How To Keep Track Of Time In Your Novel

Hey there, Travelers & Dreamers!

Today we’re gonna talk about pacing your novel and why it’s important!

Let’s say you’re writing your novel, or reading one, and halfway through the characters confess their undying love for each other. Or your MC develops a major super power, something so strong and skilled that only masters have done it. Or the characters have traveled to the other side of the world.

But how much time has passed? You’ve written 50k-70k words, but that isn’t time for your characters – it’s time for the reader. In 50,000 words, only a day or an hour might pass for your character. Or a decade could have passed, depending on what sort of story you’re writing.

So, first, let’s explore the why…

Why Do I Need To Keep Track Of The Time?

We’ve all heard of the horrors of insta-love, which is prevalent in many YA novels. (As another Twitter user explained to me: Hormones.) But what if you’re writing an adult novel, one where the characters are seasoned and well-adjusted to the realm of romance? An insta-love is sure to have readers rolling their eyes!

Same thing goes for the MC receiving the Holy Grail of super powers after a single day of training. Or your characters clearing 1500 miles in the span of a couple hours, on foot.

You want to maintain realism in all aspects of your book, even if you have vampires, werewolves, and flying monkeys. The fantasy or paranormal elements of your book is the one thing of which your readers will suspend disbelief as they read.

They won’t do it for much else.

How Do I Keep Track of Time?

In REM World, I break the book up into “Nights”, because each visit to REM World occurs at night when the characters sleep and enter the new dimension. When you do your outline, you can break yours up however you see fit – days, nights, hours, months, years. Whatever you need.

You don’t have to include a header of the date/time in each chapter or anything. Knowing how much time has passed on your own at each scene is usually sufficient. In fact, it’s probably better in a lot of cases if you simply work into the prose that a certain amount of time has passed.

“We wandered the desert for three days.” or “I avoided him for the rest of the month, even ignoring his calls on Christmas Eve. As New Year’s approaches, I wonder if I should give him another chance…”

These little lines can express to your readers that a significant amount of time has passed. That way, when we get to the Big Plot Point, we aren’t scrunching up our noses as we read it. “Love? They¬†love each other? Already?”

Why Keeping Time Isn’t Important

Huh? What? I thought this article was to highlight the importance of keeping time! Well, yes. But…

See, time itself isn’t enough to convince your readers that a Big Plot Point should occur when it does. Saying, “Seven years have passed in the book and the characters are now in love,” doesn’t necessarily mean anything if you haven’t built up to it. Same for Mega Powerful Magic Power.

You need to make sure that there is chemistry and attraction between the two characters before you get them confessing to each other. You need to show the struggle and effort of a character as they learn before they get the ultra rare super power.

Time passing isn’t a substitute for this. And, on the other side of the coin, showing the development is not always a substitute for time. If your MC trains for one day, even though you show all his struggles, it’s still way too easy. It was one day. He achieved master-level super powers in a single day? Guess it’s not so “master-level”, then. Or maybe all the masters are trash, haha.

Like most everything in writing, it’s a balance. Let me know if this helps you! Follow me on Twitter (@LLynnevans) and/or read the first chapter of REM World here.

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