Friday, December 13, 2013
The craft of rewriting-Revision-Self Editing-Timeline
By OFW chief editor:
Carlos J Cortes And Renée Miller
Published: April 25, 2013
A timeline is the sequence of chronological events, past, present, and future, which will affect our story. We create a timeline when revising our manuscript, to ensure that our times, dates, ages, and events occur as they should and there are no inconsistencies in the plot.
For example, let’s say we have this story:
John, age thirty-four, has a problem. His wife, eight years younger than him, seems to be losing interest in their marriage. John’s first wife, who he married when he dropped out of high school at sixteen, (she was his math teacher) suddenly surfaces and wants him back. John always harbored feelings for his ex, who is twelve years older than he is, and part of him knows he married a much younger woman (second wife was just eighteen when he was twenty-six) to salve his fractured ego.
Now his current wife sees this change in John’s relationship with his ex-wife and realizes she does love John. The birth of their son and his promotion have caused them to drift further apart, and a week before their tenth anniversary, she makes a decision. She won’t allow that slut to steal her husband. She plots to win him back. First task; kill the ex-wife.
We plan to tell this story beginning with present time, and shifting back periodically to John’s first marriage. If this were a story where events happen in chronological order, the timeline would be simpler and we’d have less chance of making mistakes. Still, a timeline is useful because mistakes will creep in.
In this timeline we’ve concocted for John’s story, we have several things to take into account. When did John and his first wife marry? If he was sixteen, and she was twelve years older, then she was twenty-eight when they married. Let’s forget about the legality of this for the moment. If the story took place in 2011, then John would have been sixteen in 1993, and eighteen years have passed since he found he was hot for the teacher.
We have to determine what happens from the earliest time to the present. So we set the first year as 1993, the year John and his first wife met, and mark each year until the present time, or the year in which John’s present time takes place. Then we enter into that timeline when events happen.
Hard? Not at all. We read through the story and on the first page, we have John’s marriage to his first wife. Then perhaps they have a child in 1994, we add that event. They break it off in 2002. In 2011 we note that John and his new wife will celebrate their tenth wedding anniversary.
1993 – John and first wife marry.
1994 – Junior is born.
1995 – First wife’s first affair.
1998 – John loses his job and goes into a depression.
2000 – Trial separation.
2001 – Renew their vows.
2002 – First wife disappears with child.
2003 – John meets second wife and they marry in Vegas two weeks later.
2003 to 2009 – Wedded bliss.
2010 – John’s second child is born.
2011 – John gets a promotion, but works more hours.
Ex-wife shows up asking for a second chance.
Celebrate tenth anniversary with second wife.
Then we notice the first problem. If he broke his marriage off with wife number one in 2002, it’s impossible for him to be married ten years to the second wife in 2011, unless of course, he’s one of those multiple wives kinds of guys, which he isn’t. We have to fix this. But we’ve made her eighteen at the time they married for logical reasons. John wouldn’t have married a kid, he’s a good guy. But for them to be married ten years, he’d have to marry her in 2001 when she was just sixteen. How do we fix this? We could adjust her age and John’s, but that would mean also adjusting when and how he met his first wife. It would be simpler to change the anniversary they’re celebrating to eighth instead of tenth. Whatever we decide, the timeline helps us to see major flaws in the chronology of our story’s events.
Perhaps we’ve listed a couple of other events in the timeline which don’t mesh. What about this first child, who would be a teenager now? Where is he or she? Shouldn’t we include something about this kid? Did he die, perhaps? This might drive the ex to seek John out.
We won’t often spot these mistakes by just reading. The concept of a timeline is to keep our times accurate, lest we discover that things couldn’t have happened as written.
Renee Miller & Carlos Cortes
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