Saturday, January 1, 2011

The Importance of Timelines

Mika detects a disturbance in The Force.
Last night I was having a great time in the Deep End of the Revision Pool.  The additional three chapters had been written and the revisions were going well.  The dialog was humming along in my head, the actions were clear and concise, and my main character was showing, not telling, his growth in the scene. 

I was in that rare writing Groove.  I even remember thinking that I was actually enjoying the work.

Then came a Disturbance in The Force: a little voice in the back of my head started trying to get my attention.
"Say, um, Tom.  I think I've found a problem here."

"Can't this wait?  I'm in a Groove here."

"Well, sure.  It's a pretty big problem, though."

"Is anything that can't wait until I'm done here?  I mean, did I forget that one of my character sprouted a third arm that I haven't refered to in these chapters?"

"No, no.  Nothing like that.  Tell you what, let me just say one word, okay?  One word so you won't forget?  Okay?"

Sigh.  "Fine.  One word."

"Great.  Here is goes: Timeline."


"Yep, that's it.  See ya, bye!"

Oh, sazzafrazzarazzamatazz*.

Several years back I was one of two people reading through the final edit of a book by Vance Briceland before he send it off to his editor.  The book was "I Went to Vassar for This?"  I remember my work on this book for three reasons:
  1. I completely misread the race of a key minor character, thus several of my comments made no sense whatsoever.
  2. I argued stringently against his fictional/poetic license of moving the night "What's My Line?" aired -- from, as I recall, Sunday to a Saturday 
  3. As a result, Vance has never asked me to read another of his books before it's gone to press.

Oh, wait.  There was a point to that aside:
  1. The one valuable contribution I made to that pre-read was in spotting a timeline error.  It was easily fixed and much appreciated.
Ii had just finished reading a book on Place and Setting that had a full chapter on Timelines.  The book recommended making a timeline of your story, especially if you have mulitple characters who are all off doing different things throughout the story.  Do they all  have time to accomplish their tasks?  Is the time too short?  Too long?  Can they all get to where they need to be in the time you've allotted for them?

I resolved then and there to always make a timeline for my books.

Except I didn't.

I mean, my book takes place over just a few days, okay?  The primary action takes place under a 48-hour deadline.  Honestly, who needs a timeline for that short a period of time?

Still, if I caught a timeline error in Vance's book, and that nagging voice in my head had left me with that one word... okay.  Sheesh...

I surfaced from the Deep End of the Revison Pool when I was finally happy with the last chapter.  We ate dinner.  I had a glass of wine or two.  We watched the second episode of Cosmos.  I sat down and wrote out by hand what happened on Day One, Day Two, Day Three and Day Four.

Only, there wasn't anything left to do on Day Four.  And an unrealistic amount of work done on Day Two.  Unrealistic as in just about everything takes place on Day Two.

Oh, sazzafrazzarazzamatazz.

I had hoped to have all of Revision II done by yesterday.  Now I'm looking splitting up the days, adding in some details for what happens in between those hours and still sprinkling in enough Sights, Smells and Atmosphere for the overall World Building.

So, learn from my mistake, kids: Always create a Timeline for your character and your book.  Otherwise, at best, you'll get tossed back into the deep end of your own revision pool by a helpful beta reader or CP.  At worst, you'll have a vaguely annoyed agent/editor/paying-customer-as-reader point out the timeline error in your manuscript and you really don't want that happen.

-- Tom

* It's pronounced just like it's spelled.  It's also significantly more socially acceptable than the phrase that is usually bounding around in my head when I say this.