Fantasy Literature: Time Management in a Story
“Drasmyr” was the first novel I ever wrote. It tells the story of a traditional gothic vampire in a fantasy world of wizards and warriors. It’s kind of like Dracula set in Middle-Earth. I wrote it stream-of-consciousness about seventeen, or so, years ago. Since then, it’s been edited and re-edited, and finally self-published. The events of the entire novel take place over roughly a week’s worth of time. Most novels span months and years of time telling the story of a character and how he or she changes throughout. Not mine. Just a week. The reason it occurs over such a short time period is because it was written stream-of-consciousness without detailed plotting beforehand. Things just ran together, and events built from one to the next. The end result was fine, but if I want to expand it into something of an epic fantasy tale (which I do), I’ll have to expand the timeline a bit. Most epics don’t take place over the course of a month.
I’m currently working on the follow-up novel, “The Children of Lubrochius.” For this one, I’ve expanded the timeline to a whole season or so, about three months. At least, that’s the plan. But managing the timelines of the various characters and their activities is difficult. As I did not plot the whole thing out in detail before I wrote it (I used the hybrid plotting/pantsing approach), I’ve been running into some difficulties of late and they are mostly with respect to the timeline. It’s not that I have event B taking place before event A that caused it, or anything quite so serious, it’s just sometimes, since there are multiple story threads, I find one character or another sitting on his thumbs for a week or more when the others are going about their business. I could solve the issue by collapsing the timeline, so that everything took place over the course of a week or two, but I don’t want to do it that way. I’m sure I can resolve the issue with a little effort, but it is worth noting for the lesson it teaches: do the timeline before you write the story! Duh! So much for the pantsing approach. In the future, I will add far more structure to my pre-writing plotting. That will save me some headaches. But I suppose it’s a learn-as-you-write type of thing.
Of course, most readers probably wouldn’t notice the difficulties inherent in the timeline. I know for myself, not once in my life have I gone through a book with a fine toothed comb to sketch out the timeline of the story in detail. I just get caught up in the events and get swept away… or bored out of my skull as the case may be. As long as events follow each other in the appropriate chronological order, I think I’m reasonably okay. Still, it pays to be thorough. I will fix what I can. And I will have proofreaders.
I guess what I’m saying is: The more I write, the more I find myself shifting to the plotting-beforehand approach. Timelines are a part of this. They give structure to a story and they should not be overlooked. Maybe the reader won’t notice minor discrepancies, but it could be disaster if they do.