What time is it?

There are two reasons for that question. The first is, that’s what I ask myself when I wake up in the middle of the night and realize I have to fix a fatal flaw in my writing. The second is, this time anyway, the timing in the story is what woke me up.

Some authors carry the concept of time in their books to extremes. Like in Wuthering Heights or Great Expectations, story plots spread out across decades while characters brood and pine, wringing their hands in abject frustration as they stare out across the bleak, depressing moors. Great stories, but as a writer, I just don’t have that kind of patience. Michael Crichton’s novel, Airframe, had the entire book take place in 24 hours. That is also a great story, but then the focus has to be all about the action without a lot of time for emoting or inner monologue.

Both Book 1 and Book 2 in my Dairlyland Murders series had the majority of the action take place in about a week. Time is still an entity I struggle with. Some things have to take place in a specific time frame, like the decomposition of a body. Time can also make readers squirm, “Oh crap! Is he (or she) going to get there before it’s too late?” And all around the stuff the reader takes for granted is me trying to choreograph my twisted neighborhood of make-believe into something that runs smoothly through the illusion of time.

In the second book, I thought I had everything timed perfectly. Then I sent it out to my editors. One editor (and one of my best friends of twenty-some odd years) fixated on one word, one little adjective, and threw the entire first quarter of the book into a tailspin. The word was “waning”, referring to the sun, as the time of day was in the afternoon. This was bad because the editor pointed out that there was still a whole bunch of stuff that took place, and she was not convinced it could be accomplished in the time I had allotted. She was right, and it was all over one barely acknowledged word that I casually threw in from my vocabulary.

Now in the third book, I’m approaching an important action scene, and I woke up in the middle of the night (4:12am to be precise), and thought: “Oh crap! It’s Deer Season in the book. I have to work in that schedule… People are working in a public school. How do I fit vacation in, or Thanksgiving? I was going to have this catastrophic piece of action take place at this time, but I’m a day too early. So do I work the sex scene in before? Because I was going to drag out the tension on that for a couple more days, but I can’t because the consequences of the action scene are going to drag out, then that’ll throw the sex scene off; it won’t make sense…”

Maybe if I just drop everyone in a worm hole and send them to Victorian England to wander out on the moors for a while…

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