Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Continuing Education: Space Time Continuum

Time and tide wait for no man—Geoffrey Chaucer

Kari Donald, A4A Member

Time again for more Continuing Education. (It’s about time!) One universal constant in any story is the passage of time, even when the narrative involves time travel or multiple dimensions. Timeline issues are among the most glaring problems and present some serious challenges to fix. Timeline is crucial and regularly impacts other areas of continuity. So let’s look at some typical timeline errors and ways to avoid or correct them.

There is more than one way for the timeline to impact my story?

Absolutely. Timeline involves more than just the amount of time that passes from the beginning to the end of your book. Time is a common phenomenon. Even if your world has its own way to account for time, it will still be in flux and changing as your story progresses. Also, it is the one thing you can guarantee readers will identify with. Time may seem to pass differently depending on your perspective, but it’s still passing at some measurable rate. Readers expect timelines to be realistic and consistent. Anything less is confusing and distracting.  

How can my timeline be distracting?

No matter what setting you choose for your book, characters engage in actions and activities readers relate to. Any person has a good idea how long it takes to complete basic tasks. How would your reader perceive a character who showers, washes and dries their hair, brushes their teeth, and dresses in formal attire (including accessories and makeup) in less than ten minutes? Unless your character is The Flash, this freakishly amazing efficiency can easily distract a reader.

While my example may seem obvious, there are plenty of other routines you’re not familiar with but your readers are. One situation might be an author who isn’t a parent writing a scene where the character learns they must leave and gathers up their two toddlers, gets out of the house, and drives off in less than five minutes. This scenario makes for great comedy, but not a realistic rendition of life. Bottom line: either keep the time vague enough so you don’t put your characters in impossible situations, ask an expert, or use that wonderful tool known as Google to look it up.

Isn’t there more to a timeline than individual events?

Most certainly. Many books have more than one point of view or minor plots that are concurrent or overlapping. Such isolated incidents often create the biggest timeline issues. It is very easy to get wrapped up with creating the narrative and quite literally lose track of time.“The next day” can add up to weeks or months, which alone is not a bad thing. However, during these individual storylines within your book, you want the same amount of time to pass amongst all your characters. It doesn't work if only seven “the next days” pass for one character while ten “the next days” pass for another character before they are reunited. Juggling multiple timelines is not an easy task, so props to anyone that can do it while maintaining the overarching one.

You might be tempted to use time warps and breaches in the space-time continuum to explain or fix your timeline, but those might not be credible. I mean, how well would it go over if after being gone for a month, your significant other can only account for two weeks of their absence? Most people would have a serious issue with this and find it difficult to believe some trite excuse like an alien abduction or getting stuck in a time loop with a groundhog. The same thing goes for your book. Attention to detail is the key. Don’t cheat on your readers.  

I plot my books, so there won’t be any timeline problems.

Do not disparage my pantser friends. It does not matter what writing style you use. I see the same issues from both plotters and pantsers. Editing can destroy even the best timelines. Rearranging and cutting events in order to help with pacing and gaps in the narrative make your initial timeline obsolete. The fallout from such developmental edits is one reason I recommend doing an edit looking just at continuity. 

What can I do to avoid timeline issues?

There are a couple of basic approaches that help avoid timeline problems. A good starting point is documenting the timeline of your book. While there are lots of programs for plotting a novel and tracking timelines, I prefer a simple spreadsheet. You can easily customize and tailor it to track the passage of days, major events, time cues, time relative to events, or anything else that may be important to preserving the integrity of your timeline. Besides spreadsheets, just about any software useful for plotting your book can also be used to track your timeline. I’ve used Plottr, but software such as Scrivener or Evernote can work for tracking a timeline too. Most offer free trials so you can check them out before committing.

That sounds a lot like plotting. Are there other tools or techniques I can use?

Most definitely. Be creative in developing tools for tracking your timeline. You might even set up an actual calendar for your book. Add different colors or lettering to represent different characters and events and your calendar will provide a great snapshot of your timeline. You could even set up a system using post-it notes! Just make sure they are locked away from the prankster in your life (obviously).

