Things I hate about writing: Timelines

Why must my characters be limited by the bounds of time and space? Why? Why can’t they just teleport from A to B? Why do I need to find time for my villain to do his/her villainy? Why can’t they just nip away while the hero is in the loo? Why can’t a task take as long as it needs to take in order for it to finish just as my hero arrives?

Of course this is pure hypocrisy. I’m the first to shake my fist at the sky and scream, “My immersion!” whenever I see people riding from Dover to Nottingham in two hours or when the killer is someone who’s never been out of sight or when Jack Bauer fights a continuous running battle for 24 hours without ever stopping to urinate.

In real life stuff takes as long as it takes. It’s easy to miss that when you’re writing.  When you’re telling a story things have to happen in a certain order or there’s no story. That means some things are happening simultaneously but you can’t write them simultaneously. You can only write one scene at a time.

In my current work in progress that means:

  • The person who steals the mobile morgue (and all the red herring characters) had better not be in full view of other characters during the short time between the body being put in the freezer and the morgue being stolen.
  • The amount of time for my protagonist to drive to the hospital, visit the wounded and come back to confront his boss must be believably less than the time it takes for the experts summoned before he left to arrive.
  • Therefore the hospital now has to be inside the M25.
  • Therefore the Tower of London is now a less powerful magical beacon than I thought.

A better organised writer would have written the Timeline at the start of the process. But how can you do that if you don’t know what the story is yet? I can only write the way that I can write an that means that now, with the story three quarters plotted, and half the scenes written, I have to stop and work out exactly how many hours between a spy waking up next to a headless body and an epic battle for the soul of an ancient goddess.

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