Lately I’ve noticed a trend among some of the manuscripts I’ve edited. The authors do not have a good grip on their own timelines. The problems I find are three types:
1. There is no indication of time passing, or the fact that time has passed between one scene and the next. As a reader, I need two know that a day has passed, or I’m going to assume that one event followed immediately after another. One sentence or phrase is all you need. “The following night they…” “Two days passed before…” If it is a long time, you might want to clue the reader into a very little (a sentence) of the things that were too boring to write about, so they have a sense of time passing. Very little here. If it was too boring for your story, it’s too boring for your reader.
2. The author isn’t clear about how long it takes to do things. This is particularly true of stories that require a lot of travel in fantasy worlds. How big is your universe? How many days does it take to get from here to there on foot? On horseback? It’s disconcerting to arrive at a new destination with no sense of the journey. Can they really teleport? Even a sentence about the rigors of traveling for so long, how tired they are of road food, or sore from sitting in a bumpy wagon for three months, will clue the reader in to the when of your story.
3. The author hasn’t kept careful track of the days passing. They arrive on Friday and are going to have a party the next day. On Sunday. Wait… There are tools to prevent this from happening. I’ve seen pricey software available for purchase, but I haven’t tried any of them because, honestly, a good spreadsheet is all you need.
Below is the spreadsheet for my current series. For my own purposes, I include the people each event features, so I know who is aware of what, and when. Because I have centuries-old shifters in my story, I include their ages at the time. I got tired of doing mental math every time I needed to mention how old someone was. If you use the slider to move right, you see I also include the location. It’s only a piece of the spreadsheet. It gets much more detailed as I reach modern day.
This is a work in progress right now. I haven’t figured out yet when Connie was born. I may find it useful to add other information at some point in the future, but for now, I’m keeping my dates straight.
|Fox Ridge Timeline – Whole Series|
|800||Approximate birth of Gertie and Ollie||Gertie and Ollie Baumann||0||Germany|
|1326||?||?||Adal and Bernie Born||Schmitts||0||Germany|
|1343||?||?||Neal Born||Neal Baumann||0||Germany|
|1433||?||?||Luke Born||Luke Baumann||0||Germany|
|1452||?||?||Luke meets Eva||Luke Baumann||19||Germany|
|1455||November||Luke and Bernie’s mates die, Baumans leave for France||Luke Baumann||22||Germany|
|1789||July||Approx 14||Hugh born||Hugh Laramie||0||London|
|1800||July||14||Neal and Luke rescue Hugh||Hugh Laramie||11||London|
|1867||June||?||Baumanns flee Kansas||Hugh Laramie||78||Kansas|