No School on Christmas
I once read a book that I enjoyed until about halfway through when it lost all credibility. The book had mentioned the date of an event being around mid December. Then about a week passed and the characters were sitting in math class. That felt suspicious.
I remember stopping and going back to look what exactly that mid-December date was and exactly how much time had passed. Turns out, these poor people were spending Christmas day in math class. The story never mentioned Christmas. From that moment on, I didn't enjoy the book. The world of it didn't feel real anymore. It had lost all credibility.
And it should. Making sure characters don't go to school on Christmas is easy and timelines are an easy way to make the world of your story feel real. Messed up timelines stick out. Readers notice when characters are pregnant for over a year or less than 6 months. They notice when Friday is five days later than Wednesday, or June comes directly after April.
My solution? Google calendar.
I have a calendar for each of my novels and I use it like I would a normal Google calendar. For example, I mentioned that Evie tutors after school every Wednesday. That's in the calendar. Sam had soccer practice on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. That's in the calendar. Birthdays are in the calendar. School breaks are in the calendar. The events of the story are in the calendar. Everything is in the calendar.
That way, I have no excuse. Evie will never show up unexplained on a Wednesday afternoon. Sam will never show up on Monday. They will never go to school on Christmas. And by making sure those things are accurate, the world of my story is a little deeper, a little realer, than before.
It might be tempting to not worry about the timeline or details like that because it's fiction and you can do whatever you want, right? Well, yes, to some extent. But if you're writing a story that takes place in the real world, you should follow the rules of it.
Because realism is in the details. If the reader can trust you to get the world right, it'll make the events of the story realistic and believable. Characters who have plans and commitments are more realistic than ones who show up whenever they're needed.
Plus, it's too simple to ignore. There's just no excuse for forgetting the month of May or making Michigan 90 degrees in February.
Another fun thing is it forces you to think of your story as real. It forces you to have to think about what your characters would do if they were real. Who would they call if the character you wanted them to talk to is busy? What would they do if it's too cold for the swimming scene you had in mind?
For example, I had a scene I initially wanted two of my characters, Evie and Juliet to be together in. Juliet was going to get some solid life advice from Evie. But it was over spring break and I'd already said Juliet was leaving the state for the week. I was forced to look at the options Juliet would have had if she were real and ended up putting her sister in the scene instead. It became one of my favorite scenes in the entire novel.
Now, the location stuff mostly applies to fiction that takes place on our earth. You can write a book that takes place in New Orleans in 2005 and not mention Hurricane Katrina, but only if your story takes place in an alternate universe. You can make June come after April if the government in your story got rid of the month of May.
But the difference is intention. Ignoring timelines and rules of the world just because you didn't think about them is bad. Ignoring them because you're changing them is totally fine. But you better have a reason.
Be intentional in what you do and pay attention. And I'm serious about the Google calendar.
Have you ever used a calendar to organize your writing? What other things do you pay attention to?