Timelines in Fiction

For the past two months, I’ve been working with the author of a noir-style 1940s suspense novel. The timeline of events in the 300+-page book is complicated—even down to exact minutes.

How do authors keep such intricate details straight? Plot them out in the beginning and keep track of them as you go along.

There are so many ways to do this:

Plotting out the events of your novel not only makes its timeline clear but can also help refine its story arc. How? As you coordinate what happens, you’ll inevitably find places where the action drags or a scene doesn’t fit (a lengthy but unnecessary stop at a grocery store, for instance). Seeing everything laid out will tell you exactly what needs to be rearranged, shortened/lengthened, or removed entirely.

The time to make sure the details of your timeline are straight is before you start writing, but if you’re in the middle of things and find yourself more and more confused, it’s never too late to get organized.

Write down the details, type them out, or even draw them—anything that helps you clarify where your characters have been and where they’re going.

Article: “Leach and Leech”

Leech and leach are two words I don’t run across very often as verbs, but when I do … well, let’s just say that sometimes, even an editor needs a little help.

Thankfully, ThoughtCo has an article on how to use these two words:

“The verb leach means to empty, drain, or remove.

“The noun leech refers to a bloodsucking worm or to a person who preys on or clings to another. As a verb, leech means to bleed with leeches or to act as a parasite.”

Article: “How to Copyedit The Atlantic”

If you’ve ever been curious about the copyediting process for magazines and journals, this is the article for you!

We start the process by reading each piece four times among ourselves. I might read the piece on my monitor, read it again on a printout, and then pass it to one of my fellow copy editors to repeat the process. We alternate reading onscreen and on page because we tend to catch different things with each method—stylistic errors jump out on the screen; timeline issues or abrupt shifts in narrative are clearer on the page. On my first read of Ross’s piece, for example, I flagged its abundance of metaphors: The satellite dish looked like an inverted mushroom cap and like God’s fingerprint; its surface looked like a taut bedsheet. Metaphors can bring vividness to image descriptions, of course, but like salt sprinkled over a finished dish, they’re best used in moderation. On the page, meanwhile, I found myself confused between the two extraterrestrial-research teams we mentioned, so I left a note asking the editor to clarify.

How to Copyedit The Atlantic by Karen Ostergren

Article: “Not Busy, Focused”

Did you wake up this morning, immediately turn on some kind of technology—your phone, your computer—and get down to work? Me too.

I’ve spent the last few years trying to be far more mindful of slowing down, taking my time, and being present. But sometimes I slip, and these past two weeks have been fast, quick, and over before I knew it.

Life is not a race, and just because we’re busy doesn’t mean we’re being productive or even doing things to our best ability. Here is an article that never fails to remind me of that—and what to do about it:

“Take a look around: everyone is multitasking. We’re doing more than we’ve ever done, attempting to fill every interstitial zone with more work. Every downtown scene is the same: heads tilted downward, faces lost in glowing screens, technology turning people into zombies …”