Getting time right in a work of fiction is very important. I try to avoid any problem by planning in the time elements before I start. But as we all know, characters and plots can take on minds of their own and sometimes the time can get skewed.
Also one needs to check if the time is clear to the reader - if the time matters.
How I do it
I read through the whole novel and put into the chapter title when this takes place and how long it lasts. Sometimes there are just a few minutes in a chapter and sometimes there may be gaps of months between section breaks. For the sake of creating cliff hangers there are often just a few seconds between chapters though sometimes one fast forwards to the consequences of what has happened at the end of a chapter. I later remove these.
What I look out for
I’m looking to see:
- That time doesn’t pass too quickly
- That there’s enough time for a human to live – to sleep, eat, get dressed, go to the toilet, though of course one doesn’t need to give details of all of these things
- That longer time frames work – e.g. no ten month pregnancies, no traveling light years in a few days, no cooking a casserole in a few minutes
This can be done with weather, plants, light, - or lack of it – actual named times, the presence of watches and clocks, the length of journeys.
My WIP covers two time periods. One is very much in the moment in 2001 and the other skips backwards and forwards on another character’s back story. The latter is controlled by the character herself – and also partly through chapter headings. I’ve chosen in this instance to label each chapter with a year, month and place, for the reader as well as for myself.
Time can be a tricky. We need to keep it under control.