Time, Time, Time: What Have I Done?

In real life, I am generally good with time. I meet deadlines. I show up Canadian punctual (ten minutes early) to events. And I am usually aware of the date and time thanks to that job I have at MIT, which requires me to pay attention to such things because people get annoyed when you don’t show up to meetings or don’t pay them as scheduled.

Given me a novel to write, however, and watch me bend time like some sort of super villain. This talent would be great if I were writing complex stories that weave in and out of past and present and future scenes, or if I were writing sci-fi where time doesn’t work the way it does here, on Earth. I do not write such things, however. I write first-person crime novels that precede in linear fashion.

In short: I keep fucking* up my time lines. In my series book one, Idyll Threats, each chapter starts with a date and time stamp. It’s meant to evoke police paperwork. And it’s very handy for keeping track of time. In book two, Idyll Fears, I did away with this convention and used the old “Chapter One,” style and oh my friends, it was not good. Ask my editor. Ask my copyeditor. Only, please don’t. I want them to forgive me, someday.

For book three I returned to the date and time convention,  and didn’t have too many problems. Today, I am editing book four and somehow, Chief Lynch travels back in time from September 11th to September 9th like it’s no big deal. Not a single character in this manuscript seems impressed. Not one. None of those fuckers has the decency to say, “Holy hell, Chief! Didn’t we see you two days ago, in the future? How is any of this possible? Aren’t you creating some terrible butterfly effect? Will you have to kill your grandfather now? When do the robot wars begin?”

You might say to me, “Why don’t you have a 2000 calendar (this is the year the story occurs) printed at your desk to help you keep track of the story’s timeline?”

Why, I do, helpful friend, I do.

But you know what I hadn’t done, until today, because I hadn’t thought of it before? I hadn’t checked off the boxes, like a prisoner counting down the days until freedom is granted. What a goddamn simple solution. Once I mark off the date I can see that I’ve already written a scene on the date and need to keep it moving. This should work. In fact, it should work beautifully! Until I find a new way to fuck that system up too.

*I’m sorry if you dislike curse words. I love them. In fact, I removed many, many curse words from this brief essay because I thought mayyyyybe there were too many present. You’re so fucking welcome.

3 comments

  1. Leanna Hamill

    The day I realized that I could use an actual calendar to keep track of my book’s timeline was a good day indeed. It made me realize my client needed to find a job, because now I could see that she’d apparently just been in suspended animation when she wasn’t on the page (and no, I’m not writing sci-fi either so that wouldn’t have actually worked.)

  2. Laurie Hernandez

    And ya know, I do all of that, too! I try not to write in real time because a death penalty trial can take 3 months and who wants to read about all of that?! I want to entitle chapters “Shit That Happens In Between” but who would put up with that?! And another thing about this “Fuck” thing: it’s really hard for me to write it in my manuscript. I’m old, older than I’ve ever been anyway, and it just wrecks me to write it out in my WIPs. A girl in my writing grp (old like me, former grammar school teacher) likewise hates to write it and hates to read it. I have no problem saying it (adjective, adverb, whatfuckingever), but writing other than “comments” is fraught. Should I just say “fuckitall” and just do it a few times, save it for the verdict or some shit, or clutch my pearls and avoid it? I dunno.

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