A Brief Future of Time

We don’t usually notice the timeline in fiction. Yet it is critical to the reader experience.

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Everything in its place

An essential element in a good timeline is events happening in the right order. The characters can’t know something or have something if the scene relating to that thing hasn’t happened yet.

A great deal of planning is required to avoid the dreaded plot hole.

A good fit

If there are time constraints, the author also has to make sure the events of the story will actually fit in the time available.

This has to be realistic, too, because characters need time to eat, sleep, travel from one place to another, and go to the bathroom, just like the rest of us.

A smooth transition

Conversely, gaps in the timeline leave you questioning what the characters were doing during that time. 

That’s why authors use transitional scenes, which bridge the gap between one scene and another, without necessarily contributing to the plot. But these scenes don’t just get us from A to B; they can be used to build character, add detail to a setting, or create suspense.

Transitional scenes often include dialogue. This is a good way to add ‘backstory’ which means explaining what happened to a character before the current story began. This often explains their motivation or decisions in other parts of the story.  

In mysteries and thrillers particularly, there is often a conversation summarising what’s already happened so you can follow the character’s reasoning.

Not all scenes have to directly contribute to the plot. The story wouldn’t be realistic if they did. But they do all have to work with the timeline.

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