05-26-18 – Blog Queen - Sarah Raplee

Saturday, August 29, 2015

One Thing I Wish All Writer's Knew Before They Published

By Kelly Schaub

What time is it? What day is this? What time of year? How much time has passed?

You know the answer—it's all in your head, in your planning for the story. But did your timeline make it accurately into the text that a reader will see? Your editor points out how five days passed and it's only two calendar dates later and you think, "How did I miss that?"

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 


Linda Lovely said...

Good points. I'm most likely to have a timeline slip up after editing--adding or subtracting. Also if the story is told in multiple points of view, it's important to make sure the times for all characters are in sync.

Paty Jager said...

Kelly, This is a good post for everyone. The logistics of everyone and things going on are sometimes the hardest things to keep track of.

As always good advice.

Rain Trueax said...

To keep myself lined up, I create a blank calendar appropriate for the year, then write in what happens on which date. For historicals, because I like the moon as a factor, I found you can get online the info on when the moon rose and its cycles for at least all the years back through the 1800s and maybe farther for all I know. I caught one of my recent goofs where it went from a full moon to a crescent in a few days. Fortunately that book does not come out until November. You are right about how easy it is to jump around and not get logic into the logistics ;)

Sarah Raplee said...

You are the Queen of the Timeline, Kelly! You saved me from myself more than once with your editing. Thanks for the tips on keeping time under control! And thank you for Guesting at RTG.

Diana McCollum said...

I'll definitely be using a calendar with my next novel! thanks for the great tips, Kelly. And like Sarah, you've saved me from myself more than once with your wonderful editing!

Kelly McCrady said...

Glad to help, everyone. Linda, you made a good point about each character with a POV being synched with the others as you switch from one scene to the next--I've read many manuscripts where the action is simultaneous in two different settings and the authors need to find a way to keep the reader from experiencing a jarring time-warp. Solid transitional sentences are needed to keep readers oriented for sure.

Rain, I like your idea of researching the phases of the moon. You can also find sunrise/sunset info for anywhere on Earth at any date, tide tables, temperature and humidity information and sunspot activity. Astronomers are nothing if not thorough with their data LOL

Paty, Sarah, and Diana thank you :-)

Judith Ashley said...

Chiming in a bit late but want to add my kudos to you, Kelly for your keen editing eye. Not only do you keep track of my time line (although I do use a calendar and make notes on it for chapters/events) some always seem to slip through.