How Much Time has Passed in Your Story?: How and Why to Keep Track

How Much Time Has Passed in Your Story? | It's important to keep track of your story's timeline to avoid embarrassing mistakes or inconsistencies. Here are some FREE organizers to help you stay on top of things!There’s a lot to keep track of when writing a story…characters, settings, description, pacing, tension, dialogue, and more. It can kinda make your head spin sometimes. (And is probably why writers are a little crazy).

But there’s another really important aspect you should be keeping track of in your novel: the passage of time.

Do you know how much time has passed in your novel? It can be tricky to grasp unless you’ve been keeping track. I know I have no idea how much time has passed in my current WIP. A few days? A week? A few weeks? (Something that will be addressed in the editing stages).

When you’re writing a story, especially one that’s novel-size, you lose your sense of time. It can take anywhere from months to years to finish your novel. To you, it may feel like a lot of time has passed in your story because you’ve spent a lot of time writing it. But that may not be the case!

“But why does it matter?” you ask. “Why should I do the extra work?”

Well. You can run into all sorts of fun little problems if you’re not paying attention. And if your readers find these issues after your book is published? Yeah, that might be a little embarrassing. (And don’t rely on editors to catch these things for you either!)

So what kinds of issues are we talking here?

Timeline Troubles

Well, the first one is continuity (consistency over a period of time). Let’s say you have a bunch of characters and you’re telling the story in multiple POV, switching back and forth between them all (like Game of Thrones). It can be really easy to get the timelines of your characters tangled up if you’re not careful!

For example, let’s say you have two characters, Sam and Mary, who are supposed to meet at location X in 3 days on Wednesday (it is currently Sunday). You show Sam’s POV, and 2 days pass. On the third day, he goes to meet Mary. Then you show Mary’s POV and 3 days pass, and the next day she goes to meet Sam.

See the problem? Mary’s going to be late for that meeting–an extra day was accidentally added to her timeline! This is just one way your timelines can get messed up when dealing with multi-POV, and an example that actually happened in one of my first stories.

Bah. Headaches!

Another inconsistency that can happen is travel time. You need to know how long it takes to get to every setting that will be used in your story–from point A to point B, point C to point A, etc. etc. For fantasy or historical fiction writers you have the added fun of figuring out how long it takes to travel by foot versus by horse.

If you don’t figure out travel times you may have one character get from A to B in a week and another get from A to B by the same method of transportation in a few days. Thought, planning, and research must be done or you may develop unrealistic travel times as well as inconsistent ones. Which brings me to my next point…

A sloppy timeline in your story can lead to mistakes that kill its believability. Let’s say your story is set in the summer…and months pass…and it’s still summer. Either you’re writing a fantasy world with extended seasons, or you lost track of time in your story.

Other issues that can arise involve character development and romance. Does your character go from being a coward to a soldier in a week? Does your hero ask his girl to marry him after a few days? (As Elsa would say, you can’t marry a man you just met!). Make sure you’re allowing enough time for changes in character or relationships to develop realistically. People don’t just change overnight!

It may feel like you’ve given your characters a lot of time to develop because you’ve spent weeks or months writing these scenes, but actually go in and figure out how much time has passed within the story. You may have written five chapters, but those five chapters may all take place over a couple days!

Keep Your Timeline Organized!

So how can you avoid these issues?

Well lucky for you I’ve created some epic story organizers to help you keep track of your plot’s timeline! You can download the free PDF by clicking here!

One of the organizers you will find is a plot calendar (for those of you like me who need something more visual!). I highly recommend assigning “dates” for your story even if you don’t mention them in the story itself—it just makes for easy reference and keeping things straight.

On the calendar, write in the chapters on the days they occur. If you’re writing a multi-POV, you should probably keep a calendar for each character, or if you decide to use the same one include the characters’ names next to the chapters. On the previous plot tracking organizer, you will also find a column to enter the “dates” of each chapter.

I’ve also created an organizer that will help you keep track of travel times in your story (though not time travel…that’s a whole other headache!). Fill it out and you’ll have the information handy for quick reference instead of scratching your head wondering, “Now how long did it take to get there again?”

