Keeping Track of Time in Your Novel

While binge watching a television show—the only way to watch a television show—I noticed that the moon was full every single time it was shown. It was a minor thing, but it annoyed me. When one episode provided a date to go with the full moon, I did a quick Internet search and confirmed that the full moon was in fact not accurate.

I didn’t stop watching the show, but I was momentarily pulled out of the story. And while this may say more about me than it does about the show itself, I’m sure I’m not the only one to get hung up on details like this.

So how can you, as a writer, avoid making similar mistakes?

First, keep a calendar for your novel. I rarely include dates when I write, but I almost always have specific dates in mind. I may not mention them, but I pay attention to things like holidays, days of the week, and yes, sometimes even moon phases. This way, the few time references that make it into the book are consistent. In other words, I don’t say it’s Monday and then two days later say it’s Monday again. I don’t make it snow in summer. I don’t say the moon is full every time I describe it.

Second, keep track of other schedules as needed. For example, if I’m writing something set in a school, I keep track of the school’s start and end times and the characters’ class schedules. Depending on your story, you might need to note things like public transportation schedules or time zone differences.

Finally, if you have multiple point-of-view characters, make sure you keep track of both their individual timelines and how their timelines relate to each other.

You don’t need a fancy program to do this. You can find calendars online for present, past, and future years. Print them if you want, or just refer to them as you write. You can also use day planners for your characters' schedules, but honestly, I generally find that a couple of charts added to my other manuscript notes does the trick. The key is to know more about your manuscript’s timeline than the readers do. 

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