How to Track Time in Your Novel: 6 Writing Tips

How to Track Time in Your Novel

Time will happen in your novel. Your characters will go to sleep and wake up. They will make plans for the future. The pressure of a ticking clock may add some tension. But time, and consistency of time, can be a detail that’s easy to overlook when you’re writing. This means you have to make it a point to track time in your novels.

It’s important for writers to know when every chapter of their books is happening. So today we’re going to take a look at why it’s important to track time in your novel and some tips to help you do it!

The importance of tracking time in your novel

It’s an important detail

Time may be a relatively small detail in each scene, but it’s an important one. Knowing when we are in the story in relation to the rest of the book will help ground your readers. It’s also how you control the pace of your book and the distribution of information. And if you don’t take time seriously, you may accidentally render events in your book unbelievable or impossible.

It’s how you know when events should be happening

If your characters say they have a meeting with someone “in a week,” you have to be sure that a week has passed before your characters take that meeting. You’ll also have to make sure that you don’t let two weeks pass in your book before you make the meeting happen.

Time inconsistencies will distract your reader

Time management in novels is one of those things that if you’ve done it well, it’s likely no one will notice. But if you get it wrong, it will jump out to your readers and take them out of the story. For example, let’s say you start a chapter and you tell us that it’s night. If the chapter is all one scene and it ends with your characters going to get breakfast, it will give your readers pause. They’ll be more concerned about why your characters are eating breakfast instead of dinner than they will be about what is going on in your story.

You don’t want to give your reader any reason to come out of the story. Tracking time will help them move smoothly from one page to the next.

It impacts the tension and pace in your book

Very few things kick up the tension of a novel like a ticking clock or an impending event. But in order for that to be effective, you have to both understand and convey to your reader how much time is passing.

Tips on how to track time in your novel

Wait until you finish your book to get specific

You should probably have a general idea of time as you write–that way you know when holidays fall and when events need to happen–but I wouldn’t suggest sweating the details until your book is reaching its final stages. If you’re still revising your book, then there’s still a chance you may shift scenes and chapters around, which will impact the timing of them. Don’t waste time figuring out exactly when each scene of your book is taking place until you know the order of events in your book is pretty set in stone.

Read and highlight/underline every reference of time

Once you’re sure your book is set, you can track time for real. Read through it and highlight any and all time references. It doesn’t matter if it’s minutes, hours, days, or years. If anything jumps out at you as not making sense, make note of it. Small changes you can probably go ahead a fix (like, if your character says, “in a few minutes” but it should be in a few hours). But consider waiting to make bigger changes until your finished, in case you find a bigger inconsistency.

Go through your book with a calendar

If you’re not dating your book, it doesn’t matter the year of the calendar you’re using. Pick a starting point for your book on the calendar. If the exact day is vague at the beginning of your book, go to the first most specific point and mark that on your calendar. Unless you’re working with a specific year, the exact dates don’t matter. The point is to give you a concrete idea of when the weekends fall, and when the days, months, and seasons should change. Move through your book and mark each chapter on your calendar on the day it takes place. If a chapter takes multiple days, mark that too! Plot out where your events should fall. Then make note of any inconsistencies in your book to revise.

Don’t forget time zones!

If you have characters that are flying to different parts of the world, be sure to consider travel time and time zone changes. If your characters are flying east or west, they will likely lose or gain time depending on where they’re going. But also keep in mind, that this is fiction. So, if you need your characters to have a smooth time at the airport, or take a difficult-to-get direct flight so they can get somewhere on time, you can get away with it. Sometimes, it’s okay to lean on possibility even if it isn’t a likelihood.

Revise

Revise your book based on your calendar and inconsistency notes.

Double check on your next read through

Read through your book again (or at least, flip through and note when each chapter is taking place) to be sure everything lines up with your calendar notes and still makes sense. You also might want to ask an early reader to keep an eye out for any timing that’s out of place.

I hope this helps you track time in your novel!

Now it’s your turn: What times and tricks do you have to track time in your novel? Tell me about it in the comments!

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