Visit the main website
Author of the Faye Longchamp Archaeological Mysteries
Checkout Floodgates and the rest of the books!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Writing Tips for the Practical-Minded #26: Lost in time and space

Someone asked me recently if I storyboarded my books.  No, and I only have the dimmest idea of what storyboarding is.  I do write those long, involved, for-my-eyes-only outlines that I've described to you, but stories evolve between outline and finished book.  If they don't, then maybe we writers are working too hard.  Maybe we should just publish our outlines and be done with it.

I've learned to take a stab at a timeline when I'm outlining.  I try to have some idea of the passage of time, so that I'll know when Faye has done enough for one day and she really needs to sleep.  I don't record the consumption of every single meal, figuring that you'll presume she grabbed fast food or slapped together a sandwich if I don't tell you specifically that she ate.  And I do not inform you when anybody goes to the bathroom, unless there's a darn good plot-related reason.  If it's not part of the story and it doesn't drive the plot, then it is omitted in the name of streamlining.

The roughed-out schedule that's implicit in my outline shifts as I write, but I'm just not rigid-minded enough to force myself to think out the plot on a minute-by-minute level at this point.  At some time in the process, usually as I'm finishing the first draft, I am so lost in time that I am forced to sit down and page through the manuscript, making notes on when this day ends and that one begins.  The editor of Artifacts made me write her a scene-by-scene timeline.  I'd guess that I have hundreds of scenes in a 300-page book, so this was an arduous undertaking.  My natural style is tight third-person with multiple viewpoints, so this means that one scene may be taking place simultaneously with the next one, as two or three or even more people observe the same thing at the same time.

This exercise taught me that I was using the multiple-viewpoint technique to manhandle time itself.  By letting one character point a gun, then having another watch in horror, then having another see that she is in the line of fire, then letting the second one try to take the bullet for the woman he loves, I can spend a nice leisurely page or so exploring this turning-point moment in short rapid-fire scenes, without losing the tension necessary for such a situatioin.

But it was really hard writing a timeline for that sequence.

While I was writing Findings, I came to the point that I had no idea what day it was any more.  This became a problem, because I needed for Faye and Joe to go to the rare books library, which would ordinarily be closed on it  was really important to know whiether it was Sunday yet.  Time to write a timeline...

Then I wrote the climactic scene and I realized that I had three boats floating around those Gulf islands, and it was essential that I remember where they were all parked...moored...docked...whatever.  I had to do a boat location log as part of the timeline, because when one particular boat blew up and left Faye stranded, I did not want to hear from somebody after the book was published, saying, "If she'd have just walked down to the beach where Joe dragged his john boat ashore, her problems would have been solved."

I found that I needed to do some tweaking to make sure I wasn't sending them to the library at a time when it would be closed, and I had to move some action to Wednesday, because Joe and Faye going many more places on Tuesday than was humanly possible.  If I hadn't done the timeline, I wouldn't have known that. 

Of course, if I'd planned the passage of time in more detail when I started the book, all this fussing around could have been avoided, but I am only half-engineer.  I am also half-artist, and I work the way I work.

Now, go map out the timeline of your own work-in-progress, before your characters start meeting themselves, coming and going.

No comments:

Post a Comment