By Kelly Schaub
What time is it? What day is this? What time of year? How much time has passed?
Timeline truly is easy to track. Take one read-through and concentrate on only timeline clues. Make a notation or highlight the relevant words, whatever method works best for you.
Any mention of time of day, angle of the sun, day of the week, season, month of the year, temperature or event related to the season, holidays, weekends, the span of time between now and another event—all the stuff you mark on a calendar or clock is timeline information. Make a notation.
Did you choose to set the story in a specific year? Go online and find that year's calendar to check days of the week against the dates you name to be sure they coincide. Check for any anachronistic displays of technology, jargon, costume, or cultural norms unexplained by the storyline. Readers who know history will shun you if they see this. Bad review juju.
Mark down when your characters eat (along with what meal it is—breakfast, lunch, dinner) and when they sleep. If your heroine goes to bed at the end of a long Monday, and the next scene begins with her rising out of bed in the morning, readers will assume it is now Tuesday. If it is in fact Friday because something important to the plot will happen on Friday and the prior days were unimportant, make sure your reader knows right away about the change in time. Does your character eat three square meals in one day...or did he somehow fit in five? We might have missed a day change.
Did your character spontaneously decide to fly across the whole country and is somehow at her destination in three hours? Most of us can't even pack, get to the airport, purchase a ticket and make it through TSA screening in that amount of time, never mind the wait at the other end for transportation, traffic, etc. Go to any bargain travel site that offers airline tickets and punch in the time, date and route to see likely itineraries. And don't forget time zone changes or delays typical of seasonal weather patterns at either origin or destination; every airport has a webpage where you can look this up. Character traveling out of the country? Research passport and visa information, including how long it takes to secure this before travel. Write that in.
After you've marked up all the timeline clues, if you find any that don't jive with the story, fix them. Right now. Before you allow yourself to be distracted by any other sort of fix needed.
A former zookeeper turned author and freelance editor, Kelly Lynne Schaub has published over 100 non-fiction articles, three short stories, and two novels (as Kelly McCrady).
Focusing on developmental fiction editing as well as stylistic edits needed to bring a writer's vision to the attention of agents and publishers is what Kelly does best; she has shepherded more than 120 novels and short stories to publication.
Kelly is a member of Willamette Writers and the Editorial Freelancers Association.
Learn more about Kelly at