Polishing the Gem

Jewel 3by Gayle Bartos-Pool

Part Two: Keeping Track of Time

Along with the biographies of the various characters, I also compile a Chronology Chart that records each character’s date of birth and other significant episodes in the principal characters’ lives. You ask: Why should I do this? Here’s why. If a character is twenty years old in 1997 when she is at the Police Academy, she will be thirty-one when she has a run-in with her superiors in the LAPD. She will be thirty-three when she transfers to the small city of Santa Isabel up the California Coast. And she will be forty when the body of a police captain’s wife turns up on the pier in her city. Keeping track of her age during twenty years will also tell you when other incidents impacted her life.

Keeping the same running chronology on other principle characters will show when they had a chance to interact with other characters and when major incidents happened in their lives. If you are covering many years in these peoples’ lives, the chronology is a godsend.

If one of my stories takes place over a week or two, I use a calendar. Usually I mark off the few weeks involved on a piece of paper and jot down what major events happened on those days. This keeps me organized and I can make sure I don’t have one character in New York when he should have been in Los Angeles.

When the story gets down to the nitty gritty, by that I mean the final chase scene where and when all the characters collide, I actually mark off a sheet of lined paper by the hour or even fifteen minute intervals so I can plot various characters going to and from various places so the times fit reality. How many times have you watched a TV show where the good guys can get across say Los Angels in a car in about two minutes when in reality it would take the better part of an hour? I know TV gets away with it, but I prefer a little more reality in my fiction. I plot air travel times as well as automobile driving times between places down to something that is fairly close to the actual time frame. You can look up airline flight schedules on the Internet as well as driving distances in hours and minutes on Google maps. My time sheet keeps the story honest.

Even if your story takes place over a twenty-four hour period or an evening in the haunted house, it serves you well to keep track of the time. It also allows you to watch where the bad guy is. Remember, he or she is the reason you are writing a mystery, if in fact that is what you are writing. But even if you are writing a memoir, you still can’t have 32 hours in a twenty-four hour day.

 

Jewel 4Polishing the Gem

Part Three – Line by Line

 

A Line Editor, as the phrase implies, goes line by line checking for errors. She is looking for misspelled words, missing words, redundant words, redundant words (I wrote the last one twice just to see if you were paying attention.) She is also looking for words used incorrectly like when you use “effect” when you should be using “affect.”

I actually keep a long list of troublesome words on my computer for quick reference. Of course there is always the dictionary. Mine is ragged from constant use. Remember: Spell-Check is only good if you actually misspelled a word. If you mistakenly typed in an actual word for the one you wanted, it will not know the difference. And sometimes the Grammar feature on your WORD program will be wrong. Get out your Chicago Manual of Style and verify your usage if Spell-Check tries to tell you that your grammar is incorrect. Often the computer will insist that “It’s” should be “its.” It’s wrong when you want “It is” and it wants “its.” Have patience. It’s a machine.

There are a lot of words that writers get wrong. Maybe your readers won’t know the difference, but work at getting the word right. You do need to know when to use “laying” verses “lying.” Laid and laying always take an object. Lie, lain, and lying don’t take an object. There are also a bunch of words that are used incorrectly such as dead-end verses dead end. Dead-end is the adjective. Dead end is the noun. Deadend isn’t a word. Some word groups are written with a hyphen. Some are one word. Some are two separate words. Some words are just hard to spell correctly. My list is long, but I know to check that list when I am editing and come across a familiar nemesis. We all make mistakes, but it’s nice when we catch a few before the book goes to print.

 

Part Four – Continuity – Coming up in another few weeks.

