Timing in Novel Planning

Dragonlady

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How do you structure novels in regards to timing? I have a decent outline in my head of the barebones structure but struggling how to work out how much time it should be spread over. The female protagonist has a revelation experience about her own nature, which leads to a romance narrative. It feels like there should be a few years between the two ends of the story - finding out who she is early to mid teens, then late teens end up reunited with her love all ready for starting a new life with him (marriage, etc). If I did this, though, I'd struggle with what to do with those years. Or do I have an 18 year old finding out about her true nature? (She's part of a magical race called Zoa, with some people it's apparent from birth, with some it's more like puberty).

I thought about doing a flashback chapter to the revelation, but I've just started on a nice couple of chapters to introduce us to how she thought about Zoa before she knew she was one.

Also any general tips on joining things up and time management would be really useful! Thanks.
 

The Judge

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I don't plan in advance, but once I'm a few chapters in I usually have a vague idea of what kind of things might happen and often I have an end point that I'm working my way towards. As I'm writing I make notes on a chart of the chapter and scene numbers, a brief "what's happening", word count and date/day/time.

If I know something has to happen by a certain day/date I then draw up a separate sheet which outlines what has happened, and what has to happen per my vague ideas, and the time for both, and then see what, if anything, has to happen beforehand and when it will be. But by and large I'm only dealing with days, or perhaps weeks, for which I've got to account. The one story where I've got years to contend with is my current series for Kraxon, and there the years that don't need to be discussed will be happening "off-screen" between the monthly episodes/chapters.

If you really want her to start the book as a young teen and end with her later, then I'd suggest you have the same "off-screen" passage of time, but clearly that needs you to know what she does in those years, even if you don't deal with them in detail. I've just started to read Windhaven by GRRM Martin and Lisa Tuttle and they have something similar. The book opens with a prologue when Maris is 5 or so and we see her first encounter with an adult flyer called Russ. The next bit is labelled Part One and shows Maris aged about 19 where she's Russ's adopted daughter, and we get some info about what has happened in the intervening years.

So, after she finds out she's a Zoa, does your character have to go to some kind of school or training camp, or spend years in the wilderness alone, or go and find the last mage who will pass on his life's lessons? If so, but you don't want to derail the story by detailing it all, go the Windhaven route and refer to the time lapse eg "Five years she'd spent searching the hills for the golden leaf" and then get on with the real story.

Alternatively, it might make for a better story if all of the important stuff is concentrated in a few months. Can she cope with the revelation and the burgeoning romance all at the same time?

Basically, you can do it any way you want. The only criterion is Does it Work? when you've done it, which might mean trying both ways and seeing which reads best.

Good luck with it!
 

Dragonlady

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When she finds out she is a Zoa she needs to get to grips with her new abilities - there's a bit of mentoring going on- and hiding it from her family, as it's a discriminated against trait rather than one that elevates your status. At some point her family find out, engendering more conflict. The romance is her refuge as all this takes place, as he's also a Zoa. Perhaps spreading it over a year or two would work well, so there are no big jumps but she still has time to digest all this stuff happening to her.
 

Brian G Turner

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I have a decent outline in my head of the barebones structure but struggling how to work out how much time it should be spread over.
Leave that to the editing and rewriting after the first draft is complete. It's hard to make sure the pieces of the cake are all the right size until you've actually baked the cake. :)
 

-K2-

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I'm not creative/skilled when it comes to spanning something out over a number of years. Most of my stories cover a brief span of time--A walks to 1, meets B, they travel to 2, and X happens along the way--although, that might cover days or weeks. In contrast, one of my stories covers 64-years of an individual's life. So, I follow some hard rules I set 'for myself.'

The character who's viewpoint it is for a chapter, doesn't sleep until the end of that chapter. IOW, I don't have them sleep half-way through... out of everything I have written, only in one chapter does the focal character sleep mid-way. But, it worked in that one only because of how it connected. Skipping years, for me, definitely demands a new chapter at the least. In that story mentioned above, when months/years passed, I actually made a new 'part' (1 novel, 11 parts/subsections, 91 chapters, 211k words). The first paragraph, of the next chapter, gave a VERY brief rundown of the skipped time.

I don't detail out any character growth or high-point events from that lost time... I show it. The character may have matured, gained scars or infirmities which are discussed in conversation or shown in how they move, casual relationships become strong, their confidence and knowledge of a place they've been static in firms up, and so on. Showing a change in maturity IMO works out great, and even older adults continue to mature/change. Naturally, you can't make them seem like a totally different character. But, the difference is noticeable. So much so, if I changed the name of the character in each part, it could be easily inferred that it is a different character.

Anywho, that's just how I do it...and I AM a novice at this. But, maybe some of that might give you an idea of your own.

K2
 

Biskit

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I needed to do a jump like that in a fantasy I wrote years ago. I did the first chapter or two focusing on an older character interacting with the younger, and then did a pretty blatant "and now here's the kid five years later" for the third chapter. The two characters were essentially pro/antagonist, so it was handy to show them interacting before things got nasty, but it also helped handle the time-jump. The narrative was third person so I could get away with the two viewpoints.
 