When organizing your tools, also think about how you want to calculate the passage of time. Counting the number of days from the beginning of the book can be tedious, especially if your book covers a long period of time. You might want to consider chunking your timeline by using major events as milestones and relate the passage of time to these specific happenings. For example, track the number of days since the Red Wedding or the days since the Council of Elrond. Relating the passage of time to events simplifies the process by creating smaller, more manageable timelines. This type of relational time tracking is also very important for any speculative fiction novel following actual events in history. It helps ensure there are no discrepancies between your book timeline and the time period it’s modeled after. In this case, historical events would serve as the milestones or major events your timeline relates to.

Another way to avoid timeline issues is to take time and pay attention during the editing process. Track your revisions (or your editor or beta reader’s revisions) in Track Changes or Suggest mode. As you review the changes, identify and adjust the manuscript as needed when the edits affect your timeline. While this may seem time-consuming, it saves you from an editing pass dedicated solely to analyzing your timeline. 

So glad we had this time together! Check back next for “Call it a Day.” Until then, happy times!

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Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Continuing Education: Stellar Cartography

"If the map doesn't agree with the ground, the map is wrong."—Gordon Livingston

Kari Donald, A4A Member

Back again for some more Continuing Education. According to an old saying, “A picture says a thousand words,” which is likely the reason for the popularity of “the world map” in most fantasy or speculative fiction novels. Today, we’ll be looking at why your map is important and how it can create continuity issues in your book.  

How can a map cause continuity issues?

Your map, should you choose to draw it, gives the reader a window into your world and provides a sense of situational awareness. 

What types of physical features or landmarks make up the world? How close or far apart are the major cities? What are the relative sizes and locations of other kingdoms or countries? Where are the major obstacles your characters may face? These are only a few of the questions your map can help answer, and often much more easily than your narrative could. 

In other words, your map can also tell a story; so the story of your map needs to match the story in your book. Remember, we want to make sure your novel is free of anachronisms, errors, or anything else that could distract your reader. Some readers will reference your map while they are reading, so if descriptions in the prose don’t match the image, you may lose credibility points. Potential sources of discrepancy could include the scaling, layout, and geography of the map.

Do I seriously need to draw my map to an exact scale?

Absolutely NOT! There are many styles of maps with cities and other features represented by images that are larger on the map than the space they would actually occupy if they were drawn to scale. However, you do want to make sure that the space between features reflects a realistic distance as described in your story. 

For example, unless you are driving from downtown Los Angeles to Las Vegas (or something similar), it should not take two hours to travel the first quarter of the journey and then only three hours to travel the remaining distance. Anyone looking at a map of southern California can easily see how traffic congestion affects travel time. 

When considering the scale of your map, it should not take your characters a week to travel halfway across the open realm and then just two more days to travel the other half without an explanation. Likewise, it should take your characters longer to travel that two inches through the mountain range than it does to cover the same distance when crossing the plains. Rough terrain, inclement weather, mode of transportation, distressed dudes needing help, or your world’s equivalent of the dreaded orange barrel complete with detour sign could all be factors affecting travel time. So long as either a feature on your map or the narrative in your story justifies any oddity while tracking the progress of your characters, it doesn’t need to be exact, just close enough to avoid distractions.

In a similar way, placement and area of other regions in your world need to be fairly accurate. You don’t want to plan on sending reinforcements to your southern border to prevent an incursion of rogue elves if they hail from the Kingdom of the Great White North. Readers may scratch their heads if the (so described) tiny and insignificant country of Iota Minor takes up half the map. This is a case where size matters.

You mentioned geography can cause problems.

Thanks for the reminder! 

Geography is probably the most fundamental component of your map. It involves more than just physical features as it also dictates human elements such as culture, industry, and population centers. There are immutable elements of geography to account for when creating your world. 

For instance, unless your world is like the top of a hoverboard and can rotate or tip at different angles, water will only travel in one direction—down hill. A river that starts in your northern mountains and flows to your southern sea may be drawn perfectly, following the contour of the land and providing a means of transportation. However, your heros will not be able to “float downstream” on this river as they journey north. Both “float” and “downstream” would be problematic in this scenario. “Float” would mean your vessel is drifting along with the flow of the river. Downstream is with the direction the river is flowing. Traveling north on this river would be going against the current (upstream, not downstream) and would preclude being able to float. 

