Time, as it relates to fiction writing

If we as writers had the luxury of time and could complete an entire first draft in one sitting (like Jack Kerouac hopped up on amphetamines and coffee with a roll of typing paper), we could likely avoid mistakes associated with time sequences. Assuming, of course, we were hopped up on amphetamines and coffee.

The truth is that we write in spurts, in blocks of time, whenever we get up early, or after dinner when the dishes are cleared. We write when there is time available. You have to be very meticulous, have excellent notes, and perhaps even re-read what you previously wrote in order to avoid mistakes in the logical progression of time within your story.

When I wrote the first draft of Ark City Confidential, I recall having to go back and add a few paragraphs to indicate the early part of the story took place about a year prior to the main events. My mind told me how the story went; my fingers didn’t type the correct words. There were also historical markers that were referenced that forced me to follow a stricter sequence of events.

For example, when gangster ‘Crazy’ Jake Hickey reads about John Dillinger’s death, it was imperative to reference the date and make sure elements of the story worked within those confines. As I approached the chapter in question, I had to make sure enough had occurred prior to July 22, 1934 and that there would be enough time to get to October but before the 22nd when Pretty Boy Floyd was killed.

Writing historical fiction is about more than correctly identifying clothing and automobiles and product brands. It’s about keeping the action of your fiction story within the actual context of recorded history. In Lost in the Plains, General Hap Arnold is scheduled to make an inspection of Strother Air Field just north of Arkansas City, KS. While this event did not actually occur, I researched enough to determine when the General was making inspections and when he might have been in or near the state at all. Additionally, that time frame had to work within the rest of the story.

I tried something different on a new series I’m working on. I downloaded and then printed a complete calendar for 1946. I knew the action started on or around the beginning of spring. It was easy with online almanacs to determine that. (I also found a great website associated with The Old Farmer’s Almanac that provides weather info for zip codes as far back as 1945. This allowed me to reference sunny day, rainy day, windy day.) I wound up using the calendar more in the writing process than in the editing process. Unlike an old film noir that squeezes perhaps several days into seventy-five minutes, I was able to control the flow of the action.

Time seems to wander when I’m writing. Which is ok for the writer. But in order to maintain anything approaching a logical sequence, time must be accurate for the reader.


2 thoughts on “Time, as it relates to fiction writing

  1. Great post, HB! I like your use of a physical calendar (I might have to adopt that).


    1. All writers, um, borrow from each other.


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