. Across the top I put the dates. Along the side I put the times. Then I read through the manuscript. As a scene happens, I insert the time in the appropriate column. In the date column, I make a note about what happened in that scene. I keep doing this until I reach the end of the manuscript, at which time I have a complete record of all events and when they occurred.
- An old-fashioned appointment book. You can buy these at Staples or similar office products stores. I buy the one with four columns so I can track the protagonist, the antagonist and two other characters during the course of the novel. I do that because one behavior leads to another. When your heroine does something, your bad guy reacts. Events in a novel should be causally related. How people react to events in their lives causes conflict and moves the story along.
- A regular run-of-the-mill calendar. This is usually my last option because the spaces are too small to include notes but it's great for keeping track of broad, sweeping events.
While I’m reading through the manuscript, I keep a tablet by my side on which I ask myself questions like:
- Aren’t her muscles sore from horseback riding the day before? The character said in the manuscript that she thought they would be.
- When did you tell the reader Detective Garcia was on vacation? That came as a surprise. It should come earlier.
Okay, so now that I’ve corrected all things correctible, I’m finished…really I am. Except that last scene, maybe the angle of the parked car is slightly off. A diagram. Yes! That’s what I need. And measurements. I’m off to get a sketchpad and ruler.