I get tangled up in numbers when I’m writing. I ask myself questions like the following:
How old would that character be in 2014?
When did that happen in the first book in the series?
What day would it be now if three days have passed?
The baby is born in a certain year, was my character still young enough to give birth?
What was the date the baby was born?
How many years have passed since the time frame of the last book in the series?
How old would the baby and the mother and father be in this book?
Is the kid old enough to be a toddler now?
How late in the 20th Century did criminals rob trains?
Is my character too young to have been a train robber?
How old is my character anyway?
When I first started to write, one of the hardest techniques to master was the passing and tracking of time. I still have not mastered it! I have to be ever so vigilant to keep my characters from stepping out of their own personal time zones.
Here's at least one device I have mastered, the three dots, asterisks, or whatever cute curlicues a writer chooses to put between paragraphs that free the reader from living though the tedious details of time passing. For instance, the writer can avoid writing, “She pulled her chair back from the table, put on her coat, walked out the back door, and ran into the road. She walked and walked and walked down the dusty track until three days later when she came to her daughter’s house in the woods.”
Instead, I can let the reader imagine that the character got up from the table, walked out the door and made it to her daughter’s house by simply putting three asterisks between the paragraphs where she left and the one where she arrived. The graph following the asterisks for instance can begin with a conversation she’s having with her daughter. They can talk about the dusty track and the strain of walking so far in so many days if the reader needs to know. If not, the story continues with more interesting details.
The real reason I can’t keep track of what day it is in my stories could be that personally I really don’t care. However, I’m fairly sure some and maybe most of my readers do want to know. Lately I've had pretty good luck making all parties my characters put on take place on a Saturday night. The rest of the week I just let float by with references to sleeping, waking, traveling, and eating meals. I’m hopeful this ruse works and if the reader really longs to know if it’s Monday or Thursday then they can figure it out for themselves.
Actual years are much trickier for me. I’m constantly referring back to the previous book in the series to make sure I keep the time frame straight. It’s annoying and interrupts my writing flow. I do keep a list of dates, places, and characters close at hand on the computer, but it needs to be more extensive. Secondly, I think when I write A Train Robber’s Tale, I’ll expand and print that list so I won’t have to leave the page where I’m writing to find out facts I need to know quickly.
When someone says writing is not magic but a craft to be mastered, I believe it. However, when I read back over something I've written, sometimes I’m amazed at where my imagination has taken me. Often I ascribe the writing to the characters who evidently must be whispering in my ear. On my own I couldn't possibly come up with all these wonderful written images that make a novel.
I’m hopeful I’ll learn to better handle the speed bumps of writing that involve numbers, dates, lists and calculators. In the meantime, I hope my readers will make up for my lack of mathematical genius, and puzzle things out for themselves or just plain forgive me.
Think about this: Writers adore readers, so consider posting notes often. Be gentle.
Keep an eye out for The Storm Women in print and as an e-book soon on Amazon.
(Also available on other e-book platforms along with others in the Arrowstar series)