Steve Harrison

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My novels so far have occurred over a few days at most, so I haven't had this challenge. I do have a novel in the mental planning stages that will span some thirty years, with jumps every five years or so. I'm not sure yet if I will use bridging chapters, a little like montage sequences in movies, or if I'll simply head the section with the year and fill in the gaps as I go. I may do something completely different, as stories always throw up unexpected options, but I it's not something I will worry about until I'm writing the story or perhaps even the editing stage.
 

The Big Peat

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How do you structure novels in regards to timing? I have a decent outline in my head of the barebones structure but struggling how to work out how much time it should be spread over. The female protagonist has a revelation experience about her own nature, which leads to a romance narrative. It feels like there should be a few years between the two ends of the story - finding out who she is early to mid teens, then late teens end up reunited with her love all ready for starting a new life with him (marriage, etc). If I did this, though, I'd struggle with what to do with those years. Or do I have an 18 year old finding out about her true nature? (She's part of a magical race called Zoa, with some people it's apparent from birth, with some it's more like puberty).

I thought about doing a flashback chapter to the revelation, but I've just started on a nice couple of chapters to introduce us to how she thought about Zoa before she knew she was one.

Also any general tips on joining things up and time management would be really useful! Thanks.
This is a piece of string question. You presented two interesting ways of doing it there and both sound interesting. I think you've got to pick which one seems like the best idea to you, then do it full out. Appreciate that's a bit trite and non-helpful, but it is unfortunately true.
 

Culhwch

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As I'm writing I make notes on a chart of the chapter and scene numbers, a brief "what's happening", word count and date/day/time.
This is a great idea and one I wish I'd thought of about sixty thousand words ago. I could see it really helping the inevitable rewriting process.

Leave that to the editing and rewriting after the first draft is complete. It's hard to make sure the pieces of the cake are all the right size until you've actually baked the cake. :)
This is pretty much the approach I've taken. I had a general idea of the overall story, which is essentially a long journey. Even as I'm writing it I can see the parts that I'm going to come back and squeeze out - they're the in-between bits, when my group is simply travelling, and nothing that interesting happens, but in the moment I wrote it out anyway. If anything interesting did happen - a nice piece of dialogue, or a character moment - I'll try and salvage it and pop it in elsewhere, but overall I think there will be more time-skips between stops.
 

.matthew.

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Maybe combine them both?

If it starts with puberty there's no reason it has to manifest fully straight away. She could know something is different about her for a few years without really having any outward signs. Then as she gets older it becomes more apparent and she's discovered, maybe at the same time she meets this love interest.

Those first few years could be handled in just a couple of chapters, maybe one for each 'attribute' or however it manifests itself. Better yet, have a series of defining moments in relation to her abilities (someone almost discovering the secret, her having to hide her body from other girls, a first confession to a friend and its consequences, etc).
 

Dragonlady

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@.matthew. that's a really good way of looking at it, and even if I decided not to time it like that, writing in those terms would be a really good way of getting to know her and her sense of identity, thanks!
 

The Judge

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This is a great idea and one I wish I'd thought of about sixty thousand words ago. I could see it really helping the inevitable rewriting process.
In case it's of help, here's how I do it (and I forgot I have a POV column, too, but that isn't needed in this WiP since it's one POV all the way through):
1579864418795.png
 

Dragonlady

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A related question- how do you handle transitions between scenes? As this story is set in the characters' daily life, I can either add in the uninteresting bits (Juni went to bed, woke up, spent the day doing chores...) , skip over them in some fashion, or clump all the interesting bits together, which would be a bit too artificial. At the moment, I end up with disconnected scenes, and not a lot of idea of how to link them together without it being a bit random. As I'm keeping the POV very close to Juni, even though it's 3rd person, I can use some introspection to bridge the gap - 'Juni spent the next few weeks distracted as she went about her chores' type of thing.
 

Brian G Turner

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ow do you handle transitions between scenes?
I kind of treat each scene like a mini-story in itself. That means a clear sense of progression, of something developing, of something being struggled with. Even an ending of sorts, but not enough that more scenes can't follow. :)
 

The Judge

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Have a lot of scene breaks so you're jumping to important things, but link the scenes -- eg what's happening at the end of one is referenced at the beginning of the next. And mention how many hours/days have passed if necessary.

Personally I woudn't include household chores unless
  • they're vital or very interesting aspects of world-building eg coating the dragon's wings with something that helps it fly
  • they're incidental while there's an important conversation going on eg she's polishing the silver/making the tea while talking, which gives breathing space between all the dialogue
  • she's doing something boring when something interesting happens eg washing the floor when the tall, dark handsome stranger appears
 

Brian G Turner

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Oh, yes, I used to do that - rather than stop a scene I'd find a way to connect it to the next through a series of realistic but otherwise dull actions. :)
 

mistri

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For a contemporary novel I wrote, I had a date written down in my outline planning tool thingy (of course Excel does it just as well, or Word, but I used Plottr), against every scene. The whole story was working from one particular date to another one so I had to track it quite carefully.
 

Kerrybuchanan

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I'm juggling three timelines at the moment in one novel. I have present day, 5th century AD and 25th century AD. It's giving me a headache...

Lots of spreadsheets, as characters in the future and past need to come together again at some stage and meet up, and they need to be in-sync at that stage. Aaargh!
 
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