It’s Veteran’s Day, so I’m off.  I pop over to a local restaurant…not looking for free meals (some are available in the area).  Everyone here generally loves the veterans because we have so many military.  If I wear my Desert Storm hat, I usually get some conversation.  The waitress all but ignores me.  It might be my imagination but she seems a little frosty.  I hope that’s just her and not the current climate.

This morning, I actively plan for four hours of writing.  Getting up to walk and thinking is okay, but randomly stopping to surf the net or watch TV is not.  I start reading through the scene I’m working on and trying to figure out how I want to fix it. 

First thing up—and a huge part of cycling—I add more description of two characters. One character has clothing as a tag, so he’s easy.  Tags are a shortcut, both for the reader and the writer.  It’s like Dresden always wearing his duster or Eve Dallas with her whiskey eyes.  They’re something, when you see them, you know it’s that character.

The other character I sort of autopiloted on. So I spend time thinking about what he would wear off “work” and have some fun figuring that out.  I do on-the-spot research, in and out.  Look up the types of men’s shoes, thinking about what both characters would wear.  Then it’s off to find pictures of a style of shirt and styles of men’s pants. I save both the shoe and pants sites into Evernote, since I’ll need that again.

And then I hit another description that I need to flesh out.  I search for pictures, find a couple, and I keep thinking about this one section.  What’s this owner got over there? I cast around, thinking about one word I saw in a book when I was growing up, look that up.  Nope, not what I thought it meant.  But it gets me thinking and I search for variations on it…and I find something.  My creative side runs with it.  I have no idea what I’m doing with it.

Two hours in the morning, two in the afternoon.  Made some good progress.

Onto pantsing…

This one comes from a convention I attended in 2014.  I was looking for a copy editor and have a lot of problems finding one.  Everyone seemed to only do developmental editing and no copy editing or proofreading.  I seriously thought less of anyone who would do developmental editing and couldn’t copy edit.  Told me they were probably writers who hadn’t been able to sell anything so they decided on paid critiques.

I attended a panel given by an editor (note: he was selling developmental editing).  But he talked about the timeline of the story.  He did a lot of young adult books, and it was fairly common for a writer to have their YA protagonist get up, go to school, get up, go to school—and forget there were two days when that wasn’t supposed to happen.  Oops.

With pantsing, it’s very easy to forget to pay attention to the days of the week, or lose track of how much time is passing.  I was disconcerted to read a book (by an outliner) and suddenly realize that she had a day that felt like it ran a week.

As we’re writing the book, it can trick us into thinking author time is the same as story time.  Author time is how long it takes to write the book.  You might have a book that takes place over three days and take a year to write it.  You don’t want your three days feeling like a year!

So what you can do is simply make yourself aware of the timeline.  Maybe it’s a notepad, or you could type it at the top of your scene.  What day of the week is it?  What date? Making a conscious decision of why can lead to all kinds of interesting story ideas.  Once you ask what date it is, you’re also asking why. 

Then think about how long the scene lasts?  Doesn’t have to be physical time necessarily.  Sometimes you get scenes where “Three days later…”

How to track this?  Start very simple.  You can always change it if it isn’t working, but human beings tend to overcomplicate things.  You don’t want to jump into a complicated spreadsheet with color coding and formulas that’s going to allow your inner critic to take control.  Just type your scene time and duration at the time of the scene and adjust as needed.

Four resources are available on this topic:

  • Writing and Selling Your Novel by Jack M. Bickham.  He talks about author time, story time, and reader time.
  • The Story Grid: What Good Editors Know by Shawn Coyne.  He does a deeper dive into scene time and duration.
  • When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing by Daniel Pink.  This is not on writing.  It’s on time.  But it provides insight into how we view time as human beings.