Thursday, August 08, 2013

School on Sunday? Errors of Chronology

This past week, I received an email from my new editor outlining strengths and revision ideas for my spring 2014 novel.

The big-ticket mistakes my editors usually find in my novels are what I call "errors of chronology." These are slip-ups that lead editors to write things like "the ch. began at 9:30 A.M., so why is she eating lunch six hours later?" This time, my editor pointed out (among other errors) that the novel takes place over seven days, that we start on a Sunday night, but that the protagonist's son gets up and dressed for school on the final day of the book. He's going to school on Sunday? Maybe he's a seven-year-old who just really loves school... (You can see why I wrote this lovely lady a heart-felt thank-you note for her efforts to make me look smarter than I am.)

I deem these "errors of chronology" for another reason, too: it takes me a year to write a book. Stephen King, in "On Writing," suggests that one should never spend more than three months on a novel, that the writer often loses flow of the book if he spends longer writing it. I concur. But I also lead a double life -- something most writers I know do. That  may sound devious, but I'm talking about work and family and "life" commitments. I once read a great quote by a poet (I forget which one) who said, "I write all day long, but I type for one hour." Most working writers I know actually write only a couple hours a day. I fall into that category.

Sequential problems arise because writing a novel is a lot like riding a train. You get on it for two hours in the morning. Then the train stops. You get off, go to work. Then you ride it for a couple hours the next morning. No matter how hard I work to keep notes as I write, no matter how many times I hit the "search-and-find" option to go back and review a character description, this leads to slip ups and lapses of memory on the writer's part -- at least it usually does for me.

A friend -- someone who writes full time -- told me he reads the entire novel in progress each day before he writes a new word. That would take all of my allotted daily two hours, and some. But it would probably rid me of my errors of chronology. The character who had blue eyes on page 10 wouldn't have brown eyes on page 350, and poor seven year old boys wouldn't be asked to go to school on Sundays.

This all speaks to why every writer loves a good editor, and why once you find one, you never want to leave him or her.


Aline Templeton said...

I have exactly your problem - this last time I missed out a whole day in my week and got a painfully patient 'time-line' documant from my editor!

Frankie Y. Bailey said...

Same problem here. Since my days can actually stretch over several chapters, even when I use day/date and even hour of the day in the book, I still have a hard time remembering what day of the week it is. This time, I actually had to stop writing and go back and do an outline with days/times inserted. But that was only for the first half of the book. Oh, well.