While magic can help you out of such situations, it should not be used as a crutch for poor planning or inadequate world building. There are lots of resources available to help with creating your map. Some even get incredibly detailed and look at things like prevailing winds and weather. For the important map basics, I suggest checking out the great blog post at Mythcreants

Another reason geography is so important is that it can literally dictate the direction of your story. Once your map is in place, the features and layout may limit how events unfold in your book. This could be significant if you’re beginning a new series. Plan ahead to avoid writing yourself into a corner, either figuratively or physically. 

Does that mean I can’t draw my map until I plan my entire series?

Not at all. There are a couple of things you can do to avoid continuity issues with your map. You could take a minimalist or “need to know” approach. Only include the part of your world where the story actually takes place. You can add arrows pointing toward the edge of your map with labels for the names of neighboring lands. Give the reader enough information for a sense of direction as they follow your narrative while still giving you flexibility for future installments. Your map can expand as your series grows.

If you already have a good idea of the major events in your series, then go ahead and map your entire world. Just keep a copy of your map in front of you while writing and reference it. Checking your map as you write helps maintain consistent descriptions and accounts of travel time, scenery, resources, and any other things that can influence your plot. The sooner you catch anything that could be problematic, the less work it will take later to fix it.

That’s all for this week. Check back next blog for the Space Time Continuum. Until then, happy drawing and writing.  

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Wednesday, June 2, 2021

Author Interview: Beatrice B. Morgan

Beatrice, thanks for sitting down to chat with me today! Let’s dive right in, shall we?

We’re now getting into book three. Is there anything you’re particularly excited about for the readers going forward (without giving any spoilers, of course)?

I'm excited to get into the second half of the series. We're going to see more of the world and glimpses of ancient history. The story is expanding; Juniper is going to be facing tough choices about herself and her future. And there're dire wolves!

Being a history person myself, I did quite enjoy getting to see the history of the people. Juniper is still heartbroken at the end of book two—do you think this influences some of her willingness to go into battle as she travels north?

Definitely. She feels she's lost everything and has nothing left to lose. She doesn't have the Undercity to return to, and she doesn’t have anyone one—namely Reid—to return to. She is willing to walk face-first into danger. Traveling into Nexon’s den of mages is her only goal at the start, and despite not having a clear path to that, it’s her only goal. She throws everything she has at it. 

That makes sense—if there’s nothing to live for, why not go hard? Tell me, has your favorite character changed for book three?

Hmm… I still love Juniper to death, but I’m glad that we get to meet a few more characters that have until now been in the background, like Henry Julian. Juniper will remain my favorite—that’s why she is the main character, and not Reid or Ison. I wrote a part of my soul into her. 

I’m sure a lot of other writers also feel the same way about their main characters. Let’s switch gears a little bit. We’re going to some really interesting places in this book—was there one that was your favorite to write? 

I love fantasy because I can explore all manner of places, the only limitation being my imagination. I love ancient structures, the ones where we have no idea who lived there or what kind of society it was. All we have are ruins. When Juniper and her friends explore the mountains of Galamond, they stumble upon an ancient city, abandoned of course. That is one of my favorites that I’ve written thus far. There is something mysterious and enchanting about ancient places and the stories just waiting to be told. 

And finally, last question: What can we expect next from you?

My next book is the third and final installment in the Hard as Stone trilogy: Strong as Steel. We’ll see the epic ending to Raven’s story.

We can’t wait to see the conclusion of Hard as Stone, just like we can’t wait for Dreams in the Snow to come out. Join us this Saturday, June 5th, for your chance to win a free paperback copy of Dreams in the Snow at the launch party!

Dreams in the Snow

by Beatrice B. Morgan

After faking her death at the hands of the Watch and escaping Rusdasin, Juniper and Ison are determined to make their way north to face an ancient evil. And the friends they left in the Undercity must scramble to escape the impending raid of their home.

Meanwhile, Squire Reid is beginning a northward quest of his own. To earn his knighthood, the king has tasked him with retrieving Boxel’s Grace, a legendary plant at the edge of the world and the only hope of reviving Prince Adrien from a magical poison.

When grieving hearts collide with the ghosts of their past, can they survive to save the future of their world, or will they shatter like ice?

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