Author: gbpool

A former private detective and once a reporter for a small weekly newspaper, Gayle Bartos-Pool (writing as G.B. Pool) writes two detective series: the Gin Caulfield P.I. series (Media Justice, Hedge Bet & Damning Evidence) and The Johnny Casino Casebook Series. She also penned a series of spy novels, The SPYGAME Trilogy: The Odd Man, Dry Bones, and Star Power. She has a collection of short stories in From Light To DARK, as well as novels: Eddie Buick’s Last Case, Enchanted: The Ring, The Rose, and The Rapier, The Santa Claus Singer, and three delightful holiday storied, Bearnard’s Christmas, The Santa Claus Machine, and Every Castle Needs a Dragon. Also published: CAVERNS and Second Chance. She is the former Speakers Bureau Director for Sisters in Crime/Los Angeles and also a member of Mystery Writers of America and The Woman’s Club of Hollywood. She teaches writing classes: “Anatomy of a Short Story,” (The Anatomy of a Short Story Workbook is available.) “How To Write Convincing Dialogue” and “Writing a Killer Opening Line” in sunny Southern California. Website: www.gbpool.com.

20 thoughts on “Polishing the Gem”

  1. I wish I was better at keeping a written timeline/chronology of both my characters’ lives and the storyline, Gayle. I’m constantly having to double check to make sure things are in the right place in terms of timeframe.

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    1. Paul, I have been doing a Timeline for years and it really helps me especially if I write a series and need to know who was in the first book, how old were they, and other stuff.

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    1. A Timeline has made editing a lot easier because I can refer to the list. Sometimes I will jot down the page upon which a particular character appears so i can go back and see what I wrote without having to search. After 23 books, it seems to work well for me.

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  2. As always, I love how organized you are! I do keep a timeline but it isn’t as detailed as what you described. And I count on my grammar addiction to ensure I get words right, although I do occasionally slip up. Great post!

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  3. As an author whose series takes place over a half-century, keeping timelines, chronologies and bios of my characters and events is critical. Your tips are invaluable to writers regardless of the genre, particularly the list of troublesome words (I must always double-check compliment vs complement). Another great post.

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  4. Another master class, Gayle, many thanks. It hadn’t occurred to me to keep a timeline but I will now. A brief biog. for each major character is my basic reference sheet, but it makes sense to keep track of occurrences by date. Like Linda, I often mistrust Word’s Grammar and Spelling, and, of course, I have to watch that my Brit idioms are not misconstrued. Great post.

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    1. When you are writing in the First Person and the character is a Brit, it might be okay to use the British spelling. I go back and forth on that. Just be consistent.

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  5. Yes! I do keep track on continuity and timeline, but somehow in final edits I still find I’ve screwed up something! (a corollary for me, is generational time periods–I use 20 years per generation) Great advice, because when I’m reading a book, I don’t pay strict attention if the author gets something off, but when I notice, it throws the whole “being in the story” feeling off. Such good advice you give…

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  6. Great advice! Unfortunately I didn’t do that and I have to guesstimate–even more problematic is the loss of various publishers of my series over time.

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    1. You should be able to go back over your earlier books whether it’s a hard copy or e-book to see who did what and when. They have new scanners that can copy printed pages onto your computer. I have seen them advertised on Amazon. That might come in handy as well.

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  7. Another wonderful post, Gayle. I keep a timeline, but I admit it’s pretty sloppy. I do like to keep a list of character descriptions, not only for consistency, but so I don’t have everyone blond with blazing blue eyes! As for words, I stay away from ones like “lain.” As for stationery and stationary, I just finished a book that I enjoyed, but neither the author nor the editor knew the spelling difference between those two words.

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    1. Maggie, I have found words in my own published work that were wrong. I don’t know if I should hope my readers can’t spell either or maybe hope they realize only God is perfect. But I try.

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  8. Great post, GB. Another value of the timeline is to check out political and social milestones that occurred in the characters’ lives. Were they born before or after JFK’s assassination? The Viet Nam War? 9/11? Were they born after the internet came into being? All these things, and more, will impact their personalities.

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    1. I put those interesting facts in my timelines, too, and incorporate a few historical tidbits into my stories just to set the era. Even if it’s a fairly current story, those facts are little slices of history that people can learn.

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