I do almost all of my timeline tracking during the editing stages, and that’s what I would recommend. There’s just too much going on when you’re writing the first draft, so I wouldn’t worry about getting your timeline perfect then. But definitely make sure it’s consistent and realistic when you’re editing!

Do you keep track of the timeline in your story? Have you ever had any timeline issues? Comment below, I would love to hear from you!



How to Start Your Story Strong

How to Start Your Story Strong | #Write a beginning that gets to the point and draws readers in. Your #novel should start at the action--the event that sets your story into motion.There’s a lot of pressure when trying to figure out how to start your story. Your beginning is crucial–it can draw in or scare off the reader. So of course you want to make it absolutely perfect! But how do you start a story off the right way? Sure you’ll need to write a gripping opening line that will snag the reader’s attention, but then what?

Your story should start at the action. Now, when I say “action” this doesn’t have to be a car chase, shootout, explosion, or ninja assassins (although ninja assassins are pretty awesome).

The “action” is the event that sets your story into motion. Think of yourself as a movie director…your actors (characters) are all in place, the stage is set, and now you call for the action to begin.

You’ve probably heard people tell you to start with the action before, which I think can be a misleading/confusing term. You don’t want to start with just any action. Or action for the sake of action. I think a more accurate term is the inciting incident. Fancy, eh?

The inciting incident of your story is the event that triggers the rest of the plot. So, if event A didn’t happen, then we wouldn’t have B (your story). To find your inciting incident, look at your story’s ending and ask yourself, what led to this event? Keep tracing the chain of events back until you can’t go any further. Aha! There’s your inciting incident.

Now, an inciting incident can be tricky to pin down. You may end up with more than one. And that’s okay! Pick the best one and structure your story around it. You want to start your story as close to the inciting incident as possible.

Let’s look at some examples.

In The Hunger Games Suzanne Collins lets us know by the end of the first paragraph that something is about to happen:

When I wake up, the other side of the bed is cold. My fingers stretch out, seeking Prim’s warmth but finding only the rough canvas cover of the mattress. She must have had bad dreams and climbed in with our mother. Of course, she did. This is the day of the reaping.

No exploding cars or machine guns, but the author is getting right to the point. Today is different. This is the day that everything changes for the main character. By the end of the first chapter we have the inciting incident–Prim’s name being drawn in the reaping for the Hunger Games. This causes Katniss to volunteer to take her place, and results in the rest of the story’s events. If Prim’s name hadn’t been drawn, we would have no story.

Let’s look at another example–the first Harry Potter film. Here is the opening scene (for those of you who aren’t big enough nerds to have it memorized 😉 ):

Another pretty calm beginning, but a lot is going on here. Harry’s parents have been murdered by Lord Voldemort, and he is dropped off on his aunt and uncle’s doorstep. This is the day that changes everything for Harry. The inciting incident is the murder of his parents–if Voldemort hadn’t killed them, we would have no story.

As you can see, starting with the action doesn’t require actual physical action. The trick is to get to the point, but arouse interest at the same time. You should have your inciting incident occur by the end your first chapter. Don’t make the reader wait for the story to start! Make them feel as though things are being set in motion from the beginning. The last thing you want is a story that feels stagnant.

When you write your first draft you’ll probably write a lot of unnecessary scenes or back story in the beginning as you develop your characters and story. During the editing stages, hone in on where your story truly starts and get rid of everything that comes before (either by deleting it or weaving it into the story later on if it’s truly relevant).

You can still add in information about your characters and story world in the beginning to set it up for the reader, but don’t make that the sole purpose of the scene and don’t overload us!

And most importantly, don’t make the opening scene exciting just for the heck of it–it has to be relevant to the rest of the story. If the story can be told without that scene, you need to rewrite it. Your beginning shouldn’t be able to stand alone–it needs to be connected and inseparable to the rest of the plot.

Now go write a kick-ass beginning!

What’s the inciting incident of your story or favorite book/movie?