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Writer’s Log: 1522 Staying on the Clock

One of the more difficult aspects of writing, I find, is remaining cognizant of clock and calendar time within the story.

Imagine if your story’s internal time frame spanned only a single day. But, it took you a number of months to write it. Here you are on chapter 7, maybe 30,000 words in and yet it’s only noon on your tale’s wall clock. Keeping a consistent understanding of the passage of time is hard.

My stories tend to take 2-3 months to unfold, internally. By the time I’ve reached 3/4’s of the way through, I get a bit lost as to how much time as elapsed; has it been a week since the rock slide destroyed the cabin? Or was that two weeks ago? Did the main character break that window only yesterday? Whoa, three thousand words later it feels like last month (and it may have been, physical writing time-wise).

Stretching out the calendar writing process, over months (if not years), disconnects my head with how fast things have happened in my stories. Time and time again, I’m stunned, as I start a new scene, to realize that the story, within itself, is only a few days old. Hell, I’ve been writing for two weeks, and my characters have only gotten to the end of the second day?

Clock time is easier than calendar time. And I’ve found that year-spans are easier than calendar too. She was twelve. Now she’s fifteen. But days, weeks and months? If you’ve read the Harry Potter series then you’ll notice Rowling uses holidays to mark calendar time. Seasons can help too. But if your story takes place over, say, summer, then you have to find another, event oriented, time division mechanism. First came the flood, then the crickets, then the tornado, then a fall down the cliff, then the forest fire, and now the harvest.

And here’s the rub: Calendar time often represents the duration in which you want to mold and change your characters. He starts out shy, but by the end of the summer winds up confident. She begins distant but  learns, over the weeks, and months, to be caring and involved.

Calendar time will divide the development of your characters into segments so that you can show their progress (for better or for worse). And that is the challenge, to manage your character’s evolution — in time.