I’m always amused when someone in a film or TV program says something like, “We’re going to blow up in thirty seconds”, then the characters proceed to talk, argue, vow undying love, or whatever for a full minute before the bomb is defused in the last seconds. I’m waiting for someone to put a stop watch on one of these encounters and blow them up in the predicted thirty seconds while they are in mid sentence. I always feel a little cheated that their thirty seconds are longer than mine.
Time and timing are important. The entire human race is a bit obsessed with time, or so one would think, based on the monumental sites around the world dedicated to tracking seasons, sunrises and sunsets, and so forth. Humans have been finding ways to measure time for centuries. Some insist it is the one dimension that defines all the universe and the phenomena in it.
Recognizing the importance of the logical use of time for actions and events, many books about writing well tell you to create a time line as part of your plotting and planning. This helps keep story lines straight and tells you who is where when. Realistic spans of time for actions and events can keep disbelief at bay.
I recently read a mystery that had actions taking place simultaneously at different locations with different characters who would all be meeting later down the road. Each change of scene and chapter was headed with the location, date, and time. This took skillful plotting of both action and time by the author, added greatly to the suspense in the novel, and helped me keep track of what was happening where.
My novel, Beloved Lives, takes place, for the most part, between Mother’s Day and July 4th, and the required me to do some adjusting as I fit the actions to my dates of events. There are also flashbacks that cover many decades and even greater spans of time. At one point I was counting out years between events and determining what might have been going on in the world during those times. All of this was important, at least to me, in keeping as faithfully as possible to a span of time that wouldn’t challenge a reader’s credulity.
In one of the stories I’m currently writing, I’ve gotten all messed up on seasons and actions. I’ll need to go back and get it straightened out with a detailed time line before I go much farther. Otherwise, someone may get blown up in mid-sentence, or worse yet, I may make my readers unhappy. That would never do.