Keeping a consistent timeline in your story is crucial to earning your readers’ trust. Readers will become frustrated if your characters seem to be jumping through the seasons at will or if too much has happened for only one week to have passed.
Although this may seem like a problem only novelists would confront, memoirists, short-story writers, and anyone else writing about events that take place over time need to pay attention to their timelines also.
If you haven’t kept your outline up to date while you’re writing, do what your editor will do. Go through the manuscript and note all of the plot points that hinge on or mention timing. Write down the date and season, and if needed, count the days and weeks (and hours?) that would have passed between plot points. Ensure that time is adding up correctly.
Be sure your list includes subtle references to time, such as holidays or the changing colors of the trees. These are time indicators just as much as a date and year and should be treated with care. If you have the leaves turning from green to red a scant two weeks before Christmas, your readers may wonder just where in the world your story takes place. For most of us, that is not the kind of thought we hope to provoke.
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