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Get Published – Time Passing In The Novel

The writer must remember that time is passing in the novel as the story progresses as it does in real life. In some novels such as crime fiction, for instance, which are often plot driven, the time span of the whole book can be a week or even days. That is to say, all the action of the story happens in a short space of time. In other genre like historical fiction, family sagas, or novels about relationships which are mostly character driven the time span can be months or even years.
Over the intervening years in the novel the characters marry, age and die. Babies are born. A record must be kept of these events. In novels that have a long time span it can be difficult for the writer to remember all the possible combinations of these happenings and so he must keep careful track of these events. The best way to do this is with a chart.
Apart from the plot outline the writer needs to have a time chart. The ideal time chart is one where each important character in the novel is named, and his life events noted. For example in a chart for a historical novel it is important to know which years in the novel when certain events occurred. The chart needs to show the age of each main character at the opening of the novel, with columns whose headings indicate subsequent years.
As the writer progresses through the story he can keep track in these columns of when events happened to the characters; when Betty got married or when George went off to war. He can note when Susan was born, making sure that Betty’s pregnancy did not last more then nine months. This may seem trivial, but it is very easy to be so deeply into the writing that these small yet important details are overlooked. Do not underestimate the reader. If such mistakes are made the reader will spot them, and the writer’s credibility is spoiled.
Such a chart is useful also to keep track of historical events happening in the outside world of the novel. World Wars for instance cannot go unnoticed. Even in contemporary novels national or world events can have an effect on your story and your characters. These world happenings should be part of the writer’s research also.
A novel has an organic growth pattern and so what happens in each subsequent scene must also be carefully noted. The best way to do this is in a suitable notebook where the scenes are numbered consecutively with brief notes of what each scene was about. Earlier scenes can have an effect – consequences – in subsequent scenes. To keep the all important continuity and logical progression of the story accurate the writer must be able to refer to notes on the scenes he has already written. What happened and when. It is impossible for the writer to remember what happened precisely in each past scene. Once a scene is written it goes out of his mind to make way for the happenings of the next scene he is creating. The writer cannot have too many notes to which he can easily refer to prevent glaring potholes in his carefully conceived plot plan.

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