Dodging the Melting Clock
Time is fluid. This is the basic theory of Relativity. What can seem like hours to one person might seem like minutes to someone else. As a writer, however, you cannot allow time or distance to be fluid concepts within the plot. Consistency might involve establishing terminology and synchronizing timelines, as much as maintaining consistent measurement. Here are some pitfalls to look out for and edit out of your writing.
Is your story set in a world that has no concept of synchronic time (hours, minutes, seconds)? If so, it would be odd for your story to include any of the following:
- The “hour” being late, early, or near
- In the next “minute” or “minutes” later
- A split “second,” or similar to the above, “seconds” later
- Noon or midnight
Replace these instances with something more general like:
- Moments later
Conversely, are you writing within a world with non-Earth measurements of time? If so, not only do you need to establish a totally new set of time measurements, you also need to scrub all instances of hours, minutes, and seconds, in favor of your world’s time measurements.
In non-Earth based worlds, whether in dark fantasy, dystopian science fiction, or another subset of dark fiction, distance and the time needed to cover it becomes a challenge. You need to first establish your geography and then the amount of time it takes to get from point A to B. This affects all other distance/time factors within your story.
For example, in first book in my series, Into the Darkness, I established that it took less than a full day for Aeryn and Theo to travel from Valis to Cira. Then, when they traveled from Cira to Belhaun, twice the distance from Valis to Cira (give or take), it took them a little over two days to complete the journey.
Once this distance/time factor is established in your story, you have to stick to it. During editing, you must account for any variances you encounter or change the scene that diverges from the established measurement. Otherwise, you risk your reader stopping at that point in the story and scratching their head in confusion.
Timeline Consistency Within Multiple Plots
Whether you have multiple plots within one book or spanning multiple books, you need to keep your timelines straight to avoid confusing your reader about what is happening when. If you have timelines that overlap and diverge/converge, this is even more crucial. You can’t place a character in X location in one plot and then have them in a totally different part of the continent a day later in another plot, barring magical or technological interference.
I’ll give you another example from my Cathell series. After the events in book 1, the main characters all split off in different directions. In books 2 and 3, the events are happening semi-simultaneously. The end of book 3 sets up the events in book 4 and 5, including the introduction of a new antagonist. I had to make sure that I allowed enough time between the end of book 3 and the start of book 4 for the antagonist to logically accomplish his nefarious tasks, which set up the plot for books 4 and 5. Otherwise, the reader would have been left scratching their head.
If you are working on a complicated multi-plot arc, I suggest you take detailed notes on how your timeline fits together. Then, as you edit, make sure all events fit together properly. Otherwise, the reader may come away very confused.
Putting It All Together
Keeping consistent plots and timelines often comes down to keeping good notes. Don’t be afraid to work things out on paper when you need to. Whatever works and helps you to dodge a melting clock showing up in your story.
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