When writing fiction, I find timelines to be tricky, slippery little devils. My current work-in-progress (WIP) is a holiday novel and the opening scene takes place the Monday after Thanksgiving (US). So, I am motoring along, seventy thousand words in and so much has happened that I have no idea what the date is in the novel. And as it is a holiday novel, you would think with the lead time into Christmas that keeping track of time would be important, right? For all I know, Christmas could have come and gone in a series of scenes, plot developments and character epiphanies. The result being that the holiday itself gets lost in the shuffle.
I had to go back and create a calendar and manually go through the book, scene by scene, to figure out where I was with the dates and such. Nothing short of a paper chain, I literally had to figure out how many days it was until Christmas.
This is not the first time this has happened to me, suggesting to me that losing track of time in a novel is a problem. How many times have I had to go back to the beginning or a pivotal event and figure out how many days/weeks/months had elapsed since then. It is easy to get caught up in your character, the plot, the setting and the dialogue and forget about the time. But it could lead to inadvertent mistakes. I could very easily have had 6 weeks of story stuffed into a 4 week timeline and Christmas could have ended up being in January.
Going forward, I am more cognizant of this thing — of my inability to keep track of time in my fictional world. I may be remiss, but my readers will not be. For me the best way to keep track of time is to use an actual calendar. I write down the scenes as they happen in the block of days in the calendar, that way I know for sure, at all times, what the day and date it is my WIP.
Do you get lost in time? What do you do to dig yourself out?