Thursday, May 20, 2021

Timelines and Math and Okay, I’m Weird

If you don’t know what factitious means, now is the time to look it up. This post will be a bit scary. I might sort of almost accidentally reveal my age. That kind of thing happens when we mention specific years and how we remember or are connected to them. I want to talk about why I avoid years in my writing by sharing an example of a book that did not.

Something I read recently mentioned one specific year. That year became the anchor for every other number in the book, and it distracted me the whole time. The main character was 23 years old. Let’s just say that’s “at least” 20 years younger than I am. The one year stated in the book was the year the character’s mother graduated from high school, which was only one year after my mother graduated from high school. Other details in the book suggested that the character’s mom and my mom were about the same age when we were born, 20-some years apart. Do you understand why this messed with my head?

The book was published ten years ago, but that only accounts for half the gap. Plus, the story felt current enough that I would not have checked the publication year if I hadn’t been bothered by the year in the book. This is the point that’s more important than my preoccupation with making all the numbers add up. Specific years will make a contemporary story sound old very quickly. Dates equal dated. That should be obvious.

Instead of saying when something happened, I try to say how long ago it was or how old the character was when it happened. Then the reader can insert the current year if he or she feels the need for math. I admit, however, that I still reference a calendar while I’m writing. It isn’t the year but the days of the week that I’m following. If it becomes relevant in the story that August ends on a Tuesday or Christmas falls on a Saturday, any other days of the week that get inserted will line up. That’s the real secret to a good timeline. You’re welcome.

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